What Makes A Great Monologue?

This is a guest post by  Gywn Gilliss

What makes a great Monologue?

1. One that entertains us.
No one in the industry wants to watch an actor working really hard to impress them with their “acting” when the piece is boring to begin with. Choose a monologue you LOVE doing so WE WILL LOVE WATCHING YOU.

2. One that “fits you like a glove” so we believe you.
Know your type and range as far as being cast-age appropriate and physically accurate. It’s agonizing to watch a 25 year old try to be 45 or vice versa, a guy from Minnesota try to be an Italian Mafioso from Brooklyn or a plain Jane try to pull off being a femme fatale. A monologue is the time to SHOW WHO YOU ARE, not to add layers of dialects, character traits, a limp or something outrageous to impress. Avoid props UNLESS it is so essential to the scene that it won’t work without one. If they can’t tell you are “acting,” THAT IS GOOD ACTING.

3. One that is serio-comedic – not just comedic or tragic.
Show us some change in emotion but keep us laughing. Serio-comedic monologues are my favorite choices. Start with a piece that is funny, quirky and gets people to laugh and then “turn the screw.” Hit them with something that’s heartbreaking or touching. They’re already in your corner and you’ve won them over! Be compelling to get them involved in LIKING YOU, LOVING YOU, HIRING YOU!

4.One that has an “arc” or story line-it “goes somewhere.”
Avoid the JOHNNY ONE-NOTE monologues that show one emotion throughout. Boring. Tedious. Nothing worse than watching someone rant and rave angrily at the audience for 4 minutes. EEEk! Tell a story, we all love to hear stories with twists and turns. BRING US ALONG WITH YOU.

5. Keep it short 1-2 minutes is better than 4-5. Every agent I have ever met made up their minds about an actor in less than 10 seconds. After 2 minutes, they change their mind and it goes the other way. STAY WITHIN THEIR ATTENTION SPAN OR TIME ALLOWANCE AND YOU’LL HAVE MORE SUCCESS.

6. One that has an element of “surprise.” If the audience is 3 steps ahead of your “acting” they get bored very fast. Shift gears suddenly and change your mood or voice. Find a way to keep us on the edge of our seats, wondering what will happen next? EVERYONE LOVES TO BE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED.

7. One that shows YOU are a winner.
When you leave the room, what will they think of you? What was your lasting impression? Will they cast you? Call you back or shrug? Most importantly don’t choose a loser, someone who whines, complains or is a victim. Everyone loves to watch feisty characters. They don’t like to watch losers. LEAVE THEM THINKING YOU ARE AMAZINGLY COURAGEOUS- A PIRATE, A REBEL, A SURVIVOR!

8. One that is NOT full of foul language, swearing, rude sexual innuendos unless it is so essential to the character (who in spite of the language is funny as well as in some quirky way a winner). But be careful. Well written monologues like that are few and far between and most actors aren’t clever enough to pull them off. You run the risk of alienating everyone within earshot and then looking like a mediocre actor on top of it. CHOOSE GOOD WRITING OVER SOMETHING FLASHY TO IMPRESS.

9. Don’t use a recognizable piece that a movie star did really well. You’ll be compared to that star and you won’t WIN. (Examples: Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting or Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted). Those monologues are done badly with actors who simply lacked the personality – YES, personality, NOT talent – to pull it off. Don’t go there. YOU are not Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie. Find a likeable character and do the monologue your way. THEN YOU WILL BE A WINNER!


Gwyn Gilliss is the Executive Director of TAM, The Actor’s Market, a marketing firm for actors. They provide monthly FREE Info seminars/teleseminars, FREE weekly marketing tips as well as access to top photographers, graphic artists and videographers who provide every marketing tool an actor needs to be successful. Having studied theater at Carnegie-Mellon University, Gwyn’s acting career spans several decades during which time she appeared on and off-Broadway, in classical roles in American Repertory companies,starred in over 18 contract and recurring roles in Daytime/Prime time TV, films and dozens of network TV commercials. Her book, The ABC’s of Soaps, a best seller is a “how to” on getting work in Daytime TV. As a Marketing/Career Coach she is available to work One-on-One with actors AND non-actors at all levels of on-camera performance skills.


  1. anon

    June 2, 2011 at 12:57 am

    This must be the mythical monologue…I know that piece well. So well infact that I can perform it in my sleep…well, my dreams actually.

  2. Lance Carter

    June 2, 2011 at 8:16 am

    I think we are doing the same monologue. Is that the one where when you’re done, the casting director stands and claps as they are wiping the tears away?

  3. Erik

    June 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Some incredibly valuable information here. Great post!

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