One of the best things you can do to have a career as an actor is to go to drama school. The tough part is getting in. Drama schools are very selective; they don’t just take anyone that turns up and wants to be on a Netflix show, or doing Hamlet on Broadway. No; to get into drama school you have to be a great actor, you have to be prepared, and, most importantly, you have to pick the right piece to audition with. The process of doing this is shrouded in mystery and confusion by actors trying to reinvent the wheel, not knowing their texts well enough, or the debate around showing your acting range. In this article, I will step you through, point by point, how to pick drama school monologues that give you the very best chance of getting in.
The best way to pick drama school monologues is to pick pieces that you connect to, that excite you, or entertain you, or even scare you a little bit. You want to trust your gut and pick pieces that you think you can shine in. Also, when they say contrasting monologues they mean it. Ensure that you are showing your range.
Know the Basics
The first step is to read the drama school’s audition requirements. These are specific to each and every drama school. Usually, a school will want two contrasting monologues: one classical, a Shakespeare, a Checkov, an Ibsen, something of that nature. As well as one contemporary: a David Mammet, a Sam Shepard, a Lynn Nottage or similar. Some schools may want you to prepare three or more pieces, some will give you a list to choose from, others will tell you to choose your own pieces. Some may even want you to sing a part of a song, or prepare a movement piece! All the options are on the table. What is most important though is that you read the audition requirements and become familiar with them. For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume your audition is going to require two contrasting monologues, one contemporary and one classical. I will go into more detail about the contrasting nature in a moment, however at this stage if you would like to read more about how to audition for drama school and what that process is like, we have some great articles on it: How to Get Into Drama School and How to Prepare for Your Drama School Audition.
Choose Something Appropriate
If the school has a list of monologues to choose from, read all of the pieces. This may take you a while, but, trust me, it’s worth it. As soon as you can, read through all the pieces, and look for ones that suit your age range and gender identity. Monologues, especially the classics, are divided into male and female pieces, if you are gender diverse, then pick the pieces that speak to your lived experience, that you connect to the best. If you are in your early twenties, then looking more at characters like Hamlet, Juliette, the lovers in Midsummer Night’s Dream are good places to start. If you’re a little older, characters like Brutus, Lady Macbeth or Caliban are great options. You can of course break these rules, a great actress from my year at drama school got in on the back of her version of Antonys ‘Oh pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth’ monologue from Julius Caesar. I still remember that piece and it was incredible. She did pick a piece that was a long way away from her lived experience and brought it to life with sheer work ethic, incredible knowledge of the text and a real freedom of storytelling. I would encourage you here, to trust your gut. Go with what you really connect to and if you’re in doubt, pick something age and gender appropriate for you.
Pick Something That Excites You
This is so important. You are going to be spending so much time with this piece! You see, our guideline is as soon as the drama school you are looking at releases audition dates for the year and their pieces, it is time to get started! Whatever pieces you pick, you are going to be reading those plays, rehearsing those pieces and living in those imaginary circumstances a lot over the coming months. So pick pieces and plays that interest you! A big part of getting into drama school is being passionate about acting! You need to care, you need to care about these characters, these relationships and these worlds so find a piece that excites you! You have to find it interesting! A great acting coach of mine said ‘If you want to be interesting you have to be interested. If you want to be fascinating you must be fascinated!’ Never has this been more true than with audition pieces. Some drama schools will want to interview you about the pieces, and about your relationship with them; being able to talk confidently and passionately about the characters and the world is going to go a long way to helping you get into drama school! So start with passion, joy, excitement and interest in the work you are doing.
Find Contrasting Pieces
the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.
We’re starting this section with the definition of contrast, because I think a lot of actors miss the mark here. A state of being strikingly different from something else. That is what we need from your two audition pieces. They have to be strikingly different in terms of tone, content and even style. To give you an idea of what I am talking about. I got into drama school using these two contrasting pieces. Firstly, Brutus from Julius Cesar by William Shakespeare.
It must be by his death: and for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown’d:
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;
And that craves wary walking. Crown him?–that;–
And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,
That at his will he may do danger with.
The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
Remorse from power: and, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections sway’d
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel
Will bear no colour for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities:
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg
Which, hatch’d, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.
