How to prepare a monologue

I think the first thing one should try and do is to not approach a monologue as a monologue. In life, we never talk to a person, then build ourselves up and launch into a nicely convenient, emotional and well rehearsed ‘monologue.’ We just talk, and if whatever we happen to mean needs a minute or so to say, then it incidentally becomes a monologue.

So, read it through several times. Figure out exactly and specifically what the person is trying to mean, trying to say, and if there are obscure words or references, look them up and make sure you know exactly, specifically what they mean. Figure out who the character is talking to, and why they are talking. Also figure out why they are saying what they are saying, at that exact time. The key part of any play, scene, moment, and monologue is the ‘intention’ – what the person is trying to do to the other person. If you can figure this out – and you need to - then you are well on your way. Also figuring out why they are doing it – why they are trying to ‘change’ the other persons point of view by saying what they are saying, is just as important.

If there is only one character in the scene, i.e. – you are talking to yourself, then still work on the above principal, but just move the ‘recipient’ to yourself. This can be confusing, so try and separate the you - the character who is talking from the you - the character who is receiving the speech. For example, think about when you’ve lost your keys or your phone for the hundredth time and you need to head out now, and you’re late. As you frantically search around the house yet again, you admonish yourself – ‘stupid idiot!’, or ‘I can’t believe you’ve lost them again, you moron!’ This is the ‘you’ – the normal you – shouting at the forgetful, stupid ‘you’ who has put the keys somewhere and has now forgotten where they are. So again, think about this distance between the you who is talking, and the you who is receiving this information, and make sure you communicate to that person.

It may be that the character is talking to the audience, as happens a lot in Shakespeare. Easy enough, just talk to the audience in that case, treat them as the character you are trying to change. You may think the ‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks…’ monologue from Romeo and Juliet is about Romeo and his feelings for Juliet, and this is a reasonable assumption. You may think it’s about Juliet and how beautiful she is. But what is going to help you the most is that it is actually about the audience, the people receiving the speech, and they aren’t as convinced as you are about her beauty. That is a good reason to talk, to try and ‘change’ them, to change their point of view, to get across to the audience how beautiful she is.

You will need to think about the emotion of the piece, and what emotions they might be going through during the monologue. But be aware, you cannot express emotion through a monologue. In fact, you cannot express emotion at all, ever. But emotions express themselves through us, whether we like it or not, and they have to be left to come out, come what may. But there is something that might help.

If you feel that the character might be frustrated during what they are saying, then you cannot ‘play’ or ‘act’ frustrated. You have to see that the other person – the other character, the audience, or even ‘you,’ isn’t understanding what you are saying. You’re trying to tell them something, maybe it’s something very important, maybe it’s something very personal, but they’re just not getting it, or they’re being very indifferent to you as you pour your heart out to them. So ‘see’ this in front of you, ‘see’ them not getting it, not understanding, not caring, and see how you feel as you try to express yourself more and more, and they still stand there, blank face, passive, uncaring. See what effect this has on you, and how you might be changed through them. This is your ‘emotions’ coming out.

Finally, one important thing. A monologue can never be ‘set’ or can never be ‘perfect.’ A monologue will always be different every single time you do it, no matter how much time and effort you may put into doing it exactly the same way. It’s just a fact. So there is no point working up to getting a monologue ‘right.’ As it is – and you are – a living, breathing, organic thing, a monologue is never done ‘right’ in the sense that a person is never ‘right.’ The only thing you can do is to know what you are saying and why you are saying it, and let the rest sort itself out. You go through the monologue, and maybe what you were trying to do to the other person you see has succeeded; in that case you stop talking. Or maybe it hasn’t succeeded, but you end on a question, or you simply see that is hasn’t worked. That’s just life, and that is what a person seeing a monologue wants to see.

This article could be as long as a book and I’ve tried to keep it concise. So instead of writing a book, I’m going to recommend one instead. It’s called The Actor and the Target; it’s written by Declan Donnellan, and it’s the best guide I’ve ever read to acting. It will help you with all of the above, especially the ‘emotions’ part which is much more elaborate, some of which I’ve lovingly ripped off here. Check it out, it will really help you, and good luck.