EP #6: 3 Steps to Better Monologues

Monologues.  We love to hate to love them.   But why?  What’s the problem, exactly, with speaking solo on stage?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  Here are 3 steps to stronger, more engaging monologues.

Monologues. We love to hate to love them. Don’t we? But why what’s the problem exactly, with speaking solo on stage? I’m glad you asked. You’re listening to acting for community theater, a little show with big ideas, stories, acting tips, and a lot of heart for community theater artists. I’m Barbra French.

Some actors love them. Some actors fear them and some actors downright hate them. Directors often have a love, hate relationship with them too. And yet we all use them in performance, in audition, in acting classes and even more so now with people rehearsing solo at home monologues are great. For lots of reasons. You don’t have to worry about your scene partner, screwing up or forgetting a line. You can work on them on your own schedule. You can work on them at home alone, which is all, many of you can access right now. And probably the biggest reason is that you should always have a couple of them ready to go tucked into your back pocket as it were for auditions. I’ll cover details about that in another episode, by the way, I will absolutely be talking about working with monologues in my online course in much the same way that you do say a modification in an exercise class, I’ll be doing the same sort of thing with my acting class, looking at scene work, and then applying it to solo performance.

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Because the reason I’m doing an online class in the first place is that I can’t get together with my students right now. And they, or you can’t get together with me. So I’m fully aware that people are alone and at home that they want to work on acting. And so I will absolutely make a big chunk of the course about solo work. But for now, let’s talk about why monologues can be difficult. First monologues make it generally harder for actors to learn about playing action. Action is the currency of the theater. It’s the reason we go to watch it. It’s the central work of the actor and playing action is what actors are supposed to do. And it’s much easier to teach people about action when they are in a scene with other people, it’s easier to fight for what you want from a person who is actually in the room with you.

Another problem is monologues. Don’t allow the actor to really be in a moment with another person. They don’t allow them to truly listen to someone, to react to what they’re saying and to watch for how their lines land to see if their scene partner is being moved in the direction that they want them to go. In other words, monologues don’t really allow the actor to experience the full range of acting skills. Actors can imagine someone else listening and reacting. They can set their transitions from one moment to the next, but they are acting in a practiced bubble and these are big problems. They’re not insurmountable. However, and I have some tips that will help address them. There are three main things that every actor must do in order to work effectively and skillfully with a monologue. Number one, you must know who you’re talking to specifically, not just the audience, talking to the audience means that you’ve dropped your character and you’ve lowered the fourth wall.

It means that we’re abandoning the suspension of disbelief telling the audience that you’re fully aware that they’re there and admitting that you are an actor playing a character. Now this works very well for presentational theater and Mehta theater, but most of your acting will be done. I’m assuming when the fourth wall is up. In other words, when everyone is pretending that the audience is peaking into something private and that you are acting truthfully as your character in this make-believe world. So instead of talking to the audience, you have to endow that audience with something that makes sense. It could be people from your high school reunion. It could be the people who are attending your father’s funeral. It could be strangers in a grocery store. If you’re talking to a specific person, you can talk to an empty chair that you’ve put down stage and pretend that they’re there. You can talk to God. You can talk to yourself. You can talk to somebody who is dead through a specific object or somebody in a picture frame, but talk to somebody and make it specific. In addition, it is so much stronger when you speak to a specific person or group of people than if you’re just talking to someone like an audience, talking to your ex lover is much more powerful than to the audience. So make them part of the story.

Number two, you must know why you are speaking. Why are you saying these things? Why are you saying these specific things to this specific person? And are you saying them now? What do you want from them? And what will happen if you don’t get what you want answering these questions will really help you drill down into the action in your monologue. Number three, you must know if your character has planned out what they are going to say, or if they’re winging it in the moment. Now, this applies to all acting, whether it’s a solo piece or a two hander or a full ensemble, you always need to understand if your character has planned what they’re saying, or if they’re just going with the flow in the moment and what may have triggered them to speak in the first place. Most people do not plan what they’re going to say.

Most of the time, we just all sort of muddle along. The beauty of that natural human tendency is that it gives you the opportunity to have the moments in between the things that you say, where you decide where to go next, what to say next, where you can look at that other person that you’re talking to and see if they’re actually reacting or reacting in the way that you want them to. If they’ve planned it, then there’s opportunity for deciding whether or not they stick to the plan. Maybe you’re changing tactics. Maybe you decide not to continue at all. Maybe you’ve gone right off script. And that is why you need to know if your character has planned what they’re going to say, or if they’re just winging it, addressing these three things, we’ll make sure that you’re playing action. And it will give you more truthful moments of thinking, discovering reacting, et cetera.

Monologues are ideal. If you’re working on your acting skills by yourself, at home, you can take on risky material that you wouldn’t otherwise try. You can video yourself for critique. You can take some notes on what you see, work bits. You don’t like. It can be a wonderful way of learning and practicing your craft, but it can be tough to not develop some bad habits or ignore things that aren’t working so well when you’re working alone, these three tips will definitely help you sharpen and Polish up your solo performance skills. Please share this around and subscribe. If your platform allows you to do that and why not send me an email to let me know what you’d like me to cover here. Seriously, send me an email. Let me know. But for now I’m Barbra French. Thanks for listening. You can video yourself for ch, for cheet cheet, for cheet teak. You can video yourself for quatweek, quatweek for quatweek. Critique. You can video yourself for critee, critiqee. I don’t know…..

EP #12: 12 Tips for Learning Your Lines

EP #12: 12 Tips for Learning Your Lines

Actors of all ages struggle with learning their lines. It’s just part of the job that we have to get through until things start to gel. But there are ways of making it easier and more effective. The trick is to find out which ways you learn best, and then use a combination of those.

EP #11: Move It or Lose It

EP #11: Move It or Lose It

Moving around the stage is more than just what we think of as ‘blocking’, and today, I’m going to talk about some of the things that actors should and shouldn’t do when when it comes to movement and stage business.

EP #10 The Problem with Innovation

EP #10 The Problem with Innovation

I love creativity and out of the box thinking, especially when it comes to art. But when I look at all the technological innovation happening with theatrical performance today, I have to ask: is it really theatre?