Updated: Mar 22
Choosing your monologues is extremely important when auditioning for drama school, but you are probably much farther along than you think.
The number 1 rule when choosing your monologues for college auditions is...CHOOSING MATERIAL YOU LOVE.
Well, actually, the first rule is sticking to the audition requirements. Don’t bring in a piece written by Chekhov if they specifically say “No Chekhov.”
But...beyond the audition requirements...CHOOSE MATERIAL YOU LOVE!
Don’t let anyone tell you this monologue or that monologue “won’t work.” And conversely, don’t let anyone tell you that specific monologues “always work.”
Every year, a variety of students doing a variety of monologues from a variety of decades get into the top drama schools and the only thing they all have in common is:
they stuck to the school’s requirements
they loved their pieces
Drama schools can sniff when you’re not passionate about your pieces, so read as many monologues as you can and choose pieces you love.
Think about it...you’re about to work on these pieces and invest your soul into them. They better be monologues you love!
Ok, you get the main point. Moving on. There are a few other things that can help when considering which monologues to do...
Choose good literature vs bad literature
It’s helpful to work on high quality monologues from published plays.
Remember, playwriting is an art in itself. It's something people study for many years and win global awards for.
It is in your best interest to find and work on good literature. If you’re still developing your eye for good vs bad literature, that’s okay. The easiest way to recognize high quality writing is lists and mentors.
For example: Look at the list of Pulitzer Prize winners (and finalists) in Drama. You can also look at the list of Tony Award winners (and nominees) for Best Play. These are published plays with quality playwriting. They’re a great place to start when searching for monologues. You will discover world-class plays and authors from these lists!
Also, ask your mentors if they think your monologue is good quality literature. There’s nothing wrong with that.
You’re going to invest a lot of time working on these pieces. Good literature can handle a lot more exploration, experimentation, and interpretation when you work on them.
You’ve heard of great actors loving a piece of writing so much that they’re still uncovering gems inside of it after working on it for decades. Good writing can set up an actor to do the best work they’ve ever done.
Ignore pieces that don’t suit you
You’re allowed to do any piece that fits within the audition requirements the school has. Period.
With that being said, schools appreciate actors who work on material that suits them. It is in your best interest to choose material that feels good in your skin.
For example, nobody wants to see an 18 year old do a monologue from a 65 year old character talking to her granddaughter about the new wrinkles she found on her butt. It’s too much of a stretch.
Sometimes schools specifically ask for “stretch pieces.” The University of Minnesota is a good example. In this case, yes, do any piece you’re passionate about but probably wouldn’t be cast as.
But when it comes to your “main” pieces, it’s good to gravitate toward pieces that “feel like home.”
To be clear, does it have to be your exact age/race/gender/etc? No, of course not. However, when you have pieces that are closer to you on various levels, you’re going to get way more mileage out of those as you develop them.
Have a smart perspective on "overdone" pieces
Ok, yes, there are definitely overdone pieces, but that doesn’t mean you should say no to a particular piece if you love it (refer to the most important thing at the top of this post).
I did an overdone piece and I got into Juilliard so there. LOL
You think the faculty at Juilliard (or any drama school) hasn’t seen “Alack why am I sent for to a King?” a million times? They have (and probably by actors a lot better than high school me).
BUT on our first day of class, when we were asked to do our audition monologues for the entire school, and I performed Richard II, Michael Kahn (head of Juilliard at the time and long-time Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C.) stopped me as I sat down and said “Bravo, I’ve never seen it done that way before.”
I kept my cool. The point is - People get into the top drama schools every single year with overdone pieces because they’re owning the piece.
Why do you think Romeo & Juliet has been produced for so many years? Each actor brings something unique to the characters. My Romeo would be different than yours because I’m different than you. Bringing my imagination and authentic sense of play to the process is inherently going to lead different realizations about Romeo’s character and circumstances than yours would. It doesn’t mean one of us is right or wrong. It means we’re both tapping into our personal physical, vocal, and emotional instrument to express what’s happening in the scene. Fully committing to your piece will inevitably lead to unique and interesting takes on the same material someone else might be doing.
So don't worry as much about “Is this monologue overdone?” Worry more about “I should love my pieces” and then bring your quality of work up as high as possible on it.
When you really love a piece, you will make it your own. To the extent that you can be free and playful inside your own pieces, that’s when your quality of work starts to get noticed.