William Shakespeares' "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar", Aquila Theater Company, New York City
I had sent this email just this evening to a friend of mine on Twitter who was having some trouble with a university project, which required her to either write a monologue or a two-part dialogue. (She considered the dialogue to be a 'cop-out', so we know what her decision is!) I had sent her this email, hoping to inspire her, and to approach it at a different angle. Here's what I wrote to my friend:
Okay, so you want to write a monologue. It's not as daunting as you think, when you apply yourself to it.
I'd been doing theatre all my life, and I love the acting craft. I have so much appreciation for everything having to do with breathing life into words on paper, flushing them out into moving pictures and beyond talking heads. I think one of the big misunderstandings about the words in the script is that the playwright must been a keen observer of the human spirit, psyche and nature to compose such natural dialogue. Boy, I wonder how people speak themselves, if it isn't in natural dialogue?
That's the big hurdle - making sure it sounds natural and not contrived. The only way I could ever find my way around that was to write about something I felt passionate about. I say 'passionate', because it could be something I truly love, or deeply despise, or desperately yearn for, or something that's cut me deep. The moment could be of pure clarity in making an important decision in your life, or a tyrannical rant when your last straw has broken. You could be confessing your love for someone who doesn't return it, or declaring your disgust after being witness to something you stand against.
Compare the modern-day monologue to Shakespeare's soliloquies, when the characters are left alone with their innermost thoughts, spoken aloud to the audience and not meant to be heard by other characters. I was fortunate to play Marcus Brutus in an all-female cast of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, and he's got a great soliloquy at the start of Act II, where he finally justifies a reason why he needs to kill Caesar: most men with power become corrupt, so he will kill Caesar before he becomes the leader of Rome, so that he won't have a chance to sow his corruption upon the great state. He uses the 'serpent in the shell' imagery quite effectively; crushing the unborn snake inside its own egg representing the killing of a corrupt and evil creature (or power) before it has a chance to poison its innocent victims.
Now, the language is a little far-fetched, we don't have to go any more into that, so what I'm trying to get at is the emotion behind your monologue. Those actors who say that they 'lose themselves within the character', or they 'replace themselves with someone else entirely' are mildly bullshitting you. It's absolutely essential for an actor to understand the connection between themselves and the character, no matter how unpleasant the character may be (and I've played a few unpleasant ones, mind you). Actors who play villains of all varieties find themselves face-to-face with the darkest parts of their personalities; face-to-face with situations they would never consider themselves in, as the actor, but must keep control of the dark raging of the villain they personify. As the writer, you are exploring a part of yourself, whether it is reliving the happiest, most blissful rush of emotions you just couldn't contain or your head would pop off, or the discovery of a dark secret in your life that has rocked your foundation. Put that thought, that emotion, that memory into your head, and let it fill you from head to toe, and feel free to play with any other choice you could have made - if you said yes instead of no, if you wore your jeans instead of that skirt, if he had asked you instead of her. Take something that you know about, that you feel emotionally connected to, and make it your own personal 'soap box' about life lessons no one mentions. My mentor had told me once, "Theatre has two purposes: to entertain, and to educate." It's still a driving force for me, and I'm glad to know that it's a driving force behind the industry itself.
The email ended with a few kind words of offering continual support, and hopes that this little 'essay' will help inspire her, and you, with composing your own thoughts into grand performances.