Audition Song Selection, What to Expect, Tips, and More!
Ten Shakespeare Monologues For Auditions
There are Shakespeare auditions, and then there are Reduced Shakespeare auditions. Perhaps surprisingly, there's not that much of a difference between them.
There are currently three Shakespearean plays in the ever-expanding repertoire of the Reduced Shakespeare Company: the [revised] edition of the show that started it all, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield; William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged); and Hamlet's Big Adventure! (a prequel), both of which were written by me and my co-artistic director Reed Martin. These are comic deconstructions of Shakespeare's great works, and the best parody should be performed with the same level of skill and commitment you'd approach the thing you're parodying.
In auditions, we ask to hear a comic Shakespeare monologue for the same reason that "real" Shakespeare companies do - We need our actors to have all the same skills: Diction, clarity, facility with heightened language, intent, volume, support, physicality, and the ability to "speak the speech" in their own natural voice.
And then we ask you to tell us a joke. Most RSC scripts require actors who can play exaggerated aspects of themselves and interact with audience members, so we're looking to see how comfortable actors are standing onstage as themselves. Can they construct a joke? Forget constructing - can they repeat a joke? Will they turn a joke into an excuse to do another monologue? Do their jokes go on forever? Can they, in the words of Rambozo the clown (immortalized in our show The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)), "Get in, get the laugh, and get out"?
It's not just that we need to see whether actors can be funny. We need to find out what actors think is funny. Being a theatre company without our own building, we spend most of our time on the road, in airports, hotels, planes, trains, and automobiles, and only two hours actually onstage. Are you an actor who's going to be easy to hang out with? Do you play well with others? The jokes give us a sense of who each actor is.
We look to create a three-person ensemble that's like a comedy team, composed of distinct physical and behavioral types. We consider the three figures in our scripts the Enforcer, the Professor, and the Innocent, but they're loose archetypes drawn from commedia dell'arte. Comedy is frequently (maybe always) about status, so we look for actors who embody these types, but as each actor plays multiple roles they must also be comfortable switching things up when necessary.
Some other things we look for in auditions:
Treat the proctor who signs you in as cheerfully and respectfully as you treat the directors in the room. The first thing we do is ask our proctors and stage managers what actors are like when they're not 'on'.
Don't be so locked into the performance of your monologue that you aren't able to try it a different way when asked. Not because the way you're doing it is wrong; we just want to see if you're willing and able to take direction and make adjustments.
Have some special skills in your toolbox: Improv, musical instruments, combat, clowning, etc. We always ask if you've got a particular Stupid Human Trick you pull out at parties; in our kind of show, there's usually a way to incorporate your skill into the performance.
Don't lie on your resume. The theatre is a very small world and everybody knows everybody.
Ten Shakespeare Monologues For Men
I've compiled two lists of comic Shakespeare monologues, ten each for male and female characters. The lists are divided by gender but as far as we're concerned, these monologues can be performed by anyone. Since RSC actors play multiple roles of multiple genders, it doesn't matter to us whether you're performing a male or female role since at some point you'll be asked to play both.
We've compiled these lists with the help of Elizabeth Dennehy, an accomplished actor in her own right who teaches and directs Shakespeare as a member of the faculty at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Each speech contains a link to the digital text, edited and curated by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, the largest collection of Shakespeare material in the world.
Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene Two
A great piece for beginning actors of any gender (usually played by a male actor, though nothing in the text designates the character as male or female). The mischievous and incredibly physical sprite is reporting to its master Oberon, the King of the fairies, about what happened when it turned Bottom into an ass. It's probably funnier if Puck is disturbed or astounded by what it's seen; if Puck laughs, we probably won't.
Launce, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act Two, Scene Three
Start with "I think Crab my dog may be the sourest dog that lives." The business of the shoe allows us to watch a character make big physical choices and try very hard (and fail) to get something right. It's the seriousness with which he tries to get the information across that makes it funny.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (future Richard III), Henry VI Part 3, Act Five, Scene 6
Here's a possibly counterintuitive suggestion: Look to Shakespeare's Histories and Tragedies for inspiration, particularly his villains (see also Aaron from Titus Andronicus, below). This speech is long (too long; you'll want to cut it) in which Richard confesses his own plans to the audience and delights in his own self-awareness. His discovery of just how evil he plans to be is thrilling to watch, and in its dark way almost charming.
York, Henry VI Part 2, Act Two, Scene Two
Speaking of Henry VI, one of the best audition pieces we've ever seen came from Michael Faulkner, who in 2001 combined several potentially dry speeches about the War of the Roses and the genealogy of The Kings Of England into a hilarious single monologue. He played it fiercely straight and serious, and the comic absurdity arises from him thinking this incredibly convoluted lineage is clear and easy to understand.
Bottom, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act One, Scene Two
Stitching Bottom's lines together into a single speech adds great energy and, while showing off the character's over-confidence, shows off the actor's skill as well. It's also a lovely meta joke because Bottom is as auditioning as much as you are.
Dromio, The Comedy of Errors, Act Three, Scene Two
Starting with "I am an ass, I am a woman's man, and besides myself," you can combine Dromio's lines into a single speech about the kitchen wench who's besotted with him, and with whom, despite his protestations, he's besotted with as well.
