Choosing The Right Monologue For The Right Audience
You Probably Shouldn’t Perform Shakespeare For an Agent
During the early stages of your acting career, you may occasionally be asked to perform a monologue in an agent’s office. Many theatrical talent agents like to see monologues from new actors as one small part of their evaluation process.
The material you choose to present to an agency is nearly as important as the level of skill you can display during your performance. Every agent has his or her own preferences, and will likely share them with you before your meeting, but there is a general understanding within the business that you should be aware of. Keep in mind that there are a few agents who may take exception to these guidelines, but in the absence of other information, this advice should prove valuable.
There is no doubt that different situations lend themselves to unique selections of monologues. The monologue you might choose to perform for a school exercise in front of your instructors could be very different from the one you would perform at a showcase for casting directors. Even more different is the selection you would make to show an agent. When an agent asks you to perform a monologue in their office during a meeting, you should already have something appropriately selected and well rehearsed. Here are some important things to keep in mind when selecting your material:
CHOOSE SOMETHING CONTEMPORARY. A period piece will have language that is stilted or awkward, and could be distracting to an agent. Most roles you would be auditioning for are contemporary, and this is your first chance to show that you can perform in a modern setting where the bulk of the roles are cast.
DON’T CHOOSE MATERIAL FROM A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. Many agents tell me that when they hear an actor perform a monologue from a well-known film, this can create a conflict in the mind of the agent. There is the possibility that the agent will experience a distracting echo of the actor who originally portrayed the role. Casting directors, on the other hand, are used to hearing the same material over and over again and evaluating each performance. Agents are different. The repetition of the same material can cause them to lose focus on you, which is contrary to your goal.
DON’T ADOPT AN ACCENT FOR THE MATERIAL. Whenever possible, use your own voice, and your natural accent.
DON’T CHOOSE A MONOLOGUE FROM A BOOK OF MONOLOGUES. Finding a monologue in a book might be a great shortcut for a class exercise, but if that book has been in print for more than a year, then there is a good chance that agents have already seen and heard all of them multiple times. Your best bet is to find a monologue that is not overused. Find a script from a well-written but not over-produced play, and cut your own monologue from it.
PREPARE MORE THAN ONE. You should have a comedy and a drama option, always ready to perform. If you are given a choice, and if you are actually good at comedy, I have always found that comedy works best.
SPEAK TO ONE PERSON. Choose a monologue where you are speaking to one person, rather than a speech to a large audience.
KEEP IT SHORT. How long should it be? All things considered, two minutes is the maximum length I would recommend. As long as the piece is interesting, has a beginning, middle, and end, and contains some emotional arc, you can impress an audience in less than two minutes. Keep it short but powerful.
Here are some other suggestions that should prove valuable when asked to perform a monologue at an agency:
Ask the agent if you can look directly at them while you perform. While most casting directors don’t mind, the agent community leans in the other direction. Some agents prefer that you pick a spot to focus on rather than look at them directly. Ask before you begin.
Evaluate the size of the room, and adjust your volume and movement to fit the environment. You shouldn’t be too loud or too quiet for the space, regardless of the material. You should respect the personal space of the agents, and refrain from approaching them too closely during your performance.
Should you bring or use props? No. Just, no.
Should you “set it up” and describe the material to the agent before beginning? No. Just take a breath and begin.
If you are given notes, or re-directed after you perform, your attitude will be under as much scrutiny as your performance. I recommend responding with enthusiasm, and an eager willingness to try to incorporate any notes they give you, even if you don’t agree with them. Take a brief moment, and make a strong choice.
That’s the deal. Good luck!
Adam Lieblein is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theatre Film and Television, and spent eight years as a producer of films, commercials and television projects until 1993 when he opened a talent agency. Adam was the president of Acme Talent & Literary for sixteen years, and together with his eighteen agents represented actors for film, television, commercials, print modeling and voiceover work, and writers for film and novels. At the end of 2008, Acme’s several divisions were sold to other agencies, and Adam returned to the business of producing and teaching at UCLA. In 2011 Adam was recruited by Casting Networks to work in Business and Product Development.