Known as New York’s most experienced monologue coach, Prudence Wright Holmes has been coaching actors for more than 25 years. Her teaching credits include Carnegie Mellon Drama Department, NYU Drama Department, The Actor’s Studio at The New School, and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She’s also appeared in films alongside such luminaries as Meryl Streep, George C. Scott, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Liam Neeson, and Whoopi Goldberg. Prudence has performed in numerous Off-Broadway shows, some written by others and others authored by herself. I learned about her work at the Drama Book Shop in New York City and gave her a call. She was gracious enough to reply promptly and share these practical insights.
Brent: How do you integrate memorization into your teaching?
Prudence: I offer various suggestions for memorization. Different students have different ways of memorizing. Some do it very mechanically, first one line, then add another, then back to the first and second and add a third, etc. Some like to learn it as they work on the character, so it happens organically; others like to listen to their lines on recording. Some hire a coach to help them memorize.
Brent: Thank you for validating what I do! Some people get a quizzical look on their faces when I tell them I coach memorization. But back to you…what advice do you offer actors to have a successful monologue experience?
Prudence: I think that three things have to happen in order for you to be successful in auditioning with monologues.
Brent: A rule of three is in itself a memory device. What are your three?
Prudence: Number one—you need to do a monologue they haven’t heard five other people do that day.
Brent: Very true. How does one find the right monologue?
Prudence: I encourage you to be creative. Don’t go to the tried and true monologues. Don’t do yet another Hamlet or Tom from The Glass Menagerie. But, think outside the box. Do something that will really wake them up, that they have no preconceptions about.
Brent: As “the monologue detective,” where do you do your sleuthing work to find monologues that will stand out?
Prudence: I’ve become very creative when it comes to finding monologues. I go to obscure sources like autobiographies, memoirs, magazine articles, newspaper articles, plays from other eras, independent films, even cookbooks!
Brent: That makes me think of the memoir/cookbook that is Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. What about trolling the internet for material?
Prudence: The internet is a great resource. However, a lot of those people who create websites for monologues haven’t really been out there auditioning with monologues, and they don’t really know what’s required. So sometimes you can find good material on those websites, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of picking through hundreds of monologues. So, I think it’s better to go off in directions that other people are not looking in, and to think outside the box.
Brent: So what are some sources that actors should avoid monologues choosing monologues from?
Prudence: Spoon River Anthology, Butterflies Are Free, A Thousand Clowns, Glengarry Glen Ross, Fences, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Death of a Salesman, Angels in America…and anything by Sam Sheppard.
Brent: Your website has an extensive list of “overused monologues,” nicely classified by male and female roles—a very useful resource. Here’s the link. What’s rule number two?
Prudence: Rule number two is, it’s got to fit you like a glove. When I meet with my clients, before they come in, I send them a questionnaire, and I find out some information about them, which really leads me to finding monologues that are perfect for them.
Brent: What do you like to know in advance?
Prudence: I ask them questions like “how do people describe your personality?” “Is there a role you’ve always wanted to play or people said you should play?” “Have you been compared to someone famous?” And “do you have any issues in your life that you might like to have a monologue about?” You’ve heard the expression “write what you know.” Well, I say act what you know because you will shine if you do that.
Brent: Fantastic! So that’s another reason not to go to the internet. Your research leads to a much more educated answer. What is rule number three?
Prudence: And number three, you have to act it brilliantly. Don’t just go in there hoping it works. No. Thoroughly prepare for your monologue audition just as if you were doing a whole play. Read the play. Take notes on the character. Know who that character is when you walk in the door, so you’re coming from some place.
Brent: What are some things that make an audition memorable?
Prudence: Having a strong moment before so that you come in in a heightened emotional state. What are you fighting for? Having very high stakes; having a strong beginning, middle, and end; really taking them on a roller coaster ride so that they remember you and want to call you back. If you do these things, you will have a really wonderful audition experience with a monologue.
Brent: What are some notoriously challenging monologues? Why, and how should actors approach them?
Prudence: I think the most challenging ones are the ones that don't make sense, such as The Bald Soprano by Ionesco. In that case, you have to keep drilling.
Brent: What else would you like my readers to know?
Prudence: I've written four solo shows and memorized them all—a total of over 100 pages. It's easier to memorize when you're the author.
Brent: Absolutely, and you have the flexibility to change the text without worrying about other actors’ lines. Thank you so much for your time and knowledge, Prudence. You offer a very valuable service.