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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bringing Yourself to Your Monologues & Songs

Recommended Reading:
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.)

Uh huh.

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!

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

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

22 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Unknown said...

Very helpful post, Erin! Thank you for sharing your tips with us. I'm currently building up my monologue collection and tested out my monologues in auditions recently. What I experienced was that some monologues turned out to be a good choice and I confirmed that they suit me, however some of the other ones I figured they didn't work. Yet it didn't feel like it until I performed them and that's when I realized.

Mary said...

Thanks, Erin. Your coaching in this area helped me to understand much better and feel more comfortable about the process. The search isn't necessarily easier, but at least I know what I'm after.

Anne Woods said...

Super great twist and specification of things we actors all realize on some level, but for whatever reason don't pin down. I've talked with some people about this topic, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. In your experience in the industry, for monologues, is it welcomed to bring in a piece you wrote yourself? Obviously quality needs to be there, but who would know those circumstances better and deeper and truer than you, the author and first hand experiencer? I have heard very positive thoughts and very negative on this subject. Thanks for igniting this community, Erin :)

Killebrew Mason said...

I love this! Finding material in my age range and type is maddening to me! I love all your suggestions and some I already implement, but others I will definitely start to use. We need more resources other than these same websites. I guess talking to the Sam French guy is the best obvious suggestion. Thanks again.

I'm also curious to hear your response on materials written ourselves.

Erin Cronican said...


Very interesting! I'm curious - how did you figure out that they did or didn't work for you? What kinds of things made you feel one way or the other in your auditions?

Erin Cronican said...


You're very welcome. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

Erin Cronican said...


Generally speaking, original pieces are not preferred by industry folks. This is usually because they are not as fully written as the actor needs for the monologue to do its job.

What's usually missing from an original monologue is a sense of story. There is a sense of characterization (qualities, feelings - which, I agree, can be lived fully by the person who wrote it) but it usually doesn't contain a fully explored situation that a character is in. The monologue may contain a specific moment that is being experienced/spoken about, but the monologue lacks the full play that contains it, so the monologue tends to be lacking in drive, direction and context. The monologue must have a sense of the character coming from something and driving towards something. Many original pieces lack these qualities, and expose the actor in ways that are aren't useful in the audition room.

That said, if you pull a monologue from an original play you've written, that may solve some problems. Industry people still say that they prefer work from published plays, but you may have some wiggle room here.

Thanks for the great question - and hope my answer was useful!

Erin Cronican said...


Thank you so much for stopping by - let me know if you have any follow up questions from what I wrote above, regarding your and Anne's question about original pieces. Cheers!

Gary Ploski said...

You are 100% correct, I am going to thank you now, that was a great blog. "Thank you."

Erin Cronican said...


Awww... thanks! I'm so glad you found value in it. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post. Caution with monologue books: I have on more than one occasion found monos. or writers I love, only to find out they aren't published...any thoughts on this/how to get your hands on their stuff if it isn't printed? I have tried contacting/tracking down several ways (online, mostly, since I do not live in NY or LA). Specifically, if anyone has any leads on the play "Spine" by Jessie McCormack (or any of her stuff) drop me a line!!

Brad said...

Erin - I StumbledUpon this blog post and must say it is very helpful. More so, you speak a lot of truth...too often I see actors (voice actors too and more specifically) trained as artists with 0 (read: zero) business and marketing experience. Unfortunately, most have placed their faith in their agent to do this part for them. And, as you so well know and have pointed out, Erin, that to me is a recipe for potential disaster. I often wonder how many great actors -- from screen, to TV, to theatre (and voice) -- the world doesn't get to enjoy simply because they haven't taken the Bull By The Horns and stepped out to learn the business and marketing skills that would help catapult their careers....

The Diamond Agency said...

Great post here! Actors need their team to help them pick material that will help them shine in a role that they were meant for.

Erin Cronican said...

Great question, Rachael. I'd suggest looking for the writer on Facebook or Twitter and seeing if you can request the play from there. Let me know how it goes!

Erin Cronican said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Brad. I agree - an actor needs to bring as much to the marketing process as their team. I believe it brings empowerment to actors and make the industry, as a whole, a happier place to be.

Erin Cronican said...

Absolutely. If the actor is lucky enough to have a dedicated team that deeply understands them, having their input is invaluable in the process of building the actor's brand. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Know your type.
Stay healthy and fit.
Keep track of your contacts.
Network. It’s all about who you know.
Sign with a talent agent and a manager.
Build your resume and showreel with unpaid work.
Audit acting classes before paying and signing up.
Send out headshots, resume, cover letter and showreel.
Keep talent and casting agencies up to date with your work.
The formula to success: Beauty, talent, charisma, confidence, hard work and luck.

Anonymous said...

Motivation Quotes:
"Do something every day that scares you".
"Luck is when opportunity meets preparation".
"Have the no consideration of failure mentality. If you want something, go until you get it".
"Anything is possible if you want it badly enough. All you have to do is work hard at it. It’s as simple as that".

Acting Unplugged said...

Great article. I think that the audition process for an actor is important to them getting consistent work. I agree with you about finding the right material to use for your auditions. It is so important to match and exceed the people you are competing with. Thanks for the info.

Erin Cronican said...

You're so welcome - thank you for reading!

Anonymous said...

This is a great article. Your advice is spot on! I don't mean to sound defeatist, but I'm working against a major challenge. I'm getting back into the game after being absent for over 15 years. I'm female and in my 50's. I keep abreast of what's out there. I'm a networking queen and follow a lot of other people's work. However, I haven't found any women whose work I would follow in my age range that are my type. In addition, I don't find much work listed for women of my type and age range. The works that I do like in a literary sense are either strongly favoring male roles or characters, or women who are much younger than me. So, how do I proceed to find work that I can use and inspires me?
Love your posts.

Erin Cronican said...

Oooh... this is a good question. I strongly believe there's a place for every type in our industry, but you present an interesting quandary. It may be that, if you don't find work that satisfies your interests, you may need to partner with a writer who can help you bring your stories & type to the stage/screen. You ,ay also consider adapting some of the stories you do like so that the roles more closely match what you're able to do. (Of course, if the works are current as of 100 years you'll need to get permission to adapt them!)

Hope this helps...thanks for reading!

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