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 practice, or an acting exercise, it takes some of the pressure off the audition. Bryan Cranston talks about this a lot, we’ll let him take it from here:
If, like me, you are always dreading auditions because you put so much pressure on yourself, then it’s worth working out how to work through this. Auditioning is a big part of an actor’s life, and the continuous anxiety and stress can be harmful in the long run. You can try things like meditating before an audition, you can try yoga, music or a mantra. You could also try self-taping the audition the day before you go in, to help get in some practice in front of the camera, and to double check you know you’re lines, your eye lines, your blocking etc. But at the end of the day, it’s about trying to shift that mindset – moving away from fear and dread, to a healthy amount of nerves, but ideally – enjoyment! This will take time, but we wanted to mention this first up, as it can be a huge obstacle for most actors.
2. Perform with Confidence
You are most likely preparing your monologue for an audition, whether that be for a particular production, or to get into Drama School. As we just spoke about, you are likely to be nervous and a little anxious. That’s great – that means you CARE! So instead of giving in to your fears, overcome them and use it to fuel you. Most importantly, be confident and comfortable as you walk into the audition room. All your interactions with the casting director/panel/director are taken into account, whether intentionally or not, so it’s important to be genuine, authentic and friendly. Say hello, introduce yourself with a handshake and feel self-assured in knowing that they wanted to see you!
They asked for you. And they want you to get the role.
But don’t pretend you know more than you do, or put on a “mask” – just be yourself. True, authentic confidence comes from someone who is really comfortable in who they are and what they have to offer.
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 meditation session in the audition room. 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.
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. In some ways, this is a test – they are testing your ability to adapt in the moment and your flexibility as an actor. You might do a great 1st take, but then if a director gives you an obscure note, and you flounder – they may lose confidence in your ability to adapt to their direction. So again, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! And have fun with it when you do – why not rehearse whilst eating a bunch of grapes? or with a book on your head? Anything you can do to loosen you up and bring some playfulness to your work. Who knows what they may ask you to try!
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. But, this doesn’t mean completely ignore the possibility of movement. Perhaps your character might lean back in their chair, or turn to one side, or brush their hair back etc. Basically, you want your stillness to be a CHOICE, and not an indication of lack of preparation.
Three common reasons actor’s over-gesture
Do you make gestures to show your acting?
Do you make excessive gestures because you’re nervous?
Do you make gestures out of habit or nerves?
Do you fall into these traps? Not to fear! It’s a very common issue that actors work through. They can be tackled through self awareness, physical work and overall experience.
- Rehearse your monologue sitting on your hands. You will quickly see how much you have been moving, and how that movement is potentially distracting from the monologue.
- Rehearse your monologue with a piece of cellotape on your forehead. This is helpful for those of you who gesture a lot with their face and eyebrows! The goal is not the perform like a statue, but just to become aware of your personal habits, and make sure that you are in control of them when you need to be.
- Focus on your objective in rehearsal. What is it you are trying to achieve? This will help you to make sure that each movement you make is inspired and motivated by something, and not just a nervous tick.
- Focus on the person you are talking to. Who is your character talking to, and what is their relationship with them? I behave different physically when I’m with my mother, as opposed to my best mates. When you are really connected with the person you are performing to, you’ll find a lot of your physical habits will dissipate.
- Film your monologue and watch it back. When you do, really focus on your physicality, and be objective about it – is it distracting, or not? Then you can make conscious choices to include some movement, and omit other unnecessary actions to best tell the story you are trying to tell.
6. Warm up before performing.
You simply have to warm up – no excuses!
Your body and voice is your instrument – you need to tune it and get it ready for performance! Make some time to warm up before the audition. Even if it is just a 10 minute warm up, that is better than nothing. A solid 30 minute – 1 hour warm up will get you focused and ready to go. I find it can help to dissipate some nerves, as it gets you out of your head and into your body. It can also just make you feel more prepared, which helps with audition anxiety. Everyone needs to warm up – I bet you Benedict Cumberbatch does a warm up before an audition or a show, and why should you be any different? By warming up you will not only perform better, you will feel better walking into the audition. So why the hell wouldn’t you?
Some quick vocal warm ups
- Humming. Simple sets of humming. (Don’t push or project, hum to yourself, it’s simply to warm up the vocal chords)
- Scales. Singers will be very familiar with scales – but basically hum or sing up and down through your pitch range, ironing out the kinks, to warm up your voice.
- Deep breathing. Breathing into the chest, lungs, stomach AND diaphragm will calm your nerves and centre your breath. It relaxes the abdomen, neck and throat, providing you with more vocal flexibility and power.
- Stretching. A free and open body leads to a free and open voice. So do some stretching – work through your tight spots, Yoga is a great way to warm up the body and centre the breath at the same time.
- Massage. Release tension through self-massage. Common problem areas: jaw, chest and shoulders. BUT be very gentle, there’s no need to mash your cheekbones and end up with bruises. Gently massage the face, arms and legs to loosen up the muscles and release tension. If you go too hard, you will instead just be ADDING tension.
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, 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 delete 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. Remember, your character is saying these words for the very first time – it can’t feel like you’re just regurgitating what you practiced (as tempting as it is to do that!)
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 you off. As a general rule, I recommend placing your eye line just above their heads (but not too high, they still need to be able to see your eyes).
At most auditions they will have another actor, or a reader there that you can use as an eye line, so take advantage of that. If they don’t, then perform the monologue to a spot in the room (again, not too far away, so they can see you and hear you clearly.)
Another note: don’t look DOWN. For a moment here or there, yes it’s okay, but don’t default to looking down when you’re thinking. Whilst looking down when we’re searching for thoughts is a very natural human thing to do, we need to try to avoid it as actors. The casting director, or panel need to see your face, and they can’t do that if you’re looking at your feet.
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 and capable performer. As we mentioned, a vocal warm up and physical warm up will really help you here. If you’re feeling like your voice needs work, then get thee to a voice coach, immediately!
10. Give it your all!
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.
[Video – How to Perform a Monologue]