Whether or not you're already a professional actor or you're a young person auditioning for a place at one of the leading drama schools, it's important to brush up your audition speeches from time to time.
The first stage of this process is choosing an appropriate monologue to prepare and ultimately perform. This in itself is a task that deserves further exploration and is discussed in detail in an earlier article.
So you've chosen your audition speech, what next?
So, once you've selected the perfect speech and you are confident it is the right one for the particular audition, how do you go about working on it? In other words, is there a method you should use to prepare an audition speech? I'll break this process into the 10 guidelines that I like to follow to really get the most out of a piece. But remember, they are just that - guidelines - not rules. It is worth noting that there is no 'right' way to prepare as an actor. Some people have strict regimes, others like to do very little in the way of prep and rely heavily on their instincts. Find the way that works for you. Bend and twist these guidelines to tailor them to your needs.
1, Read the play
It is essential to read the entire play from which the monologue is taken to give the speech a sense of context. This should be your first port of call before ever trying to learn or indeed 'act' the speech itself. It is impossible to get the best from a soliloquy if you don't know what happened to the character beforehand and it is useful to know what happens afterwards as a way of gauging where they are at emotionally. It might also be the case that the audition panel ask questions that are related to the wider world of the play and not just the limiting world of the scene you are performing.
2, Don't learn the speech straight away
A mistake many inexperienced actors make is to learn the monologue parrot fashion as soon as they can. This can lead to what is known as learning the lines rather than the thoughts of the character; you will never fully understand the momentum of a piece and may fall into the trap of a limited understanding (leading to a limited interpretation) if you learn it before exploring the possibilities.
The best way to learn lines is almost by osmosis, as you explore the thoughts, emotions and physicality of the character. This way each word is fuelled by the character's inner state and you will go deeper than a purely external presentation.
Funnily enough, you are much less likely to dry (forget your lines) learning them this way, as they will be connected to something internal. You'll also be much better prepared to ad-lib if you do dry, as you will know the character so well.
3, Speeches don't exist in real life
There is no such thing as a speech. We never plan to speak for a sustained period of time in everyday life. It sometimes just so happens that for any number of reasons we go on talking. One thought leads to another, and we get excited by the prospect of developing an idea. It is always to provoke a response from someone else. The vital point here for you as an actor is that this speech hasn't been planned by the character; it is spontaneous and new.
4, You are the character
Don't fall into the trap of taking on a funny walk or a strange voice from the off. If certain quirks and characteristics develop naturally along the way, then perhaps they bring something of worth, but it is essential to start with yourself. You have chosen this character because you can relate to it; never stray too far from this. You are the character. Don't judge them. It is not your place to like or dislike them. You see the world through their eyes.
5, Read, read, read
Read the speech many times before you begin working on the details. Don't make definitive decisions too early on. Be as open and objective as you possibly can be. If you have chance, read it several times and put it away for the day. When you return to it the following day, you will have absorbed a lot and come to it with a fresh energy, allowing you to discover on a deeper level.
- What happened before the speech begins?
- What are you doing?
- Where are you?
- Who are you talking to? (remember, even if you are speaking to the audience you still have a relationship with them)
- Why are you there?
- What do you want? (This is the most important question and can be transformative. We never speak for no reason. We are trying to get a reaction. In answering this question we discover our motivation for the speech. This question alone will help the audition speech take on an active quality, which is far more engaging for the audience than a passive reading)
It is important to answer these questions thoroughly to give yourself the background knowledge needed to inhabit the character. You don't need to signpost any of the information through your speech; it is part of your interpretation and the audience will share in it naturally.
7, Avoid generalised emotion
Don't label a speech an 'angry' speech or a 'happy' speech or a 'sad' speech. Be specific and try to work moment to moment; our emotions change subtly all the time.
8, Find the triggers
Look for key words that spark changes of thought and climactic moments. Hungrily search for variety to play. The more you find and the greater the range, the more secure you will feel and the more interesting the performance will be. This is not to say that you should be prescriptive; never apply extraneous external mannerisms, gestures or emotion. Start simply and work you way through the monologue's complexities.
Don't plan a lot of showy movement for your soliloquy. Keep it simple in terms of staging and make sure the moves are motivated; we never move without a clear reason. Clarity and purpose should fuel your gestures. In this area, less is most definitely more. Never under-estimate the power of stillness. If you are internally engaged, there will be little need for whirling and whizzing around the stage or playing area.
10, Vary pitch, tone, pace and volume
The voice is the actor's most vital tool. Use variety in your vocal interpretation of the piece. This should happen fairly naturally if you are truthful in your approach to the character. Very few people speak in monotone and most passionate, engaged people have fascinating voices. Use your love of acting to fuel this. Remember, volume doesn't equal emotion, just as a stage whisper doesn't equal intensity; both can be extremely difficult to listen to for sustained periods of time.
There are clearly many different ways to think about preparing an audition speech for drama school entry or a professional theatre gig, and many varying methods to approaching the work. Don't get overwhelmed. Choose the guidelines that work for you and explore, experiment and play, and you'll be ready to go on the big day!