This manual is dedicated to teachers of two categories of acting students:
- Serious acting students who intend to become professional actors.
- Students studying acting for personal and professional growth, who are interested in acting as a passionate hobby, and also for the benefit of becoming more effective communicators in all areas of their lives, especially their careers.
Do your students love to audition with monologues?
Do your students have the following qualities present in their monologues? Would you like them to?
- They enter, and interact in, and exit the audition room with confidence, ease, and enjoyment.
- They are knowledgeable about the best and most appropriate material for a particular audition.
- They have clear, fun, suspenseful staging – even if it’s only a few simple choices – that helps tell the story and engages their bodies specifically in the performance, no matter how nervous they might be.
- They act their monologues truthfully and spontaneously, and are comfortable acting off of “no one” (because most auditors prefer not to be acted to).
- In addition to having the above qualities, they also know how to apply strong monologue and audition skills to other professional situations, such as job interviews, presentations, and public speaking.
Each of these qualities is teachable and learnable!
Why don’t some acting schools teach students how to audition?
I routinely meet actors who are college graduates – of the most prestigious graduate schools for acting, as well as undergraduate theater departments around the country – who say they never learned an effective approach to audition monologues during their training. For high school students it is the same. Many say that monologues and/or audition skills were not addressed at all in their studies.
How can this be? A monologue is the calling card of the freshly trained actor who is beginning his pursuit of an acting career. Monologues are the most often asked-for “entry-level” requirement for:
- Auditions for conservatory and graduate-level training.
- A “Hello, this is me and a taste of what I can do” in initial meetings with agents and casting directors.
- Auditions for theatrical productions, including repertory companies, summer stock, and Equity principal auditions.
- Auditions for student competitions, theater productions and films.
- Result in even the strongest actors feeling incapable of showing what they can do in an audition setting.
- Leave actors who have spent years and huge sums of money on their training with no practical skills when it comes to actually getting work and building a career.
- Reflect badly on a school’s training program when students who are ill-prepared in their material choices, performances, and audition room etiquette are seen by industry professionals.
Neglecting an actor’s monologue and audition skills can:
It is not over-dramatic to say that a talented young actor’s repeated experiences of being at sea in the audition room can easily result in that actor abandoning her dreams and choosing a safer profession. This happens a lot, especially to young actors who were considered the stars of their classes in the school environment, but who never learned how to audition well. The contrast between the excellent results they achieved at school and the complete change in requirement and environment of the professional audition room can be so baffling and upsetting that they just stop.
How this approach came about
I have been teaching and refining an approach to rehearsing audition monologues since 1993. I teach this approach in my private classes for New York actors; in the Atlantic Acting School’s New York University undergraduate and conservatory programs, and as a guest teacher in the United States and internationally.
The approach was inspired years ago by the intense frustrations my acting students were experiencing when they tried to apply their acting skills to monologues. They also reported difficulties with self-direction, and with general audition etiquette and technique.
From my experience as a professional theater director, I tried applying simple staging techniques to monologues, and found this made monologues easier and more fun for actors to perform. It also made monologues more enjoyable for their auditors and audiences to watch.
As a long time student and teacher of the Practical Aesthetics¹ acting technique, I found that many of its principles worked wonderfully in addressing some of the most common acting difficulties actors have with monologues.
As a director behind the audition table, I also saw many instances of helpful, and also extremely unhelpful attitudes and practices that actors regularly bring into the audition room. I devised several exercises and techniques to help actors more consistently come across as confident, prepared professionals.
Over the years, I’ve happily seen that every single problem actors have with monologues and auditioning can be transformed into creative, empowered, professional, and even joyful experiences.
As far as I know, this monologue approach is the only one to place equal emphasis on directing, acting, and auditioning skills. Actors frequently complain that monologues are unpleasant for them on all three of these levels:
- Directing: Actors don’t know if, why, where, and when they should move, so they tend to either freeze in one place, or move in random or unplanned ways. Both are uncomfortable, incomplete choices.
- Acting: Actors find it extremely difficult to act with “no one,” and feel the lack of a live partner hurts their auditions.
- Auditioning: Many actors find the introduction, chitchat, and goodbye moments of auditions nerve-wracking because they haven't learned effective audition technique.
Actors who take my private classes have often been avoiding monologue auditions for these reasons, yet have realized they will have to overcome these obstacles in order to take the next steps in their auditioning lives.
When an actor does have an effective approach to monologues and auditioning, his possibilities are unlimited. No longer a dreaded requirement, monologues become his tool to expand and grow as an artist as well as master the art of self-presentation in all kinds of professional situations. He can:
- Directing: Learn how to self-direct and stage himself so that he is alive, specific and physically engaged in every performance. His direction will be fun and repeatable – just as in a well-directed play.
- Acting: Act just as effectively “off the wall” as he can with a live partner by using a simple mental
technique that we all do every day.
- Auditioning: Master the art of auditioning by learning and practicing principles of showmanship and self-presentation.
Monologue skills empower all students
There is no profession in which it is a detriment to have strong
self- presentation and communication skills.
I strongly believe that monologue work is exceptionally valuable for all students, not only those who aspire to be professional actors. That is why I never believe that time spent in acting school has been wasted if a student later decides to pursue another profession.
The same principles used to rehearse a strong monologue audition can be applied to songs, public speaking, job interviews, and business presentations – any situation in which a person is presenting herself to others. All of these uses of monologue and audition technique are presented in this manual.
It is my hope that working this manual, while simultaneously using the book and DVD as references, will inspire teachers and students to explore and discover the many ways monologue work can enrich their artistic, personal, and professional lives.
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Karen Kohlhaas is a New York based theater director and filmmaker, a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company, and a senior teacher at the Atlantic Acting School. She teaches private monologue, directing, and “Fearless Cold Reading & Audition Technique” classes in New York and other cities. She is the author of How to Choose a Monologue for Any Audition, The Monologue Audition: A Practical Guide for Actors, and The Monologue Audition Teacher's Manual, and is the director/writer/producer of The Monologue Audition Video (DVD), a 120-minute instructional DVD for actors, or anyone who wants to improve at public speaking and giving presentations, available at www.monologueaudition.com.
Copyright 2009 by Karen Kohlhaas
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