Acting’s Lost Art

Brian Cranston story telling and monologues 

Think of the last great performance you witnessed. Who delivered it? There are many fantastic actors that I look up to and a few months ago, I started noticing a trend. 

I noticed that the standout performances that struck me most had something in common. I ran my thoughts past some industry colleagues, CDs, directors, and screenwriters to see if it was a coincidence or if I was on to something. 

They unanimously agreed that the trend was here to stay for the foreseeable future. In fact, they went so far as to say this is becoming so prevalent in the industry that there are not nearly enough actors that are skilled in this particular talent. 

That means, when you master it, you will fill an industry demand and instantly stand out in every audition you go on!

Every actor should have this skill in their back pocket, ready to deploy, but the industry moved away from using it as a screening method for a long time. 

Remember, everything is cyclical so things came back full circle and now that audience tastes have changed this skill is very much in demand again (though with a slight twist). 

I’m talking about monologuing. Make no mistake, I’m not talking about 9th grade drama class kind of monologuing. 

Today’s monologues are vastly different. 

See, the industry became very visual for a long time. There was a lot of hype around 3D cinema and super screens, but that has largely run its course. 

That’s not to say that it will go away. I very much think it’s here for the long term but the adaptation of it has plateaued. Simply making a film available in 3D is not drawing audiences to the box office anymore, and the at home technology was largely a flop. 

This has made the industry move back into focusing on story telling, rather than relying on visuals to move the story forward. 

It’s a subtle difference, but you will notice when you start to pay attention. 

If you think back to films from the 80s and 90s the average run time was much longer. It was as if 2 hour films were the norm. While the 30 and 60 minute formats on TV have stayed consistent, the pace of the story lines have changed dramatically. 

Today’s style of monologuing is reminiscent of those times, but it has a much richer feel. They are designed to move the story forward and are often used to tie up loose ends. 

Someone that does this masterfully is Bryan Cranston. I highly recommend that you study his monologues intensively. 

He has a way of pulling the audience into the story smoothly. He delivers the monologue’s story without upstaging it with his acting. 

A big part of pulling off a monologue effectively is having the ability to let it [the monologue] do the acting. 

I’ll explain. 

A monologue is not about carefully thought out facial expressions, it’s about pushing the story forward. 

When an actor delivers a monologue that falls flat, it is often because it seemed too rehearsed. The way to overcome this is to not memorize the piece word for word. 

I know it seems counterintuitive but stay with me for a second. 

Rather than your typical memorization, work on committing the themes and action points of the monologue to memory. If you nail those but invert a few words here and there, no one will ever know. 

Here’s how you should prepare to learn a monologue. Whether you are using this for an audition or on set, the process is the same. 

First read the monologue thoroughly 2-3 times. 

Get a good understanding of your character and their motivations behind delivering the monologue. 

You will then need 2 different color highlighters. 

Use one color to highlight important, story line items in the monologue. Use the other color to highlight action points in the monologue. 

Story line items are parts that are intended to move the story forward. Action points are parts that are highly visual, and paint more vivid imagery for the audience (verbally). 

Commit only those to memory and trust that your mind will fill in the gaps. 

As you work on memorization, resist the urge to look at your script. It will feel completely unnatural at first and you may just butcher the first few attempts. That’s ok. 

After you finish the piece, look at your script and review the places where you went off script. Keep at it until you get to about 80% accuracy. 

Once you reach 80% accuracy stop looking at the script. 

Your performance will maintain a natural feel, because someone who is delivering a monologue is not pulling a string of words out of their head. They are using whatever words come to mind, to tie multiple thoughts together. 

If you find yourself frequently stumbling over a word track, that’s ok. It’s probably best if you use that as part of your delivery. It’s tripping you up for a reason. 

The key to a solid monologue is not delivering it with accuracy. It’s delivering it genuinely. 

That’s what CDs are looking for when they task you with this, and it’s what directors are trying to pull out of you on set. 

This process is incredibly simple because it’s all about letting go and letting the character flow. 

As important as it is to work on your craft and refine your acting skills, you have to do it while working on your career.

After all, it doesn’t matter if you master the monologue (or anything else for that matter) and have nowhere to use it. 

Two thirds of your time should be spent working on your career and on making yourself more visible to industry decision makers. Here’s a quick and easy way to do that.

In fact, if you have limited time available, work on your career rather than your skills. Create as much opportunity and traction as you can and then go back and work on your soft skills after you have generated a few bookings and have to put your acting skills to good use. 

Or, you could simply let me help with that. Click here to learn how.

Whatever you decide to do next, remember that I am always only a comment or an email away. After all, my goal is to… 

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