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.
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.
Now that you’ve picked the perfect material, and crafted your monologue, it’s time to execute a killer performance.
For more helpful tips and tricks for actors, visit LosAngelesActingCoach.com or email email@example.com to schedule online 1:1 private coaching.
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Monologues are hot again! For years it seemed unless you were auditioning for a conservatory or theatre company, the art of monologuing became obsolete. Nowadays a lot of actors are realizing how useful it is to have a monologue (or six) in their pocket in case they have an opportunity to make a fan out of an agent or casting director. It’s also a great way to extrovert your talent online. Monologue contests have been trending. Some actors just miss working on their craft in acting class and since it usually requires physical interaction with other actors, working on monologues has become a great way for actors to refine their skills and stay sharp while also having a little something at the end of it to show off their talent when the opportunity arises. Crafting a great performance begs you to harness your talent and utilize your training, but the first and possibly most difficult part of delivering a great piece is how to pick a monologue.
GET CLEAR ABOUT YOUR ACTING GOALS
First of all, it’s important to determine the purpose of your monologue performance. In order to get to the bottom of that, I recommend that you start with your acting business goals. Are you looking for representation? Are you looking for better representation? Are you trying to get a casting director to notice you? Which casting director specifically? What kinds of shows or films do they tend to work on? Doing a bit of market research will help you get clear about these things.
GET CLEAR ABOUT YOUR CASTING
Next, you need to hone in on your casting. What kinds of roles are out there that you are right for? Keep in mind what is trending right now. What age range do you play? You don’t want to bother with a monologue from a character in her forties if you play 20-30 years old. Be honest with yourself. What kinds of shows are you likely to land a role on? Try to find material that fits the tone of those shows. Your goal is for agents and casting directors to see you as being castable. A monologue is not just a way for you to say “Hey, look at what I can do!” It’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate, “Hey, look at the kinds of roles I can book!”
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Once you’re clear on the purpose of your monologue and your casting, the next thing to think about is what you bring to the table. What are your specific strengths: Emotional range? Dry humor? Vulnerability? Sarcasm? Do you have a way with medical or legal jargon? Try to find something that showcases your distinguishing attributes. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise.
Now, to narrow your search, consider this list of MONOLOGUE DONT’S:
DON’T PICK ORIGINAL MATERIAL (DON’T WRITE YOUR OWN)The purpose of showing a sample of your work is to show what you can do with someone else’s writing. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate how you can interpret a piece of narrative with your own perfect, unique and beautiful instrument. (Of course there are some cases where actors are asked to submit original monologues. Like all things, there are always exceptions.)
DON’T PICK A FAMOUS MONOLOGUE PERFORMED BY A FAMOUS ACTORYou don’t want your audience comparing your work to a celebrity’s work. You want them to see you and what you bring to the table as an artist. As a general rule, you want to pick a monologue that won’t distract them from seeing your talent.
DON’T PICK A MONOLOGUE WITH A LOT OF PROFANITY OR POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE CONTENTAgain, it’s just distracting. You want to perform for your audience and anything that might be super controversial or might offend someone is too chancy and could potentially distract from a great performance of a solid piece of writing.I’m not saying NO PROFANITY, but if it’s a lot of profanity or has a lot of sexual innuendos you run the risk of alienating some of your audience.
DON’T PICK A MONOLOGUE THAT IS A RANT OR SPEECHThis is a dangerous place to play, because there is nothing for you to work off of except your own internal choices and thoughts. It’s much more powerful to watch a character with an objective, working at getting something, having high stakes, not knowing what’s going to happen next. Monologues require listening, too. I always advise actors to never work alone, and monologues are a tricky trap.
Hopefully that helps you eliminate some of your choices when picking a monologue. Now, here are some MONOLOGUE DO’S:
PICK A MONOLOGUE THAT ISN’T TOO LONG, 1-2 MINUTES MAX Keep in mind, if you intend to post on social media, most platforms have a 60 second time limit, so keep it under a minute. There are some monologue competitions out there (1 Minute Monologue, Monologue Madness, Mandy’s Monologue Competition) that want you to keep it a minute or less. Keep in mind that casting directors and agents are likely to have made up their mind about you in the first ten seconds, so leave them wanting more.
PICK A MONOLOGUE THAT IS ENTERTAININGAlways put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Think about their experience. Pick a monologue that is fun or interesting to watch, is emotionally moving, and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. You want them to leave having enjoyed watching you, whether it’s comedy or drama.
PICK A MONOLOGUE THAT HAS EMOTIONAL RANGE This is your opportunity to show that you can play more than one emotional state. Try to find something that has different levels, an emotional life that builds, an arc. You have a full minute so use that time to show more than just one of the notes you can play. It’s always more interesting to watch a character live through something than it is to watch them stuck in one feeling for a long time.
PICK A MONOLOGUE THAT YOU ENJOY PERFORMINGThis is one of the very few (if only) times when no one can get between you and the role you want to play. You get to cast yourself, so have fun! In my experience as a coach, I’ve found that actors tend to be drawn to characters that are in their casting. There are exceptions of course, so I encourage you to make sure you are honest with yourself about your casting first and foremost. If you like the monologue you choose, you’ll have a much easier (and more fun) time memorizing it, crafting a killer piece of work and executing the performance tirelessly, time and again.
THE MONOLOGUE SEARCH
There are a lot of great resources for finding great monologues. A lot of my students have found great pieces on Monologue DB, Monologue Blogger, Daily Actor and Backstage. Of course, you run the risk of coming across monologues that other actors are also finding thus making it less likely for you to find something your audience hasn’t seen a hundred times. Consider downloading scripts (actors should always be reading scripts anyway!) to find monologues in them or transcribing them from critically acclaimed episodic television. Just make sure you’re seeking out great writing!
Even before Covid-19 caused us to hide inside our homes for an indeterminable amount of time, I was coaching actors via Zoom. I was even creating self-tapes for actors from these sessions by recording their end of the video chat. I coached actors in LA, outside of LA, in their trailers, even in their hotel rooms on location. Time and again, I’ve seen the benefits of online coaching for actors. Not only do I believe this form of coaching is good, I believe it may be better than coaching an actor in person. Here’s why.
Time is money and a commute is a time-sucker. A lot of auditions come up last minute and trying to fit in a drive across town with a day and a half’s notice is no easy feat.
Seeing you on my computer screen on camera makes it easier for me to see what the camera sees. Most of your auditions, even if you go in person, are filmed anyway and reviewed sometimes several times in the decision-making process. How your audition comes across on camera is everything.
I can record your end of the video chat so you can review your performance, even if you don’t need to create a self-tape. You can review the entire session if you want so you can listen to the coach’s feedback again and again and remember the adjustments and notes from the coaching session.
It’s good to start getting comfortable coaching online, just in case you need to do it because you’re out of town, or, I don’t know, a pandemic keeps you from leaving your home for awhile but you still want to submit an audition or work on your craft.
Sometimes actors need help with wardrobe, and when you’re coaching from home, you have direct access to your closet to show your coach all of your options. (This recently happened – I was coaching an actress and recording a self-tape and made her run upstairs and change her outfit to something more appropriate for the character!)
I’ve found online coaching to be very beneficial to actors. It also makes it easier for me to see the subtleties in their performance that I might otherwise miss in an in-person coaching. With the growing amount of self-tape auditions, partly because of Eco-Cast, versus in-the-room auditions (even before Covid-19), it’s been convenient for a lot of my clients to coach from home. Self-tapes can be a hassle if you don’t live with another actor or willing participant. There are places you can go that will provide a reader and put you one tape for a fee. With online coaching, you get the self-tape, the reader, as well as coaching from a professional acting coach, without having to leave home.
