No matter who you are or where you’re from, no matter what you look like or sound like, no matter what your background is or what school you go to – whether you love musicals, Shakespeare, TV, or even if you’ve never been to the theatre before, you could pursue a career as an actor. And perhaps reading this book might be the beginning of your journey. Welcome to the National Youth Theatre’s volume of audition monologues.
At the National Youth Theatre (NYT), we know that auditions can be scary and nerve-racking, but they can also be exhilarating and sometimes even fun. We have put this book together to give you the tools to help you choose the right speech for you, so that you can prepare properly and be ready for anything that might happen in an audition room – and you may even enjoy yourself along the way!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done any acting before; if you’re a passionate, motivated person who is interested in the world around you, and you want to give it a try, go for it. There are speeches in this book that could work in all different types of audition, so have a look and see if you can find one that inspires you.
What this book is for
The bad news is that there is no secret recipe for the perfect audition. There’s no definitive list of dos and don’ts; it depends on who you are auditioning for, what the role is and whether it’s for a play, musical or screen. The good news, however, is that there are lots of ways that you can prepare yourself so that no matter what situation you find yourself in, you can still do your best. This book will provide guidance and advice for navigating a variety of auditions including NYT, drama schools and castings, and whilst it is impossible to supply you with all the right answers, it will definitely help you to ask the right questions.
We’ve selected seventy-five monologues from plays that the National Youth Theatre has commissioned or produced over more than fifty years and from a wide variety of writers. Before each monologue is a commentary that will give you context from the play, as well as notes and advice about how you might approach the speech should you choose to perform it. You may feel that you want to do a speech differently from the way that’s been suggested – that’s fine! This book isn’t intended to limit how you perform the monologues we’ve chosen, instead it should be a starting point so that you can feel confident approaching any speech.
There is also a section with exercises that you can use to deepen your understanding of the speech, as well as a glossary at the back (in case there are any words you don’t understand).
Back to Basics
Different types of auditions
Let’s go back to basics: an audition is an interview in which you will be asked to do some kind of performance.
If you’re auditioning for drama school the process varies depending on where you’ve applied. Often you will be asked to learn and perform between one and four speeches each lasting somewhere between one and three minutes.
Two or three of these speeches should be taken from a modern play (some schools are happy with anything written after 1900 and some schools will want the play to have been written no earlier than 1990 – check the individual guidance) and one or two should be classical speeches by Shakespeare (or another Elizabethan/Jacobean playwright like Christopher Marlowe or Ben Jonson).
Some drama schools will give you a list of classical speeches to choose from, and others will let you choose yourself, but all of them will let you choose your own modern speech. It is always worth having a range of speeches that vary in tone to draw from; you might want to have one speech that allows you to be
emotionally vulnerable, and another that will allow you to show a lighter, more comedic side. Alternatively, you could pick one character that is quick thinking and witty, to perform alongside another character who is in a state of emotional turmoil and finds it hard to articulate their emotions.
Whatever you choose, try and play to your strengths, and pick speeches that you enjoy performing.
Some schools also include a workshop in the first-round audition, which might cover voice work, movement exercises or improvisation; others might only invite you to take part in a longer process if you get a recall.
The number of recall rounds depends on the school, but all the information for the individual school will be detailed on their website. There will also be a slightly different process if you are applying to a musical-theatre course or a course in applied theatre, so make sure you carefully read the individual guidance for each course you are applying for. This might sound complicated, but all you need to do is make sure that you have prepared the right number and type of speeches for each audition, which means looking carefully at the individual school’s guidance, and giving yourself a few months to get ready.
If you’re auditioning for a production of a musical or a musical-theatre course, the process will involve singing, acting and probably a dance audition too. Just like having monologues in your memory, it is also worth having a variety of songs that you can sing at an audition which suit your range, tone and personality.
Even if you are only applying for an acting course, most drama schools will also ask you to sing something (by yourself without accompaniment), so it’s worth keeping this in mind in case they ask you to sing.
If it’s a full musical production you’re auditioning for, you should also consider what type of musical it is and match the song you sing at the audition to that style; for example, if you are auditioning for a Sondheim musical, make sure you pick
something that has an emotional journey and allows you to show your acting ability, whereas if you are auditioning for a Broadway musical you may want to pick something more showy.
Sometimes you will be asked to learn multiple songs and scenes from the show you are auditioning for; as with drama-school auditions, this can involve a lot of preparation, but it will be worth it if you get the part.
For a screen role, you might be asked to learn several scenes from a TV or film script. Screen auditions are different from stage auditions – they rarely require monologues and instead you will be given an extract from the script of the programme or film you’re auditioning for, and you’ll often be filmed as you perform it in the audition.
It’s important that you try and learn the lines for a screen audition so that the camera captures everything you do (rather than filming the top of your head as you look down at the script). If you only receive the script the day before the audition (which isn’t uncommon), try your best to learn it but, if that’s not possible, make sure you know it well enough to be able to bring it to life in the audition.
The casting director or their assistant will read in the other characters, and they will often sit just to the side of the camera so that your full face is captured within the shot (but don’t be afraid to ask if your body position and eyeline are okay for the camera).
Auditioning for screen roles can feel a little intimidating, but if you prepare well you should feel confident to give the most truthful performance you can.
