Category: theatre

Why Do I Need A Monologue?

Years ago, when I was pursuing the stage, I was told by my mentor to always have a couple of monologues ready to go – preferably one comic and another tragic, perhaps contemporary or classical, even better always carry one of each in your back pocket and have them all memorized. Have a resource of around four or five memorized monologues. An actor really hasn’t any idea when this prep will come into play outside of the called for monologue in an audition.

As a high school theater director I always instilled this upon my students. I often held auditions that required memorized monologues, if not at least holding it in their hand. This was still high school so I was reasonable, but the emphasis remained. Unless it was a cold reading from the script I wanted students to take the audition seriously. The effort alone to present something outside of themselves was valuable.

My students would shirk and moan and dismiss the idea often just reading off a script found minutes before their scheduled slot. Like I said, I would give them a break but then afterwards cast or not try to explain to them how important it is to represent a character outside of themselves. If they walk into the room beaming with confidence can they express the sensitive nature of vulnerability or emulate the complete opposite.

I always tried to remind them of a funny story of an actor who once auditioned for a Hollywood cop show and after reading a piece for the director as he was dismissed the actor jumped up on the table and delivered a barrage of indignant banter to the director. He was cast in the show as an undercover cop with a personality that expressed a barrage of indignant banter. Now, that wasn’t the practiced theory of a monologue but this fellow knew what he was doing and he got the director’s attention.

I’m not suggesting students jump up on my desk and go crazy but the point was made. This actor knew what he was doing and presented that in their audition. I once had a student do that to me with the monologue “You can’t handle the truth” in true Jack Nicholson form. He scared the hell out of me and I gave him an A because not only did his stance work, he also knew the piece, word for word.

I would share the story of my own experience of an audition with the creative director of a well known theater company in the city. The audition called for cold readings, monologues preferred but unnecessary. So I went with the latter and didn’t tune up my library of monologues not expecting anything from the audition. I was in the last group of about eight people for the session and at the end of our cold readings he asked me to hang back. I was alone in the room with the artistic director. I was quite excited. He then asked me that dreaded question. “Do you have a couple of monologues you can show me?”

Silence.

I told him I had a couple but didn’t have them with me and I probably wouldn’t do them any justice.

“Well, that’s too bad, thanks for coming in,” he emoted and I walked out quite embarrassed. This man wanted results and preparation and I failed on both accounts. This is a message I did tried to implore to my students whenever delivering the ‘monologue’ lecture in class.

Are you earnest about getting a part, or just showing up to check things out? The former will be imperative.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

A Seriously Bad Audition ☺️

I spoke of the moments when an audition can make or break a student’s opportunity to secure a role on stage. I suggested that students will need to be focused and do their best to perform at a high level in the audition that can characterize their effort on stage. That rule holds true for 99% of the students that auditioned for me.

That 1% is a wonderful individual whom I had placed in roles since he was a 9th grader. Each production he would audition badly, but I would always find a role for him because his work ethic set a tone for all of his peers. He contributed a positive and wonderful attitude through every production. His finest, terrible moment would be his final audition his senior year. This last read would secure him the role of Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey.” Truth is all he had to do is walk in the door.

Elwood is a quirky guy that steals the show with his companion, an invisible 6 foot rabbit. Think about that persona and you find yourself looking for an individual who could be strange, eccentric, lovable and hilarious all in one charming character. All those features described my student, and I had watched him for four years develop instincts on stage that emphasized timing and a love for the stage.

When I posted the cast list, he was shocked. He came to me frightened and thought I had made a mistake. I assured him I would be with him the entire way and this was certainly his role to lose. His trepidation spoke volumes of his own humility. That night I think he spent his first evening in shock having his parents to console him and begin the long process of balancing his confidence. Again, he won out over people that felt they deserved the role. A director’s prerogative gave him the role, and I would not have had it any other way. Though I knew the risk, I really believed he would be Elwood by the time performances arrived.

So, how did he make it past the bad audition? He walked in the room. That statement alone describes how a person might fit a character in the eyes of the director. He was already quirky, odd, lovable and didn’t have a clue what he was going after. His monologue was on a piece of paper he had probably looked at an hour before his time slot. But that was just it. I needed someone with a genuine naïveté and he provided that without fail.

Cut to opening night, and this young man now took on the persona of Elwood throughout the entire school day. He made cards of Elwood P. Dowd and handed them to students in all of his classes and throughout the halls all day long. On the card were listed the performance dates and his name. But the beauty part is he didn’t fall in and out of his character – he remained Elwood all day.

He came up to me as he entered the green room, and politely said, “A pleasure sir, I’m Elwood P. Dowd and please have one of my cards,” and stepped into the dressing room with his beautiful wry smile.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

Why a Lead Role Matters

In the stage, being the lead is a position of honor, a caveat many students might pursue in a make it or break it fashion. If they don’t get the lead their lives are shattered. If they do, their persona suddenly takes a confident turn and they look at life with fascination and confusion at the same time. It is important to recognize that confusion might be the greatest feeling they have coming into a role. There is so much more to the concept of the lead than simply getting a favored role amongst their peers.

One of the coolest examples I experienced with this concept is a person who received a lead when they least expected the opportunity. They went about things in the right manner, getting their lines down early, asking the right questions, and working tirelessly on their role. The one aspect they forgot was recognizing their role with their own peers and everyone involved in the program.

It took me years to understand the impact of a lead beyond the role they played on stage. Being a lead contained a lot more responsibility. I remember as this actor worked on their role, an expressed frustration evolved as they tried to figure out their character. A cathartic moment for me was to find them in tears in the middle of the house, quietly weeping in fear. I asked them what was the matter, and the response was an inability to carry out their role because of the pressure not only in their acting ability but indeed the focus of their peers. Continually the response I received in the conversation was “I don’t deserve this” or “no one believes I can play the role.” I believed in their ability and expressed that directly saying the responsibility for meeting that goal belonged in my hands, and just play the role.

I discovered there was a need to take that philosophy a step further. I gave that role to people that deserved a lead for a two fold reason. The first is they deserved the role, and I believed they would give their effort completely to meet expectations. But the second rule had as great an impact. Playing a lead meant being able to represent the whole of a production, in that others were actually relying on the lead actor’s ability to represent the production on many levels.

A lead is meant to show everyone they are able to be there to help push the show forward, that by their own actions everyone would find their purpose in the production by example. I remember this young person crying their eyes out for days, and then suddenly coming back one day and showing the reason they got the role through impeccable effort. By doing so everyone tried to raise themselves to that same level, and suddenly rehearsals became productive, and each participant became excited about what lay ahead leading to performance. The lead had set a tone, an important one.

Being a lead can not only inspire one’s confidence, but it also lets the actor lead peers to fruition.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022