Every year, tens of thousands of HSC drama students search for the monologue that’s going to make them stand out for their Individual Performance examination. Unfortunately, given the limited variety of plays that high school syllabuses teach, students often find themselves doing the same, over-done monologues that the markers see every year.
If you’re going to decide on a monologue that the board of studies has seen time and time again for years, you better make sure that you can do it justice, and do it differently. But why add that pressure? Instead of turning to Black Rock and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll because you’ve studied them, your decision should be based on what suits you as an individual performer, but also something that excites you, and potentially challenges you as a performer – that is what the markers love to see.
Know Your Plays
Read. It’s a stressful time, you’ve probably got that mammoth PDHPE textbook to rote learn. Or if you’re a drama student, you probably don’t. But reading (many) plays is the first step. And read the whole play. Many students make the mistake of flipping through until they see blocks of text indicating a good ol’ monologue they can take straight out of the book with no context. Bad decision. Not only will this work against you for character development, but you’ll find that once you’re up and prepared, it will come back to bite you when someone asks – “So tell us how this scene differs for your character compared to the rest of the story?”.
Reading plays will not only help you find a solid monologue that’s right for you, but it will help inform your way to approach it. Reading, comparing and analysing different scripts is the best way to get into the mindset for your performance (and will also help to fill out that logbook).
Dramatic performance is an interpersonal feat. The best monologues are those that you may have some sort of connection to, or at least an ability to understand and empathise with the character’s desires. This is what will make your performance unique, and the first step is choosing a monologue that fits. Think about what you, not just as a performer, but as a young person, want to say. It’s better to have belief in a performance on a personal level than a desire to recreate a performance done before.
What facets of your own personality can you see in your character? Do they have the same sense of humour? Do they get annoyed by the same things? And if they don’t, work with that. Try and understand what situation you would have to be in to have the same reaction as that character. Working with your own emotions and personality is a great place to start in deciding on a piece, an understanding of your own experiences can lend to the character.
Know Your Limits
Knowing yourself also means knowing what you can and can’t do. Regardless of whether you’re a good or bad actor, don’t assume that your interpretation of Othello is going to bowl everyone over just because you can play anything. Know what sort of pieces are going to allow you to play, rather than limit you in their scope. Age, for example, is an important factor to look at. Finding good monologues within the age range of sixteen – twenty can be tough, but they are out there, and choosing an age-range closer to you is only a good thing. That shouldn’t be a rule, and if you are ready to fully inhabit a forty year-old mother, or a two-month old baby, go for it, but this is about what will make your performance easier on you, and allow you to explore without hinderance.
This may also go for accents, musical ability and physicality. Drama students often make bold moves in choosing monologues. Bold is good, but so is knowing that you can pull it off.
Don’t forget you’ll be doing your IP at around the same time that your head is exploding from other exams. This is not the time to learn a new skill. If you are confident and assured in an accent, go ahead – but if you’re going to have to spend half your time looking up YouTube accent tutorials, you don’t have that time to spare. Get familiar with your boundaries and work towards making what you do well, the best you’ve ever done it!
Know Your Audience
Remember, this is an examination, and not a public performance. Your peers are not the ones you’re trying to win over. There’s a difference between choosing a comedy piece because you know your friends will cack themselves watching you do it, and knowing that you can actually do a Neil Simon piece justice. Your markers will be looking for an understanding of the play as a whole, and your character as a whole. Let’s presume that your markers will have read the play that your monologue is from.
“Nah – mine’s some obscure off-off-off-off-off-Broadway show”.
Doesn’t matter. Make that assumption, and understand that they will be looking at your performance through a lens that has the context of the whole play.
Remember as well that your markers have probably seen the same pieces over and over again for years. Again, there is no shame in choosing a popular piece, but it may work against you in terms of standing out. The last thing you want is your performance to be informed by other students who are doing the same monologue as you. Your choices need to be unique, and based on your own study of dramatic material.
Know Your Script
Log books are pretty annoying. A lot of the work that you’re doing on your piece, takes place in the moment and in your head – having to write it down seems arbitrary. But trust me, writing down your process will save you the absolute freak-out you’re going to have when it’s a day before your book is due and you’ve done nothing.
Cutting, re-arranging and shaping your monologue is the perfect way to start filling up your log-book, and a really good process to go through. Scoring the script, including adding beats and intentions is the kind of work that the markers are looking for in your logbook, not to mention what you should be doing with your monologue anyway.
The HSC is a stressful time for all students. If you’re passionate about performance and drama, your individual performance should be a process of enjoyment and excitement. The key is to decide on your monologue early on, and then get to work. Choosing a monologue with only a week to go will leave you with a bad mark, a stressful experience and will end up with you hating your own performance. Do your research, know what’s right for you, and know your limits.