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Monologuophobia

May 11, 2013

For several years after I started taking acting lessons, I stagnated because I was afraid to actually audition for anything. Once I worked up the nerve to do so, I found immediate success in community theater roles and even a few entry-level professional roles. I discovered acting somewhat late in life, and a fear that turned out to be unwarranted robbed me of even more time as a performer.

While I have had a very good first year as an actor, I have butted up against another fear: the fear of monologues. This was not a fear of rejection or failure like that of my audition anxiety. Rather, I could not get my head around where to begin in memorizing a large block of text. Learning a monologue is unlike any sort of task I’ve ever undertaken. My study habits in my youth were haphazard, and even in the plays I have done so far I have been able to rely on the constant cues of on-stage back-and-forth dialogue to remind me what to say next. I just did not know where to begin.

A couple of solo attempts to commit monologues to my memory failed, so I decided to seek out help. Through a D.C. theater listserv, I found a longtime professional director who has recently established herself as an acting teacher. I told her of my lack of experience and my basic bafflement about monologues, and arrived for my first session with trepidation.

Within 30 minutes I was delivering a monologue I had only just seen for the first time, while glancing at the text only once or twice. After a few hours of practice and repetition, I had it down.

So, what was my problem? I was looking at it wrong, and saying it wrong.

First off, I was going too fast. I was rushing through my monologues, not leaving pauses and not giving each beat the chance to be heard. I was robbing myself of the chance to think — and at the same time giving a poor and hurried delivery.

Second, I was seeing a monologue as something apart from that back-and-forth I found comparatively easy, when really it is not. A monologue is not a solid block of text — it is a series of ideas and concepts that a single character delivers with limited or no interruption. But the beats are still there.

Related to that was my lack of physicality in trying to do a monologue. Just as an actor in a conversation scene links her or his position on stage and action while speaking with the lines being delivered, I needed to understand that adding physicality to the monologue — moving to different marks as I moved to different themes, and adding more bodily and facial movements — would help me to remember the lines, in addition to making my delivery much more interesting to watch.

I still have a lot of work to do on monologues, but it took just a little time with the guidance of a trained eye to help me get started.

Peter Sig

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Mothering Actor permalink
    May 16, 2013 6:07 pm

    I like getting coached on monologues. It is really helpful to actually talk to someone because, as you said, we forget it is an actual conversation – the other person just isn’t saying anything.

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