You ever struggle with picking the right monologue for an audition? Or how to audition that monologue — or even a scene you've been given — in a way that gets attention and shows off your acting range?
You know you gotta pick something that allows you to bring your unique talent to the audition. And, that a dazzling display of your range is important to getting the juicy roles. Those heavier, principal roles, and a wider variety of them.
What I wanna talk to you about today is that concept of “range”. And, how this particular approach to acting range will help you understand how to audition for that range more intuitively.
How Range Improves Your Auditions
Understanding range, and how it applies to an audition, helps you do more than just show off your acting range.
It's the key to calling attention to your unique talent and skills. You will know how to audition monologues better, and how to choose the best audition monologues for you.
You'll also know how to show the directors and casting pros what they really want and need to see in in your audition.
You avoid getting limited to smaller roles, or even pigeonholed into a small category or character type. You'll be called back more frequently, and be trusted with the roles that count.
You'll also avoid the frustration that makes you resort to tactics that only sabotage your auditions and keep you in a rut:
- Choosing awkward monologues, hoping to “stand out”.
- Substituting your training and craft for gimmicks and tricks.
- Second-guessing yourself, speculating about what the director wants.
Knowing when and how to audition for range can be the difference between a satisfying career playing a variety of roles, and a frustrating career of limitation.
When you know how range applies to the audition process, you can walk into every audition fully prepared, confident that your performance will show your talent, and that you've got what it takes.
So, I'm gonna start with an important mindset that will help get you out of that self-sabotaging rut. Then I'll tell you this concept of “range” that I think will change the auditioning game for you.
Your Audition is Not About YOU
Yes, YOU are the one standing up there, doing the damn thing, and being judged by strangers (or friends) who will decide on whether you get the job.
But, that's not how THEY are looking at it.
You see, all the focus on ourselves, and our self-promotion, and trying to “get the gig” takes us away from our purpose, and who we are as actors.
We help to tell stories. We are collaborative storytellers.
When someone goes to see a play or a film, they are going for the purpose of having an emotional experience—laughter, tears, outrage, etc.
That experience is provided by the actors' performances in the context of a story.
Even if they think they are going to see a particular actor perform — whether it be Denzel Washington, Lin-Manuel Miranda, or Meryl Streep — they are really going for the experience that they know that particular actor will give them.
It's ultimately about the audience's experience. More about that later.
The point is this: This “Acting Thing” is not about you. It's about affecting and serving an audience. It's giving them an experience in a selfless act of generosity.
Many of my students have told me that this one mindset helps them stay on track with many aspects of the craft. Particularly when it comes to auditioning.
In the case of the audition, your audience is made up of casting professionals, directors, producers, etc. They are all hoping that you will provide them with an emotional experience of some sort.
Because they each want an answer to this one question that they all have on their minds (in some form):
“Can this person help me tell MY story, and affect MY audience?”
To be hired as a collaborative storyteller, you have to show that you can tell a story. And, affect an audience.
So, when you start to worry, “what does the director want?” the most helpful answer to that question is: “They want someone who can help them tell their story.”
(Because unless she or he tells you otherwise, you have no way of knowing the specifics. So don't bother yourself with those kind of details here.)
Tell Them a Story
An audition uses only a small piece of the overall story being told — a monologue, or sides from a scene. But, we can still use it to tell a complete story: with a Beginning, Middle, and Ending.
Please bear with me here for a little “story” refresher.
One dictionary definition of story is: “an account of events in the evolution of something.”
The key word in that definition is “evolution”, which is a change or development.
In a drama, or dramatic story, that change is usually driven by some sort of conflict. Either an internal conflict, or an external one with another character or with the environment.
Most stories are about a character going through a dramatic change. Whether it's a change in worldview, a change in emotional state, or change in abilities.
So, here's the question. Can you tell a full story with your audition? One that shows some transformation of the character through conflict? Even if the change, or character's arc, is small?
We have to analyze our audition piece with the same approach to the entire play or film:
- What story is your audition piece telling?
- How does your character change through the course of the monologue or scene?
- What is her motivation/goal in this moment?
- How is the beginning a set-up for the end?
These are just a few questions to start this basic approach. But hopefully you can begin to see how this applies to “range.”
Showing Your “Range” in an Audition
What is an actor's “range”? And why do I keep putting it in quotes?
Well, because there are many different ways to describe an actor's range.
Some say it's the ability to play different characters and types.
Some say it's the ability to adapt to different story genres and storytelling styles.
Others say it's the ability to play/express several different emotions.
Many will say “all of the above”.
But, what I'm talking about today is how to apply range to an audition.
Because, unless you're auditioning for a one-woman or one-man show where you play many characters, those first two definitions of “range” go out the window. Those types of range can only really be shown over the course of a body of work, or several auditions.*
*(Ok, yeah, also when you're auditioning “contrasting monologues”, as well. But, I think you should approach each of those monologues as a separate audition.)
So, of my few examples above, that leaves us with “emotional range”. While I think this is closer to the mark, I also believe this can take us a little off track.
The Lure of “Emotional Range”
Probably one of the most common “actor mistakes” we make when analyzing an audition piece is to focus on the emotional journey of our performance.
Notice that I said “our performance.” Not “our character,” nor “our audience.”
