Acting monologues are some of the most important tools beginning actors need to master to get their first acting jobs, yet many performers rush through the process of preparing their audition monologues, going straight for the emotion and never taking the time to truly understand their monologue before performing it.
Of course, you have an idea of what a monologue is about even after reading it just once, but the goal is to understand exactly the weight and meaning of every word so that what you're saying is easily understood by others who can start thinking with you.
Why is it so important?
Because whether you're auditioning for Hollywood acting jobs or performing on stage, your audience is only with you if they can follow your thought process. So that has to be your number one goal, for them to think with you as you deliver your acting monologue.
If an audience thinks with you, they breathe with you, and as an actor that's where you want to be.
That's when you hold your audience in the palm of your hand. Draw your audience into the story and keep them there and they will cry, laugh and hold their breath with you.
Some actors can deliver a huge explosion of emotion and leave us as audience members completely unmoved. We may be impressed by their capacity to cry on cue or to reach emotional heights, but just watching someone feel gets boring pretty quickly if they haven't been able to make us care about the story. It's like a former acting coach once said, "When I'm in the theater, I don't care how the actor feels. I want to feel. That's what I pay for."
One of the biggest mistakes actors make when acting monologues is to try to artificially keep it interesting. Too often the result is the opposite of what was intended. The performer turns the acting monologue into a showpiece at the expense of the logic of the words, and the audience stops listening. Of course, audition monologues need to show range as much as possible, but if you can get the auditioner to forget about you for a second and just be completely absorbed in the world you created for them, that's even better.
Actually, working on bringing out the meaning of your monologues will help you show range, naturally. That's because the more you discover the true meaning of the words, the more subtleties you uncover that will color your performance organically without getting out of character or arbitrary jumps from one emotion to the next.
Of course, there are some directors who are really impressed by actors who can cry on cue and sometimes that is just required for a role. If quick tears are not in your bag of tricks, fixating on turning on the waterworks will only make things worse. But if you just start thinking moment to moment the thoughts of your character, the tears will come, at least in the eyes of your public who really doesn't care how you feel, as long as you take them for a ride.
Of course, really understanding what you are saying and "thinking the words" is not the end of it. Actors have to work on staying open and vulnerable and use their imagination to create characters that are unique to them. But that first step of really digesting the meaning of the words is the one we most often skip and take for granted, yet one of the most important steps to get off to a good start on your acting monologues.
There's plenty of ways to work on that first step, like paraphrasing or using Meisner exercises to really impart the words to a partner. The Stella Adler Technique is also designed to bring out the meaning in the words of the play and communicate it to others.
So if you feel frustrated with your acting monologues or if you've been driving yourself crazy trying to wring tears out of your dramatic pieces, try some of these techniques and remember that the mark of a good actor is not necessarily the ability to emote but more the power to take your audience for a ride!
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