While in the holding room, I have often overheard other actors say to their friends that they only have ONE Shakespeare monologue, so that's the one they'll be doing.
Can I just get real with you for a second? If you're still using that one Shakespeare monologue you were forced to learn in college for every Shakespeare audition, you are doing yourself a disservice! I don't even have to know which speech it is to be able to tell you that. Why? because the speech doesn't take into account who YOU are and what you're trying to present in the room. And what if the casting director asks to see something else? Do you have another Shakespeare monologue to show them at all?
You need more than one monologue, but you really, REALLY don't need twelve. In order to effectively market yourself in almost any Shakespeare audition, I recommend having three thoughtfully chosen speeches that fit into specific categories:
1. The "Here I Am" Monologue
Do you know what sort of roles you would be cast in for traditional Shakespeare productions?
What roles would Sir Lawrence Olivier see you playing?
What do people assume about you based on 10 seconds with you?
What do you do really well?
The trick to this is knowing yourself well enough to explain it to the casting team via your monologue choice. Get opinions from friends and teachers that you trust if you're not sure what kind of impressions you're making, and then find a character that embodies that. If you're a clever young lady that appears to be a teenager, check out Juliet (Romeo & Juliet) or Miranda (The Tempest). If you're the "funny best friend" type, look into Silvius (As You Like It) or Bottom (A Midsummer Night's Dream). Despite this perhaps being an "obvious choice", if it's the role you're most suited for, it's okay! It shows a knowledge of yourself and where you fit into the Shakespeare universe. This piece must be in verse, as most auditions will request a verse monologue and it will be the one you use the most frequently.
2. The "Look What Else I Can Do" Monologue
This is still a role you can traditionally play (no gender-bending or anything), but it shows another side of you. If your first monologue is a low class character (like Mrs. Quickly from the Henry IV/Henry V saga and The Merry Wives of Windsor), then consider a character of a higher social class (like Queen Margaret from the Henry VI/Richard III storyline). If your first piece is about love (perhaps Berowne from Love's Labour's Lost), go for something more bloody (Like Brutus from Julius Caesar, or even Macbeth). This will require some research and a reasonable knowledge of Shakespeare's material, but it's an investment into your career, and something you can probably use for years.
3. The "Breaking the Rules" Monologue
It's becoming mainstream to cast Shakespeare productions with little or no regard to the descriptions of the characters in the text. Gender-blind, age-blind, color-blind casting is happening all the time, which means this monologue might be your favorite one! If you're the Juliet type, maybe try on some Richard III. If you're constantly doing Falstaff, show off your Desdemona! This speech can be verse or prose. Whatever the role, avoid making it into a joke. Give the character their due and show your chops just as you would with other speeches, and you're sure to make a lasting impression on the casting team!
With a solid monologue in each of the three categories, you'll have a great choice that reflects what you can bring to a show for just about any audition. There are just a few other things to consider as you go forth on your quest for the perfect pieces:
Choose verse over prose. (Not sure what I'm talking about? Click here to learn the difference.) Most casting notices will straight-up ask you for a verse monologue. If you show up with prose when they asked for verse, you look like you either don't know what that means and didn't care to find out, or that you can't follow simple directions... neither of which is going to help you land the role you want.
Funny is good, and surprisingly rare. Casting teams ask for comedic Shakespeare monologues from time to time - make one of your picks funny and you won't be caught off guard.
Race doesn't matter, except when it does. If you are an actor of color, you can play any role that a white actor can play, period. Aaron from Titus Andronicus and Othello are both "Moors", people from northwestern Africa of Berber and Arab descent. Similarly, the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice is from Morocco, and Shylock, Tubal, and Jessica in the same play are Jewish. These distinctions have significance in their respective storylines. Ask yourself if you are the right person to tell their stories before undertaking it.
Finally, avoid using one of the 154 sonnets as your monologue. I was once in line to audition when the casting director stepped out of the audition room to announce to all of us that Shakespeare wrote nearly forty plays, so we should be playing his characters, NOT doing a sonnet. Unless you're auditioning for an evening of sonnets, pick a speech from a play.
Whether you need to work your way up to three perfectly picked monologues, or scale it back from a dozen, I hope these tips will help you on your way. And if you need any additional assistance, click here to schedule a coaching with me! Break legs, all!