1.) They were written to be performed live. Unlike monologues from film and television, plays are written for one reason, and one reason only. To be performed by a living, breathing human being in the presence of other living and breathing human beings. They are about language. The dialogue of a play moves the action forward. Each line in a monologue dashes onto the next, either for immediate results or to serve as a tactic that will have a payoff later in the play.
2.) Quantity. It’s not my intention to stress quantity over quality, but monologues from plays have more words to work with than monologues from film and television. On-camera, particularly where film is concerned, the visual aspect of the script cannot be overestimated. Pick up a screenplay and glance through it. Now pick up a play and glance through that. The play will have several thousand words more than the screenplay. If the play is well-written, you’ll have more to work with.
3). The actor’s medium. The stage is the actor’s medium, film is the director’s medium. Every on-camera performance you see has been edited and set in a way that cannot happen in the theater. The actor is on his own up there with no one to save him -but himself- if he messes up. Performing a stage monologue puts you, by it’s nature, right into the actor’s medium. Whoever is watching you is breathing the same oxygen you are and it’s a real test. On-set, the word “cut” is used a thousand times for many reasons. There is no one to say “cut” when you’ve live. Scary? Yes, Exciting? You betcha.
4). Industry judgement. When you perform a monologue from a play, an industry person tends to find you more sophisticated as an actor than if you perform a piece from film or TV. Film and TV is a common denominator in our culture and accessible by all. Choosing material from a play tends to make an industry person think you’re savvy and aware by virtue of the fact that you made that choice.
5). Lack of comparison to the original artist. Very few plays are identified by the performance of one actor, and many different actors will play all theater roles over time. Doing a monologue from film or TV can lend a comparison to the original artist (the film was made and then it was done, over and frozen). Bear in mind also that the film actor performed the monologue in optimum circumstances, i.e. lighting, setting, cinematography, and editing. As opposed to, say, standing in front of an agent’s desk!
6). No rules! Despite all the above there can be exceptions. Sometimes a piece from a little known film can be effective. Also, always bear in mind that your selection for a monologue needs to match the needs and sensibilities of whomever you are auditioning for. So if a film and TV casting director should happen to ask for a monologue, the heightened language of a playwright such as Tom Stoppard would not be ideal. It’s too poetic. So you’ll want to find a monologue where the dialogue sounds more accessible, more vernacular, more like conversation than would a classical piece. It needs to feel like a good fit for you and the language of it needs to fit you well and show whoever is watching and listening how you can be of value to them.
Brian O’Neil is the best-selling author of Acting as a Business: Strategies for Success, Fifth Edition. A former agent and manager, he is now a career and audition coach. He teaches at virtually every top acting training program in the country, including Juilliard and NYU. For more information, visit http://www.actingasabusiness.