To do Shakespeare or not to do Shakespeare? What do they want from your classical? Here are 3 things that will ensure you're on the right track with your classical pieces!
The top drama schools in the world ask you to audition with 1 contemporary and 1 classical monologue, and the following article zeroes in on the function of the classical monologue, so when you're searching for your classical pieces you know what to look for!
Why do you think schools ask for classical pieces?
Why not just let you choose ANY 2 pieces you want?
What is YOUR answer to that question? What is their rationale?
When you understand why the schools ask for classical pieces, it's easy to understand what they're looking for and deliver it.
It will also help you stay away from pieces that don't help your cause!
Schools ask you to bring classical pieces in because they want to see you rise to the stakes and circumstances of heightened text powerfully.
The physical and emotional life of a classical monologue will often have a more outward, expressive and theatrical texture to it. They want to see the actor embrace that, rise to it, and authentically go there!
That's very different from a contemporary monologue, which is still very emotional and theatrical, but often in a subtler way. The behavior in contemporary monologues wants to find more "natural", modern colors and modes of expression, which can contrast greatly with a great classical piece.
TIP #1 - Do Shakespeare
You've heard it and it's true....If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything.
Shakespeare's canon of work has so many good college audition monologues, it's unbelievable. There's really nowhere else you need to look. 99% of my friends who got accepted to top drama school did Shakespeare verse in their audition.
In fact, someone who read my How To Get Into Drama School book got called back to Juilliard this year. He did a classical piece from Racine. Immediately after he did it, they said..."Do you have a Shakespeare?" He had one in his back pocket, but he didn't have it as prepared. He did it, got called back, but did not end up getting accepted. Nobody can say why for sure, but I recommend...don't waste your time with other authors or casual pieces. They want to see very heightened work and Shakespeare does it the best.
TIP #2 - Do Verse
Shakespeare's verse is what you want to choose over his prose.
Prose is doable and if you're just incredible with a great prose monologue from Benedick or Bottom or Falstaff or any of Shakespeare's heavy prose characters, BUT I wouldn't recommend it.
Verse deals with higher stakes, and there's just so much more to play with inside a verse monologue.
For example, the rhythm. The sounds inside of a verse monologue are so specific and rich, and chosen by Shakespeare. USE that beautiful language and rhythm to get your point across and express yourself. That's what fun to watch about a classical monologue. Add a specific and authentic emotional life and you'll be rising to the challenge of the best speeches ever written and showing yourself off well to the best drama schools.
Now, just to play devil's advocate to my own tip, let's take a great prose monologue - Bottom's "dream speech" from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Act 4, scene 1. It's a big ol' chunk of prose when he wakes up and recalls a dream that is so great he is compelled to translate it into a piece of art. That's heightened! Imagine if that happened to you!
Now, if you just loved that piece and worked on it hard with your coach and delivered a heightened, theatrical, authentic and specific performance in the audition, that would be great and you're totally allowed to do that!
I just wouldn't recommend it.
99% of people who I know that got accepted into drama school did Shakespeare verse. It has everything.
You can go against the grain and take your chances. Or you can apply your work ethic and talent on a piece of verse you really respond to and give yourself a better chance.
TIP #3 - Make it personal
In my Juilliard callback, I was working on my Richard II monologue (Shakespeare verse!), and the auditors said "We want you to really imagine your talking to a group of your best friends, ANTHONY'S BEST FRIENDS, after they've just done something to betray your friendship.
I looked into the eyes of my best friends and imagined they had just done something to betray my friendship forever (I won't say what it was), and that got me emotional.
I delivered the monologue with an incredibly specific personal connection, and it obviously did well for me because I got accepted to Juilliard!
Make strong, bold choices that make you FEEL something. Don't settle for subtle or casual choices that are general.
You will feel you are rising to the moment, instead of letting yourself off the hook, and that's great because that's the big moment that the monologue demands!
Imagine something from your personal life and let very specific image and feelings guide your emotional life. Combine that with what you want from the person your speaking to you and DELIVER it fearlessly.
Choose classical monologues that lean into the heightened, expressive, and massive circumstances the Shakespeare's verse demands, and you will position yourself as a smart and capable artist ready to study at the best drama schools in the world!