Because it’s Friday, here is the preface to In Performance: Contemporary Monologues for Men and Women Late Teens to Twenties, written by J.V. Mercanti. Enjoy!
One of the best auditions I’ve ever seen was for Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical Follies. Jim Carnahan, the casting director, and I had called in Judith Ivey for the role of Sally Durant Plummer. If you don’t know who Judith Ivey is, please Google her immediately. You have most likely seen her in something on stage, in film, or on television. You might also have seen a play that she’s directed. She is a prolific artist. The role of Sally Durant Plummer is fragile and complex. Sally has been married to Buddy for years and years, but all that time she has been pining for the love of Ben Stone, who is (unhappily) married to Sally’s former best friend, Phyllis. Sally is going crazy with love and desire that has been burning for over twenty years.
Ms. Ivey was asked to prepare a cut from Sally’s famous first-act song “In Buddy’s Eyes,” an aria through which she tries to convince Ben that she’s deliriously happy in her life with Buddy. She was also asked to prepare a short scene. Present in the room for the audition were Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist; Matthew Warchus, the director; Todd Haimes, artistic director; Jim Carnahan, casting director; Paul Ford, the accompanist; a reader; and myself.
Walking into the room as herself, Ms. Ivey conversed with Mr. Warchus and Mr. Sondheim about her career and, very briefly, about the character. She then took a moment with Paul Ford to discuss the music. Following that, she came to the center of the playing space, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and prepared herself to begin. In that moment of preparation, which truly lasted no longer than a breath, her body changed, her physicality changed, the very air around her seemed to change. She took the character into her body. Ms. Ivey then opened her eyes, nodded at Mr. Ford, and began to sing.
Ms. Ivey executed the song with specificity, a rich but contained emotional connection to the material, a strong objective, carefully thought-out actions, and a deep understanding of this woman and her love. She went directly from the song to the scene, completely off-book (lines memorized), and when she finished – the room was silent. Mr. Sondheim had tears in his eyes. Mr. Warchus didn’t have a word of direction to give her. It was not that Ms. Ivey had provided us with a complete performance. No, not at all. She had shown us the potential of her Sally Durant Plummer. Her point of view was clear, consistent, and deeply, deeply affecting.
“Thank you, Judith. That was wonderful,” Matthew Warchus finally said.
“I really love Sally,” she responded, “But I was wondering if you might also consider me for the role of Phyllis. I’ve prepared that material as well.”
“Of course I would. Would you like a few moments to go outside and prepare?” he asked.
“No. No, that’s all right. I can do it right now,” she responded.
And after saying this, Ms. Ivey closed her eyes. She very slowly turned away from us, put her hair up in a tight bun, and turned around to face the room. It took no longer than thirty seconds, but once again her body, her posture, the way she related to the air around her, had changed. The aura of the room shifted with her. Once again, she nodded at Paul Ford at the piano, and she fearlessly launched into the Phyllis Stone material.
It was astonishing. Not a false note was sung or uttered. Ivey had such a deep understanding of the cold façade Phyllis wears in order to cover up her breaking heart. Phyllis is the polar opposite of Sally: cool, controlled, calculating, and hard.
Ms. Ivey thanked us for the opportunity. We thanked her for her work. The room remained still and silent for a while after she left.
Without a doubt, Mr. Warchus knew he must cast her in the show. She landed the role of Sally Durant Plummer.
It was clear that Ms. Ivey did a very thorough study of the text in preparation for this audition. She understood who these characters were; how they thought; why they spoke the way they did, using language in their own specific ways. She understood how they moved, where they held their weight, how they related to the space around them. Most importantly, she understood the characters’ objectives (what they wanted) and how to use the other person in the scene to get what she wanted.
You can achieve the same level of performance as Ms. Ivey if you put the requisite amount of work into your monologue, ask yourself the right questions (or the questions I ask you to examine following each of the pieces in this book), and activate your imagination.
In Performance is intended for young people who are auditioning for both undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as professional productions and industry meetings. Featured are dynamic monologues from contemporary stage plays of the past 15 years, chosen from the point of view of a professional acting teacher, director, and casting director.
Along with covering the basics of how to match the best monologue to the actor and how to approach the rehearsal and performance of the piece, the book provides a synopsis of each play, a character description, and a list of questions specific to each monologue that will direct the actor toward shaping a complex, honest, and thoughtful performance that has a strong emotional connection, a clear arc, and playable actions.