From Behind the Table: The General Auditions Part 3 – Monologue Choices and Presentation”

March 30, 2015
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Director Action ShotOriginally published 2010 on www.bizbooks.net

“Choose a piece that you love…Choose a piece that you relate to…Choose a piece that perhaps espouses things in which you believe…It is also smart to choose a piece spoken by a character that you could conceivably play.” – Michael Shamata, Artistic Director, The Belfry Theatre (Victoria)

Contrasting Monologues:

Most general auditions will ask for 2 contrasting monologues. I’m struck every time with the question “What does that mean?” even when it’s me putting it on the call notice.

What we are looking for is two different performance qualities. In classical theatre it’s easier – Comedy vs. Tragedy, Prose vs. Verse. In modern theatre where the lines between the two blur, think along the lines of Character Role vs. Straight Role, Dramatic vs. Comic, Naturalism vs. Stylized, Still vs. Movement (can you walk and talk at the same time). Are they thematically different? Do they help demonstrate your range?

It’s always good to get a second opinion on whether the monologues actually showcase different skill sets or sides of yourself.

From the Season or Not from the Season:

I suggest choosing monologues where a character is similar to a character in the season rather than the character itself. Most AD’s and directors will have a strong idea of their lead characters in their head that you can’t possibly live up to. The best bet is to showcase those qualities in yourself and plant the idea rather than trying to fit into a box you can’t see. Also, everybody else will be doing them. You may pull off the audition fantastically but after the 10th time the monologue has been heard the Auditoners will be tuning out. When the auditions are called for the show itself they may then ask you to read for the character.

From the Internet and Film:

In general internet and film monologues don’t fly in theatre auditions. Most AD’s have an aversion to them so best leave them alone.

Theatre for Youth Audiences:
“Books are fine as long as the piece has some dramatic action on it. Again, I’m looking for acting ability. I would also consider looking at adult plays with young characters in them, as long as the speech has some meat on the bones.” – Pablo Felices-Luna, Artistic Director, Carousel Players (St.Catharines, ON)

The biggest complaint one hears from TYA practitioners is inappropriate monologues. Take a look at the age ranges the company performs for. If it’s 3-5 year olds, ya might not want to do that David Mamet or Neil Labute monologue you’ve been dying to try out. Fit the monologue to the company.

One of the great things about Theatre for Youth Audiences is a lot of it is based on literature. One can always pull out a favorite storybook from childhood and build a monologue. TYA also tends to use a lot of wonderful theatricality – if you juggle, do acrobatics, clown work, etc this is a place to showcase it.

For a teen-based issue-company like Greenthumb Theatre in Vancouver you want a different approach. Hit their webpage and see what kinds of characters are usually brought to the company’s stage then take a look at any adult material that includes characters in the right age range.
“Even though it may be a general audition the theatre will probably be looking to cast the season they’ve announced.  If there’s something the actor thinks they’re appropriate for they should attempt to do everything possible to win the role by tailoring the choice of monologue to the role they think they’re right for.” - George Pothitos, Artistic Director, Neptune Theatre

Modern and Canadian Content:
“I love it when I get wind of a Canadian monologue from a show that I haven’t yet seen.”  – Del Surjik, Artistic Director, Persephone Theatre

Many companies will ask for a Canadian monologue, so it’s good to have one in the bag.  Doing a Canadian monologue also shows an interest in the work that most Canadian companies are doing and therefore an interest in them and support of both the Canadian and Local Theatre Scene.

Canadian Monologues are not the easiest to find, especially if you are looking for new plays.  Place to look are the local reference libraries, Solo Collective Archives, organizations like Playwrights Theatre Centre, Playwrights Montreal, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Alberta Theatre Projects, Playwrights Guild of Canada and of course Biz Books.

Check out the web pages of theatres doing new work and go discover the playwrights.  There are a few good monologue books out there like She Said by Judith Thompson, and He Said by David Ferry.  Also the Summerworks Festival is now publishing their productions.

Shakespeare and Classical:
“Be ready at anytime to do a Shakespeare piece…Change pieces regularly – learn new ones for the pleasure of it.” – Christopher Gaze, Artistic Director, Bard on the Beach

You will need one speech in verse and one in prose. You also want to skip the “Purple speeches”(DPG).  The Hamlets, Richard the Third and Lady Ann, Henry the Fifths, Rosalind, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Romeo and Juliets, etc.  Basically, if it’s famous – avoid it.  Firstly you can’t measure up to the Artistic Director’s version in their head and, like above, everybody is doing them.  Give yourself the opportunity to stand out – read the lesser done plays and other playwrights of the time period such as Christopher Marlow, Thomas Middleton, John Ford and Lope De Vega (I just finished Joost Van Den Vondel’s Lucifer and Life is a Dream by Calderon de la Barca – both chock full of great monologues).  There are some great speeches out there.