Antipholus of Ephesus, The Comedy of Errors, Act Five, Scene 1
It's not just the clowns who get the funny speeches. The victim of much confusion for four acts, Antipholus finally gets to explode about all the ridiculous things that have happened to him, and his frenzied (but not too fast) piling up of specific details is breathtaking. A great example of a high-status character brought to a frustrated hysterical low. (Teddy Spenser used this speech to audition for us and we cast him in the workshops and original production of William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged)).
Berowne, Love's Labors Lost, Act Three, Scene 1
This reluctant bachelor reaches an enthusiastic and jubilant epiphany as he realizes how much he is, in fact, madly in love. If you have a particularly dexterous tongue and can combine it with genuine emotion, this is a terrific showcase.
Dogberry, Much Ado About Nothing, Act Four, Scene Two
The problem with Shakespeare's clowns is that they are famously not very funny. This is partly because they make jokes and 400 year old references that don't make any sense to a modern audience, but it's mostly because the actors playing the clowns don't play them seriously enough. Dogberry is an excellent example: It's important to remember that though he may be a buffoon, he doesn't think he is. He has great pride and an excellent command of the English language (or so he thinks). Another tip: Make Dogberry really need to go to the bathroom. In fact, almost every audition piece listed here can be improved by the character needing desperately to get to a toilet. (Doug Harvey performed this piece so brilliantly in his audition we cast him in the role of Hamlet in our new production of Hamlet's Big Adventure! (a prequel).)
Aaron, Titus Andronicus, Act Five, Scene 1
A fabulous speech from one of Shakespeare's few black characters who's also one of his most fascinating. Start with the second line: "Even now I curse the day-and yet, I think..." and make it an active journey of discovery, not just a recitation of evil deeds. The glee with which he admits his proclivities, and the final line's payoff, makes this a standout piece.
Ten Shakespeare Monologues For Women
Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene Two
A great piece for beginning actors of any gender (usually played by a male actor, though nothing in the text designates the character as male or female). The mischievous sprite is reporting to its master Oberon, the King of the fairies, about what happened when it turned Bottom into an ass. It's probably funnier if Puck is disturbed or astounded by what it's seen; if Puck laughs, we probably won't.
Helena, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene Two
A great piece for showing off personality, as Helena is speaking quite passionately to two people with whom she has very different relationships. Turning on a dime and treating each person differently can show great precision and clarity (if you do it right).
Dogberry, Much Ado About Nothing, Act Four, Scene Two
(Both times I've directed Much Ado About Nothing I've cast a woman as Dogberry, which is why she's listed here.)
The problem with Shakespeare's clowns is that they are famously not very funny. This is partly because they make jokes and 400 year old references that don't make any sense to a modern audience, but it's mostly because the actors playing the clowns don't play them seriously enough. Dogberry is an excellent example: It's important to remember that though she may be a buffoon, she doesn't think she is. She has great pride and an excellent command of the English language (or so she thinks). Another tip: Make Dogberry really need to go to the bathroom. In fact, almost every audition piece listed here can be improved by the character needing desperately to get to a toilet. (Doug Harvey performed this piece so brilliantly in his audition we cast him in the role of Hamlet in our new production of Hamlet's Big Adventure! (a prequel).)
Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, Act Two, Scene Two
A counterintuitive suggestion, perhaps, but people forget that before it turns tragic, Romeo and Juliet is quite a fun romantic comedy, full of young love (and lust), and this very famous speech can work well when given a salty makeover.
Julia, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act One, Scene Two
Start with "O hateful hands, to tear such loving words!" A very funny and physical moment of extreme and discombobulated teenage passion. Some companies insist you not use a prop in your audition, so it's better if you can pantomime the note (and its torn pieces) which will also show off just another one of your special skills!
Queen Margaret, Henry VI Part 3, Act One, Scene Four
Start with "What, was it you that would be England's king?" Margaret has many juicy and delicious moments but this mocking speech in which she trumpets victory can be especially fun the more facetious and sarcastic you are.
Rosalind, As You Like It, Act Three, Scene Five
Rosalind, disguised as a man named Ganymede, steps in when she sees Phoebe berating Silvius and insults them both, hysterically and with great specificity. (This monologue is the go-to choice of Jessica Romero, who originated the roles of Ophelia and the King in the workshop production of Hamlet's Big Adventure! (a prequel).)
The Jailer's Daughter, Two Noble Kinsmen, Act Two, Scene Four
She doesn't get a name, but she gets a great speech. A perfect example of a low-status character yearning romantically above her station, this piece is physical, jubilant, poignant, and if done right, hilarious.
Olivia, Twelfth Night, Act One, Scene Five
Olivia's dealing with two things here (and therefore so is the actor playing her): Her frustration with Orsino, who won't take no for an answer, and her immense attraction for "Cesario," who is Orsino's messenger but also Viola in disguise. It's the almost literal push/pull of these feelings, combined with her youthful impetuousness and clumsy conversation starter, that makes this piece so charming and wonderful.
Phoebe, As You Like It, Act Three, Scene Five
The contrast between Pheobe's public pronouncements and private feelings, and the dexterity with which she bounces back and forth between them, is a five-act play in itself.
Austin Tichenor is an actor, playwright, and co-artistic director of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, for whom he's co-authored eleven stage plays including Hamlet's Big Adventure! (a prequel) and William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged); the books Pop-Up Shakespeare (illustrated by Jennie Maizels) and Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impaired (abridged); and he contributes monthly essays about the intersection of Shakespeare and pop culture to the "Shakespeare & Beyond" blog for the Folger Shakespeare Library.