Voice is Physical

I’ve been having a lot of really challenging, and incredibly productive discussions lately with friends and colleagues, about what the voice is, how it is, why it is, and how I work with it, both as a teacher and as a performer.

In this little clip of students playing with ‘material essences’ they are exploring different movement qualities, the experience of moving in unaccustomed ways, and the effect that the physical movement qualities have on the voice itself, as it speaks.

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Preparing a Monologue

Now that you’ve chosen a monologue to work with, here are some thoughts and ideas about how to begin to approach the text.

Start by thinking about, and acknowledging where you want to end up – sounding as if you know what you are talking about – sounding as if you are the character who actually speaks those specific words because they express what the character needs to say at that moment.

Rather than trying to ‘do acting’ at the beginning, begin by getting familiar with the actual words, by taking the time to say those words clearly, honestly and specifically.

I’ve chosen a short passage from Romeo and Juliet, but the same principle applies to contemporary text, to ALL text.

Choosing a Monologue – the Podcast

At last, I think I have figured out the system!  If you’d like to hear, rather than read, the blog on Choosing a Monologue, here it is:

Now, if you want to hear The Master talking about film acting, and giving some absolutely fantastic tips, here is Michael Caine being interviewed for The Film Programme, BBC Radio 4.


Choosing a Monologue

I’ve prepared my first podcast, however, I can’t – as yet – figure out how to get it up onto the site. So, here is the gist:

Choosing monologues to perform for an audition is a bit like choosing a meal at a Chinese Restaurant.  When there are so many monologues to choose from, and you have no idea where to start, it can be a daunting prospect.

So, here are some basic rules to get you started:

1 – choose playwrights you admire and respect.  It is much more satisfying to work with good quality writing, and your auditioner will appreciate your good taste as well.

2 – for a general audition, or an audition for an acting school, choose a character the same age and gender as yourself.  You may think it an interesting challenge to present a female Hamlet or a male Ophelia, and it is, but an audition such as this in not the place to do it.

3 – do not attempt to do an accent unless you are very very skillful at it. I cannot stress this enough. Accents are for when you are auditioning for a specific role which requires is, and when the director has asked you to prepare the accent.  For a general audition, and for the acting colleges, they want to hear you, not a fake sounding voice.

3 – read the play.  An audition monologue is really a scene from a play, and you cannot do yourself justice if you don’t know the context, the background and the journey of your character.  Often you may be attracted to a monologue, only to discover that you are entirely mistaken in what you assume to be the context. It is easy to do a superficial reading which can lead you up the garden path. So read the whole play – and if you can’t get a copy of the play, don’t do that monologue. Having read the play, see if you can find one point of connection with the life, or circumstances, or behaviour of the character you are thinking of playing. If you can find just one, you can play that character.

Of course, none of this actually helps you to be sure that you have chosen the perfect monologue.  That’s because nothing can guarantee such a thing, because there is no such thing!

So, here’s the thing: you will need to work on more than one monologue. Actually, you need to work on about 4, at any given time. So, if you know which plays you like, and which characters you would like to play (given half a chance), pick two (at least) which offer some kind of contrast, for example:

a) period piece / contemporary play

b) comic role / dramatic role

c) verse drama / prose

d) upper class / working class

e) outgoing / introspective

f) practical person / dreamer

g) decent, admirable person / cruel, mean-spirited person

I’m sure you get the idea. This will narrow down your choices.

There are loads of books with monologues for men, and for women, and there are many websites offering monologues as well. Always ensure that you choose a monologue from a play, rather than a specially written speech. You need the resource of the complete play to help you build up layers of experience and relationships for your character, to help you find their place in their world.

http://www.monologuearchive.com/ This is an excellent resource, giving details of the publication from which the monologues have been extracted. However…


Be careful when choosing a play in translation (such as Chekhov, Aeschylus, Calderon etc). Check the date of publication. It will give you an indication as to when the translation was made. Sometimes, an earlier translation can be more playable than a later one, but it is always good policy to investigate a more recent translation, to see if it sits more comfortably,

cast yourself in the role, and start exploring the language of the monologue

Why train?

Acting is truth. Acting is the illusion of truth.

Acting looks so easy. Is it madness, or reality?

Unlike the special effects of computerized technology, a live performer doesn’t have obvious upfront cost. All you need is the brass neck to get up there and do your stuff. Right?

Anyone can perform, sing, give a speech or dance without specialized training. If the reason is pure self expression, that that is reason enough to do it, but not reason enough to expect a paying audience. If the reason is to communicate ideas, tell stories, share experiences, entertain or – dare I say it – enlighten, then an element of skill is required.

Imagine coming away from a performance with the foremost thought in your mind: “what a good actor ‘so-and-so’ is!” What did that actor communicate to you? That he/she is a good actor! Now imagine coming out of a theatre or cinema, or turning away from the television and thinking about the characters, their lives, the ideas and issues they had to deal with.

What you saw in that case WAS almost certainly good acting.

Performers need to train their bodies, voices, ears, brains, hearts and souls so that they can give us the illusion that they really are a whole host of different characters, living vastly different lives and experiencing huge passions and concepts which we relate to, and from which we gain insight into our own lives and experiences.

The stamina, flexibility, growth and self awareness gained in the process of such training wouldn’t do the rest of us any harm either.

Flloyd Kennedy

(first published in West End Neighbourhood News. Issue No 72. February 2000).