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How to Shorten a Monologue

This article will help you understand how and where in a monologue to edit in order to shorten a piece for performance or audition.

How to Successfully Shorten a Monologue

Pick the right monologue for you, and for the audition. Monologues are tricky to perform because you are all alone with no one to react to. Since half of acting (or more than half, depending on who you talk to) is listening, you have that much more to do and that much more reality to fill out when you're all by yourself up there. That's why picking a monologue that makes sense for you is so important. Of course, every great actor wants to play King Lear someday, but if you've just graduated from acting school and you're in your early twenties, you may want to hold off on memorizing "Blow wind, crack thy cheeks" for another couple decades. Context is just as important as age appropriateness. If you are auditioning for a heavy Arthur Miller play, don't go in with a light, comical monologue. Do something that will show the casting director why they should hire you for that show.

Think about length. Once you have an appropriate piece picked out, it's time to think about how long it needs to be... or not be. Most auditions (especially open calls or "cattle calls") are lengthy processes for the casting director involved. They are sometimes seeing hundreds of people every day, so it is your job to give them something good, but just as important, something short. The old cliche "leave them wanting more" should be your mantra. Think of your monologue as an appetizer. Give them a taste of the best of what you have to offer them for this particular show, but JUST a taste. That way, they'll be compelled to call you back to see more, or to read from a script.

Where to cut. Many successful monologues for auditions aren't monologues at all. They are sometimes scenes that are one-character heavy, and with a little artful editing, the lines from the other character in the scene can be eliminated. Any time your character has an interaction with another character eliciting a simple "yes," "no" or "uh huh" type response, you can most likely cut those right out without worrying about hurting the monologue. Of course the best monologues are always the ones where something is actually happening, where the character giving the monologue goes through some kind of a change or makes some kind of discovery, either in himself or in someone else. With classic texts, like Shakespeare, these can sometimes be flowery and verbose. Really read the text and think about what lines are conveying the meat of the action, and what lines may be, if not superfluous, at least ornamental. In modern pieces, monologues are often about a number of things. The character may be talking about two or three things that are happening in the plot of the play, so decide on which one you'd like to focus on, and think about trimming the monologue around that. Remember, you aren't performing the play, so don't feel as though you are murdering a piece of art. You are simply performing a small portion of that play, and since it's already a cutting of a larger piece, you shouldn't feel bad about cutting down the cutting.

Time it. Many auditions, believe it or not, ask for two one minute monologues of contrasting styles. Will they jump up from their seats and scream at you if the piece runs one minute and ten seconds? Probably not. But it is a good idea to have a realistic running time for your monologues. Run through them, but don't rush them. Think about how you really want them to be performed. It's more important to give a good performance that isn't rushed, than it is to give a rushed performance so you can get all the words in. Leave yourself some room to breath and pause, if needed. You can always add text back if you want. Comfort with the memorization will lead to a more relaxed performance as well. The bottom line is, if you make smart edits that you have thought through and you know the text like the back of your hand, your performance will be supported by your work and your monologues will shine. And that's all any casting director ever really wants to see, anyway!


  • Know your lines like you know your own name!
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