Episode 206: Monologue Competitions: How to compete confidently
How can you encourage your students to compete with confidence? Learn from the source! Student Kelsey Gilmore was chosen as critics choice for monologues and best in show in her district for her monologue performance. What did she do? How did she prepare?
Welcome to the Drama Teacher Podcast brought to you by Theatrefolk – the Drama Teacher Resource Company.
I’m Lindsay Price.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 206. You can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode206.
Today, we’re talking monologues and, more specifically, monologue competitions.
Do you take your students to monologue competitions? Do you have your students perform monologues in the classroom? How is it going for you? Going okay? Want to do better? How can you encourage your students to compete with confidence?
Well, I think the best way is to learn from the source.
We’re going to talk today to a student who has had great success this year in competition.
If you are looking for monologues for your students, if you just can’t listen to the same monologues over and over and over again, we can help. We can help! We can help!
All you’ve got to do is look in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode206.
I’ve put a link in there to Theatrefolk’s monologue collections, monologue plays. We have a few! In our monologue books, all the monologues come from published plays, and it’s a one-stop shop to find those plays! Theatrefolk.com!
Okay. I will see you on the other side!
LINDSAY: Hello everyone!
I am here with Kelsey Gilmore.
LINDSAY: First off, tell everybody where in the world you are right now.
KELSEY: I am in Tallahassee, Florida.
You are a senior, right?
KELSEY: Yes, ma’am!
The reason you are talking is that you did something very exciting last weekend at your district thespian festival. Not only were you chosen for critic’s choice for monologues, but you also won best in show.
KELSEY: I did!
KELSEY: Thank you so much!
LINDSAY: We’re just going to kind of talk to you about what you did to prepare for districts and what it’s like to compete and maybe some advice for some folks who are listening – our listeners, our teachers, and drama students. I know a lot of them have students who go into competition and are frustrated sometimes with competition.
Let’s start off with some background.
Have you competed at districts every year?
KELSEY: I competed my sophomore and junior year. I didn’t do it in freshman year, though.
LINDSAY: Do you remember what your first competition was like? I know it was a long time ago.
KELSEY: It was very nerve-racking. There were so many people and so much talent. I was like, “Oh! Oh, wow! Wow! Okay… This is new! So many thespians in one place! That’s very cool!”
LINDSAY: District run is pretty huge, too. So, I can imagine it was overwhelming.
KELSEY: I actually won critic’s choice my first year, but that was for a large group musical. We didn’t win best in show, but it was a big feat for me to win critic’s choice with that musical number.
LINDSAY: Did it change your perspective a little? You know, going into it and you see all the people and you see all the talent and you’re like, “I could never do that,” and then to be awarded. Did you go, “Maybe I can do this?”
KELSEY: My freshman year or this year when I won best in show?
LINDSAY: That first time.
KELSEY: Oh, the first time, it still is like, “Wow! This is something completely far away!” But I’m doing it with a group of people. I’m not alone. It’s not something that’s so far away that can never be reached, but it’s still something that’s still a little bit hard to get to.
LINDSAY: Yeah, for sure, for sure.
This year, what process did you go through to decide what monologue you were going to do?
KELSEY: I wanted something that just completely contrasted – in the way that I spoke, in my body language, and how I held myself. I wanted something that was a complete 180 from one another.
I went about looking at abstract things and very serious pieces that could really connect to an audience. I wanted to make the judges feel – not even the judges, but the people in the audience, after I was finished, to be like, “Wow!” I felt it in the first one and – wow! – did I feel it in the second one.
LINDSAY: Would you suggest that that’s something that is really important for students when they’re thinking about monologues? Like, what’s your objective with these monologues?
KELSEY: Yes. What do you want people to think after you’re done? What do you want the impression to be after you walk off that stage?
LINDSAY: I think that’s a really interesting point, particularly when it comes to competition because, when we think of theatre, the audience is an important part. I always tell students – and this is with playwriting, too – your audience I kind of your scene partner.
Theatre doesn’t happen without an audience. I think sometimes that gets missed in competition. Students kind of get inside themselves as opposed to connecting and reacting to an audience. At thespians, there’s always an audience, isn’t there?
