Monologues: Friend or Foe?
I know you’re thinking about it. You’re a Studio applicant, and you’ve received an audition for Wolf Trap. And you scan the audition requirements and see that there’s a required contemporary monologue.
Dang. (You may choose stronger expletives, but we’ll keep it family-friendly here.)
“Why in heavens name do they make us memorize monologues?” you think, knowing that memorizing text without a tune is so much more difficult than memorizing arias and song.
We all know that we’re not auditioning you as a straight actor. So what could our motive be, and how can you hack the situation to your advantage? Here’s the rationale, and what we’re really looking for from your monologue. Demystified!
1. We’re trying to get to know you. Your 1st selection in an audition is fraught with all kinds of noise: stress from getting to the site, nerves from the whole audition process; technical issues and dramatic issues and musical issues. Most folks surf two out of the last three items pretty well, but the dramatic piece is usually the part thatis subsumed by technical and musical concerns. (Rightly so; please concentrate on singing beautifully and in tune!) So, with a monologue, we get to explore the dramatic piece of the pie.
2. We want to hear you express yourself in contemporary language. This is why monologues from Chekhov and Wilde – while wonderful pieces – are not our preference. I don’t want to hear you imitate a Downton accent, I want to see you wrestle with your own language, and more importantly to really communicate with me. The accents and affectations just make it more difficult to learn who you are. So sit down with your favorite movie or TV show and memorize a favorite character’s speech – it’ll be more fun for you, and I promise we’ll enjoy it more than Mabel lamenting Tommy’s proposal styles.
3. We want to learn as much as we can about you. Let’s be frank: we see you for a song, maybe two if time allows. The monologue allows us to see your body language, your personal aesthetic; it gives us a different window into who you are as an artist and performer.
4. I want to see how your artistry transcends genres. Play around in another genre. You are an artist; I want to see as many of your artistic faces as time allows.
We’ve been lucky so far: some wonderful monologues have come through the doors here in New York. My notes are incomplete, but here are some of my favorites:
For the guys:
From Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang, about seeing one’s father in a restaurant baked potato. Weird, but wonderful!
David from The Four of Us by Itamar Moses, about looking (and finding) love.
by Eric Berlin – about being a nice guy.
Eating Up Profits by Milstein, about an overzealous bakery employee.
This is our Youth by Lonergan, a pot dealer having a come-to-Jesus moment with some of his clients.
For the ladies:
Well by Lisa Kron – about choosing a Halloween costume on criteria other than being “pretty.”
Lucy’s monologue from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown by Gesner. “Failure Face.”
Harper from Tony Kushner's Angels in America – a beautiful contemplation of the ozone layer and death.
Sylvia by A.R. Guerney – this falls into the “Know your audience” bin, as it’s from a dog’s perspective. Having two large mutts at home, I found this wholly entertaining!
Georgie from Spike Heels by Theresa Rebeck. The scales fall from a woman’s eyes.
“I cannot love a weak man” from Patter for the Floating Lady by Steve Martin. (Yes, he’s a comedian, but this piece is a heartbreaker.)
Pieces I could do without hearing again. (Ever. I might have these memorized quite frankly.)
· Mabel from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde. C’mon y’all – he’s been dead for over 100 years. It would be like me swapping out Pitbull for Irving Berlin. Choose a playwright writing during your lifetime!
· Luisa from The Fantasticks, only because its much harder to do than you think. And the whole “I love to taste my tears” thing always comes across as indulgent and soporific.
· Chekhov, Dostoyevsky. They’re AWESOME. But let’s refer to the Wilde rule: 100 years since death = not the kind of language we’re looking for. I’m looking for something less removed from your own experience.