Drilling through a monologue can often feel as nerve-racking as a trip to the dentist’s office. It can make your jaw bolt shut and mind race to do something, anything else! Yet there is another approach. A way to look at monologues that can make you actually “fall in love,” according to Karen Kohlhaas, monologue maverick and acting coach.
Karen Kohlhaasis the director/producer of The Monologue Audition Video (DVD), and author of The Monologue Audition: A Practical Guide for Actors (Foreword by David Mamet), How to Choose a Monologue for Any Audition, and The Monologue Audition Teacher’s Manual.
Karen is also a founding member of New York’s Atlantic Theater Company, where she recently directed the Lucille Lortel Award nominated THE COLLECTION and A KIND OF ALASKA by Harold Pinter which was named a top-10 theater production of 2010 by the New York Times, New York magazine, and the New York Daily News.
So if you are looking to breathe in the sweet air of monologues that do not scare, go ahead and take in these tips from Karen Kohlhaas…
Q&A with Karen Kohlhaas
Q: Monologues can be terrifying! How can they not feel like a trip to the dentist’s office?
By having a technique that works, and then by falling in love with the elements of acting – including the nerves – that make you want to be an actor in the first place. I have found over 20+ years of teaching monologues that the “dentist’s chair” feeling – that monologues are an excruciating but necessary thing an actor must do – comes from not having a technique for approaching them.
Q: Once an actor can open their mouth without fear – what should they ultimately try to convey through a monologue?
First, an actor must open his or her mouth regardless of fear – tell the story anyway. So stop waiting until you don’t feel afraid. Assume you will feel afraid – as most heroes do; as most actors do; as most people who appear in public do. What you must convey is the truth of the story, told with the truth of yourself. The environment of auditions – especially monologue auditions, where there is no partner or reader – seems to conspire to put the actor’s attention on himself. An actor can place his attention on the story he is telling, and make us forget that we are watching an audition. That is possible, at each moment in any performance or audition. And when your attention wanders – put it back on the story!
Q: Speaking of opening up, how does an actor’s body (actions, stance, etc) affect their performance?
The body is the vehicle of the story – it not only ‘affects’ the story, it IS the story. The body is either well-trained and specific and aligned with the story at hand, or it is stiff, or fidgety, or general and getting in the way of the performance and the story.
Q: So many monologues are clunky or overdone! How can an actor find the right one(s)?
Shameless self-promotion – I wrote an entire book about this, because material choice is so important: HOW TO CHOOSE A MONOLOGUE FOR ANY AUDITION. The short answer – don’t lead with an overdone monologue (there are lists on my website); READ READ READ, develop your taste and knowledge of great writing, and very important: research each audition and know who you are auditioning for and as much as you can about their tastes and experience. Finally: work toward having an arsenal of monologues – 10-20 that represent what you do well, and that are potential great fits for the auditions you may go on. If you think 10-20 sounds overwhelming, just consider how you would feel about yourself – how you would walk in the room – if you had 10-20 to choose from! I can guarantee the work is worth it. I offer a 20-monologue challenge to my students you can read about here: http://monologueaudition.com/ma_why-20.htm
Q: When an actor finds that golden monologue, what does it take to reach an ‘audition ready’ level?
First of all, give up looking for ‘the golden monologue’ – it does not exist; there are only monologues that are great choices, for you, in certain auditions.
To get it ready –
1. Have clear, suspenseful staging that has variety and that builds to a clear climax – even if the staging is very subtle or simple. Make choices; get out of neutral.
2. Have a clear objective and the ability to play that objective fully off of “the wall”
3. Practice practice practice until you know it inside and out, until none of you is “remembering” and all of you is focused on the moment at hand.
Q: What are some tips to keeping a monologue fresh?
Learn how to fall in love with your objective each time you do it. Go for more and more truth in each moment each time you do it. Don’t try to rework the whole thing to keep it fresh – keeping something fresh – but consistent – is an important skill to have, as in a long run of a show.
Q: According to your site, you help actors fall in love with monologues – How is that possible?!
If you have accomplished the skills I laid out above, and you truly love acting, it is quite likely that you will fall in love with monologues. There is so much fun you can have when you have a complete technique; you can have fun as the “producer and director” of your monologues, at the same time as having fun as the actor! Monologues are the purest form of acting and storytelling. I never get tired of watching them: it’s you in a room with nothing to help you – no partner, no set, costume, lighting – and yet it is possible to totally transport your “seen it all, been-there-done-that” audience of industry pros. I find that so dramatic, and so satisfying when someone does it well, particularly someone who never thought they would enjoy it!
For more info on Karen, please check out…
Upcoming monologue workshops
Karen’s website (click for lists of men’s and women’s overdone monologues)
BOOK: HOW TO CHOOSE A MONOLOGUE FOR ANY AUDITION by Karen Kohlhaas
BOOK: THE MONOLOGUE AUDITION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR ACTORS by Karen Kohlhaas, foreword by David Mamet
DVD: THE MONOLOGUE AUDITION VIDEO
Karen and 9 New York actors show you her complete technique, including interviews with 7 industry pros who have seen thousands of auditions