Contrast the above with this contemporary piece from A Boys Life by Howard Korder.
I would have destroyed myself for this woman. Gladly. I would have eaten garbage. I would have sliced my wrists open. Under the right circumstances. I mean, if she said, “Hey Phil, why don’t you just cut your wrists open,” well, come on, but if seriously…we clicked, we connected on so many things right off the bat. We talked about God for three hours once. I don’t know what good it did, but that intensity…and the first time we went to bed, I didn’t even touch her. I didn’t want to, understand what I’m saying? And you know, I played it very casually, because, alright, I’ve had some rough experiences, I’m the first to admit, but after a couple of weeks I could feel we were right there, so I laid it down, everything I wanted to tell her, and…and she says to me…she says…”Nobody should ever need another person that badly.” Do you believe that? “Nobody should ever…” What is that? Is that something you saw on TV? I dump my heart on the table, you give me Joyce Dr. Fucking Brothers? “Need, need,” I’m saying I love you, is that wrong? Is that not allowed anymore? And so what if I need her? Is that so bad? Alright, crucify me! I needed her! So what! I don’t want to be by myself, I’m by myself I feel like I’m going out of my mind, I do. I sit there, I’m thinking forget it, I’m not gonna make it through the next ten seconds, I just can’t stand it. But I do, somehow, I make it through the ten seconds, but then I have to do it all over again, cause they just keep coming, all these…seconds, floating by, while I’m waiting for something to happen. I don’t know what, a car wreck, a nuclear war or something, that sounds awful but at least there’d be this instant where I’d know I was alive. Just once. Cause I look in the mirror, and I can’t believe I’m really there. I can’t believe that’s me. It’s like my body, right, is the size of, what, the Statue of Liberty, and I’m inside of it. I’m down in one of the legs, this gigantic hairy leg, I’m scraping around inside my own foot like some tiny fetus. And I don’t know who I am, or where I’m going. And I wish I’d never been born. Not only that, my hair is falling out, and that really sucks.
N.B. This is for educational purposes only, all rights reserved. Originally Published January 1st 1988 by Dramatists Play Service
Now reading those two pieces back to back you can instantly see how they contrast right? Brutus, a highly decorated general in the Roman army, is deciding weather he should murder his friend and leader Julius Ceasar. In contrast, Phil has just been dumped by a girl and is having a complete emotional breakdown. The tone of the Brutus piece is high intenstity, high drama and the stakes are literally life and death. Compared to Phil who is low status, lower stakes, is desperate to be loved and is a complete mess. By doing these pieces back to back I was hoping to show my ability to do comedy and drama, to do high status characters as well as low status and to showcase my power on stage as well as my weakness.
When you are choosing your pieces, as I have said, pick something that you connect to and once you are certain about it, read through the other pieces with an eye for what is the opposite of what you have already chosen? They have to be different, as different as possible. A simple way of looking at it is try to pick one comedy and one drama. Or one serious and one silly. See if you can find something that is a long way away from your first piece in terms of tone, style and action then you are on the right track!
Think Outside the Box
There are some pieces that have been absolutely done to death, that get performed in front of audition panels every single year, that honestly I would advise against even attempting. Now, we here at Stagemilk are divided by this. Some of us view these pieces as classic hits, like cracking out Hey Jude or Let it Be. Others, myself included, feel these pieces are like listening to 3am karaoke versions of the above tracks. What I would say is, if you really connect to these pieces and you are dead-set on performing them, go for it. Just know that you are going to have to turn it out! Work the crap out of it, know every aspect of these pieces and really bring them to life!
The over-done pieces include, but are not limited too:
TWELFTH NIGHT: Act II Scene II, Viola. “I left no ring with her”
KING LEAR: Act I Scene II, Edmund ‘Thou nature”
ROMEO AND JULIET: Act III, Scene II, Juliet, ‘Gallop a’pace”
THE SEAGULL: Act I, Treplev ‘She loves me, she loves me not’
Now there are others, and we may well add to this list over time, but I would just encourage you to think outside the box here. If you read these pieces and you really connect to them and want to go for it, by all means go for it! Plenty of actors have got into drama school with these pieces, just know, in your bones, that you are doing Hey Jude at karaoke. Now, that can be absolutely amazing, if you can sing, know all the words and nail the hell out of that harmony. If you can’t your just another suit, wailing into a microphone while the audience wishes they were elsewhere.
