In contrast to "dialogue" which is two people speaking, monologue is one person speaking for sustained amount of time. As Joanne Merlin defines it in Auditioning, "A monologue may be a soliloquy in which the character speaks to himself, or it may be a speech take from a scene in which the character addresses another character at length and without interruption, although the other character is not physically present and must be imagined by the actor."
Here is an example of monologue from The Drunken City by Adam Bock, one of the monologues found in In Performance by JV Mercanti (the paragraph breaks are the playwright’s):
I'm not kissing you in a church. I got more important things to figure out. Be serious.
You gotta help me figure this out. Please?
I wanted the wedding. Because it's gonna be a gorgeous wedding. I'm gonna wear my Mom's wedding dress.
It's from 1910 and her Mom wore it
and her mom's mom wore it
and it's satin with inlaid pearls, well not inlaid pearls, that's not the word I'm, and I remember when I was a tiny little girl I remember thinking “I’m gonna wear that dress" because it's the most, it's gorgeous and I'm gonna get to be looked at, I'm gonna,
Gary was just a prop. He was. He was just
And I knew he wanted me to say yes, so I did. I just
I kept lying
And then, worse, Frank, worse, he suddenly changed on me.
He started acting like a husband. How he thinks a husband is, the world's dangerous and he has to protect me and that means I have to listen to him and he's gonna tell me what to do and I'm gonna have to act like he tells me. He's gonna be like his Dad. But his Mom's this little mousy woman who never says Boo.
And I'm not gonna be her.
But I just don't know what to say to Gary.
I want to tell him the truth. I do.
It's good you brought me here. I'm gonna need some help doing all th.is. Will you wait for me? I'm gonna go sit and be quiet for a minute. You're so sweet. I wish I'd met you before I met Gary.
How does an actor select a monologue for an audition?
Some auditions with ask that you prepare a monologue. Or two. For a "general audition" often times actors are asked to prepare "two contrasting monologues" lasting a certain amount of time, from two to five minutes depending on the audition. A great starting point for all actors is to have a contemporary monologue (As opposed to classical such as Shakespeare or the Greeks) that is 1 to 2 minutes long and is in the actors age range (The range of ages that you would be most likely to play on stage). As you move further along in your acting career, you will build up a full set of monologues—an arsenal—that will have a variety of types for each type of audition,, such as a dramatic classical piece, a comic classical piece, a dramatic contemporary, a comic contemporary, an off the beaten track monologue, a song, etc.
How does an actor prepare a monologue?
The first thing to do with any monologue is to make sure that you read the play. And read it more than once. In order to understand, the given circumstances of who, where, when of the play and of the monologue itself. The next step is to determine the specifics of the monologue. I really love starting with Michael Shurtleff’s “guideposts” which he lays out in his book Audition:
- Relationship. Who are you talking to? And what is specific about that relationship? A mother-daughter relationship is factual, but it's not enough. What kind of relationship, is it strained or healthy, etc.?
- Conflict. “What are you fighting for?” Shurtleff asks. What is it that you need from that other person and what is it that makes it urgent? Why do you need it right now?
- The Moment Before. What happens to you before the monologue begins that propels you into this monologue? There's a reason that you begin speaking and the reason comes from that other person. What is it that they say or do that you are responding to? And what is it in your backstory is a character that fuels your need at this very moment?
How does an actor best perform a monologue?
Before the monologue begins, you will introduce yourself and the piece you will be performing today (the name of the play and playwright, as well as the character if appropriate). And be sure to take a moment before the monologue begins to make a clear break between you and you as the character. It does not need to be long—in fact, it should not be too long, but it should distinguish you from the character. Then, as the character, your focus should be above and beyond the director, casting director, or whoever else is in the room so that you are delivering the monologue to the imagined other character and not to them. Similar to the beginning of the monologue, make sure that you complete the moment after the monologue. Imagine that final response from the other person. Did you get what you want? Did you fail? Take that moment after, then take a moment to return to being yourself. And say thank you. The director then may have something to say to you or they may not. They may sell simply think you and your audition is done with the director might work with you on your monologue or ask you questions about your experience in theater.
Any tips for performing a monologue? Do's and do not's?
Don't use my monologues that are gratuitous in anyway—that indulge in violence or profanity or general anger. And make sure to put that focal point—where are you are seeing the other character—above and beyond the director. Don't perform as if the director is the other character. They are not they are not your mother or lover or whoever it is you're talking to. And don't stand too close to the director. It gets real creepy when someone is right in front of you. The director wants to be able to take notes and not feel that you are reading their paper.
Professor David A. Miller teaches acting, directing, devised theatre, and playwriting at Bloomsburg University. He regularly directs productions for BU Players (Macbeth, The Nosemakers Apprentice: Chronicles of a Plastic Surgeon) and professionally (Amphibian Stage Productions, The Artful Conspirators).