Someone once asked themselves in a monologue, “To be, or not to be?” When it comes to monologues there are things you want to be, and things you do not want to be.
Monologue memorization is a process, and the focus should always remain on the performance, not solely on the memorization of the text. However, without knowing the words, an actor cannot do in-depth work.
With the following tips in your memorization arsenal, monologue preparation will be a painless process…
It’s a Pick ‘em Game
The first step in monologue memorization is the selection process. This is the foundation of preparation and affects all steps of the process, including memorization speed. Actors who are personally connected to the text they are memorizing are more motivated to explore the work, and will understand the monologue more easily.
Choose a monologue that speaks to you as a person and as a performer. Also, know your type, or the type of characters, that you typically audition for, and find a monologue within that domain. An age appropriate character with similar thoughts and opinions as you is a good start.
Choose a monologue that is in the active voice, not past tense, or repeating previously revealed information. Monologues where a character speaks to another person or a group of people, in an attempt to get something from them, provide natural objectives and stakes.
Choose a monologue from a play or script that you are familiar with. Knowledge of back story enriches a performance by providing layers of feeling toward other characters, and helps to establish the internal emotions of the speaker.
Break it Up
Once a personal monologue has been selected, text work is the next step. Read the monologue for story and understanding, and then break the text up into beats. Each beat should have a different action and objective associated with it.
This is also the time to edit the monologue if needed. A monologue should only be 60-90 seconds, and never more than 2 minutes long. An appropriate length will make memorization faster and allow more time to invest in the depth of performance.
Be sure to maintain the story arc when editing with a decisive start and a finish that shows change(s) in the character.
Write it Out
Now you have a short and sweet monologue that is split into beats that have transitions built in between them. Write out the text by hand the whole way through.
Studies show that handwriting boosts retention because it actives more of the brain, connecting fine motor movement with the memory cortex. Handwriting is literally muscle-memory for monologue memorization.
You probably won’t audition while sitting in a chair at a table, so why would you prepare a monologue in that fashion? Adding locomotion to your memorization efforts connects the words to movement, which will make your performance more fluid and flexible in the end.
One suggestion is to take a walk with your script. As you walk around, quietly recite your monologue beat by beat. Start with the first beat, and when it is memorized add the second beat. This step by step process of memorization forces you to remember the transitions, which are where good acting takes place.
Switch it Up
After you have the monologue memorized, continue to explore possible objectives and actions. You can do this by speaking and moving differently during each performance of the monologue. Practice with different volumes, dialects, posture, speed, pauses, etc. Change anything and everything about your performance and observe how it changes the emotional outcome.
Don’t actually try to recite the monologue in Italian, unless you know Italian, then that would be an interesting way to switch up your tactics. What I mean is, say the monologue as quickly as you can while playing all transitions and striving for all objectives. This is the ultimate test of understanding through speed.
Your brain builds connections through sleep, which is the only way to move your memorization work into your long-term memory bank. Plan days ahead when memorizing to allow adequate time for your brain to adapt.
There are no shortcuts to a perfect monologue performance, but there are easy strategies that actors can implement to expedite the memorization process. Following the above tips will allow you to answer the most famous of monologue questions, “To be, or not to be?” For actors, the answer is to be; to continue living through performance.