The alternative is to cast your eye a little further, especially if you are not limited to the list that a drama school gives out, if they allow any piece then let’s find some funky pieces here to wake a panel out of their auditioning slumber! We actually have a great article on Underused Shakespeare pieces here. Also, remember my story from before, especially for female identifying actors trying to find a great Shakespearean monologue, if you don’t like the female options, check out the male ones! Some schools may not allow gender swapping like this so check the requirements before you do it, but unless they specifically say not to, go for gold! Shakespearean female characters have been written about a lot, there are way more male roles so dive in to the boys if you can’t find something that you really vibe with!
Also, take a second to think about this from the perspective of the audition panel. They are seeing the same pieces over and over, it is hard not to compare people’s performance directly. If you can show them something uncommon, that really lets you shine, it is going to be more memorable than the fourteenth performance of the exact same piece that day! Think outside the box, cast a wide net, read a bunch of plays and monologues! If you want a really great, supportive environment to practice in, check out the StageMilk Scene Club.
Work With an Experienced Coach or Teacher
So, you have read through all the pieces, you have gone for a contemporary and a classic that you really connect to, that you are interested in and that preferably, has not been performed to absolute death. Now, you are ready to knuckle down and get to work! One of the best things I did was work with an experienced voice and acting coach, who was actually on the panel of the school I got into, on my pieces. Now, that exact thing might not be possible for you, but I can guarantee, wherever you are in the world, if you do a bit of searching, you will find someone nearby who can help you out. Here is the criteria for the human you need:
- They either teach at or went to the drama school you are trying to get into, or a similar one.
- They have experience successfully helping actors get into drama school
- They have worked professionally as an actor, acting teacher or director
- They are kind, interesting, passionate and helpful!
If you can tick those boxes then you have found the right person! You need to get to work as soon as possible and the vast majority of the work you do, will be at home by yourself. Having a coach you can see at least once a month to offer guidance on your pieces and give you direction is absolutely essential and can be really helpful in what can otherwise be a very solitary exercise. They can also help you pick the right piece if you are still struggling. We have a great article on preparing for drama school auditions here.
Finally, if you can’t find anyone near you and you’d prefer to work with an online coach, I am currently working with five actors in the StageMilk Scene Club to help them get into drama school. We have helped hundreds of actors get into drama schools all around the world ranging from WAAPA and LAMDA to UCLA and Julliard. We have tonnes of great resources on Shakespeare and monologues as well as regular one on one coaching sessions included in your membership. It’s really worth a look if you are serious about getting into drama school! Check it out.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
Now you have your pieces, a coach and a timeline until it is audition day, it is time to get to work! Firstly, there is no limit to how many times you can or should read the play. Read it as many times as you can stomach. Sir Anthony Hopkins will read the play upwards of 400 times until the entire thing is in his memory. He has two Academy Awards, four BAFTAs, two Emmys and many more awards to his name so not a bad bloke to emulate! Seriously though it is really important you understand the text, the relationships and the world. Reading the play a number of times is going to help! From there, it is vitally important that you learn the living hell out of your lines. When you are in the audition room on the day, you are going to be under pressure, and under pressure your brains flight or fight response can kick in, and before you know it, you are freezing up or babbling incoherently. The only way past nerves is preparation. Preparing the right way, with intention and clarity and practice. Of course a coach can help you here a lot and guide you through this process. What is important is that you can rely on the preparation you have done, and really tell the story of the piece, moment to moment on the day.
No idea where to start or how to do that? Join the StageMilk Scene Club.
There you have it! A step-by-step guide on how to pick an audition piece! It’s a case of reading through your options thoughtfully, trusting your gut, picking something that interests you, trying to avoid anything too well known if possible and then working the absolute heck out of it until you find utter freedom in the practice of your work. This is the ideal world scenario for picking an audition piece, it can be tricky, but hopefully this article has helped you on your journey. If you’d like to work with us on it, click the link below!