How to master a monologue

 22 August 2012

When it's time for that acting audition, do you have your monologue prepared? Anna Jordan, director, playwright and acting tutor, offers 5 pieces of advice for mastering monologues.

Anna is a director, playwright and acting tutor. She is Artistic Director of Without a Paddle Theatre.
Anna is a director, playwright and acting tutor. She is Artistic Director of Without a Paddle Theatre.

The monologue. It’s a useful little thing for an actor. Have a good few classic and modern speeches in your armoury and you needn’t be struck with panic when that last minute audition comes in.

They can also be used in workshops and classes or as part of a showcase. Here are some tips I’ve compiled from my own experience of auditioning and coaching actors. I hope they come in handy!

1. Make it fit for purpose

What’s the speech for? If it’s a drama school audition remember they are interested in YOU. So don’t pick a character a million miles from who you are, especially in age or accent. Play to your strengths. What they are looking for is potential.

If you are taking part in a showcase, you probably already have an idea of your casting type. If you’re not sure, ask a few friends or contacts in the industry that you trust. Pick a character that agents might put you up for, or that casting directors would see you read for.

If you are auditioning for specific role in a play and they want you to prepare a speech that’s not from the play itself – be canny. Find out about the character and chose your speech accordingly. There’s no point doing a speech from The Important of Being Ernest for a Philip Ridley play.

If it’s for a class or workshop you might want to choose something that’s more of a stretch – something that challenges you. It’s rare that you would be asked to prepare a monologue of your choosing for a TV or film audition, but if you are remember to keep small and intimate. It's for the camera, not for an audience.

Most importantly, if they specify – give them what they ask for.

2. Be clear who you are talking to

Who are you? Where are you? Sounds obvious but you need to be clear in your mind.

Who are you talking to? If it’s another character in the scene, where are they? I’ve often seen actors use a chair in the space to represent where the other character sits. This doesn’t really work, as the other character tends to shrink as the piece goes on!

"Who are you? Where are you? Who are you talking to? You need to be clear in your mind."

It makes sense to place the person you are talking to downstage, perhaps on a slight angle, and slightly beyond the audience or panel. The most important thing is that we SEE YOUR FACE!

Perhaps you are talking to the audience? Or would the speech be effective directed to them? This can work well in a showcase, but in the majority of auditions the panel will prefer not to have the speech directed to them. It’s known as 'eyeballing' (sounds very sinister, doesn’t it!). If you’re really keen to, you must ask first, but be prepared for them to say no.

3. Be creative and show your range

I like to think of a passage of text like a piece of music. Rather than it being all on one level and at one pace, how much richer and more enjoyable is a tune when it has changes in pace and dynamics, incorporating staccato notes, legato phrases and crescendos?

(For the non musical amongst us that’s short crisp notes, flowing phrases and bits that get LOUDER). So find some variation and changes of pace and dynamics in your speech.

Also think about the journey your character makes within the speech. If your monologue is retrospective – telling a story of something that has happened in the past – you should be actually reliving those moments as you are speaking. This will give the speech immediacy.

So, in short: think light and shade, variation, contrast, journey, immediacy.

4. Pick a great speech

I am going to be bold here. If a speech is in a published modern monologue collection book – steer clear. It’s likely that it’s 'well done'. There are plenty of places to get hold of exciting new plays. If you visit The Royal Court, Soho Theatre or Theatre503 it’s likely you can buy the text of what you are seeing for less than the price of a pint.

"Pick a character that agents might put you up for, or that casting directors would see you read for."

The Royal Court has a fab bookshop with lots of cheap single plays, and some great anthologies. And I love browsing in the National Theatre Bookshop too.

Choose an interesting speech from a play you love. It doesn’t have to be a new play. Cutting and pasting text together from different parts of a scene can work well, although it’s a skill in itself – it needs to hang together well and have flow.

Don’t rule out TV and film as a source of speeches. But choose wisely of course, I’m not sure anyone would want to hear a soliloquy from Ian Beale.

Shakespeare is different. You’re unlikely to find a Shakespeare monologue that hasn’t appeared in an anthology somewhere, so they are a great place to start looking, but when you’ve chosen make sure you get to know the play.

Oh, and shameless plug here: our Monologue Anthology at Without a Paddle is full of new original pieces from our productions over the last six years – and it’s free!

5. Some quick tips

  • Avoid mime, unless you are absolutely brilliant at it.
  • Use props which can be easily sourced (bottle of water, piece of clothing for example).
  • Avoid sustained loud and angry passages; I never really want to hear an actor shout on stage or in an audition. Remember light and shade.
  • Feel free to move around but also find stillness – no need to make a gesture on every line.
  • Stick to the time limit! If they ask for two minutes then they want two minutes! If you go over the panel may stop you – but even if they don’t they may well be sitting there, silently peeved that you haven’t followed their brief.
  • Don’t rush – use the time. It’s your time! Give them the time to appreciate your work!


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