If you haven’t already, make sure you read the first blogpost in this series, How To Pick A Monologue, before crafting your monologue.
Now that you’ve found the perfect monologue, it’s time to get to work. Here’s a checklist of questions you can ask yourself while crafting your monologue. Before you do this work, make sure you have read the entire script from where your monologue was found. Acting is storytelling, and you must understand the story so that you can play your role in telling that story. As always, make sure you consider the tone of the piece when making choices about any scene or monologue.
CRAFTING YOUR MONOLOGUE CHECKLIST
Some of these questions will be more pertinent to some scenes more than others. I encourage you to go through the list anyway, to help you find as many ways into the piece that you can.
- WHAT’S GOING ON? You should be able to explain in one or two sentences what is happening at this point in the story. If you can’t, you have some work to do before moving on. You should be able to answer the simple question: What is this scene about? Don’t get psychological here, just be clear about the action of the scene. What is happening? Are you breaking up with someone? Confronting a friend? Confessing your love?
- TO WHOM ARE YOU TALKING? Choose a person (in your mind) either from your real life or an actor that you know personally (from acting class or another acting job) that you would cast in the role of the person to whom your character is speaking. Don’t be vague. Specificity is key in making great choices. Always make strong casting choices.
- WHERE ARE YOU? Make sure you know where this scene takes place. We behave differently in different situations. Consider whether this conversation is private or in front of other people. Is the character in their own territory or someone else’s? How safe do you feel where you are? How familiar?
- WHERE AM I COMING FROM? Emotionally and physically, where is the character coming from? What has just happened? You always want to begin your performance in a specific emotional place. Where your character has just been will inform your emotional life at the top of the scene.
- WHAT DO YOU WANT? Find the actable thing in the monologue. What are you working at? How do you want to be seen? How do you need the other character to behave? Feel? Respond?
Specificity is key in making great acting choices.April Matson
- WHAT ARE THE STAKES? What happens if you don’t get what you want? If you don’t get through to the other person? If things don’t go your way? The higher the stakes, the more emotional life we see.
- WHAT’S YOUR DESTINATION? Where is your character going after this event? Work? An important meeting? Leaving forever? Making a choice about where you need to go after this can establish urgency that can be helpful in creating nuanced emotional life.
- WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS? Don’t play the end of any scene, ever. Even at the beginning of a monologue, we shouldn’t know how the rest of it is going to play out. It still has to be an event that is happening in the moment. Leave yourself room to have discoveries in the performance. (Hint: It’s always a stronger choice to expect something other than what happens in the scene.)
- WHAT’S DANGEROUS ABOUT THIS? If you’ve chosen a compelling monologue, the chances are good that something pivotal is happening in the story during the monologue. Remember that a story is usually being told because something unusual is happening: it’s a day unlike any other day. Is what’s being said here something the character has ever said before? To this particular person? What’s the character revealing? How difficult is this to say? All of these things will inform your approach.
- HOW ARE YOU BEING RECEIVED? Don’t ever work alone, even in monologues. Make the character to whom you’re talking the most important person in the scene, not yourself. When your focus is on another character and you’re working at something, you’ll be less self-conscious than if you’re just making a speech. It’s more engaging to watch a person in need of something who doesn’t know if they are going to get their way. It keeps us on the edge of our seats! Remember, monologues require listening, too!
When crafting your monologue, or any performance, whatever choices you make, always make sure they are in context of the story being told. Don’t make arbitrary choices unless they really add something to the character or story that is consistent with the intention of the writer.
All acting choices should be in context of the story being told. Making choices that distract us from the story is self-gratification. Beware.April Matson
Now that you’ve picked the perfect material, and crafted your monologue, it’s time to execute a killer performance.
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