KELSEY: I think that you feed off the audience. I don’t know if you know this – oh, you probably do, I’m so sorry! – when you’re standing and you’re doing a serious piece, you can feel in the audience, the people watching you, and they’re solely on you. They’re not wandering somewhere else, and there’s an air of “oh, my goodness!” When you’re doing a comedic piece, they’re looking at you, wanting you to do something funny, wanting you to make them laugh.
It’s just you bounce off your audience. Whatever the feeling the audience is giving you, you work harder to get it.
LINDSAY: Excellent. Yeah, I think that’s an excellent point.
“How are you going to connect with an audience when you’re doing your competition piece?”
So, what are the two pieces that you chose?
KELSEY: I chose It Had to Be You by Renee Taylor and August Wilson’s Fences.
LINDSAY: I know which one the drama is!
What sparked you? What made you connect to those pieces? What was personal about those pieces?
KELSEY: I read the play, It Had to Be You, some time in September. I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the main character. She was just so quirky and just so weird. For someone who’s 19 or 20 years old, she was just so weird, and I loved her so much that I wanted to do something from that play.
With Fences, I just loved the play as a whole. It’s just ridiculously amazing, and I just knew that I had to do something from Fences.
LINDSAY: And you can already tell, when you’re talking about the physicality of these two characters, I imagine were vastly different. When you’re talking about the character in the first piece as weird, I can already see physical choices. I think you must have, when you got these two characters, not only did the pieces contrast, the characters contrast.
One grown woman talking to her husband, telling him, “How could you? I’ve been standing here with you!” and then the other one is about this girl, telling this boy about this play that she’s writing and this woman who is playing hide and go seek with her father. It’s just two different things.
LINDSAY: When I adjudicate monologues, the hardest thing is when a student gets to the end and you realize that you didn’t know they changed pieces, you know? There was so little contrast and they didn’t give a little pause at the end. You’re like, “Oh, there was two monologues there!”
It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s an important thing. It’s important to have that contrast. I think you’re so right. That is major when you’re looking at these characters and your pieces.
How long did you rehearse your pieces?
KELSEY: Truth be told, I was in five things this year for thespians, and I’m a senior so I was juggling work and all these scripts to learn and all this.
So, I chose them in November. I looked at them throughout November, then I stopped for December. I did not pick them up again until Christmas break and the beginning of January. I really hustled them in those last three weeks because I had taken such a big break in December because of everything that was going on – with exams and learning my student director scenes.
It was getting a lot, so I took that momentary pause, and I feel like that helped me because I wasn’t stressing out so much over these monologues that I had time to relax. When I came back to them, I really had the time to analyze them and go over them the way I wanted to.
LINDSAY: When you came back to those monologues, those were the only things you were working on?
LINDSAY: I think that’s a good point, too. Multitasking never works!
KELSEY: It doesn’t.
LINDSAY: Let’s say you had three weeks to work on these two monologues. What was your first step? What was the first thing that you did?
KELSEY: I re-read the plays.
LINDSAY: That’s very important!
Read the plays, everybody! Read the plays! Read the whole play!
What did you learn about your characters by reading the whole play and about reading aspects of the play that weren’t just the monologue?
KELSEY: Well, there’s more to them than what you see in that short one-minute monologue that you see on that one page.
With It Had to Be You, this girl has so many layers to her, she’s very sensitive and vulnerable. But, on the outside, all you just see is this happy-go-lucky girl who’s very crazy, but there’s so much more to her. It made the monologue because, the monologue, as a standalone doesn’t really make sense. But, when you read the whole thing, it makes sense as to why she’s telling this person this story about this woman that she’s so in love with.
LINDSAY: Obviously, there’s a lot more you can apply to the character, so you’re not just making her weird and wacky. How did you do that?
KELSEY: I did that with my body language. I gave her certain ticks with her face, with my fingers, certain nervous things that I would do. I would tap my leg; I would twist my knee in, so it gave her this little awkward, innocent type of look; and I made her really kind of innocent, excited – like, she’s still a child. Even though she’s this grown woman, she’s still very child-like.
LINDSAY: The physicality was very specific.
How did you make her specific verbally? What was your vocal tone?
KELSEY: My pitch went up. It was higher. And then, when I did the other piece for Fences, my voice was lower, and it was more mature, and very direct. But, for It Had to Be You, it had to be light. “Oh, hi!” and “Oh, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Very up there.
LINDSAY: First task is making sure you’re reading the whole play and looking for aspects of the character that are outside of the monologue that you can apply to the monologue.
Then, it’s sort of coming up with the physicality. How did you block the scenes? Blocking is something that people sometimes have trouble with when they’re figuring out a monologue.
KELSEY: Last year, I took monologues to district and I used a chair. They said I sat in the chair for way too long and I needed to utilize my space. I said, “Hmm. Okay.”
This year, I tried to utilize the floor, the chair, standing up.
In the first one, I’m crawling on the ground, I’m in the chair, I’m standing up. In the second one, I’m in the center because it’s powerful and I need him to hear me, so I’m standing in the center, directly talking to him. But, in the first one, I’m all over the place – I’m crawling, I’m laying down, I’m up, and then I’m down again – you know, a mixture of everything.
LINDSAY: Well, there’s your contrast right there. If you have a character – like the character on Fences – who is very direct, and the power comes in her stillness, then that first monologue can’t be still, right?
KELSEY: Right. In that monologue, she wouldn’t be still. With the way she was talking about this person in that monologue, she wouldn’t be still. She would be all over the place, explaining this thing that she’s trying to tell this person.
LINDSAY: That’s something interesting, too.
When you look at a monologue, how does the flow of the dialogue inform movement? Just like you said, this character wouldn’t stay still. The dialogue moves, so the character has to move. Or the character is strong, so the physicality has to be strong.
I think it’s important to figure out so that you’re not just sitting in a chair for the whole thing, right?
KELSEY: Yes, ma’am!
LINDSAY: Okay. So, you’ve got your physicality and your verbal and your blocking.
Did you get any help for your monologue? Did you do all this on your own? Did you show it to people? What did you do?
KELSEY: Well, Miss Marshall gave our troupe this year the task of directing things on our own. She would just be there to watch, but it was really up to you to figure out your things – even with the ensemble acting scenes.
It was up to you to direct yourself and it was hard. I’m not going to lie. But it helped a lot, especially with my monologue because it was different. It was just really different to not really have any help. I did show it to people and I did ask a few questions here and there. I was like, “Do you think that this was awkward in my transition? Do you think this worked or helped me in a way?” I did ask a few people, but I did it mainly by myself.
LINDSAY: It’s hard when you’re the one coming up with things and you have to perform it, isn’t it? Because you don’t have that eye.
KELSEY: And I changed my blocking at the last minute. I thought of something. I was sitting in my room, thinking, “How can I make this better?” Two days before competition, I changed it on the spot, and I had to remember what I did in order for it to work at competition.
LINDSAY: Which one did you change?
KELSEY: I changed It Had to Be You and I changed Fences because, in Fences, I stand with my feet like one in front of the other and I rock when I stand. It’s just a normal thing that I do so I had to change the way that I stood so I could plant my feet and not rock when I’m giving such a powerful monologue because my rocking was taking away from what I was saying.
LINDSAY: That’s my number one pet peeve when I’m looking at actors! It’s that shuffle of feet, eh? That little bit of sway that is an actor thing and not a character thing. I see that all the time.
Excellent! Good for you for acknowledging it and then going in to change it!
Did you video yourself and watch yourself?
KELSEY: I did not. I just performed in front of myself in front of a mirror to get my face down – to get how I was supposed to looking at certain parts. If I liked it, I would keep it. I would just go in front of a mirror and just do it again and again and again.
LINDSAY: How long does it take you to memorize pieces?
KELSEY: It takes me usually one day to get down a monologue – not even. Like, a couple of hours. If I just try to block it and learn it at the same time and say the lines, it usually sticks. By the end of the night, I usually learn it and I say it again and again and again to the point where it’s engraved in my mind what to say.
