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The Fourth Wall

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If you work up monologues for rehearsal and performance, you know that you have to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. That’s the whole point of this 20 monologue challenge – to have 20 well-rehearsed, well-prepared monologues ready to go at the drop of a hat. There is, of course, merit in being to pull a monologue out of the blue at the last minute when you have to, but that’s not what you’re going for most of the time. Rehearsal takes your performance from raw and bumpy to a true demonstration of both your live prowess, and demonstrates your ability to prepare a part. Blah, blah, blah, rehearsal’s important, blah, blah, blah.

In addition to all those hours of rehearsal, you have got to work your piece in front of an audience. You need the confidence to know that you’ve done this monologue in front of live human beings before without wetting yourself. When you practice at home in your room with only your cats watching (wait, is that just me?), you are in a whole different world. You can completely invest in the world of the play, everything can go your way and it will seem like smooth sailing. When you put an audience in front of you, you have now introduced the magic fourth wall and everything changes.

The fourth wall is where things get wonky and that’s theatre. Now on one level you’ve got the world of the play you have got to see in front of you: who you are talking to, where you are, etc. On the other hand, there are living, breathing people who have nothing to do with your character and everything to do with you the actor sitting in your fourth wall, staring at you. Your craft is to marry these two worlds with charm, wit and grace. Ha!

You have to practice with an audience, because they will show you where you’ve made bad stitches in the fourth wall. When you get your monologue in front of an audience, it will become apparent which parts are not working. You’ll feel where your flow is dead and where your audience gets bored. You’ll feel all the good stuff, too, but it’s the bad parts that need your love and are the whole reason you’re here, working your butt off. You don’t put your work up in front of a test audience just so you can see what a great job you’ve done so far. You put your work up so you can see the holes you still have and work on them.

Back up. Rephrase. You can’t just put your work in front of an “audience.” Showing mom your monologue is probably not going to work out for you if she’s smiling and laughing at all your jokes because she loves you. You need someone who will sit there with a blank look on their face if it’s not doing anything for them, who will laugh annoyingly if you tickle them and will bite their nails if they are bored out of their mind. Find friends and colleagues who are willing to be a little critical. They don’t have to provide feedback afterwards (because, honestly, if they don’t know what they are talking about you don’t want them to direct you), they just need to be willing to listen without pretense.

And fast forward back to “What now?” You’ve done plenty of practice runs in front of real people and now you know that the beginning is too slow and doesn’t grab anyone and the end where there is a huge beat change that you’ve been standing still during is WRONG!!! Some of the problems that present themselves will be easy to solve. The beat change just needs movement. In this example, the problem and the solution are wrapped up together. Staying in the same place, in the same posture, with the same focus is wrong, so you need to do the opposite. It still may take a little playing to find the move that you ultimately choose, but the answer is there. The beginning being flat is a whole ‘nother bag. There are so many solutions to this problem. It may be re-cutting, it may be changing your transition into the beginning, it may be adjusting objectives or just making some simple technical changes to your voice and body. You have to play with your performance until you’ve got something new you think solves the problem and then…. back to your audience!

This is a lot of extra time and commitment, no lie. It’s also the difference between good and great work. I certainly know people who can put good work out there and get along, but the people I know who are consistently rewarded for their efforts are the ones who put out great work.

With Lots of Heart,
Race!

This blog post brought to you by a monologue I thought was ready until I performed it for an audition and realized what large eyes…. issues it had.

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