Every day I help people with preparation for a Drama School Audition. The contemporary monologue choice is something that people tend to freak out about, at least with the classical (which really means Shakespeare) you’ve only got a limited number of plays to choose from, but with the contemporary piece most people see it as an endless spectrum of plays and don’t know how to choose. Here’s some help with making the choice.
CONTEMPORARY: Contemporary to me means demonstrating a knowledge of recent trends in playwrighting. The main problem is that people treat anything post-1956 as contemporary and it just isn’t. We don’t speak like that any more. Choose something from the last 20 years, or preferably the last 10 years.
CONTRASTING: This isn’t exactly to do with the contemporary, but since choosing the Shakespeare usually occurs first, make sure the dramatic action of the monologue is different in the contemporary to the classical. What does that mean? Well contrasting doesn’t mean contrasting in topic or genre, it means that what you are being asked to do in the monologue dramatically must contrast.
CASTING IT: Choose something that suits you, in a role you might actually get cast in, if you have no idea, then take a look at yourself in the mirror, what kind of roles would you cast you in?
LIKE IT: There needs to be something about the contemporary that you connect with, otherwise it’s an arbitrary choice and someone else could choose for you. Don’t ask someone to choose for you btw, it’ll become your favourite excuse when you don’t get accepted.
CUT AND PASTE: Don’t cut and paste a monologue from bits of dialogue. Monologues have a dramatic structure that helps you, but bits of dialogue have no dramatic structure at all.
SELLS YOU: Does this piece actually sell you and your abilities or is it just the best of a bad bunch of monologues. The audition is a sales pitch, and you are selling you, do you really wanna sell you with shoddy materials?
LENGTH: Try to keep it under 2 minutes. The shorter the better, but around 1.30-1.50.
OWN IT: Most of the time, people make up their mind about you in the first 5 seconds, then they wait around thinking about what they’re having for dinner until you finish. That is, unless you OWN the piece and MAKE them watch. Point taken?
DON’T WRITE IT YOURSELF: You want to be ‘original’. Don’t do it. Don’t be tempted to do it… Oh never mind, those that still think they should be original and write their own will not be listening to my advice anyway.
DON’T PERFORM IT: What? You’re nuts coach! Nope. The Shakespeare is for your ‘performance’, the contemporary is to show that you can act the small, intimate stuff, the natural stuff. Demonstrate that you can act and perform with your contrasting performances of the classical and contemporary.
Hope this helps! I've also produced a Guide to Auditioning at Drama School which is free to download. If you'd like to grab your copy now, click here.
To You, the Best
Mark Westbrook is the Senior Acting Coach at Acting Coach Scotland, a writer, director and artistic associate with Delirium Productions, Glasgow, Scotland and Little Spoon Theatre Company, Sydney, Australia.