There will inevitably come a time when you have to audition using a monologue. You will stand alone on a stage and deliver a speech, and you will be terrified. Interestingly, monologues aren’t all that common in acting. In most plays, films and TV shows you are typically engaged in dialogue with another actor. However, even though most of the time you will be working on scenes, monologues are very common when it comes to auditions. This is especially true for theatre auditions and I would say 90% of the time you will use a monologue, not a scene in an early audition for a play. You may also be taking on a soliloquy, this is a monologue that is delivered to the audience. Typically this is the case with Shakespearean monologues.
So, standing in front of a panel, in a sterile room or on an empty stage, can be daunting and unnatural, but let’s see if I can help make that experience a little easier. Here are my tips on how to rehearse a monologue. Remember that you have to find your own process that works for you, but I guarantee if you can take on some of these ideas, your work is going to massively improve.
9 Steps for Preparing a Monologue.
1. Read the Play
There is no excuse for not reading the play your monologue is from. It informs your character decisions and intentions, explains the context of the monologue and helps you understand what it is actually about. If you can bear it read it again and again. Most great plays can be overwhelming on the first read and it’s only after exploring the text multiple times that the nuances come to life. Furthermore, not reading the play could be your undoing if the director/teacher you are auditioning for asks you for your opinion on the play/character. And trust me they love to do this! (So just read the play.)
If you are doing a monologue with unfamiliar language, look up all the foreign/unfamiliar words in a dictionary. This is especially important with a Shakespearean monologue. You can also use Shakespeare’s Words, which is an excellent dictionary specifically for Shakespearean language.
3. Understand the Style
Understanding the style or tone of the monologue you are working on is so important!
Whatever style your monologue is written in, you still always have to play for truth, but there must be an acknowledgement of the tone of the piece. So whether you are working on The Importance of Being Earnest, or a A Streetcar Named Desire aim for truth – but make sure you understand the world your character is living in. I would recommend reading the play thoroughly to try to discern the intention of the writer. Is it farce? Is it a kitchen drama? Is it naturalism? Is it a dark comedy?
You can also read similar plays from the era, and research the writer and the background to the play to help understand the style of the piece in more detail. You don’t have to ‘play the genre’, but being informed will help guide you with your acting choices.
Note: understanding the tone of a monologue can be tough. At the end of the day it’s an instinct. And the way to develop that? READ MORE PLAYS!
4. Who are you Speaking to?
This seems like an obvious point, but it is often ignored. Are you talking to another character? If so, who is it and what is your relationship to that person? Are you talking to the audience? In that case, where is the audience in the room you are performing in? Are they directly in front of you or all around you? Are there 10 people or 1000 people staring at you? There are no right and wrong answers here, but you do have to have an answer. When you generalise and don’t know who you are talking to, the monologue comes across generalised and unengaged. Work this out in your preparation as it will inform your choices.
Tip: if you are working on your monologue on your own, give yourself a really clear eye line. That might be a lamp, or a light switch in your room. Keep that focal point very clear as you work through the monologue, and endow that point with the qualities of the camera. This can be tough, but who said acting was easy? We have to have incredible imaginations as actors.
5. Use an Acting Technique.
When working on your text use the approach that works for you. For some people that might just be thinking about the piece and working out exactly what you are saying, for others that might mean actioning the whole piece and doing a lot of intellectual work on the lines. But at the end of the day what will help you most is working out WHY?
Why does this monologue exist in the play? Why are you talking to this person? Why do you say this line?
Having this curious approach to the work is what will bring it to life. Keep asking questions and try to be a detective, understanding what drives the monologue forward. For more on woking out your own acting technique, have a look at my page on how to act. Whatever approach you use, make sure you are comfortable with it and not just doing it because a teacher or friend told you you have to.
6. Learning lines
I recommend doing most of your script analysis before learning your lines. This way you thoroughly understand the piece before locking in any choices. The key to learning your lines is keeping your process flexible. I find most actors do one of two things:
A) A huge mistake a lot of actors make is to learn lines in a fixed way. You snuggle up on the sofa, get out your monologue, and just start running it. There is no energy, dynamic or thought going into the leanring process.
B) Or, the opposite thing happens and you are putting in too much thought. You make rigid decisions about learning the lines and then just drill the lines again and again.
My recommendation is to keep the words playful. Get up on your feet, or roll around on the floor. Sing your lines if you have to! You never want to get too rigid with your process.
You want your monologue to feel natural and spontaneous when you perform, but preparing a rough blocking for your monologue can really help. If you suffer from a lot of stage anxiety I definitely recommend working out a plan of when and where you move. This can be as simple as working out when you’re going to stand up or sit down, or make a move stage left or right.
8. Rehearse in Front of Someone
This has two benefits. Firstly, rehearsing the monologue in front of people gets you more comfortable performing and will lessen your anxiety when you perform your monologue for real. Rehearsing can also be great to get feedback on your monologue. I would recommend performing your piece to a select group of people: peers you trust, directors, more experienced actors. Performing for people outside of the industry, or close friends, can give you a skewed perspective of your monologue.
9. Try your Monologue Different Ways
At almost all auditions directors will test you to see how well you take direction, so even if you nail your monologue you may be asked to do it again in a completely different way to how you’ve prepared. I recommend preparing for this by rehearsing your monologue in various ways, even if they are a little bit silly. This way if a director asks you to try something you will have already given it a go, and will be more relaxed and open to experiment. Get a friend to play the director and give you direction.
Summation: How to rehearse a monologue
In order to be spontaneous and exciting as a performer, I believe preparation is the key. It relaxes you and gives you confidence in your work. So put in the time when preparing and you will reap the rewards when it comes to performance. Keep your monologue simple and direct and don’t try to do too much in two or three minutes. If they like you they will ask you back and push you further as an actor.