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5 tips for choosing drama school audition speeches

By Monica Yell Jan 3, 2020

Choosing drama school speeches for your audition can be a very daunting prospect. It can end up consisting of so much to-ing and fro-ing about which ones to go for that most of us could give Hamlet’s indecision a run for its money. 

Like it or not, a monologue/soliloquy choice can make or break your chances of getting into that dream course, be it at RADA, LAMDA, Guildhall, LIPA, or whatever takes your fancy. The most important thing to remember when you pick them is to make them stand out. 

Imagine you’re on a drama school audition panel. You’ve seen a hundred and one identical renditions of the same 50 classical speeches over and over (you know the ones – Lady Anne from Richard III, Edmund from King Lear, Romeo from Romeo and Juliet), and none of the contemporary monologues seem to genuinely inspire their speakers. Sound like fun? Nope.

Now imagine someone comes in with an unusual speech choice, one you haven’t seen much of before, or a very new interpretation of a familiar one. 

I’m guessing it’s pretty obvious which category you want to end up in.

Here are 5 tips for finding drama school audition speeches which are original and engaging to both you and your audience:

Tip 1: Steer clear of Shakespeare

Some drama schools will specify that choosing your drama school speeches must be from a specific selection on their website, or only be Shakespeare. Make sure to check all the information they provide on their audition process so you know if this is the case.

If it isn’t, you can definitely earn yourself some valuable brownie points for venturing off the beaten track. A lot of Shakespeare monologues, especially for women, are very overdone due to the easy availability of resources around them, and candidates’ pre-existing knowledge. 

Fortunately, Shakespeare wrote during a relative boom in playwriting. Among his many contemporaries are Webster, Marlowe, Ben Johnson, and plenty more that a quick Google search can identify. Check them out for an interesting alternative choice.

Tip 2: Find something light

If you can possibly bear to cast your mind back to that poor old bored panel member one more time, then I’d ask you to do so to consider how depressing it must be. The subject matter they’ll be encountering for weeks on end will feature mental health, bereavement, traumatic memories, and the old staple that is contemplating suicide. All big issues, all very important and fantastic for exhibiting your talent, but if you can find one speech with a more uplifting tone, then it’s guaranteed to leave a nicer mood in the room.

If you’re wondering what I mean by light, then I’d say happy or funny. The latter is particularly unusual because of how nerve-wracking it can be to try and land a joke in such a stressful environment. If comedy is really your thing, definitely try to take advantage of that talent.

Of course, humour isn’t for everyone -  as they always say: ‘Dying is easy. Comedy is hard’. If this is you, be aware that there are a plethora of positive speeches out there too. Characters who are excited, grateful, delighted, sentimental or whatever else you can find often have as much depth and development as any other, making them completely worth taking into account.

Tip 3: Avoid monologue books

OK, there are quite a lot of these out there. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough to be varied between people, and they really aren’t varied from each other. By avoiding looking in any monologue or drama school speeches books you do make your job a little harder. I completely get the temptation to use them as a shortcut, but it won’t do you any favours in the long run. If you do have the time and commitment, making and sticking to this decision will:

  • Decrease your likelihood of choosing an overdone speech
  • Decrease your likelihood of dismissing a speech which would work for you
  • Enrich your first impression of each speech by its context
  • Increase your chances of really enjoying your search for speeches 

I have spent some glorious afternoons buried in my local libraries going through plays. If you can manage the trip up (or down) to London, the super helpful staff at the National Theatre Bookshop will hand out a big list of speeches and where to find them to anyone who asks.

Tip 4: Choose something recent

The benefit of choosing your drama school speeches with this in mind is equally as valuable as the others. It will guarantee another huge difference between you and the others, because the newer speeches, which came out in productions written in the last few years, won’t be in any of the books, and won’t have any renown. 

It will also indicate to your audition panellists that you are engaged with the current theatre scene in the UK. This will get you marked as someone with genuine interest. Even if your only acting ambitions are in film or TV, giving this impression can only help your application.

Tip 5: Choose something you’ve seen live

I realise this is not an option for everyone – some areas have very limited opportunity to do so – but then again, thanks to National Theatre Live, Digital Theatre and YouTube, there are other ways to consume theatre than in an auditorium. It’s possible you’ll be asked whether your ‘research’ involved looking into any previous performances, and you will almost certainly be asked why you choose your drama school speeches to be what they are. You could reply like this:

‘I saw it from X actor, thought it was a very impressive exhibition of their skill, and wanted to see if I could match up’

OR

‘I saw it live from X actor and thought I might be able to do it more justice’

These, and other possible responses, are far more unusual and interesting than ‘it just really spoke to me, you know?’, so definitely the ones to go for, if you can.

All in all …

These are just tips which encourage you to choose drama school speeches that show you in the best light and show who you are as a performer. Cliché as this is to write (and read, I imagine) the best tip is probably just to be yourself. Choosing speeches is a big part of that, as it’s your big moment in front of the panel, so with it, I wish you luck.

Still want more advice? A lot of candidates swear by The Excellent Audition Guide by Andy Johnson, which you can buy online. It’s not very long and really easy to read, but packed to the margins with all the things you need to hear.

Otherwise, there will be lots more articles like this one yet to come. You can find them on the Fledglink blog (which may or may not be how you got here) here. There will be more content on all things theatre-y (yes, I know that’s not a word), as well as plenty around your career and education opportunities, so watch this space. Otherwise, if you’re up for more right now, why not glance over this post on how to become an actor?

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