How to Find the Perfect Monologue

So many plays!Whether you’re just starting out in the biz or a longtime pro, the search for the perfect monologue never ends. Monologues are frequently used in auditions, coaching sessions, and classes, so it’s important to know how to look and where to begin your search.

First of all, you’re starting in the right place—StageAgent has a huge directory of monologues, all linked to play or musical study guides.  There, you can read the monologues themselves, but also information about the context in which they are spoken, and links to a character analysis and a guide to the play as a whole.

Actor and StageAgent writer Becca Ballenger, in a recent video audition.
Actor and StageAgent writer Becca Ballenger, in a recent video audition.

Although that bounty is awesome, it can also be overwhelming. Here are our tips for navigating the extensive StageAgent archives and conducting your own hunt for monologues.

  1. Read a lot of plays.

There’s no shortcut here—you’ve got to read plays. The most unique pieces are discovered by you, not a coach or a book.

SA TIP: If you don’t know where to start, think of a stage actor who is similar in type to you. Do a web search of the plays in which they have performed and the playwrights with which they have worked.  Then, seek out those plays and playwrights. For example, if you identify with Alison Pill, you might want to look up Theresa Rebeck or David Harrower’s Blackbird.

2.  Don’t depend on monologue books.

While these books can be good resources, in order to do a monologue well, you really need to know its context within the arc of the play as a whole. Moreover, the monologues listed in books are often the ones that actors perform most often.

If you find a monologue in a book or in our database, look at the guide on StageAgent.com to get a sense of its context.  If it looks like something you could imagine performing, read the entire play thoroughly before you ever bring that monologue into an audience. Make sure you understand not only the text but the context — how the text you’re speaking fits into the performance tradition around the play, the rise and fall of the play’s action and the character’s arc.

SA TIP: If you read a monologue in a monologue book that you like (whether or not it’s a monologue you could do), write down the name of the playwright. Then take a look at their StageAgent profile, look at their other plays, and any monologues that pop up on the site. Then, find the plays, read them, and discover a great monologue or two. Rinse, dry, repeat.

  1. Think outside the box.

Look at one-act plays, anthologies, and play publishing houses.

SA TIP: The Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville publishes an annual anthology of great new plays that are on the cusp of getting big, and Playscripts publishes a ton of indie plays (and offers significant portions of the text online for free). If you find a great play that’s not on StageAgent yet, hit us up—we love supporting new plays and playwrights.

  1. Focus on monologues that are active.

It’s not hard to find a chunk of text in a play to use as a monologue. The important thing is finding a monologue that is active, playable, and engaging for you and the audience.

Actor Becca Ballenger actively pursuing her objective in a recent monologue audition.
Actor Becca Ballenger actively pursuing her objective in a recent monologue audition.

SA TIP: In an audition, where you want to impress a casting director in a short amount of time, look for a monologue with an arc (where the character ends up in a different place than where he or she started) and a clear character want (for example, to make the other character fall in love with you).  Here’s a great example of a monologue with an arc and a clear want:

http://stageagent.com/monologues/483/the-normal-heart/dr-emma-brookner

Avoid “story” monologues (“When I was a kid, I loved tomatoes…”) or “rant” monologues (“I hate riding the bus. Always have…”). Save those for class or the play itself. It’s often helpful if the monologue is addressed to another person onstage, where you are trying to get something from that other character.

  1. Be true to yourself.

Know the context and the character, but also make sure you are in touch with what makes you unique. A monologue is an opportunity not only to share the story of a character, but to give the auditor a window into what makes you special. Are you an ingénue with a quirky side? Choose a monologue that lets the auditor see that you can play that ingénue they’re looking for, but that you have something that makes you shine above the rest. Show your quirk.

Actor Becca Ballenger in a recent video audition, performing a monologue.
Actor Becca Ballenger in a recent video audition, performing a monologue.

Let’s say you’ve followed all these tips and you’re deep into your search. How do you decide which monologues are the best for you? It may sound cliché, but the key is to follow your intuition. If a monologue seems great, but just doesn’t feel exciting to you, pass it on to a friend. The best monologues are the ones to which you connect on a deep level and that you love to perform.

SA TIP: Never stop looking for monologues. As you continue to mature as an artist, get more training, or simply change emotionally, you need to keep finding pieces that fit who you are at that moment. Didn’t we mention that it’s a long-term process?

Now, get reading! And check out StageAgent’s great monologue resource: http://stageagent.com/monologues

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Becca Ballenger is a a New York City-based actor with credits on stage, film, network TV, and voiceover.

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2 thoughts on “How to Find the Perfect Monologue”

  1. I like your suggestion to choose an active monologue. Your job in an audition is to really grab the attention of your audience. If your monologue is active and engaging it can pull people in and really set you apart from the crowd.

  2. Great advice, on a great site. Thanks Becca for your knowledge and insight!

    (Btw, I’m a stickler for the your/you’re mixup. Check out section 2, midway: “…how the text your speaking…”. No biggie, of course…)

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