3 steps to picking the perfect audition monologue (and 4 common mistakes to avoid)

While I’m on a roll with the audition prep stuff, I may as well talk a little about choosing a monologue It may sound like the easiest part of your prep, but it’s actually incredibly easy to get wrong – and getting it wrong makes a huge difference to your chances of being cast.

Let’s say you’re auditioning for a production of Hamlet.  You’ve heard it on the grapevine that they’ve cast all the roles except for Ophelia, so you deduce you will either get cast as Ophelia or you won’t get a part at all.  They’ve asked you to prepare one Shakespearean monologue.  For your recent drama school audition, you performed Hermione from The Winter’s Tale, and the teachers worked with you on it, so you feel like you’ve got a good understanding of the monologue and the way it should be performed – and it’s Shakespeare, which is what they asked for.  You go to the audition, you do a good job of your performing your monologue, they work with you on a few things, and you walk away feeling like a winner… then you hear nothing back from them, and eventually you realise someone else has been cast.  What happened?

There are a lot of elements at play here, but of course you know what I’m going to say – it was your choice of monologue.

No matter how well you perform at your audition, if you’ve chosen the wrong monologue, you’ve shot yourself in the foot before you’ve even started.

Technically, there’s no such thing as the ‘wrong’ monologue.  It’s subjective – one director may love seeing you perform dramatic monologues and another may think you should only do comedy.  Having said that, there are things that nobody wants to see you do, and you can spot them in advance (and avoid them like the plague), and there are things that will massively increase your chances of getting cast.  These things have nothing to do with talent or skill level, so you can better your odds no matter what level you’re at.

Choosing a good monologue always comes down to understanding type 

You need to know to what type you are, and how your type fits into the play(s) they’re casting.  So how do you do this?

  1. Firstly, read the play you’re auditioning for.
  2. Think about which characters match your type.
  3. Choose a monologue from a character that matches your type – whether it is from the play you’re auditioning for, or a play of similar style.

That’s it! Sound simple? Unfortunately there are a few things that can trip actors up.

Common mistake #1: choosing emotion over type

A lot of actors get excited about powerful monologues with lots of emotion, which they think will give them an opportunity to show off their amazing acting skillz. BAD IDEA. If a monologue is by a character that’s twice your age and of the opposite sex, you won’t be showing them what they need to see. Doesn’t matter how great you are – your performance will not be relevant to their needs.  Make it easy for them – choose the monologue by the character you could actually be cast as!

Common mistake #2: playing outside stage age

Your audition character MUST match your stage/screen age!  Different aged characters use different language and movement and therefore require different skills.  Even if you can perform an older character well, if they are auditioning you for the part of a younger character, then you are not showing them what they need to see. Newsflash – they’re not going to cast you as a 60 year old woman, because they are auditioning ACTUAL 60 year old women for those roles. Pick characters your own age!  Got it?  Good.

Common mistake #3: picking a monologue from the wrong play

Some auditions specify that you must choose a monologue from a play DIFFERENT from the one you’re auditioning for. Some will specifically ask for monologues directly from the play you are auditioning for. You need to check for this information, otherwise there’s no chance you will be able to show them what they need to see.

I can’t say it enough – show them what they need to see.  If a different play is required, gather as much information as you can about the character they’re trying to cast, and pick something similar.  If you need to learn a new monologue for every audition, so be it.  Do it.  It’s good practice anyway.

Common mistake #4: not doing your research

Sometimes you’re not given enough information about what you’re auditioning for. This can also make it hard to decide what monologue to pick. In this case, you need to be a smarty pants and research the company’s upcoming season and check which of those plays have characters that match your age and type, and start again at step 1.
If you really can’t find the info you need, then you just need to find a character that matches you. If in doubt – be true to your type. Play your age, play your type. If you’re the sweet young girl, play that. If you’re the nerdy guy next door, play that.

Still not convinced?

If you’re confused, or your gut says, ‘But I can play anything!’ or ‘Acting is about being someone that’s different from me!’, I’d advise you to think again.  I’ve written about type-casting before, so I don’t want to go too far into it again, but suffice it to say that your ‘type’ is on your side.  Your ‘type’ will get you work, if you know it and use it.

You are unique, and no matter how good a performer you are, you have an ‘essence’ (a particular quality… a ‘type’, in fact) that shines through each time you perform, and it will be the same essence no matter that character.  You will generally perform at your best when the ‘essence’ of the character you’re playing matches your own ‘essence’.  So if you have a nerdy, awkward quality about you, you’ll probably be swimming in compliments when you get cast as ‘the nerd’.  It might be annoying to begin with, because you might not want to be a nerd, but learn to love it… that’s where the majority of your work will lie.  Don’t forget, each character is unique and wonderful even if they fall within the ballpark of ‘nerd’, so there’s no need to get bored, and your type may change as you age and mature, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

Your next step:

Now that you know and have embraced your type, time to collect every monologue under the sun that features your type.  If you don’t know what character you’re auditioning for, then you want to show yourself at your best – and your best is when you work with your type.  So when you’re at the library doing a bit of light play reading, and you spot a nerdy monologue, photocopy that sucker and put it in a file.  You want a nice variety.  Funny ones, sad ones, weird ones, old ones, new ones, absurd ones.  Collect them all, then if you are lucky enough to know whether the work your auditioning for is comedy or drama, you can pick something to match – without sacrificing type.

There’s more that I could say about choosing a monologue, but I’ll just leave you with one final thought: having a good knowledge of a large variety of plays will help you so much when it comes to choosing a monologue.  If you have some spare time, I’d really recommend heading into the library and reading a few plays.  They don’t take long to read; they’re much shorter than a novel.  It’ll also save you time when you need to find a monologue at short notice.

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