Things not to do in an Acting Class... a bit of a rant.

All right, I’ve started my Advanced Acting class at school. Seems kickass, the teacher’s pretty cool, the students all seem like they have talent…

Tonight, we started performances. Monologues (scenes start next week). Everyone has to have picked out a monologue and perform it for the class. Today, I think seven or eight people performed. I noticed a disturbing theme…

See, there are limits to acting. A lot of people want to get up there and “Give it everything they’ve got”. They want to create a lasting impression. They want to blow their audience away. They want to have the kind of “Special moment” in which they captivate the entire audience, and everyone shares in the “Theatre Magic”.

But you know what? It just ain’t gonna happen.

See, in order to bring in a “heavy performance”, you need a good deal of buildup. The audience needs a while to gradually be drawn into the world you’re creating. A 1-2 minute monologue isn’t going to give anyone, except maybe the top ten actors on the planet, a chance to build up any big impact.

The first girl goes up for her monologue. It turns out to be a piece from a play where her character was a nymphomaniac, and due to her nymphomania, she got AIDS. Obligatory tears, not very creative blocking (she really just sat on a small table the whole time). “All right,” I think, “not the greatest of performances, but it’s the beginning of the semester.” The girl gets compliments for her “bravery” at performing such a piece, but not much else, really.

Second student goes up, a guy. He’s actually a good actor, and I look forward to his future work. His monologue had his character talking about having just killed a guy. A very heavy subject if there ever was one. Again, a good performance, but given the time constraints, there just wasn’t much for him to do with it.

Next student, a girl. Her monologue had her as a rape victim and pregnant.

Next, another girl. AIDS again.

Next, a guy. His character was beaten as a child, and now is lovesick.

Next, an older woman. She was playing a girl (in the afterlife) who had been hit by an Ice Cream truck and been killed. Hers was actually touching, but again, not enough time to develop the scene any. And she insisted on doing the scene with most of the lights off, so you really couldn’t see her very well.

And now, the rant…


Look, I know that there is a lot of deep and meaningful work floating around out there, and a lot of it deals with the more “serious” problems and issues in society. But, holy shit, if you have two minutes to try to build to a deep, soul-wrenching conclusion to your monologue, there’s almost NO chance of succeeding! It needs DEVELOPMENT. It needs BUILD-UP. And damn it all, it needs a bit of BLOCKING! Move around a little! If you feel like you can upstage your class members by crying a bit better than they did, or by becoming angrier than they did, or by shouting louder than they did, that’s all fine and dandy but you’re going to fail miserably!

The second-to-last performance tonight was a guy who did a scene from one of David Mamet’s plays. He played a salesman who was trying to sell stuff to a customer. It didn’t deal with death, it didn’t deal with rape, it didn’t deal with nuclear holocaust… it was just some random shmoe doing every-day stuff. And you know what? He was fucking amazing. He blew the pants off EVERYTHING that anyone else did!

The moral of the story is this: You don’t NEED to delve into the “extreme” cases in order to find good material. In fact, that’s more of a cop-out than anything else. If the whole focus of a scene is to bring problems like AIDS and rape into the limelight, it’s going to seem more like a news editorial than anything else! Go grab Death of a Salesman. Go grab Glengary Glenross. Go pick up stuff by Tennessee Williams or Tom Stoppard! You’ll be amazed at how much drama you’ll find without having to get dramatic!

::deep breath::

And, yes, before anyone asks… I did provide the above information, in more polite and gentle terms, during the critique after each performance. Constructive criticism.

I agree wholeheartedly, I’ve seen the same problem in all kinds of similar classes and seminars.

A part of the problem is low-quality teachers/directors that basically think that a serious piece equals a serious actor. Lots of kids want to impress on the first day, too, and the steriotype of a good actor is someone that ONLY does Shakespeare and serious drama.

You should go into directing or teaching, way too few people notice things like how screaming and crying contests don’t accomplish anything for the actor OR the audience.

Subtlety is the key to theatre, and in my oppinion there is no better place to look for it than British theatre. The Brits may not always be glamorous, but they are not known for going over the top either.

But hey, I’m European so I’m biased anyway, good rant though :wink:

— G. Raven

You’re right – some of the best monologues I’ve found were simple book passages. One of the favorites in my “reader’s theater” class that I did was a James Thurber parable. I’ve found if you MUST do something with emotion, go for humor.

