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.