Let’s be honest: performing a monologue is terrifying. We’re actors and we love to be in relationship with another actor on stage. We love scenes, we love conflict, we love drama. Usually you are only ever performing monologues for auditions. They are actually quite rare in plays. And whether that is for a theatre production or a drama school there will typically be a similar set up: empty room, chair and a panel of one or more people.
This can be a daunting, but there are a few ways of making it a more positive and, hopefully, more enjoyable experience. Here is how to perform a monologue in 10 easy steps.
1. An Opportunity to act
An audition is still acting.
Always think of any audition as an opportunity to act. It is a chance to do what you love. We put so much pressure on auditions that we often forget that we are doing something we enjoy. When you start to think about auditions as simply acting it takes some of the pressure off the audition. Here is a great video summing up this point:
If, like me, you are always dreading auditions because you put so much pressure on yourself, then it’s worth working out how to change this. Auditioning is a big part of an actor’s life, and the continuous anxiety and stress can be harmful.
2. Walk in confidently. Be genuine.
Be confident as you walk into the audition room and be genuine with the people you are auditioning for. Go up and introduce yourself with a hand shake and feel self-assured in knowing that they wanted to see you!
They asked for you. They want you to get the role.
Don’t pretend you know more than you do, just be yourself. Here is another great video which you can use pre-audition to help your confidence:
At the end of the day it’s your audition. Do whatever helps you. For some that means running lines and talking with the casting director, for others that means diving straight into the scene. Find your own audition process.
It’s not just about your acting
Theatre, unlike film and TV, has a long and intimate rehearsal process. Creating a positive and supportive atmosphere in the rehearsal room is a theatre director’s chief aim. At an audition, the director wants to see that you are open and great to work with. Showing passion for the project, offering unique ideas and sharing opinions about the play are great ways to show this.
3. Get on with it.
Don’t waste time.
It is absolutely fine to take a beat before you start your monologue, but don’t do a full vocal warm up or mediation session. Show them that you are the kind of actor who loves to work. Get in there, be professional and get the job done. At times it comes across as indulgent if you take a lot of time to prepare before your monologue. Of course if it’s an emotional piece there is a little more room here.
Be yourself, keep it simple and when you walk out that door let it go, grateful to have been given an opportunity to do what you love.
The best way to perform a monologue is to make a bold choice and commit to it. Show that you want to put your stamp on the character. The director will inevitably give you direction, so don’t worry about making the “wrong decision”.
There is no right way to play a character and directors will always be impressed by strong choices.
4. Be ready to take direction.
You will almost certainly be asked to do the monologue a second time with some new direction. I recommend preparing your monologue a number of ways before you come into the audition to prepare for this. Never fight with the director, be open and always try to take on their direction as best you can. If you don’t understand something get them to clarify.
5. Minimise gestures and movement.
Don’t use excessive gestures. In some circumstances it can really work to be very physical, but for most monologues you are better off keeping movement to a minimum. If you can stand (or sit) still and deliver a monologue that is very powerful and impressive.
Three common reasons for why we over gesture
Do you make gestures to show your acting?
Do you make excessive gestures because your nervous?
Do you make gestures out of habit?
These are the most common reasons, and all can be tackled through self awareness, physical work and experience.
Monologue Exercises. A simple exercise is to try your monologue sitting on your hands. You will quickly see how much you have been moving, and how that movement is distracting from the monologue.
The key to battling this problem is preparing your monologue properly so that you know what your objective is and who you’re talking to in the monologue. Is it a friend? Lover? Parent? Understand your relationship to the person you are performing your monologue to. When you are really transcended within the monologue a lot of your physical habits dissipate.
6. Be well warmed up before performing.
You simply have to warm up, I don’t care for how long.
Find some time to warm up before the audition. Even if it is just a 5-10 minute warm up, it will get you focused and ready to go. You will not only perform better, you will feel better walking into the audition.
Some quick vocal warm ups
- Humming. Simple sets of humming. (Don’t push)
- Scales. A basic major scale up and do to warm up your voice.
- Deep breathing. This will calm you in the audition and also centre your breath.
- Stretching. A free and open body leads to a free and open voice. So do some stretching and physical work.
- Massage. Release tension through a quick massage. Common problem areas: jaw, chest and shoulders.
Vocal Warm Up for a Monologue [Video]
7. Don’t panic about your preparation. Be in the moment.
As we spoke about in how to rehearse a monologue, preparation is vital, but once you are in the audition room and performing your monologue don’t get caught up trying to remember all your preparation. If you have rehearsed well it will be in your muscle memory and you will be able to just relax and perform.
Rather than trying to unhold your preparation in an audition. Allow it to sit underneath your acting work. It will inform it, but it shouldn’t ever be a mechanical repeat of what you’ve practiced a hundred times at home. Kevin Spacey told me some great advice at a workshop a few years back:
“Your character is saying this monologue for the first time”
This is pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how often we forget this. Each word, each line, each idea is a discovery in the moment. Don’t cling onto your preparation.
What if something goes wrong?
Forgetting a line or changing the intention of the monologue half way through can actually be a good thing. Les Chantery, one of the best acting coaches I know, calls these gift’s from the acting gods. Les argues that these “mistakes” often allow you to stop being mechanical and force you into the present moment. (Les Chantery Interview)
We had a great actor contribute an article about being in the moment, which is worth a read.
8. Never look at the people you’re auditioning for.
Don’t look the director in the eye. (It’s just awkward)
This is a classic rule. It makes the people you are auditioning for feel uncomfortable and it can also make you uncomfortable and throw your performance. As a general rule I recommend placing your eye line just above their heads at about eye level.
If the monologue you are performing is to a person then perform it to someone. At most auditions they will have an actor there for this reason, so take advantage of that. If they don’t then perform the monologue to a mark in the room. Don’t perform it to the director.
9. Be clear and direct.
When speaking use your full voice, and be clear and direct with the person/audience you are speaking to. If you are auditioning for theatre, they are not just looking at your acting ability but your movement, posture, voice and confidence, so show them you are a well-rounded performer.
10. Give it your best.
The conclusion is this: if you have prepared well, the rest is out of your control. Be yourself, keep it simple and when you walk out that door let it go, grateful to have been given an opportunity to do what you love.