Do you do this? After looking over a scene or monologue, you break it down thinking things like, “Ok, I'm gonna cry here. This is where I'll laugh. I'm gonna feel really angry at this point.”
Sure, the character might be going through these emotional reactions. (They might even be written into the script!)
But, I see two big problems with this approach.
First, it is overly focused on your ability to emote. Which means you're focused on you and your talent, putting pressure on yourself. And, remember this is not about you.
Second, it's a backwards approach to emotions. It puts the cart before the horse.
Emotions are a reaction, not a goal. This compels you to reverse-engineer the conditions* that result in the emotion, which may not be in sync with the story. More often than not, this makes your performance come off as “forced” and unnatural.
*(At many points in your career, you'll need to use this technique, but I don't think the audition is the place to do it.)
Yes, the character may go through a range of emotions in the course of a scene or monologue. But, focusing on those emotions takes you away from performing what causes those emotions.
In or attempts to show our emotional range in an audition, we often select emotions* that will show off our talent, instead of telling a story.
*(OR, we make the mistake of choosing ONE intense emotion to play all the way through. This is boring as hell to watch, and shows no range or variety.)
A set of emotions presented randomly or out of context mean nothing. A set of emotions presented in the context of a character's transformation (i.e. his or her story) provides meaning.
And that meaning provides your audience with an emotional experience.
The Range of the Character's Arc
So, here we are back to “Story”.
What is the story of your audition piece? What is the change your character experiences?
This is where your craft and scene analysis skills come in. I mentioned a bunch of questions a few sections back. Here are a few more:
- What is your character trying to gain or keep? What's the goal?
- Does the character win or lose?
- Is there a change in mind, or of opinion?
- Who or what is your character up against? What's the conflict?
- What and how many different tactics are used to attain the goal?
After you've broken the scene down, personalize the conflict and the goal(s), and then go for them!
(If you're going to acting classes, you know how to do this, and have had practice. If you want to read more on this subject, I recommend looking at Chapter 2 of A Practical Handbook for the Actor.)
There are a number of advantages to this approach.
For one, and I think most important, it gives you the focus you need to stay grounded and living in the moment, which looks natural and is more interesting to watch.
Another is that you show “range of character” without having to artificially infuse your performance with a selection of emotions you'd like to show off. Your emotions to come naturally out of your personalized connection with fighting for the goal. No faking or forcing.
And, ultimately, a story is told.
Being a little bit off the mark with your choices here shouldn't worry you so much. Because a good director will redirect you once they see you can handle weighty material.
Choosing the Best Audition Monologues
I started off talking about how understanding “range” helps you audition better, AND, choose the best audition monologues for you.
Time to apply this and take some action.
Here are the three general steps I think you should take:
1) Read several plays and film scripts (and yes, even monologue books) for monologues and monologue-ish* material for your type.
By “monologue-ish” I mean pieces such as scenes where the other person doesn't speak so much, and you can easily take out their lines, or adopt them into your speech. Or even passages from books that aren't speech, but can be read like it.
*(A lot has been written about this already. No need for me to repeat it here.)
Make sure the character in the monologue matches your type. (Age, race, class, etc.) This makes it as easy as possible for the auditors to believe you in the story you're about to tell. Don't give them any reasons to question your place in it.
The general/monologue audition is not necessarily the place to challenge the way people see you, or to audition outside of your visual type. If you're doing more than one monologue, make sure at least one fits your type.
2) Hang on to the pieces that elicit an emotional response from you.
Anything that makes you cry, laugh out loud, tense up in anger or disgust, and so forth should be added to your list of potential monologues.
Anything that doesn't? Toss it in the trash, and forget about it.
Because, if it doesn't move YOU, don't expect it to move your auditors either.
Do not try to play the emotions that the story elicited from you. Just because it makes you cry doesn't necessarily meat the character is crying. The same goes for any other emotion. Did it make you laugh? You probably shouldn't play the joke — go for playing the pain that makes the situation funny.
3) Find the Storytelling Elements in each piece.
For each piece, ask yourself, “Why does this resonate with me? What about this character can I relate to? What is the story of transformation or change being told?”
Be sure to choose a monologue in which you can see the story!
Does it seem like simply a fun, goofy rant that will be fun to perform, but doesn't really go anywhere story-wise? Or, an angry, venting rant that stays on one emotional note with no changes?
These are probably not good choices, unless you can infuse the elements of storytelling into them.
If you can't find the story elements of the piece, toss it.
Remember that every monologue can be read in many different ways. Find the way to tell the story in a way that makes sense for you, and delivers your own personal truth.
Want More on Auditioning?
If you've read this far, thank you. I hope you've found it helpful.
If you DID find this helpful, and want more tips on auditioning, would you do me a favor? Please leave a comment below about what you found most helpful in this article. Or let me know if you have any questions on the subject.
Or, even better…
Would you be willing to fill out a short questionnaire about auditioning?
Everyone who fills it out will be invited to a free online seminar about how to improve your auditions. It will cover more details on this approach, and answer your burning audition questions that come out of the questionnaire.
However, if you did not find this helpful, and you think I'm missing the mark here, I'd still love to hear from you. Please use the comments section below to add to the topic.
I'll leave you with a short list of some of my favorite books on Acting and the Audition process: