Although castings for professional acting jobs rarely require the applicant to prepare two contrasting audition speeches nowadays, it is still very much part of the drama school audition process, at least for any of the well-respected schools that belong to the Conference of Drama Schools in the UK. The advice I give here is aimed at those of you who are thinking of auditioning for drama school, but can easily be applied to professional theatre castings too.
So, how do you go about choosing the right audition speeches to get into drama school? This can be a daunting task; but remember, the point is to showcase your abilities and this should be exciting and affirming rather than terrifying.
So let's take a look at the process of selecting the right speeches for you.
At an audition, your choice of material says a lot about you as a person. Any drama school teacher or theatre director will be familiar with many speeches and will have sat through various interpretations of the same monologues and soliloquies in their time on the audition panel. They will be able to tell instantly by your choice of speech, if you have invested the time and energy to explore beyond the obvious. They will be highly attuned as to whether you have researched the piece, character and writer.
The choice of monologue also says a lot about your instinct and awareness of yourself as an actor; is the speech appropriate for your age, look and ability? In other words, cast yourself in a role you are right for. You may yearn to play Lear, but if you are 18 this is not the role for you! Find a role you could realistically play. The character in the audition speech should be close to your own age, and not involve the assuming of a funny walk, unfamiliar accent or any other applied mannerism that could detract from the truth of your performance.
There are numerous monologue books available with a wide range of audition material. Whilst some of the speeches contained in these collections are fantastic, it's often worth looking further afield to avoid preparing a monologue that has been seen hundreds of times before. Why not look into radio plays, screenplays, TV scripts and even novels for inspiration? The books filled with soliloquies often provide an excuse for laziness; it is vital to read and study the whole play to get a real sense of the character and not just take the snippet of information that comes with the speech as Gospel. It is far more impressive to show that you have formed your own opinions about the story and character through detailed exploration of the play.
Here are some other things to consider when searching for appropriate audition material to get into drama school.
How long should the audition speech be?
Many drama schools will give you guidance on time limits and some will even stop you when two minutes are up. In general two and half minutes is a good estimate for the length of the audition monologue. That seems short doesn't it? Don't underestimate the power of those couple of minutes; you can get a lot across in that time. There is nothing virtuous about waffling on for 5 minutes. If anything, the panel may become irritated and find their attention starting to wander. This is by no means a judgement on your talent, but any audition day is long. By choosing an epic audition speech, you will run the risk of losing the panel's focus and, in the worst case scenario, being asked to stop. Many casting directors admit to making their mind up after around 30 seconds, so if you fall in love with a speech that only lasts a minute and a bit, then go for it; just make sure, it really shows off your ability and talent.
Are there any speeches I should avoid?
In general, there are few Shakespearean soliloquies that are best left alone, simply because there are 'definitive' versions etched on the consciousness of most theatre stalwarts and it is unlikely that you will be able to diminish those memories in your first attempt. A lot of them have simply been done to death and the audition panel will instantly tune out when you announce that you will be doing Viola from Twelfth Night (it is probably the 10th time they've heard it that day). Other examples include any of Hamlet's speeches, Ophelia and Lady Macbeth. Because the panel will probably have dogmatic views on how these roles should be played, they will be harsher in their criticism.
Although there are exceptions, it is probably best to avoid speeches that form the climax of a play. It is very difficult to go in full throttle emotionally and be able to maintain the truth of the piece, if you don't have the narrative of the rest of the story or the growth of the character to back you up. Out of context, these types of speeches rarely work and can tempt the actor to rely on generalised emotion, which is never good. Much better to choose a less powerful moment to play, but remain engaged and truthful.
It is not a good idea to use part of a play in which another character interjects (a duologue). Asking a fellow auditionee to read in is not really acceptable and omitting the other character's lines will make the piece disjointed and difficult to follow. Besides which, it will make the speech almost impossible to play as you will have nobody to bounce off.
Other things to avoid
- The use of props is generally discouraged, especially if they require setting up. This is a sure-fire way to have the audition panel grinding their teeth with impatience. If the prop is small and simple enough, and you feel it is absolutely essential to the clear story-telling of your piece, then you should be alright.
Avoid monologues that require unfamiliar accents. If you are not from Liverpool and have no real experience of the dialect, don't opt to do a speech from Educating Rita. If you feel uncertain about your ability to master an accent, it will only make your performance tense and unconvincing.
What should I look for in an audition speech?
There are a few key factors you should seek out in the speech you choose for your drama school audition.
- It should show off a range of facets of character, have significant thought changes, and a variance in emotional tone.
- A great audition speech has a strong journey, but also a sense of inner-conflict with a strong resolution - it doesn't need to end in a decision, but shouldn't trail off.
- In terms of choosing two contrasting speeches, don't limit the comparisons to those of period (modern/classical) and category (tragic/comic). It is also worth considering content, character's personality, environment, style and the physical demands of the piece.
- In rough terms, if a drama school asks for one classical and one modern speech, a classical speech comes from either the Elizabethan or Jacobean period (if you want to do anything later such as a Restoration piece, check with the drama school that this is acceptable) and a contemporary or modern speech normally means it was written after 1960.
Although the choice of audition speech is important, I would advise that you go with your gut. How you work on the monologue, through analysis and experimentation, and the way you present the final piece is far more telling. Don't agonise or deliberate too much about your choice of audition material; find a piece that speaks to you and that you can relate to and you can't go far wrong. Good luck!