This does make life a little difficult for women.  Unfortunately when you remove the famous women from Shakespeare you are left with very little unless, of course, you go outside the box.  Spanish and French playwrights are a good source (as they actually wrote for female actors) such as Moliere, De Vega, etc.  Greek and Roman texts will also do the job – they’ve got some great verse and the ancients also told a mean fart joke.  There is also the opportunity to do a male speech that you have always wanted to try (see quote below).
“…it is refreshing to see actresses and actors choosing speeches from the less popular plays. I am always impressed that they have been inspired by or taken the time to sit down and read the lesser known plays and prepare a speech I don’t see often. It shows me that they have a sense of curiosity and risk taking.  I also don’t mind if actresses choose to do a monologue written for a male, providing they have the passion for it. For me the key to a successful monologue is to have read the entire play, and to know what motivates the character, be it male or female.To know what the events are that lead up to the moment that they are compelled to speak the thoughts they are about to utter.” – Marianne Copithorne, Artistic Director, Freewill Shakespeare Festival

Modern Classic

For the Modern Classical (Shaw, Tennessee Williams, etc) the same rules apply.  Try looking outside of England and America (F. Garcia Lorca, Jean Anouilh, Nikolai Gogol, etc).  If the company is doing an Irish play find an Irish monologue.  Allow yourself to come in with something different that they may not have heard before.
“I am always a big fan of people who are confident, sincere and in full command of their pieces.” – Philip Akin, Artistic Director, Obsidian Theatre Company

Eye Contact and Targets:

Most Artistic Directors would prefer that you did not use them as a target or focal point.  This is not always the rule, but is most often the case.  It is always alright to ask if they would prefer to be used or not.  The reason for this is they are gathering information and want to be able to break contact from you to do what they need to do with their note pad or laptop.  Also not all AD’s or directors are actors and are comfortable being scene partners.

Place your targets just to the left and right of the auditioners shoulders.  This will allow you to be open and connected with your audience member without invading their space.

The Chair:

There will always be a chair available for you.  It is there for you.  You don’t need permission.

Starting:

Tell us what you are doing.  If you tell both monologues then you can continue your pieces uninterrupted.  Here is the information we need: Play, Character, Scene, and Playwright

Between Monologues or Mind the Gap:

This is often a tricky moment for actors.  You’ve finished your 1st monologue then what?  You don’t need to wait for us – we in fact are waiting for you.  Think of the two monologues as 2 separate parts of one show and this moment joins them.  Give yourself a breath, find your given circumstances and your targets and go when ready.

In Case of Emergency or Stopping:

If you have to stop then stop.  Roll back to the top – take your time and when you are ready, dive back in.  Remember a lot of Artistic Directors have been in your place and know where you are coming from.  There is no need to apologize or beat yourself up.

Preparation:

I find it very useful to think of an audition as a 4 minute solo production with two monologues on a four by four foot stage.  Rarely are AD’s and directors interested in process at auditions.  They are trying to glean from 5-10 minutes if you can handle a full on production and what you may be like in the rehearsal hall.  Anything you wouldn’t do on stage in a production (sip your tea, chug your water, jump and down releasing sound) – don’t do here.  Process is for the rehearsal hall, this is about performance.

Coaching:

Get coaching.  The difference between a monologue that has be run in the shower, mumbled on the subway or done to an empty room and a monologue that has been done out loud with an audience is enormous.  If you don’t have a coach, get a friend or someone whose opinion you value to run it with you.  Try the monologues as many different ways as you can individually then run them one after another with the between space.  A third eye will also help fill in the gaps that you may be missing and give you a real person to connect with.

When coaching, I will actually run the entire audition from the hallway to the pieces to the interview.
 “I will throw a “Spanner in the works”, by asking them to repeat the piece but do it as…” – Erskine Smith, Artistic Director, Victoria Playhouse

Variables:

When working your monologues, try them in many different ways from silly to serious.  There is a strong possibility that a director may ask you to try something differently.  This is done to see if the actor can take direction and quite often the direction will be nonsensical, in order to see how willing the performer is to go with them.  If you need time to look it over then ask for it.  Be prepared to be flexible and try out new things.

Given Circumstances and Targets:

The common complaints from Artistic Directors tends to be basic acting.  It is easy in the audition stress to leave out or not be secure in the simple things.  In fact I did this a few weeks ago week

Read the play and know the scene the monologue is from in depth.  We can tell if you haven’t and the possibility of you missing important points is enormous.  Show us that you know what you are doing.

Who, what, when, where and why are just as important here as they are on stage.  A monologue does not take place in a vacuum and we have to create the the monologues life before, during and after the text.  Take the time to go back of the basics.  Why am I saying these words? Where am I? etc. And then own them.

Who are you talking to?

This is a big one.  Unfortunately most actors end up talking at a curtain or a wall.  Every monologue is actually a dialogue wither it be with yourself, another character or the audience..  Who are you speaking to and why?  Take the time to fully create the person or target you are interacting with and the tension between the two.

Final Thoughts:

I’m repeating myself from the first blog here but most importantly, this is your opportunity. It is your chance to do a four minute play of material you want to do. Do it for you, enjoy the process and allow yourself to shine.  Trust that the right gigs will come at the right time.
“Remember you are a business and you are the only one that will make the phone ring – so persevere, practice, act whenever you can, wherever you can. You will become better by just doing it more and more.”- Christopher Gaze, Artistic Director, Bard on the Beach (Vancouver)

Special Thanks to the following AD’s and directors who took the time out of their busy schedules to lend their advice and support to this blog: Philip Akin (Artistic Director, Obsidian Theatre Company), Marianne Copithorne, Artistic Director, Freewill Shakespeare Festival), Christopher Gaze (Artistic Director, Bard on the Beach), Dean Paul Gibson (Director), Pablo Felices-Luna (Artistic Director, Carousel Players), Robert Metcalfe (Artistic Director, Prairie Theatre Exchange), Mieko Ouchi (Co-Artistic Director, Concrete Theatre), George Pothitos (Artistic Director, Neptune Theatre), Erskine Smith (Artistic Director, Victoria Playhouse), Michael Shamata (Artistic Director, The Belfry), Del Surjik (Artistic Director, Persephone Theatre), John Wright (Artistic Director, Blackbird Theatre)

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