A monologue is a moment in a play, film, or novel, where a character speaks without being interrupted by any other characters. These speeches can be addressed to someone, or spoken to the actor's self or to the audience, in which case they are called soliloquies. Another type of this speech, especially in novels, is the interior monologue, where a character has a long bout of thinking personal thoughts that aren’t interrupted by speech or actions. This technique may also be used in film, where a voiceover provides the inner thoughts of the character.
This type of speech can serve in a number of ways. It can forward the plot by signifying the character’s intentions, it can reveal information about the character’s thought processes, or it may simply serve to more fully flesh out a character. It also gives actors an opportunity to express dramatic range and is akin to “solos” in music. In fact, some operatic arias are considered monologues, since a character has a chance to sing alone, and this tradition continues in the modern musical. Many musicals make use of songs sung by an individual to flesh out characters, forward plot or explain details.
Actors look for monologues in plays, especially ones that show dramatic range. This is because many auditions require actors to perform these speeches to demonstrate their acting ability. Fortunately, finding good material is not particularly difficult, and uninterrupted spoken parts are commonplace in most plays, movies, and teleplays. In auditions, actors must find speeches that are usually no more than two minutes in length, and they may be asked to perform two. Most seasoned actors, especially in the theater world, develop several pieces they particularly like and that most represent their dramatic range or their abilities to play very different types of characters.
The student of drama may start learning how to act by first learning how to perform a monologue. There are some common mistakes along the way, such as performing ones that many others have performed before. It’s also usually important to not take the speech out of context. Reading a play and digging deep to understand why a character is saying what he or she is saying, and how the person might deliver a two minute speech, is very valuable.
Some general advice for new performers looking for monologues to perform is to choose plays or films that are a bit less well known but will express good dramatic range. For instance, someone who is looking for one from Shakespeare might want to avoid Hamlet’s “To Be or not To Be” and perhaps choose something from a play that is less often performed. The trouble with choosing a very well known piece is that most people will have their own impression of how it should be performed, and it’s hard not to copy the performances of others.
Actors should additionally consider how well they might “fit” a certain character. Someone who is 50 years old should probably avoid pieces that don’t fit his age, and a young adult might not want to perform a piece that is written for a much older person. On the other hand, some monologues survive well under adaptation, and for the purpose of practice, many of them are great to memorize and try out to allow the actor to learn more about himself as a performer.