Thursday, February 9, 2012

136. Are Monologues The Best Gauge Of Artistic Potential?

“Everyone has the right to doubt everything as often as he pleases and the duty to do it at least once. No way of looking at things is too sacred to be reconsidered. No way of doing things is beyond improvement.” 
― Edward De Bono

During this whole auditioning-for-grad-school process, I've begun to question something about the system we've come to accept as "normal" procedure for applying to acting programs...

Are monologues the best gauge of artistic potential?

I am not a big fan of monologues and I’ve never been particularly “good” at them. I MUCH prefer doing scenes...where you have someone to REACT to.

Monologues are like acting in a vacuum. You can prepare a canned performance that nooooo one else will interrupt with any outside influence what-so-ever, which is why monologues can end up looking so stilted and fake...because it's NOTHING LIKE REAL LIFE.

I mean, when are you ever standing in a room talking to the air?...Maybe you shouldn't answer that.

In past years auditioning for grad school I’ve always had some questions about the logic and effectiveness of the established process of using monologues as the means by which students are selected…I mean, you have to get past the "monologue test" basically, before they’ll actually have a real conversation with you. To me, there's something a little dehumanizing about that reality and it seems counter-productive for the schools too, I think.

I mean, what are they looking for...really? People that are good at making monologues seem spontaneous? People that have the right "look"? Or people that are good at reacting to other actors "in the moment"? People that are good collaborators?  People that have "drive"? What is it?

What is "good acting," for that matter? That's a subjective can of worms isn't it? But let's not go there...Let's stick with the monologue question...

Let's say you are the most brilliant, amazing, incredible young artist/actor/human of allllllll time,...We will call you Barlon Mando... or if you're a girl...Dette Bavis....but you happen to SUCK AT MONOLOGUES!

Well, guess what? You're probably nooooot going to get accepted to grad school for acting. You're probably s#*t-out-of-luck, because the ONLY thing these grad schools are judging you by (to begin with)...are your MONOLOGUES.

(Yet another reason to be super selective about your audition pieces. Don't let yourself get disqualified because of poor monologue selection!!! Pick reeeeeealllly personal monologues for YOU. For more on my philosophy of choosing good monologues CLICK HERE and HERE.)

Monologue Schmonologue...

If given a choice, I'd much prefer to do one two minute monologue and a short three minute interview and have THAT be my audition.

Am I totally off-base here, guys? Are monologues REALLY the best way? Are all of the qualities of a really brilliant actor naturally going to show up in a monologue audition? Will that brilliance shine through, in spite of the awkwardness of the form?

Just sayin'...

I cannot deny that this question's origin has come from my own personal frustration with my past ineptitudocrity at A. CHOOSING GOOD MONOLOGUES FOR MYSELF and B. PERFORMING SAID MONOLOGUES WITH ADEQUATE FACILITY. It's been soooo annoying because I've felt in past auditions like I have so much more I want to communicate than they could ever see through a silly two minute monologues, but I had no outlet with which to do so...'cause I wasn't asked to stay for an interview...or given any sort of "direction" to show that I was flexible in my choices or whatever.

But then again...maybe they saw everything they needed to see and nothing I could have communicated with my own actual words would have changed their perception of me in any way. That is also possible.

Uh-oh, now I'm on a roooooollllll with questions....questions upon questions...

Are these programs looking for the actors that have the most talent to begin with...or are they looking for the actors with the greatest long-term potential? Perhaps it's a combination of both?

Sorry guys...Don't have any answers. But I think it's good to ask questions anyway...Get's ya thinkin' outside the box.

Wadda you think? Are monologues really the best way?

If you were selecting students for an acting program, what would you include in the required application process? What would you be trying to learn about your potential students from these things?

Personally...I'd like to take the students with the biggest hearts first. But how do you test for heart?



