“You can’t handle the truth,” because the truth is every aspiring actor needs to have a few appropriate monologues and scenes in their arsenal. But before you go reaching for A Few Good Men, there are some things you need to know about finding and choosing pieces that will showcase your talent.
Monologues are not hard to find in the digital age.
You can find them online from a number of websites, including Actorpoint.com, Stage Agent Monologues, and Monologue Archive just to name a few. You can also purchase books, such as Radioactive Monologues for Women, Best Contemporary Monologues, or Monologues for Actors of Color. You can even find film, stage, and television scenes excerpted on the web. But how do you choose the monologue that’s right for you?
First, most acting coaches recommend reading the entire script from which a scene or monologue is drawn so that you understand context and the dramatic arc of the character you’re representing. Once you’ve chosen your piece, therefore, find the larger work from which it’s drawn and settle in for a bit of analysis. Be wary of pieces you find online or in books that are not drawn from larger works. Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act in New York, says, “I hate hearing monologues that aren’t pulled from real plays! More often than not, the pieces that are pulled from monologue books are very shallow indeed.”
An effective audition piece should be about 90 seconds in length, should be appropriate to your age, who you are as a person, and to the audience for whom you’ll be auditioning. According to industry experts, the best monologues have a strong opening sentence and follow a dramatic arc from beginning to middle to end which is rife with conflict. As David Mamet asserted, a good monologue “should be active and not simply reflective: ‘Who wants what from whom?’ ‘What happens if they don’t get it?’ and ‘Why now?’” Conflict, however, doesn’t mean ranting on the stage, which can quickly grow old for the viewer. Instead, a monologue should demonstrate your range as an actor.
“Don’t be afraid to look beyond established canonical scripts to find something that works for you.”
As you begin to filter through the thousands of monologues and scenes out there, know first that not all are created equal. One of the first caveats of choosing is to know that some pieces are simply overdone. While there is no one list of all the hackneyed pieces out there, a quick search online will pull up numerous sites where agents discuss the monologues they’ve seen so many times that it’s almost impossible to see them with fresh eyes.
Industry professionals also offer other advice to the beginning actor. David Patrick Green, founder of Hack Hollywood, warns actors to avoid “anything iconic because you will always seem like an imitator instead of the originator. Find the piece that is you. Don’t do something famous.” Are you likely, for example, to outdo Jack Nicholson’s performance of “The Truth” monologue that started this article? Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio, says, “whatever monologue you choose, love it passionately and choose one that turns on your magic. If that happens, I’ll watch you read a phone book.” Kate McClanaghan, L.A.-based casting director, on the other hand, focuses on appropriateness when she says to make “sure the monologue is appropriate to the audience. If casting is looking for dramatic, deliver a dramatic monologue. If they do comedy, play comedy.”
Finally, don’t be afraid to look beyond established canonical scripts to find something that works for you. New York City acting coach Denise Simon offers that “there are so many new wonderful playwrights and monologues to choose from. It is nice to see actors choose something fresh and smart.” So think about who you are and what the audition is asking for, then start working through the pieces that are not only suitable to the audition but to your persona.
Ivan Young is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with Faxage online faxing service.