How To Stop Acting
The Monologue Audition
Winning Audition: 101 Strategies
As a business coach, a lot of what I do is help actors create and develop marketing materials that express who they are as actors, and as human beings. One of the main requests I get is, “Can you help me find audition material that’s right for me?” The first question I ask is, “What kind of material are you looking for?” to which they respond, “I need something dramatic and something comedic.” (Or, “an uptempo and a ballad,” for musical theater.)
In my opinion, that response is the reason why finding audition monologues/songs/sides can be so hard, and it’s the first thing I work to address with actors. It’s problematic because it takes the actor out of the equation, and makes the search for material all about a “tone.” For example - The “tone” of the piece needs to be dramatic, or the song needs to be uptempo. And I’ll go out on a limb here - I think casting personnel are looking for more than tone.
So, how do you put yourself into the equation? Here are 3 new ways to go about looking for audition pieces that bring who you are (aka “type” or “brand”) into the mix:
Look for topics that inspire you, that you’re intimately connected to.
Rather than trying to leaf through a play to find that one funny monologue that will book roles, start by making a list of all of the topics that inspire your passions. Are you a Republican or Democrat? Are you passionate about saving the whales, or protecting our borders? What do you think about science? Faith? Baseball versus football… or do you hate sports altogether? Make a list of all of the things about which you are passionate (however major or miniasule), and then seek out audition pieces that allow you to express those views. The more zany and “out there” the better, too -- THAT’S the way to give a refreshing and unique performance in the audition room, but it’ll be coming from YOU.
You also want to consider topics for which you have intimate knowledge. Using your own back story when developing a monologue/song/side goes a long way to helping you create depth in your audition. For example, I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother, so I don’t really relate to a piece about sleep deprivation when dealing with an infant. I can imagine what it’s like, but in order to successfully deliver the piece I’m going to have to do some crafty creative work to make the situation real for myself and my audience. This kind of work is great as a classroom exercise, though perhaps not the best use of my time in the audition room. BUT - I do know what it’s like to lose a parent. So, if I can find a piece that, say, talks about what it was like to deal with my father’s death, I stand a far greater chance of making a strong connection with the piece, and with the people behind the table.
Ultimately, what this requires is for you to:
a) get to know yourself intimately and deeply, and
b) ACCEPT yourself fully
… and that’s a topic for another day. :)
Find a person in your same type/age category, and track their career.
This is one of the best ways to find pieces that fit your type. Do some research and find the actors who look/sound like you and tend to do the kind of work that inspires you. Then, go through their resume/credits history and note all of the projects they’ve done. This is an amazing way to discover plays & musicals that might be perfect for you. You can use a local actor or someone on Broadway, or anyone in between. For example, I did this with Kerry Butler and happily discovered the musical, “Blood Brothers.”
Doing this, too, might also allow you some prime researching of how the actors you admire got to where they are. Understanding the history of those who’ve “made it” can make a big difference in your career because you and see the progression from point A to point B.
Use monologue books to find authors who write in your voice
Now, before you contradict that statement with “But I thought monologue books were bad” - let me explain. Monologue books are a GREAT resource for finding playwrights whose style of writing matches your manner of speaking. There are certain writers whose words flow perfectly from our mouths when spoken. Other times, speaking a playwright’s words feel like an ongoing train wreck. Same with singing - there are some composers & lyricists that write in such a way that our instrument’s respond naturally and easily, and those that it’s like pulling teeth. You want to find those writer’s to whom your body intuitively understands.
So, grab a monologue book or a musical theater anthology, and start cold reading/sight singing the material. Note the writers for which the material flows easily, and then start doing heavy research into what they’ve written. This is a great way to find pieces that fit your natural rhythms - auditions are hard enough (with nerves, memorization, and the great unknown) without having to deal with pieces that are ill-fitting.
When all else fails...
Go to your local bookstore (Drama Bookshop and Shakespeare & Co in NYC, Sam French in LA) and find someone who works there - ask them about plays/musicals that feature folks in your age range. (If you’re a singer, Colony Records in NYC is a great tool, as is the NY Performing Arts Library.) Based on the research we talked about above, tell them what you’ve discovered and they can point you in the right direction.
You can also check in with playwrighting groups to get acquainted with new plays that have yet to be published. In NYC, you can head over to New Dramatists to browse their plays & manuscripts. Their staff is friendly and knowledgeable and will be able to guide you in the right direction.
One other thing to mention on the topic of audition materials
Most of the time, you’re asked to bring in your own monologue or song because they people behind the table are still trying to get to know you. Folks they know are usually invited in to sing/read material directly from the show rather than bringing in their own material. So, it serves you best to pick material that is as close to YOU as possible.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be an element of acting - it just means that in these cases it’s extremely important not to hide behind heavy characterization or dramatic flair. Dialects should be kept at a minimum so that your true voice can shine through. Now, if they ask for a specific dialect or a specific type of dramatic work, by all means show them what you’ve got. But in the absence of that kind of request, staying with a piece that reflects who you are as a person is the very best way to make a unique impression.
As Judy Garland said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”
As a producer, I personally am in favor of hearing monologues that are seriocomic. These would be pieces that have elements of both humor and drama that can be flexible depending on the piece/people you’re auditioning for. Have a handful of flexible pieces in your repertoire will serve you better than having only extreme pieces in comedy and drama and will allow your “you-ness” to shine through.
Hope these tips have been helpful. If you have any other ideas to share that have helped you express your true self in auditions, please feel free to leave a comment below!
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Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.