The film and television industry has come to a dramatic pause, so auditions are few and far between at most. This is a good time for actors to practice auditioning and nailing self-tapes. It’s also a good time to do monologue work since they seem to be back in fashion. This might be a good opportunity to get used to online coaching and see the benefits for yourself.
To schedule an online coaching, or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opening Moments: How To Stand Out in Your Audition
One of the most important elements of an audition is the thing I see most often overlooked by actors – the opening moment. If you want to know how to stand out in your audition, don’t skip this crucial part of the process.
Every story has a beginning, middle and end; every scene should have that, too. That means that you need to find the beginning, middle, and end in your sides for auditions. If you want to stand out in your audition, aim to show the casting director a little play. Take them on a ride. Where does the ride start? You have to make that choice.
The scene does not begin when the first line of dialogue is spoken. The scene begins with whatever is happening that makes the character say that first line of dialogue. If you have the first line of dialogue in the scene – fantastic! Take your time setting up the scene with your behavior and emotional life before you say that line. Don’t be indulgent about it, but don’t feel like you have to immediately get to the dialogue. After being on the other side of the audition desk, I can say with certainty that having a strong opening moment before you speak a word is one surefire way to stand out in the audition room.
The scene does not begin when the first line of dialogue is spoken. The scene begins with whatever is happening that makes the character say that first line of dialogue.
The opening moment will ground you into your character’s emotional life at the beginning of the scene. That is probably determined by a combination of your character’s intention in the scene, and the moments leading up to when the scene begins, including your character’s thinking process and emotional life. You have to be coming from a place (physically and emotionally) and then take us on a ride from that starting point.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself about the scene and characters to help you find your opening moment.
Where am I physically coming from?Did you just arrive somewhere? How did you feel on the drive over?Have you been waiting for someone? Were you expecting this interaction to take place or were you on your way to somewhere and didn’t anticipate this conversation?
Where is the scene literally taking place?Are you in a public place? Private home? Our setting can influence the way we behave so don’t forget to take that into consideration. It’s your job to set up the scene in those opening moments so take a beat to establish where you are so casting can be right there with you.
How am I feeling before the scene starts? Remember your job is to know what the character knows when the scene begins and then really listen to what new information is revealed, and behave accordingly. Don’t anticipate what happens in the scene. If the middle of the scene is about your character getting bad news, your character might be in a great mood at the top of the scene, not anticipating what is coming.Don’t play the end of the scene!
How do I feel about the other character(s)?Are you happy to see them? Are you dreading this conversation? Do you have something that is difficult to say so you may be feeling hesitant? Is this a person you know or someone you’re meeting for the first time? What did you expect them to look/behave like? (Hint: probably differently than what they do look/behave like! – take that in!)Make sure you cast all the other character’s in the imaginary world.
What am I expecting to happen? You should always expect something a little or a lot different than what happens, because that’s how life is, right?! Set yourself up to discover! If you’re expecting a proposal and then we have to watch you live through a break-up that’s going to be so much more compelling! Be careful not to make choices out of context of the script. Story is the most important and your job is to tell the story the writer intends to tell.
What do I want and what are the consequences if I don’t get what I want?Obviously, you must know your character’s intention in the scene. Make sure you’ve also explored what happens if things don’t go your character’s way! High stakes!
Give yourself permission to take a beat or two before that first line to live in an emotional state, and to behave accordingly, given the setting, mood, relationship, intention and expectations. Don’t feel like you have to rush it. Just give yourself that time to get grounded in the imaginary circumstances so when you do say your first line, it’s coming from a truthful place within the character. Sometimes all of that work just gives a subtle adjustment to how you start the scene, but it will make a huge difference in your overall read, and will definitely make your audition stand out.
Self-care for the actor means an increase in stamina. If you’re in it for the long-game, you’ve got to have stamina.
Because we are our instruments, practicing self-care for the actor is crucial for optimum performance. The older I get, the more I understand that self-love isn’t necessarily about pampering yourself (although that counts too!) It’s also about doing things you don’t feel like doing because you know they are good for you. Sometimes I play a little trick on myself when I don’t want to do something – I’ll tell myself I’m doing a favor for my future self. Even if that’s getting the coffee pot ready before I go to bed and setting a timer when I’m super exhausted. When I think of it as something kind that I’m doing for my tomorrow-self, it’s easier to muster up the energy to go that little extra mile. As an acting coach, I talk to students a lot about self-care because we are our instruments and it’s important to take care of your instrument. Here are some ways you can give yourself a little love all year long.
I can’t encourage this enough. There are so many reasons to meditate and even though it can be difficult to begin a regular practice, your future self will thank you for doing this work.
Go To Bed Early
Or let yourself sleep in! Rest is so important for our bodies to be able to self-heal from everything we put them through. Personally, I find when I’m sleep deprived my mental health suffers greatly. I sleep for my sanity.
Cutting out sugar, or whatever else might make you feel sluggish, is a wonderful gift you can give yourself. Put more fresh fruits and veggies in your body — food is medicine!
Get Rid of Stuff
Taking the time to clean out your closet or organize your desk is an act of self-love. Again, think about how grateful your future self will be when you take the time to de-clutter. It’s magic.
Sing In The Shower
Seriously, it will raise your vibration. Try it and I dare you to write me and tell me it didn’t make you happier.
Sometimes self-love looks like drawing boundaries and taking things off your plate. You can’t show up 100% for everyone and everything. If you’re not sure what you should be saying no to, think about what you want your future to look like and ask yourself if the things on your plate align with the trajectory that is going to get you there.
Ask For Help
If you’re struggling with addiction, depression, anxiety, fatigue – seek help from a friend or (better yet) a professional. Admitting that your life is falling apart and giving yourself the gift of receiving help from others is one of the greatest acts of self-love that I can think of.
Invest In Yourself
For actors, that may look like taking a class, new headshots, producing a piece of footage for your reel, an account with Actors Access or Backstage, or even getting a new haircut and some highlights. Whatever your profession or passion might be, spend the time and money to invest in you. Practicing self-care as an actor is a way to demonstrate to yourself and the Universe that you have value and you believe in yourself. When you commit to self-care as an actor, you are adding value to your instrument.
Bubble baths and home facials are lovely, and you should give yourself those things if they bring you joy. But I challenge you to think of things that might be a little bit more difficult to do, but will pay off in the long run by helping and supporting the future you. I hope each day of your life is filled with acts of self-love. When we know how to be loved, we get better at knowing how to love others, too.
I’ve been a student of acting for 25 years and very little of my training is in improv. Sure, I knew how to improvise in a dramatic scene because that’s how one of my coaches taught emotional preparation, but those silly theater games – not so much. The last few years I was living in Boise and would spend weeks at a time in LA. During those trips I got so lonely and depressed and grew very tired of sitting around a friend’s apartment waiting for the phone to ring. On those dark nights I would take myself to a UCB show. One hour and seven dollars later my mood was instantly lifted. Laughter is great medicine, but I think the best part of it was how inspired I was by the in-the-moment storytelling. I loved that the experience was just that – an experience. I was witnessing improvisers create something right before my eyes that would never happen again. Every show was different, and we were all there to witness it unfolding – the audience and the performers.
I decided to explore improv for several reasons. First of
all, I want to be able to do what those improvisers did! Not just because they
were amazing at it, but because they were always having so much fun. The second
reason is that it scared the hell out of me. I have a habit of throwing myself
into things that scare the hell out of me, and it’s always paid off. I was
feeling stagnant and I knew that in order to grow I would have to be willing to
be uncomfortable. Professionally, I knew it would look good to have improv
training on my resume. Since I was trying to re-introduce myself into an
industry that I had been away from for a while, I knew I needed opportunities
to perform and network.
I started with a week-long intensive at UCB followed by a
workshop at The Groundlings. I’m currently in the last week of Improv 1 at
Second City in Hollywood and have already signed up for Improv 2 starting
immediately after our class show. I can’t get enough. It’s giving me everything
I need right now, even the things I didn’t know I needed.
When I was living in Boise, I met a lot of wonderful, magical humans. Seriously, there’s something in the water there. Of all of these wonderful people that have touched my life, one of my absolute favorites is a fierce, funny, fun, compassionate, loving, hard-working, inspiring woman named Megan Bryant. In my eyes, she’s the Queen of Improv in the Treasure Valley. Here’s the thing: Improv isn’t just for actors. Megan teaches improv for everyday life. Improv is a growing trend in corporate training and Megan has been hired to share these techniques in business settings to consistently boast noticeable results . Employees get better with communication and thinking on their feet. Her approach fosters innovation, confidence, trust, team building and creativity.
I wanted to dig a little deeper into the phenomenon of improv’s ability to change people so positively and profoundly, so I reached out to an expert in the field and asked some questions. Here’s the recap:
What was your introduction to improv?
My brother, Gavin, invited me in 2006 to come and play with a local troupe that was in Boise at the time. I had never even heard of it (improv), even though I had been in theatre in junior high and high school. So, I stumbled upon it in my early twenties and never looked back. I joined in thinking it would be this fun, creative outlet on the weekends.
I was in the corporate world – I was a bank manager. Really
early on, like within weeks, I started to notice the way my attention was
shifting, the way I was listening in everyday life. For me it really quickly
showed an automatic life transition. The skills had a life application and a
mindset of presence and positive vibes that are naturally in improv.
Having an acting background in theatre, what was the major difference you noticed in the training?
It was goofier, which isn’t the way I teach it but the way I
learned it. It was about making big choices, taking risks. It allowed positive
interaction and storytelling in a way that didn’t require rehearsal and I loved
being off script.
What would you say your biggest struggle was when you were first learning?
Honestly, it felt so at home to me that the only real
struggle was that I couldn’t get enough of it.
The way that I learned it was in a group that had a really
structured way of using gimmicks and I wish it had been more of a free form
because it became more of a crutch. It’s still part of my evolution, getting
out of the gimmick.
We overcomplicate things a lot in a performance realm and
when it’s so gimmicky people wouldn’t even have a grounded character most of
the time because they were so in Yuk Yuk mode that they would lose the
character and the relationship because they’re just trying to execute a
gimmick. It’s important to remember that most of the time people laugh because
they see something relatable, not necessarily because something is super jokey.
What are the major elements in improv training that have helped you in your life?
Here are the top five I teach in my workshop—
Yes, And – Acceptance and acknowledgement of whatever has been presented. Not that we’re agreeing, which is a huge misconception in improv. In the world of improv people teach that you’re supposed to agree, and maybe on stage you can do that, but in life it’s an acceptance and acknowledgement of whatever just happened, and then requires that you do something with it. When brainstorming on a new idea, it keeps you from being stuck in a rut. You have to make a decision, add new information, you have to take whatever happened and move with it. It’s not always necessarily about right or wrong. When you’re dealing with real life, if we say “yes, and … let’s try this thing – oh, now I know I don’t like to go running.” But if I never tried running, I wouldn’t know that I hated it. Sometimes it’s a way to fail faster. It’s a way to keep what I see as a “ready” position for life. It’s a very action-oriented space to be in – Yes, And. It allows us to stay in the most positive mindset when faced with something difficult.
NOTE: “Yes, and” is a pillar of improvisation. It’s the acceptance principle — when someone in a scene states something, accept it as truth. The “and” part of this principle means to build on that reality that has been set.
Yeah, But – is the archnemesis of Yes, And. It’s the blocking mechanism that keeps us from making progress. Teaching those hand in hand allow people to see for themselves if they are Yeah-Butters in their life or find out who are the Yeah-Butters in their world. If someone offers an idea in a work meeting and they get Yeah-Butted, they’re going to shut down and not want to keep offering up ideas. People who operate from a Yeah, But place are not able to provide a safe space for all the things to exist because they dismiss rather than accept and acknowledge like in Yes, And. Yeah, But is the killer of ideas, and in improv it’s the fastest way to derail a relationship in a scene.
Suspend Judgement – To suspend judgment. A long time ago I started using Suspension of Judgment. We are naturally very judgmental and critical of ourselves and others – but to suspend judgment and actively think about our thoughts and notice that we are judging, we can take a moment to suspend it and pause before we react. In the moment in a scene, if something comes from way out of left field, we can allow a little bit of space, a little bit of silence while the audience is also adjusting to whatever just happened. In that moment you can quietly explore how you want to interact with something you are feeling critical about. It allows us more control and power over our ability to navigate through judgment, because there’s no doubt judgment will non-stop happen in our lives, but if we are aware of it then we can decide if we have to react. Does it actually affect us? If we are going to react, what is the best-case scenario? Is this a relationship that matters? Is this a work task that’s important? Whatever it is that we’re judging, we get to then control what our output is that we are putting back into the world around us if we take that moment to pause before we just immediately execute.
Participating Fully – That’s derived from being present in the moment, but for me, being present in the moment is a bit passive. You can be present for something without taking ownership of it. Participating fully really means you are putting skin in the game, contributing ideas, taking risks, expressing your opinion and taking ownership of your own experience, whether it’s a performance or in real life. This ties into Yes, And – the moment you fully participate. If you really try something you’re going to know if you want to keep doing more of that or if you don’t like it. If you meet a person and you’re really engaged and you’re learning about them, you decide if they’re going to be part of your life and in what capacity. This applies to everything – work, school, learning, skydiving – you’re not only there and present in the moment, you are engaging.
A Space of Respect – When you are activating all four of those other principles, it allows you to recognize how much we as individuals want to be honored and validated in who we are, that our experience from the day we were born up until this moment now is valid. It’s what I’ve experienced, it’s through my lens, it’s the way I perceived it and I want people to respect that. If I want that for myself, I have to offer that to other people. For me that’s what brings it full circle as a real way to live an improv experience.
As a teacher, what do you see is a common self-sabotaging behavior or belief in people that limits their experience?
People who are by nature Yeah-Butters are people who are naturally living in a victim space and everything is happening to them, no matter what it is. If people lack the self-awareness that they are blocking themselves, they can’t do anything else with it. They will constantly make excuses of why it (improv) doesn’t work, not that they aren’t doing it, but that it doesn’t work. I can see in someone’s body language that they are guarded, probably because they’ve been Yeah-Butted so hard in their lives.
Improv, for me, is personal development. Some people don’t really want to do the hard work, they just want to float along and put their blinders on and not allow it. Any of those struggles are probably more deeply and psychologically rooted than stuff I can legally address without some certifications. (LOL)
Some people don’t realize that they are the key to
unblocking themselves and there’s only so much anyone else can do to help them.
It really does take repeat efforts. There are only a few companies that are
smart enough to bring me in quarterly, so I get to work with the same people
more than once. They want the growth and the change and discovery to be their
own ideas. I try to do the exercises in a way that people get to see the way
that they show up, almost in an exaggerated way, but it is still true to them –
so people can go “Oh, I’m the one that does that” and know that they’re not
going to be judged harshly for it. The key is being able to have enough time
with them that they can see it for themselves and go “Now that I know better, I
can do something different.” But they need it to be their idea.
Have you ever seen anyone go from being a Yeah-Butter to a Yes-Ander in their life?
Oh yeah, all the time. Sometimes people recognize it in the
middle of class and sometimes months or years later people realize it. Someone
just recently shared with me that switching their mindset as a result of a
workshop saved their marriage.
What qualities do you see in people who take to it really well?
Natural Yes-Anders. People who generally like to learn and
grow and want to be better in life. Some people that just already naturally get
the human side of life – I don’t know how it’s gotten to the point where it’s
so severely lacking.
I have used it to get through the hardest parts of my life.
It’s easy to say yes when something seems fun and it is way harder and yet more
rewarding when you have to Yes, And when the going gets tough.
Sometimes it’s a way to fail faster.
Megan Bryant, Queen of Improv
Megan’s love of improv is demonstrative of how comfortable she is stepping into the unknown and having faith that everything is going to be okay. This is probably one of the most valuable qualities a person can have, because everything is in the unknown. Willingness to go into unknown territory is how our lives get bigger.
I didn’t know how much I needed it and how much it would change my life until I jumped in with both feet. Improv is teaching me how to be fully engaged in the moment, completely invested in and trusting of other players, and let go of trying to control the outcome. It requires faith that if you absolutely show up in the moment you are in, everything you need in the moment that is coming will be there for you when you get there. It’s shown me that anything and everything that shows up is a gift, if you choose to see it that way. Most importantly, it teaches you the art of radical acceptance.
One of the most important elements about acting is the one that actors often forget about again and again: Listening! To remind an actor in a scene with a partner to really listen can open up so much truth, possibility and nuance that it can quite literally transform a performance. However, this seems to be something that is often overlooked in monologue work.
My very first day at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, my teacher (the great Andrew Benne) asked us to perform our audition monologues that got us accepted into the school. I later learned that my section (or class), Section 12, was the section with the highest audition scores in the entire academy. That first day of watching everyone perform their monologues was surely proof of that little fact. Everyone was so talented it was overwhelming. Then, Andrew asked us to cast the character to whom we were speaking in our monologue from our group of classmates. With a living, breathing human being in front of us, whom we could interact with, touch and take in, every single monologue was a completely different performance – with more emotional life, risks, vulnerability and subtlety. I’ll never forget that lesson. Working with another person on the other end of that monologue informed the performance in such a powerful way, we all instantly went from shmactors to actors.
Try this with a monologue! If you don’t already have a monologue in your pocket, this is a great opportunity to find one and to also practice memorizing.
If you don’t have another actor you can play with, just cast someone in your mind that would be a strong choice for another character on the other end of that monologue. Try not to be too technical about it, just keep changing your casting choice and notice the difference in your delivery every time. This is a great acting exercise you can do on your own that can really improve your work.
Sometimes those roles with fewer lines can be more difficult to prepare because we have less information about the character. Your job is to fill in the blanks. In order to find the strongest choice, figure out what the whole story is about and how your character fits into it. If it’s a one or two line co-star, chances are your purpose is to reveal more about one of the main characters or to help move the story forward. You might just be exposition, so resist the temptation to make the scene about your character. If you cut your character out of the script, what is missing? That’s a good place to start when you are trying to figure out the reason for your character in the story.
Within context of the story, start to make choices about the surrounding circumstances and your character’s relationship with the other character(s) and their point of view of what is happening. Then, rather than focusing on how to say the line(s), understand what their behavior is and go from there.
Remember, acting is behaving. And behavior is a manifestation of our inner emotional life. Your character, even with one to three lines, is a full human being with inner life to explore.
Find sides for a character with just a few lines and practice understanding where they fit into the story. Make some choices about their point of view, relationships and surrounding circumstances just to see how many different things you can do with the scene. Remember that you don’t want to take away from the whole story. Storytelling is a collaboration, and your co-star role is one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Your job is not to show off your talent. Your job is to serve the story. Have fun and break legs!
First of all, if you are living in an area where there are acting classes you can take – you should be doing that. Because I work with actors that live all over the country, I get this question quite often: If I can’t go to class, what can I do to work on my acting? I recently coached a student online who was preparing for a role in a short film. One of the things I suggested to her for preparation was doing an activity as the character to see what she might discover about the character’s life and thinking process.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Meisner‘s activity exercise, I’ll first explain that, then I’ll tell you how you can do a version of this on your own without a teacher or class.
The assignment is to come up with an activity, something you have to physically do with objects (steer clear of anything on a computer or phone) with a set of guidelines and obstacles. Come up with something simple, but that requires your full attention to complete. Great examples of activities are:
packing a suitcase for a specific trip
getting ready for a specific event
repairing a broken item
making something: food, puzzle, craft
Then your job is to come up with surrounding circumstances. Why are you packing the suitcase? What is the event? Why does the broken item need to be repaired? To whom does it belong? For whom is the food or craft you are making? This is a good opportunity to make strong choices. The strongest choice here is always whatever has the highest stakes and therefore would naturally create the most emotional life.
You should be very clear about what the consequences are if the activity is not completed just so. Meisner demanded that actors aim for a standard of perfection – if your activity is to glue back together a broken plate, the goal should be that you want to make it look like it was never damaged in the first place. If you choose to knit a sweater, you’d better have a photo/pattern of that sweater and be making it exactly like that.
Make sure whatever you choose for your surrounding circumstances is somewhat grounded in reality, but not something you actually have to do in your real life. Don’t let the activity be wrapping your mother’s birthday present if that’s something you actually need to get done. The point is to practice using your imagination. However, don’t choose something too far outside of reality. You want to give yourself a setup that you can really believe is happening.
The next piece of circumstance you give yourself is urgency. If it would normally take you an hour to get ready for a black tie event, you should give yourself (in your imaginary world) 35 minutes until the imaginary car is coming to pick you up. (And there better be some serious consequences if you don’t arrive on time!)
When I’ve given this assignment to students in the past, once they’ve started their activity and I can see that they are living in the world they’ve created, I’ll have another actor knock at the door and need something from them. Sometimes they can only communicate by repeating one word back and forth instead of improvising dialogue. This is so they get used to using behavior to live in relationship, rather than feel like they need to be storytellers. It’s not about the story here. It’s about living in the imaginary circumstances and dealing with the obstacles. Remember, acting is behavior. If the actor is really committed to the circumstances (they believe it’s really happening) and they are really taking in their partner’s behavior, emotional life naturally occurs.
I love the activity exercise because it reinforces to actors that their job is not to conjure up emotion, it’s to really believe in the imaginary world, fight for what the character wants, deal with life, and not know what’s going to happen next. They learn that making strong choices and really living truthfully will create organic emotional life. It’s a beautiful thing to watch an actor realize that they don’t have to manufacture emotion. They just have to commit, trust and go on the ride.
Going back to the purpose of this blogpost – to give you an assignment you can do on your own – here is how you can apply the principles of this exercise on your own.
If you have a specific role you are working on, think of an activity that the character would do that they don’t necessarily do in the scene. A good choice would be something that they might be doing in the scene previous to the one you’re working on. So, if in the scene they are arriving somewhere, maybe the activity is packing a suitcase or getting ready. If in the scene someone is coming over (and they are expecting that person), the activity could be cleaning your apartment or preparing a meal for them. Allow yourself to really live in the character’s world and set a timer so you can keep yourself engaged with real urgency. See what kinds of emotions come up for you. If nothing very exciting or dangerous occurs for you internally, you either haven’t made strong enough choices, or you’re not really believing the imaginary circumstances.
Audition Hack: Cast All Of Your Off-Screen Characters
Make sure when you prepare for an audition, you make a really specific casting choice for whomever you’re supposed to be in the scene with. If the other character isn’t cast yet, choose someone that works for you in order to give your character strong point of view and the right emotional life.
I always either use someone from my real life or another actor that I’ve worked with who is a strong casting choice. You should avoid using famous actors that you don’t know personally, or just using an idea of a person. The whole point of this is to make your performance more specific and to ensure that you are emotionally affected by the other character in the scene.
The same goes for any other character that is mentioned in your scene. Make sure if another person is referenced, you have a made a choice about who is cast in that role that works for you. That way, when that character is mentioned in the scene, your point of view about them will come across, however subtle.
I recommend doing your casting first because it can really inform the rest of your preparation and help lead you to strong, specific choices right out of the gate.