So, it takes me about a day.
LINDSAY: That’s a good point.
If you block it while you’re memorizing it, then you can associate action with lines. That helps some people that they can learn their lines that way.
KELSEY: That helps.
LINDSAY: When you say, “over and over again,” how many times do you think you went over your piece before it was engrained?
KELSEY: Like, twenty times – more than that. Just twenty to thirty times on just each individual one. So, sixty for both. No, Kelsey, math – wrong. Forty? Sixty? I don’t know. Somewhere around there – forty to sixty.
LINDSAY: Let’s go sixty! I know, but it’s good! You know, sometimes, people do it three or four times and they’re like, “I’m done!” It’s like, “No, you’re not!”
KELSEY: “If you got it, do it. Do it right now. I’m going to see it. Let me see it!”
LINDSAY: So, you get to competition. When you do competitions at districts, you can’t do any costumes or anything, right? You’re just dressed in black? Or is it different?
KELSEY: You can’t do any costumes, but people usually dress sort of the way the character would dress. I just wore normal clothes. I had on a sweater. It was a little bit cold, so I had on a sweater and some boots and some jeans.
When you got to competition, did you have to wait long before you performed?
KELSEY: I did not because, the first day we got there, I had to do the other three things that I was in. That was the student director scenes. And then, the next day, I did have to wait a long time before I could do my monologues.
It was almost towards the end of the day – like, two hours before the day was over for thespians. It was at 2:00 and I was like, “Oh, gosh!” I couldn’t eat anything. I didn’t eat anything all day. I was so in my head about that monologue and nervous and I was like, “Oh, goodness! How am I going to do? I just changed it two days ago. What am I going to do?”
At the end of the day, it worked out well for me.
LINDSAY: Yeah! Well, absolutely!
So, when you were sitting there, and you were waiting to perform all day, what are some things that you did? You didn’t eat? Did you practice? Did you talk to yourself? Did you make other people distract you? How did you get through the day so that you could perform at your best?
KELSEY: I distracted myself a lot. I watched my other troupes’ IEs. I cheered for them. And then, thirty minutes before I went on, I was in a separate room with the other people doing the monologues, and we didn’t do them full out.
We just talked then because we said, “If we do it right now, we do it full out now, there’s a chance we won’t be able to do it full out again in thirty minutes,” to the point where we were just there’s tears and everything. We don’t know if we can do that again.
We just talked it and we ran through it multiple times. I know I am 100 percent sure I looked like a crazy person doing those facial features of my monologue and saying it while walking down the hallway by myself. I know someone thought, “Wow! This girl is off her rocker! Oh, my goodness!”
LINDSAY: Except it was thespian, so everyone was doing the exact same thing, right?
KELSEY: Probably! Probably it was just my imagination. Probably no one was paying attention to me. But I know that, if anyone from the outside walked in on me, I looked 100 percent mad.
LINDSAY: Your name is called. You go up to the front. You have a couple of seconds right before you present. What’s going through your head?
KELSEY: “Please, don’t forget this monologue, Kelsey! Please, don’t forget this monologue!” and “Don’t go over time! You know what you’re supposed to do! You’ve got this! And, if you don’t know it now, then you don’t know it all, so just chill out and just focus!”
LINDSAY: Did you go comedic-dramatic or dramatic-comedic?
KELSEY: I went comedic-dramatic.
LINDSAY: Very nice. Why did you choose that?
KELSEY: Because I thought the comedic one was a great opener. It was very silly. To me, it seemed like a bigger change from going from the dramatic to the comedic. It seemed like a bigger change to me.
LINDSAY: Yeah, get their attention and then keep their attention.
KELSEY: I don’t think the second would have been as powerful had I done it first because they had just seen me do really crazy stuff, crawling on the floor, calling out for some random man. And then, all of a sudden, I switch and I’m the serious person who’s in tears and very upset with my husband. It’s just a bigger transition.
So, you do the monologues and you finish. What’s your first thought when you’re done?
KELSEY: “Oh, thank god, now I can eat!”
LINDSAY: That’s good!
You were like, “I’m happy with that! I’m good with that! Now, let’s go eat!”
KELSEY: I was so thankful that it was over because I was starving!
LINDSAY: As we wrap this up here, what are three pieces of advice that you would give to students who are preparing to compete in a monologue or whatever?
KELSEY: Have they already chosen their monologues?
LINDSAY: Let’s say they’re even just thinking about it.
KELSEY: Well, doing a monologue, it’s not hard.
Choose something that you know in your heart that you can do and pull it off and it’s true to you and it’s true to your talent and what you know that you can leave on that stage.
You know, don’t go to districts or state being, “Okay, you know what, I’m going and I’m going for the sole purpose of winning best in show.” Go for the sole purpose that you want to do well on this monologue and you want to make your troupe proud. You want to make them happy that they gave you that chance to do the monologue and that you just killed it.
And then, the last one I want to say about best in show because, before I got it, I was like, “It’s such a far away thing. It’s so unattainable. How could anyone win this? This is just rigged. How is this possible?” And then, I got it! And then, I said to myself, “Wow! It’s not that far away! If you just try hard and you really, really put your mind to it.”
If you have to take a break, take that break. If you have to step away from it for a month, take a step away. But, when you come back to it, be 100 percent in what you’re doing. It’ll all work out in the end. You just have to honker down and really work on your craft.
LINDSAY: That’s it, isn’t it?
Honker down. Focus on your craft. Don’t focus on winning because that’ll just end in disappointment, I think.
KELSEY: Yes, it will.
LINDSAY: Awesome, Kelsey!
Just as we wrap up here, what do you like about thespians? What do you like about being in theatre?
KELSEY: Oh, we’re one big family. You see so many different types of people, different colors, different mindsets, different people in general, and we all seem to fit in this one environment, and we all can work together and set aside our differences and just pull off a play or a one-act or a little scene for maybe two people. You know, there’s so many different people and I love that I get to meet all these different types of people and have conversations with them.
At the end of the day, they’re your second family. You grow so close to these people – so close! You just can’t imagine life without them.
LINDSAY: And then, you are going to go off.
What are your plans for the future? Where do you hope to go next?
KELSEY: In the immediate future, I hope to go to college and major in business and performing arts. In the long-distance future, I hope to be doing anything in the performing arts industry – whether it be onstage, behind the stage, on the business aspect of it – some part of it, I want to be a part of.
LINDSAY: Last question.
What you have done with thespians and competing, how is that going to help you when you get out in the real world?
KELSEY: Oh, that’s a good question.
When I get out in the real world, that’s so scary. I have to start adulting!
LINDSAY: Not yet – many, many years. I haven’t started yet, so don’t worry.
KELSEY: Thespians has given me patience and tolerance because, like I said, you meet a lot of different people with a lot of different mindsets. Out in the real world, I’ll know how to handle myself surrounded by so many people in a melting pot of all these different things and I can create my own thoughts and have my own opinions and still respect someone else’s opinion and the way that they view things.
LINDSAY: Awesome. That’s lovely.
Kelsey, thank you so much for taking time out to talk to me today!
KELSEY: Thank you so much!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Kelsey!
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!
Monologues, monologues, monologues, monologues! Ah!
Click the link in the show notes – Theatrefolk.com/episode206 – to get a search page. I did the search page just for you for all thigs monologue. You can also go to Theatrefolk.com, type in “monologues” and you will get a whole load of stuff to look at.
I’d also like to point out a couple of Theatrefolk’s monologue plays. We have plays that are filled with monologues. It’s such a great thing to do in your classroom in terms of learning. Everyone gets to learn this new form.
If you’re looking for material, these plays would be a great starting point.
I love this title. I wish I wrote this title. I didn’t write this title. I wish I did.
You can find all of these plays at Theatrefolk.com or the show notes – Theatrefolk.com/episode206.
Finally, where can you find this podcast? Go to Theatrefolk.com/podcast and there you will see that we are on iTunes, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, and more. That’s Theatrefolk.com/podcast.
And that’s where we’re going to end.
Take care, my friends. Take care.
Music credit:”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.