Top Monologue Mistakes and Solutions

Top Monologue Mistakes and Solutions

By Karen Kohlhaas
Article from

This article was revised in August 2006

1. Not having the lines memorized well enough!
Believe it or not, this is the single biggest problem that most actors have in the
audition room. The auditors of a recent EPA (Equity Principal Audition), told me
that they could tell that the majority of actors, even subtly, were still trying to
remember their lines. Therefore they were not fully acting their monologues. I
completely disagree with the theory that not quite having the lines will keep an
actor fresh. Would a serious musician in a competition dream of not quite
knowing the piece? If any of an actor energy is going into remembering the line,
that energy is not at his disposal to truly act the piece. Solution: Be like Anthony
Hopkins, who runs his lines 200 times before shooting a scene. I think most
people agree that his efforts are worth it. Maybe your number isn’­t 200 but find
out what your number is and how much rehearsal do you need to have the
monologue memorized so you can bring all of yourself to playing it?

2. Having no staging choices
This is second, if not equal to, not having lines. An auditor of another EPA said
that none of the actors who came in during a whole day of auditions had made
specific physical choices for their monologues. Instead, they just acted the piece
and left the movement up to chance. Would anyone dream of sending a cast on
stage on opening night with no staging, just hoping that the actors’ acting instincts
would take care of everything? An auditioning actor is under just as much
pressure. Solution: Having clear, fun staging will instantly improve your
monologues and make you less nervous. Think carefully about what you want
your monologue to look like from the outside, and give yourself a few concrete
moves to help you tell the story. P.S.: Working in a chair is not a solution to having
no staging! You need to make physical choices in the chair as well, so that your
piece doesn’t have low energy/physical sameness all the way through.

3. Looking at the floor
Many actors look on the floor before, during and/or after their monologues. Unless
it is for a specifically staged moment that actually refers to something on the floor
in the plot, looking at the floor during the piece can look like you lost your line and
it almost always drops the energy of your performance. Looking at the floor after
the piece can look like you are ashamed or unsure. Solution: Look up! I do
suggest dropping your eyes only (not your head) for a brief 3-second countdown
into the piece at the very beginning, but otherwise, let the auditors see your eyes
as much as possible. This will involve them in the piece and keep them with you.

4. Hating the material
You are the producer, director, actor and designer of your monologues, and every
monologue audition gives you an opportunity to run with this incredible artistic
freedom. If you, like many actors, hate your monologues, it’­s time to get some
new ones and get excited about how you are going to present them. Auditors can
tell when you are not excited about your pieces, and if you’re not excited, why
should they be? Do you like watching a cast that is not excited about performing
the play? Your monologues have the potential to be expressions of why you want
to act in the first place; celebrations of your favorite writers, and also thrilling
experiments and challenges. Solution: Do whatever you need to do to find
material you love (read more, do some thinking about what writing excites you the
most) and get to work. See Why you should have 20 monologues and other
articles on this website for ideas about finding material.

5. Acting to (looking at) the auditors
When we interviewed 7 industry professionals for The Monologue Audition Video,
all but one said they hate it when actors directly to them, or otherwise use them
during the piece. Most actors seem to know not to do this, but it still happens.
Solution: Find a place to focus that best creates the illusion that you are talking to
someone just behind them. (You can adapt this focus if necessary to create the
illusion that you are speaking to more than one person, a group, yourself, God,
etc.). Practice working off of your own instincts and sense of truth, as you act the
monologue to that focus choice (with someone watching, this is essential).
Practice with a friend until you are sure your focus looks the way you want it to.

6. Acting in a 3/4 view to the auditors
A lot of actors do this, and it makes no sense. They end up acting their piece for
the corner! Solution: Always give those watching you the fullest experience of
your performance (they want to audition you, not your profile). Practice with a
friend watch each other and compare notes until you’­re sure of the auditors­
view of you.

7. Standing too close to the auditors
Acting too close to the auditors can make them extremely uncomfortable (as you
would be if a stranger got too close to you!) I have recently been hearing of
auditions that actually put markers down on the floor, and ask actors not to cross
them. An actor who gets too close is an actor who is showing that he is unaware
of, or doesn’­t care about, the audience’­s experience. Each audition room is
different, and each room will require different choices. What is too close in one
room won’­t necessarily be too close in a smaller or differently shaped room. You
don’­t want to be too far from the auditors either; that can feel like you are lurking
in the background or like there’­s no one on stage. Solution: Learning how to find
the best spot for your performance is part of your showmanship. Practice, ideally
with a friend, walking into different rooms and identifying the best acting area. Put
that acting area behind the place that would start to be too close to the auditors,
and practice performing your piece so that you never cross that line. Practice until
you can define the area instantly and habitually as you walk in.

8. Having an unsupported voice and/or mumbling
Both having an unsupported voice and mumbling are marks of an amateur.
Regardless of whether your audition is for theater, TV or film, your commitment to
a supported voice and clear speech demonstrates how committed you are to the
character’s point of view, and your audience’s experience. It is also an indication
of how versatile you could be as an actor. Solution: work on your voice and
speech! For recommendations in New York and Los Angeles, see Great NYC/LA
teachers and classes. My favorite Mamet quote about voice is ‘Voice work is the
easiest, cheapest way to happiness as an actor.’ Look to your favorite actors and
I think you will find them vocally committed and articulate, no matter the role or the

9. Paraphrasing and/or removing the writer’­s punctuation
For serious theater auditions it’­s absolutely essential that the lines are said as
written, and as punctuated even if you think you have a better idea.
Paraphrasing is often accepted in tv or film work, but I still suggest paying
attention to the way a line was written if you commit to it you may find out
something essential about the character. If you paraphrase in a theater audition
you are showing that you may not honor the writing when you rehearse a play.
Playwriting is next door to poetry: meter, rhythm, and emphasis are all factors,
and how a line sounds is often as important as what it literally means. Writers
cringe when actors don’t pay attention to their carefully worked out lines, rhythm
and punctuation. The playwright Jerome Hairston says, ‘When an actor
paraphrases, that means he doesn’­t understand the line. Once he understands
the line, he’­ll know that it can’­t be said any other way.’ Solution: When preparing
an audition, embrace the way each line was written, and practice until the
language is part of you.

10. Playing the emotion
The great Shakespearean director, scholar and teacher John Barton talks about
how the monologues and soliloquies in Shakespeare are not about displaying
emotion, but about handling the emotion. I think this is true of all monologues.
The character is usually delivering a monologue in an attempt to do something
about what is going on at the present time (even if it’s only to figure it out; even if
it’s to say he has no idea what to do, but he knows he needs to do something!).
That means it is a given that the monologue is already coming from a state of
great emotion, and that the emotion does not need to be emphasized. Just as in
life, you usually want to avoid people who are trying to get something from you
with great hysteria, rage, self-pity, or excessive giddiness, so auditors might react
to actors who are only playing into the emotion of the situation. Yes you do want
to play the importance of finding the solution, but that is very different than having
an emotional fit, which will always take you away from the solution. Solution:
Create order. Play the importance of what the character is trying to do, to
accomplish, to get from the other character(s). Define the objective as specifically
as possible, treat it as something you can actually achieve; put the full force of
your personality behind the objective, and not only will an emotional commitment
naturally be there, but your auditors will see you as the hero ñ acting while under
great stress, rather than as the victim who only complains about it.

11. Fidgeting
We all have fidgets, mannerisms we do unconsciously. Monologue work tends
to put your fidgets under the magnifying glass because you are the only thing
happening in the room. Fidgets can include: shifting weight from side to side;
beating out the rhythm of the lines with arms or head; thrusting the head and also
upper body forward so that alignment is pulled off and the voice suffers; fussy
and/or repetitive hand gestures; blinking. Fidgeting is distracting and instantly
takes the audience out of the piece. Fidgeting can be worked on however, and I
have seen some incredibly fidgety actors transform themselves into focused,
purposeful, riveting performers by working patiently with their fidgeting habits.
Solution: Know that every body movement read is apparent to your
auditors, and that every movement needs to be either a choice or a full
expression of a spontaneous impulse (if it is less than full it becomes a fidget).
Having purposeful, fidget-free staging for a monologue helps immensely. Work
with movement and acting teachers, work with partners, to ground yourself and
practice both stillness AND the full discharge of your movement impulses. For
those who can stand it: have a partner videotape you from a side view while you
act your monologue fully. When you watch it, watch it without the sound, and you
will quickly see your fidgets, and when you are using your body purposefully and

12. Having a neutral (or unpleasant) hello/thank you
Do you have a specific attitude or philosophy that you regularly practice when
representing yourself and your work to people? Most successful business people
do. If you are neutralizing your non-performing interactions in the room, you are
likely to look like you are not happy to be there. If you were hiring someone for a
position of great responsibility, would you hire someone who looked unhappy?
Your interactions in the room are how you show the auditors what you are like
under pressure, and what kind of attitude they can expect of you in a production.
Solution: With enough practice, anyone can become an expert at making a
warm, professional entrance, introduction, thank you, and exit. Think about what
attitude you would most like to show in the audition room, and cultivate this
attitude until it is habitual. It is completely possible to appear grounded, excited
about your work, and happy to meet the people in the room, regardless of the
atmosphere, or your nerves, if you choose your attitude consciously and practice
it enough.

Karen Kohlhaas is a New York based theater director, a founding member of the Atlantic
Theater Company, and a senior teacher at the Atlantic Acting School. She teaches
private monologue classes in New York and internationally, is the author of The
Monologue Audition: A Practical Guide for Actors, and is the director/writer/producer of
THE MONOLOGUE AUDITION VIDEO, a 120-minute instructional DVD for actors or
anyone who wants to present themselves well, available on her website

Copyright 2006 by Karen Kohlhaas
Individuals have permission to duplicate or distribute this article if done so in its entirety.


free pdf

The 12 Obstacles

One of the biggest obstacles to a successful acting career is the inner critic, the voice in your head, but there are many more.

In this free advice guide, Acting Coach and Performance Psychology expert Mark Westbrook outlines the most common inner obstacles to success and offers you insightful and practical tools for overcoming them.

Download Your Free Copy

fancy a chat?

General Message