Usually these days, if you’re auditioning for a theatre role, you will be asked to read from a scene of the play you’re auditioning for. There is slightly less expectation to learn the lines than for a screen audition, but if you can learn them, do; your performance will be more alive if you aren’t constantly looking at the script, and you will find that you can invest so much more in the character and the relationship.
Remember that there are lots of other people out there who would love to get this job too, so make sure that you prepare as much as you can and give yourself the best chance.
That being said, if you’ve only half learnt the lines, make sure you have the script in hand – an audition is there to test your suitability to play the character, not to test how good your memory is.
The director may give you notes and redirect you in the scene or they may not. Try not to read anything into this decision, but if they do redirect you, remember that this isn’t because they thought you were bad the first time; they may also want to see how you respond to direction. Listen to their notes and try to take them on as you give it another go. If you don’t understand what they are saying then ask them to clarify, but otherwise try your hardest to make the piece of direction you’ve been given come to life.
As with all theatre auditions, it is so important that you read the whole play so that you know where in the story the scene you’re performing comes, what the tone of the play is, who your character is and what they want.
It’s often a good idea to come to the audition with a few questions either about the play or the production, to show that you have engaged with the play and are interested in the project.
For the National Youth Theatre’s intake auditions we ask that you prepare one speech, but for our castings we might want two or three speeches and a song too. Since we are an ensemble-based company, we will want to know if you can work as part of a team, so we also run workshops as part of our audition process where you are asked to move, play, improvise and work as an ensemble.
We are slightly different from drama schools or auditions for a play or film – we are just as interested in you as a person as your ability to act. We value independent spirits and young people who have something to say about the world, so as well as preparing a speech for us, make sure you come in and tell us about what makes you you!
As you can see, there’s no one rule to how an audition will run – each drama school, director or theatre company is different and will be looking for different things. As a result, it’s really important that you are 100 per cent prepared for any circumstance, so no matter what you’re auditioning for, it’s always worth having no fewer than two different modern monologues, at least one Shakespeare prepared, and a song which you can sing easily without accompaniment.
What is the auditioner looking for?
This is the golden question, and again there is no easy answer. As I’ve already said, different types of audition will ask you to prepare different things, and even within those types, different auditioners may be looking for different things; for example, one drama school may want you to be able to sing as well as move and act, whereas another will place less emphasis on your musical ability; one director may value a playful approach where another is looking for intensity for a certain part. So how can you know how to give them exactly what they want? Well, in short, you can’t. But there are lots of things you can do to present the best version of yourself, and deliver a speech that is emotionally committed and truthful.
What is a monologue?
Very simply, a monologue is a part of a play where a character talks, uninterrupted, for anywhere upwards of a minute. Monologues can occur within scenes where a character is talking to another character, or they can be addressed to the audience – sometimes whole plays can be monologues.
When taken from a scene, a monologue often marks an important moment for the character as they have so much to say that they need to speak for a long time. No matter what the context, when a character speaks for a prolonged period of time, they are always trying to affect and change the person (or people) they are talking to, and in doing so, they go through some kind of change
themselves. For example, in Al Smith’s The Astronaut Wives Club
, which features in this book, Mary Engle wants all the other women at the party to understand why she wants to expel Sandra from the club, and in doing so Mary moves through explosive anger, to vulnerability and finally to a sense of dignified defiance.
In several of the speeches in this anthology the character is talking directly to the audience, so ‘who’ they are talking to is a trickier question to answer. Even when this is the case, they still want to change the audience in some way, but you have to think about who the audience is: do they represent the character’s best friend, or perhaps a counsellor the character has visited to talk about their situation? Maybe the audience could be someone on a bus that the character has just struck up a conversation with? In Eddie’s speech in James Graham’s Relish, the audience might represent a new member of the kitchen staff, or perhaps they could be the people eating in the restaurant. You might instead decide that the play is ‘metatheatrical’ and that the audience is just an audience, but even if this is the case, make sure you know how the character wants to affect them.
Not every monologue has to be deep and meaningful – comic speeches are great as well, but the same principles apply: who is the character talking to? How do they want to change them? What change do they go through themselves?
Where do I start?
Don’t be scared. It might be that you’ve known you want to act since you can remember, or perhaps you’ve never done any acting at all before. If you feel that you would like to try acting, then go for it – what’s the worst that can happen? At the root of acting is play (they are called plays after all), so try and approach finding a speech with a sense of adventure.
This book is designed to help you find the right speech for you. It can be a daunting prospect to find the perfect speech from the many thousands of plays that exist, so we have selected a list of speeches that can act as a starting point in your journey towards being an actor. The plays featured in this book encompass all
walks of life – there are characters from all backgrounds, so you should be able to find a part that you connect with. These speeches have also all been performed by young actors in NYT productions, so you can be assured that you will find something that suits you.
The speeches in the book have been ordered alphabetically by play, so you might want to just read it from cover to cover and see which speeches leap off the page for you. Alternatively, you might want to start by looking at the gender of the characters, and read all the speeches that match your gender identity as a way of narrowing it down. You may then also look at the age guidance to help you find the speeches that will suit your playing age. When you have found a few speeches that you can identify with, you should definitely read the plays that they come from in order to get to know the character better, which might make choosing easier.
Once you have chosen the speech (or speeches) that you want to learn, you can start to begin ‘working’ on them. T...