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Monologues & Scenes: Picking the Right One

So you’ve signed up for a workshop and one of the requirements is to provide your own scene or monologue. Where do you start? Many actors will have a few if not more pieces of material to showcase in their portfolio, ready to perform at any given time for the sake of workshops or classes. But let’s say you’re newer to the acting game or maybe you’re just trying to find a different option than what you already have. First and foremost, it’s important to know that this piece is supposed to represent YOU and YOUR talent. Here are some things to keep in mind when picking these pieces.

What character would you be cast as now?
Sure everyone wants to be the next Meryl Streep, but even Meryl herself didn’t get to where she is today without being smart. Before you jump into a scene from Sophie’s Choice first think about what you could actually be cast as right at this moment.

How old are you?

If you’re twelve years old, you don’t want to be doing a scene or monologue where the character has a full-time job and marital issues. The same concept applies the other way around (unless it’s an obscure Benjamin Button-type film, but that’s a different story). Pick something that best fits your age range. It doesn’t have to be your exact age, but a logical age that you could portray at this point in your life.

What is your archetype? 

Are you the girl-next-door, the jock, the mom, the lawyer, etc? How are you marketing yourself? Having a clear understanding of what type of character you are will be extremely beneficial when figuring out what scene or monologue to choose. Of course, everyone wants to do something big and take a risk. While that is important, focus on honing in on that actor persona and your essence, to the best of your knowledge, first. Once that is clear, then focus on taking risks/stepping out of your comfort zone with that character.

What are your strong suits?

Comedy or Drama? Not that you have to limit yourself to one genre (everyone wants to play everything, right?) but is there a specific one that you know you have stronger skillsets in? Or even a genre that you might audition for more often than others?

For example, let’s say you consistently audition for more multi-cam sitcoms than single-cam dramas, and you’ve received callbacks for those roles. Regardless of whether you booked the job or not, if you’re familiar with the style and have received positive feedback on that particular style, odds are that’s one of your strong suits. Or let’s say you’re very good at being vulnerable and connecting emotionally but comedy is a challenge. You guessed it–go with the dramatic piece.

Where oh where do we find them??

Now that we’ve covered those important steps, it’s time to find the monologue or scene.

Google it

Need we say more? There are a plethora of options just from a google search. Be careful to not pick something from a movie or show that everyone will be familiar with or recognize. For example, it’s probably not best to perform the iconic “Jack I’m flying!” scene from Titanic. There are thousands of options to choose from and you can even find full-length screenplays online.

Take from what you know

If there is a scene from a movie or show you absolutely love, why not give it a shot? You were captivated by it for a reason! Just be mindful of not giving the same performance as the actor who originally played the role–make it your own!

How long should it be?

Before we answer this question let’s talk about picking a piece that’s engaging. Yes, you might be limited with a short performance time and yes, you want to utilize that time to the best of your ability, but you never want to let a matter of time stop you from doing great work or something meaningful. Think about the idea of leaving your audience always wanting more. If you find that at any point your audience has checked out, that’s a good indication the scene isn’t engaging.

Now on to length.

Logistically speaking, if it’s a scene, the two-page rage is typically safe. Keep in mind though, you want to have something specific that you go through and that there’s a conflict within the scene or monologue. We as the audience want to be captivated and to see something happen right in front of us, not something that “has happened” or “just happened”. The audience likes to see conflict, then resolution. The same applies to monologues. Length-wise, it might vary depending on the content. Just remember to live truthfully and if at any time you as the actor feel like it’s dragging or something can be cut, do what you need to do to showcase the best performance. Again, always leave the audience wanting more.

Where are the listening opportunities? 

Once the scene or monologue is decided, a helpful tool is to find the places within the piece for great listening opportunities. Sometimes the most interesting moments are the ones where an actor won’t speak at all; where they just react to what is happening and are genuinely connected. Don’t force them, but take the time to find those moments.

Now it’s time to rehearse! Remember, this is YOUR time so make the most of it, work hard and have fun!


Erik Lingvall’s newest Backstage article is live! Check it out for more tips on monologues.


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