  1. Virginia,

    I think you hit the nail on the head here. I, for one, have seen fantastic actors who, when asked to select and prepare a monologue, lose their bearing entirely. I have also seen actors who have a lot of trouble listening/reacting, but are quite competent at monologue preparation/delivery. I think its really a skill unto itself, and so when an actor delivers a monologue, except for in a handful of cases, you are essentially only seeing that person's ability to select and deliver a monologue (or his/her coach's ability, for that matter). It strikes me as a similar situation as the SATs (which, I recently learned, is no longer an acronym for ANYTHING because it has been proven that it is not an "aptitude" test so much as it is a measure of an ability to take the SAT). There are some MFA programs out there (DePaul in Chicago, for example) that take a very different approach to auditioning. EVERY auditionee is brought through a typical DePaul "class" -- and so the faculty is able to see many, many things beyond monologue delivery ability from each candidate. Something to think about - I'm glad you brought this up.

  2. Completely agree with this. Monologues are a whole OTHER skill set and so different from what acting really IS. Also really dying to know what happened with your Yale audition! Can you give us a hint as to how it went??!

  3. what happened with yale??

    1. Yes, very curious about your yale experience ! :)

  4. My thoughts exactly!! I had a horrible experience with the final audition at URTA this year because of the way the stage was set up. The recruiters were basically on risers in front of you and I had nowhere to look! It took me out of the moment completely during my contemporary piece (unfortunately my strongest piece) and I walked out of that thinking 'there has got to be a better way to do this.' Of course I can't think of one. I do like your idea though.

  5. Great post.

    I have no answers, but I do have a question for you:

    You said "I mean, when are you ever standing in a room talking to the air?"

    So, who DO you talk to when doing your monologue? Are you really talking to the air? Do you pick someone different and specific to speak to for each monologue? Are you (or should you be or could you be) talking to yourself, externalizing an internal dialogue?

    1. when the imagination is forced to be stretched...

  6. unfortunately if you aren't good at monologues/auditioning you'll have a short lived career, because even after grad school that is what's used to land a job...(with some exceptions). Annoying, but a skill you have to master...the art of just auditiong....blah! If only we could book jobs based on performances.

  7. I auditioned for 4 schools in Chicago: Juilliard, UCI, USD, and Yale. I got called back to UCI, but not to any of the other three. I feel very confident in my performances, but it was very interesting to see the different types of people that got called back at the other schools. Generally they were ethnic and/or tall and gorgeous. I am sure they all did very well on their monologues as well, but looks definitely have something to do with it... As for monologues, I think it is ridiculous that they are the first step in grad school audition process.. I mean, aren't you supposed to go there to GET TRAINED? Probably in their eyes, two monologues up front and then call backs is the most time-efficient way of seeing so many people.

  8. Virginia,
    I completely understand your complaint here, and have spent some time myself contemplating the predicament.

    I think the major problem is an issue of time, due to the number of applicants, especially for the top tier/higher demand programs.
    Monologues are a simple, relatively quick opportunity to view an actor's ability; and I do understand that much can be gathered from viewing them. But is it enough, or the "best" way? I don't think so.

    And monologued auditions seem so archaic!

    So I think the paper application process should be necessary, more thorough, and act as a first round "audition." Therefor those chosen to audition would already be screened based on their personal statement, recommendations, experience, etc. But already as I type this, I realize how academic this process would be, and the craft of acting does not exist as such a solely intellectual expression. So then why don't programs require one to send in taped monologues to screen by? But then you have the issue of who has access to such equipment, and that can un-rightfully exclude people.

    Basically what I'm getting at is that I wish there was some sort of pre-screening, so that those that are invited to audition get more face time.

    And then I realize that the monologues are a pre-screening!
    So here we are, stuck with monologues again.

    So, yes, I don't know the solution...

    But I do agree that an actor's talent and potential should not earn its first and possibly only impression based on a couple of monologues. I think it's important to work with actors, and see how they receive and embody direction. Then, maybe every auditionee should be given the opportunity to work with a given adjustment?

    Beyond that, an actor should really be "judged" on their ability to perform with another person, via a scene, living in a story or situation. You could work on a scene with a partner ahead of time. But how easy or difficult is that to organize?
    Perhaps the scenes could be cold-read...but then again, that's another technique, like delivering a monologue, that isn't every good actor's forte.

    Ahhh, so I think what we basically come down to is that acting is an especially difficult and subjective craft to rate.

    I guess I gotta brush up on my monologue skills!


    (ps Virginia, I've just come across this blog, and am so grateful for it. Thanks for all you're sharing!)