I just watched a new actor (I’ll call her Kathy but that’s not her real name) post a monologue on a social media group to get some feedback. So that’s what this post is about. Her lessons are all of our lessons, because we must always return to the basics. But for Kathy, you can find my specific notes at the bottom of this post. But do read on about the basics.
What makes acting so hard is that we make it hard, we spend our time doing the wrong kind of work, when the best acting appears to be not acting at all.
That’s because the most powerful acting seems natural – and the way I teach it is: let’s do exactly what the human mind does in a heightened situation.
Think of it this way: You’ve come from somewhere else, and something made you come here and talk to this person. Your character has no idea that they’re about to start a monologue. You only know that you want to get something off your chest, but you have no idea what you’re about to say. You also know that this situation is difficult fore you and you don’t want to lose your cool, so you’re keeping secrets from them. So you’re only going to say one thing. But then, that idea leads to another idea, which makes you saying something else. When you’ve finished you feel like you’ve gotten off your chest what you needed to say and you feel different. That’s what a monologue is.
I cover all of this in my helpful video: How to pick and perform a monologue. There’s also a helpful study guide that you can purchase as an additional e-book, which even includes an audition countdown checklist.
But Kathy, here are the main points (which apply to all of us):
MAKE IT PERSONAL
What is this piece like from your real life? You were attracted to this piece for some reason, so live with this piece and give it some time to sit in your mind and you will likely have an ‘A-HA’ moment when you realize: “It’s just like that time when XXX situation happened.” Feed on that because those emotions will find their way into your piece.
GO SOMEWHERE WITH IT
A monologue must go from A to B: the character must go through some change during the piece or otherwise the writer would not have included it. So what’s your emotional state at the beginning compared to how is it at the end? What have you discovered, learned, realized? What decision have you made during the piece that you were grappling with and you wouldn’t have gotten there any other way until you decided to offload it?
THINK LIKE THE PERSON WHO’S GOING TO CAST YOU
Your director is a storyteller. Their job is to keep the audience’s interest throughout the whole play or film. They will want to watch an actor who sees the big picture and can break their piece down as a story. If this were a chapter in your character’s story, what is this chapter about? In your monologue it might be: “I finally admit to my dad that I have no idea how to live my life and I hate him because I envy his ability to be so capable.”
QUESTIONS FOR HOMEWORK:
- Who are you talking to? Your dad of course, so how do you, Kathy, REALLY talk to your dad as yourself? Forget about being an actor for a moment, and just talk to him as if he were your dad, which of course makes him higher status than you. How does that affect you?
- What’s your relationship with them this very moment? What attitude do you have about him right now? Forget about all the angst and arguments that your character may have had in the past – what’s your feeling about him this very moment before you open you mouth. That will lead to:
- What do you want in this moment? There’s got to be a reason why you dive in and decide to talk to him. Your character may not know what it is (they’re having a helluva struggle finding their way through it) but you the actor must look at the end moments and what you have experienced, and then work backwards to find what you wanted from him all along. And then put it ALL that need on him, have a deep NEED to be understood, valued, appreciated, loved. Love is the biggest reason for saying what you say during a monologue. You’re not getting enough love from the universe, and this is the moment in time is where you’re trying to get more in order to survive.
- What are your secrets? Following from that last question: HOWEVER, even though you want something, you hate the fact that you seem to be so needy. It makes you angry, but you don’t have the objectivity to blame yourself, so you put it on him. We always have secrets from the people we are talking to, and you should have them in your acting. It will make your acting more mysterious and natural. And don’t worry about seeming manipulative, conniving, ruthless, unlikeable – we’ve all been there and we’ll understand your truth.
- What is getting in the way of your objective? A monologue must always have an obstacle that gets in your way. And this struggle is what you focus on. Do that, and do that with all your might, all your energy and focus as if your life depended on it, then trust me, the emotions will come. And then experience them. But focus first on your scene partner and your obstacle. Stop listening to yourself, stop orchestrating it, stop controlling it, stop anticipating what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. QUESTION: When you had an argument with someone, were you trying to remember your next line and how you were going to say it? Of course not, you jumped in, you let go, you tore into them. And this brings us to…
- What actions are you playing? In the acting industry today, the pros think of acting in terms of playing actions – not expressing emotions. I can teach you that in this video called ‘How to Act’ from THE ACTOR’S WAY (all the videos are free on YouTube) or you can purchase the course to get an additional workbook that has my ‘Collected Table of Actions’ if you’d like to learn more about defining and playing an action. By the way, if you’re thinking of getting into any drama school, they will most likely talk to you in that language during your audition.
Now Kathy, you might have read between the lines and concluded that this way of acting is very personal – it’s not about playing characters, it’s being yourself in an imaginary situation, and that may scare the bejesus out of you. But that’s where the art is, and that’s the way to more natural, fulfilling acting. I lay it all out in The Actor’s Way – you can watch the videos or get the workbook and be on your way.
Break a leg,