Off the subject, but again, you’re right about subtlety in acting. The BEST acting performance I’ve ever seen, bar none, was Anthony Hopkins in “Remains of the Day”. A MASTERPIECE of subtlety!! It should be required viewing for any acting student – it really demonstrates how much better you can do without having to rant/carry on/overemote to make your point.

I agree, good rant on your part!

I concur. Nice rant, even if the audience is limited. (Not many people in acting classes, don’tcha know.)

caircair, I agree with your point, though I’d point to a different performance: Jurgen Prochnow in Das Boot. Equally as quiet, subtle, and restrained as Hopkins, so your observation is definitely valid; we just have different examples.

FWIW, I chose my classical audition monologue with this in mind. Instead of Hamlet’s “O what a rogue and peasant slave” or Henry V’s “Once more into the breach” or any of those, I use Roderigo’s long speech to the Senator at the beginning of Othello. Lots of stuff to do in it, many different emotional colors, it’s active instead of a static soliloquy, it’s got some complex verse and long sentences, and, best of all, the people I’m auditioning for won’t have seen it a thousand times already, if they’ve seen it even once.

So yeah, Spoofe, you’re right on the money. Thumbs up from me.

So SPOOFE… What did you do? To Be or Not To Be?


Actually, Soda, we didn’t have time to get to my monologue last class (curses!). I WAS going to perform Ganesha’s opening monologue from Terence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh (a great, if not-well-known, play, if I do say so myself).

I’ve never been in an acting class but I was in a couple of speech classes way way back when I was in college. I did love Shakespeare but didn’t think I could pull off the intensity of some items. I ended up doing the address that the Duke of Burgundy gives to the King of France and Henry V. He exhorts them to make peace because “in this best garden of the world” things are basically going to rack and ruin. It’s not a wild, emotional piece, kind of wistful really. I once had an English teacher use this speech as an example to a class of high school students, that Shakespeare wasn’t just an old dead white guy but one whose words could have asmuch relevance today as they did 400 years ago.

Yah, but it relates to most art fields, I imagine. I went to an arts school three years for creative writing, and you could always tell the first year students because they’d be the ones writing about rape and death and eating disorders. The older students generally steered away from topics like those, or waited until they had the voice to do something that dramatic in.

I found that if you choose your monologue well you can get a quite an impact in one or two minutes without having to over reach. In stand alone adutions you should choose monologues that come at the start of plays. (The Chorus at the begining of Henry V, The Prince in Romeo and Juliet, The afore mentioned Perfect Ganesh, Norman in On Golden Pond, etc…) The playwright is well aware that the audience hasn’t had the build up and builds the speech so that there is somewhere to go emotionally.

Also, speeches written to stand alone are good. I always used Jaberwocky for my classical audition piece.It has a nice begining, middle and end.


I agree completely, SPOOFE. I’m doing a monologue for my theatre audition tomorrow that’s not heavy drama at all. The whole tone of the monologue is actually faintly sarcastic. I looked at a monologue from Shaw’s Joan of Arc, but it wasn’t me…I could’ve never been comfortable doing it outside the play. I decided to go for something lighter.

So, SBD, how do you feel about somebody doing Lucky’s ‘hat’ monologue? It’s not high drama out of context, and it demonstrates that the person reciting can memorize dialogue… also, there is a wide range of personal interpretations one can bring to it.

Jaberwocky is also a great choice.

You are so, so, so right about this. And, of course, since most people, atleast at my school, have horrible taste in the matters of what makes a good story/poem/whatever, the school literary magazine is chock full or stories about teenage pregnancy, or depression, or AIDS, or whatever else is depressing and invites needless melodrama.

I just picked up a copy of this literary magazine today - I’ll call it “Crapfest.” It has been like this ever since I got to this school - every story is the exact same damn thing. It drives me crazy. It drives me crazy. It drives me crazy. ARGH! It’s been done a million billion times before people!

Just to poke my head in, I’ve been a working actress for something like 150 years, and after a time, you WILL need to develop a serious, dramatic monologue. The rant is still valid, I think, since it’s far too easy to find a piece that hasn’t been done to friggin’ death or (again) tries for too much intensity too quickly. There will be loads of auditions over a course of time that will ask for one, though, unless you solely concentrate on humourous or classical theater.

Oh, I agree. I have nothing against trying to pull off a “heavy-handed” piece… but I’d challenge you to get through one of 'em in two minutes or less. :slight_smile: Some pieces are just so long that you CAN’T finish in less than four or five minues unlessyoutalkreallyreallyfastlikethis.