Most auditions for plays, musicals or theatrical companies involve a performance of a monologue to evaluate skill level. These are generally one or two minute speeches from a play. Which speech an actor chooses can have an enormous impact on their ability to get a part, or earn a place in a company.
In choosing a monologue, many experts believe the most important factor is knowing what the genre of the play you are auditioning for. Is it a comedy or tragedy? Shakespeare or Rogers and Hammerstein? In choosing an audition piece, you should ideally look for a speech that is of the same style, time period, or author as the play you are trying out for. It is not recommended that you choose a piece from the actual play you are auditioning for, and some auditioners expressly forbid doing this.
It is also helpful to know the specific characters of the play. If the lead character in the play is a 50 year-old, depressed woman, you do not want to audition with a monologue from a 20 year-old, happy-go-lucky cowgirl. One goal of an audition is to get the auditioners to imagine you in your desired role. By choosing a speech that might be given by a similar character, you can give them a picture of how you would do in the part.
In auditioning for a theater company or repertory, auditioners may ask for contrasting monologues. Generally, this means two monologues contrasting in tone and time period. For example, you could perform a dramatic Shakespeare piece, and a farcical modern one. Alternatively, you could do a comedic speech from one of Oscar Wilde’s 19th century dramas, and a gritty dramatic monologue from a modern work. With contrasting monologues, auditioners are looking for at how wide your range of performance is, so be sure to choose pieces as different from each other as possible.
When you are choosing your monologue, it is tempting to do a rendition of a famous speech from a play. This is not recommended by most auditioners. With a famous piece, such as the “To Be Or Not To Be” speech in Hamlet, experienced theatrical professionals are likely to have heard it dozens or hundreds of times, and may be bored. If you love a famous character and wish to use one of their monologues, choose one that is not well known.
Many people use monologue books to help them find material. Many are available at bookstores, and they can be very useful tools. These books are particularly helpful if you are in a hurry to find a piece, as they are often indexed by subject, time period, or style. You may not want to rely on them totally however, as many people use them and it can lead to repetition of pieces.
Some theater experts recommend that you have a portfolio of four or five monologues memorized at all times, so that you are ready for any audition. The portfolio should consist of at least two comedic and two dramatic pieces, and one “wild card” monologue that can be used for an unusual situation. Two of your portfolio pieces should be pre-20th century, and two should be contemporary. Having a portfolio memorized allows you to prepare for an audition at leisure, rather than rushing to memorize a new monologue on short notice.