I launched my acting career via night courses and one-off workshops rather than formal drama training. Some of the things I missed learning at drama school I have since picked up through work experience (as well as many things you can only learn by working) but I still come across the occasional training gap.
One came up last month: I got a stage audition and was asked to bring a monologue, something I have never needed before. As time was tight, I learned one from a book a friend lent me, but I don’t think it suited me and I didn’t get recalled.
To pre-empt this happening again I have been looking for monologue material that works for me. I thought it would be easy, but it turns out there are thousands on the internet and trying to choose is doing my head in. I’m wondering if it would be easier to write something for myself, but I’m not sure how to start that process either.
Downloading free monologues or writing your own from scratch are both inexpensive options for actors on a limited budget. In both cases, you want to make sure you don’t lose in wasted time and effort more than you save in cash.
Free online monologues tend to fall into two categories. The good ones, precisely because they are good, are often overused to the point where, like certain musical theatre audition pieces, the listeners switch off or compare you with the last actor they saw do the piece. Many free monologue sites offer pieces specifically written for the site, rather than extracts from longer plays. That doesn’t mean you can’t find good material, but a monologue should show off how well you portray a character rather than how well you can memorise and speak the words.
A well-chosen piece from a play allows you to draw on background and motivation to give your monologue added power even if the audience hasn’t been party to the scenes that have gone before. If you are working with a piece that has been written as one self-contained scene, you will need to put the work in to create your own backstory and context. This is also good practise for when you play small parts in general.
As for writing your own monologue, it is easy for self-penned monologues to fall into the trap of being nothing more than personal stories from the actor’s own life, rather than demonstrations of their ability to portray a character. As such, they fall more into the category of stand-up rather than monologue. Stand-up skills are very useful for actors, but not usually what a producer or casting director who has specifically asked for a monologue will be interested in.
To get around these pitfalls, invest time in reading as many plays as you can. Try to see at least some of them in performance. Even if your end goal is to work with new material or write your own piece, practise with some of the great monologues and ask yourself what makes them effective, what you can learn from them and what new flavour or approach you can bring to them without losing the spirit of the original.
Most of all, find as many opportunities to perform monologues as you can in front of an audience, whether it is your own work or speeches you are trying out. Scratch nights, slam events and monologue-orientated workshops are all valuable in exploring what works for you.
A good actor never stops training, whether they are from a drama-school background or not and mastering monologues now will pay off whenever you have to create or choose good material throughout your career.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at email@example.com or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne