Essential Acting Principles To Create Truth In Audition Monologues
I will end this blog with the same message as I begin.
Some may view the principles and questions below as overkill, overwhelming and unattainable while others may view them as just scratching the surface or the bare minimum work needed to start their process. Every actor must be truthful to themselves and follow a process that works for them. As an acting coach, I can tell you that putting the work in to explore all the principles below, and much more not mentioned here, is essential to the development of an actor's craft and if you wish to grow as an artist and share work that truly transforms and transcends, you must do the work.
Below you will find 14 foundation acting principles and questions that I believe every actor must consider deeply when they have the gift of working on a role. These principles and questions are presented in no particular order because they are all important.
Many of the questions below can be answered through quality script analysis, while others will require you to dig deep into your personal life and/or your imagination. One important point to make before I begin is this:
Give yourself permission to look beyond the four walls of the imaginary circumstances of the script to find answers the questions below. If you confine and limit yourself to only looking in one location for the answers, then you will naturally create missed opportunities for yourself to solve the acting challenges you face. No one ever needs to know what your process is and what you use to do your job. It's nobody's business but your own.
Who are you talking to and what is your relationship to them?
Give yourself permission to make this personal and not just lock yourself into the circumstances and character's of the play the monologue is from. The audience will experience the words in a standalone moment in time, so they will have no context what happened before, so choose someone or many someones that mean something to you. And by doing so you will make what you are saying more meaningful to you because the person you're talking to is someone important to you.
Where are you and how does where you are effect how you share what you need to share?
If you are in a safe place like your home with no one there but you and the other person, then there are few obstacles to overcome and the words just flow freely. So consider using your imagination to lift the piece from the play's location (for the purposes of this standalone audition monologue) and place yourself in a location that has an effect on you and what you intend to share. For example - what happens if you tried to share this same piece in the front row of Church during the Preacher's sermon? What happens if you're in a crowded room at a noisy dinner party? What happens if you are outside and it is raining or snowing or windy or scorching hot? Where you are and what's going on where you are is just as important as who you're with and it absolutely does has an effect on what you do.
What just happened and where did you just come from?
The moments before you start to speak must be crystal clear to you so you know what has just triggered your monologue as your response. If you are just starting from nothing, then you are doing yourself a disservice. Your monologue is a moment of time in between what just happened and what is coming next. You must have a clear understanding of what you experienced before you begin in order to be truthful. If you've just come from a funeral, you will be in a totally different emotional state then if you've just come from a party or a political rally or a 4-hour lecture on Quantum Physics. The point here is that you are always in transition from the past, through the present and into the future, so give that the respect it deserves.
Where do you intend to go after you're done?
If you do not have an idea of a destination where you need to be and why you need to be there then when you've shared your message, you will simply linger, so having a strong desire to go some place for some important reason will help you end with purpose. This does not mean you need to physically walk off-stage/screen - you can "leave" with your intentions. However, be open to having your desired location change if during the sharing of the monologue you experience something that changes you. Be open and vulnerable enough to be effected to allow for adjustments to your plans.
What do you want? What is it that you are truly fighting for? And WHY do you want what you what?
Knowing what you want is SO important. And it's helpful to you as an actor to fight for the other person to DO something as opposed to having a passive objective like sharing the words so they hear you or understand you. Passive objectives like telling or sharing become boring to the audience because you really are not fighting through obstacles to accomplish your goal. The more you need the other person to DO something based on your objective, the more invested you and the audience will be.
(NOTE: If you're interested in learning more about OBJECTIVES, check out my blog called ACTION OBJECTIVES vs REACTION OBJECTIVES)
What happens if you achieve your goals and what happens if you fail to meet your goals?
This point is often overlooked, but it's critical. Just sharing your words is never enough. Having a clear understanding of what is at stake, helps frame why you're fighting for what you're fighting for. Don't just have an arbitrary goal. Knowing what you stand to win or lose will help keep you fighting hard for your goal.
How will you go after what you're fighting for?
Will you confront them, lure them, seduce them, berate them, deceive them, etc? What are the tactics you will employ to achieve your goal? And how will you adjust along the way when you are not accomplishing your goals?
Like in life, the first approach to accomplishing something is often not the only way we go about getting things. This is true with acting as well. We must be ready & willing to adjust our approach to getting our objectives if what we are doing is simply not working. So don't stay stubborn and keep banging your head against the wall if your initial approach is not helping you get what you want. And clearly, in this audition monologue, you're going to need to imagine what the other person is doing and how they are reacting to how you're going about getting what you want. So open up your heart, senses and imagination as wide as possible to allow yourself to be effected by the imagined responses of the imagined other person.
What is the other person doing while you are sharing & how does what they are doing effect you and how you share the next part of the piece?
Just as I mentioned above, you must use your imagination and senses to create the other person and as you know, in life, when you talk to people, they do not always give you 100% of their attention (In fact...you may even be drifting away right now while reading this blog which proves my point), so have an expectation that there will be times during your monologue that the other person you're talking to may not be giving you their full attention. And if that happens (in your imagination), what will you do in the next moments to regain their attention? The point here is that although you're the one talking, you must not be naive and selfish...it's not all about you. The other person has value and importance too (even if they only exist in your imagination), so pay respect to that relationship in order to accomplish your goal.
How do you feel? Why do you feel what you feel ? And does freely sharing how you feel truly help you accomplish your goals?
Many actors put far too much emphasis on being at a heightened emotional state thinking that heightened emotional life equals good acting and that is a tragic misconception. Give a lot of thought about what you want, what you're fighting for and ask yourself a simple question:
"Does freely sharing my emotions help or hurt me
in reaching my goals?"
Answer this honestly and objectively because what you are fighting for is more important than you getting emotional.
Give yourself permission to be illogical and irrational. Not everything needs to line up literally and logically. This is the essence of Subtext.
Just because the words are angry words (ex. I hate you. You ruined my life.) doesn't mean you must deliver them angrily. Perhaps you are flirting or teasing or dismissing. Conversely, just because the words are kind and loving (ex. I love you. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me.) does not mean you must deliver them lovingly and with a tender heart. Perhaps you are being sarcastic or condescending. The point here is that in acting, like in life, we often mean something different and feel something different than the literal definition of the words, so give yourself permission to discover the truth (the subtext) beneath & between the words by giving yourself to be incongruent & illogical.
(NOTE: If you're interested in learning more about CONGRUENCE vs INCONGRUENCE, check out my blog called STOP MAKING THE OBVIOUS CHOICES)
What research have you done?
Read the play many, many times. Learn all you can about the characters, relationships and circumstances. Read other plays by the same playwright. Research the time period. Find out what was going on in history (politically, socially, hit movies/music/fashion) in order to get a sense of the time period. Make note of how your character describes themselves and how others describe them so you gain a 360 degree view of who the character truly is. The character's profession is what they do, not who they are, so research, research, research.
(NOTE: If you're interested in learning more about how to do quality Character Analysis, check out my blog called THE 3-LEGGED STOOL OF CHARACTER ANALYSIS)
How will you fulfill your Emotional Obligations?
Will you leverage your personal past experiences to elevate your emotional life? Will you use your imagination to trigger an emotional response? Will you use an As-If scenario to help you emotionally relate to the material? You should give a lot of thought to what your craft technique and process is to attain the emotional life you hope to attain for the piece. And it's important to note that an emotion is NOT something you work for, it is something you attain through a specific experience or process and actors must have mastery over various processes to stimulate emotional responses.
FYI - Consider JOINING THE TOOLBOX to learn many techniques to fulfill the emotional obligations.
How will you fulfill your Relationship Obligations?
What is your process to ensure that your relationship with the other person(s) is clearly understood by the audience? It's important to note that your believable relationship is as important as any emotions you strive to attain. Never make any part of this process more important than another. Your honest and believable relationship to the other person you are sharing your message with essential.
How will you fulfill your Character Obligations?
What is your process to lift the character from the pages of the script to bring them to life as a truthful and fully realized person and not a "type" or "caricature" that represents the intended character? It's important to note that the creation of a truthful and believable character is as important as your emotions and your relationships. (Once again, there are many craft tools taught in the TOOLBOX.)
And that brings us to the end of this blog and so I will end like I began...
Some may view the principles above as overkill, overwhelming and unattainable while others may view them as just scratching the surface or the bare minimum work needed to start their process. Every actor must be truthful to themselves and follow a process that works for them. As an acting coach, I can tell you that putting the work in to explore everything above, and much more not mentioned here, is essential to the development of an actor's craft and if you wish to grow as an artist and share work that truly transforms and transcends, you must do the work.
To learn more, consider joining the Toolbox where you'll be able to watch over 45 hours of acting craft training across 375 videos that teach you practical and attainable craft techniques. So, if you're not a member of the TOOLBOX yet, click here to JOIN THE TOOLBOX.
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I hope this post has inspired you in some small way. I look forward to reading your comments.
Bye for now and Stay Safe My Fellow Travelers.
See you inside the Toolbox.