Frequently I get asked the question, “How do I make my monologue more natural?”
I’m going to respond as if I were writing a message directly to a young actor, whom we’ll call Jack.
I know how you feel about trying to make your monologue as natural as possible. And if you’re asking yourself this question, you’re probably a bit anxious about how your monologue feels and sounds. And you may have come to the frightening realization that no matter how hard you try, you can’t force yourself to be more natural. Force itself is the exact opposite of a natural flow. And it makes it worse when people tell us to ‘make it more conversational’. They generally have no idea about the process that will make it more so.
Here are three things that may be standing in the way of you being natural.
you’re still buying into the idea that you’re playing a character instead of playing yourself
you haven’t done your ‘imagination’ homework to analyze what’s going on in your monologue
you haven’t become comfortable with the idea that acting is actually intended to be uncomfortable.
1. TRUST THAT YOU ARE THE CHARACTER
Remember that you’re not playing a character. This may be a new concept to you, You may have always thought that, when you’re acting, you have to be different from yourself. No. You don’t have to ‘get into’ character and you cannot ‘break’ character. People who use those terms are actors or directors from the last century.
The person onstage is you. You are the character. It is you, going through this situation right now – but under imaginary circumstances (we’ll get to that in the homework section). But your job is to behave as a normal person would behave, instead of behaving the way you think an actor would behave.
HOW DO NORMAL PEOPLE BEHAVE?
Let’s take a scene where you need to ‘be nervous’.
Normal people DON’T think: ‘I have to be nervous in this conversation’. Normal people are not that self-absorbed. Those who are, are not fun to watch. Most normal people have no idea what they’re feeling. Normal people do this: they try NOT to look nervous. They suppress their nervousness, and it is that suppression which creates the feelings of nervousness. This is the concept of playing actions.
But as an actor, you must of course understand the reasons behind your ‘nervousness’, which means doing the ‘imagination’ homework below.
But let me stress again: normal people don’t focus on their feelings. If you want to feel natural focus instead on what you want from the other person (your objective) and what you’re doing to the other person (your actions). So the choice is yours: you can either go on torturing yourself, or you can do the homework slog that all professional actors do.
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Set aside some time to chill out on the sofa and answer the following questions:
What is this situation in this monologue like in my real life?
How would I behave if this situation was happening to me?
If that still doesn’t get you worked up, imagine the worst case scenario. Ask yourself “What kind of situation might there be where I’d be feeling all these nervous feelings? In other words, what if I was in love with someone, and I imagined that she’s moving away tomorrow, and if I don’t tell her how I feel, or I’ll lose her forever? That’s a crucial situation.
Then go for it. Doesn’t matter if the ‘what if’ is not in the script. If it works for you, it’s valid.
3. BE COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
Then after you do all that homework – and you’ve memorized your lines completely – set all that homework aside, remember your actions, and then give yourself the permission to go stark raving, out-of-control, uninhibited, ape shit, ‘I-don’t-care-how-this-comes-out’ bonkers.
We have to get comfortable with the idea of being slightly off-balance – in our work that is. We have to be comfortable with accepting that we will not feel at ease. We’re not meant to! That’s the whole reason this scene was written: because your character is uncomfortable. And then you have to have the courage to let go of controlling your feelings, and get what you want from your imaginary partner.
Then you’ll be natural. Why? Because you won’t be thinking about being natural.
And while we’re at it: give up the fight of trying to control your feelings while you’re acting anyway. Here’s a scary law of the universe that you’re going to have to accept: We don’t get to choose what feelings we feel. In fact the more we try to control our feelings in our acting, the more screwed up we get. We start comparing ourself to other performances, other actors..and we’re never good enough. But you are good enough, because like it says in a poem called Desiderata: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”
And the world is waiting to hear your voice.
Bryan Bounds is an award-winning US-born, UK-based actor, teacher, writer and creator of the Neuro Acting System of actor training. He began his professional career began in 1984 and received an MFA in Acting in 1991.