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To Shakespeare or not?

ActingDadActingDad Posts: 663Registered User Member
edited December 2012 in Theater/Drama Majors
This post is really in response to realKEVP’s post in the overdone audition thread about Shakespeare and classical pieces. I started a new thread because I wanted to focus the discussion on the more narrow question about whether or not a student should do a Shakespeare piece or looking elsewhere. I know this topic is perhaps in danger of being overdone but I'm hoping to maybe draw in some new voices especially from alumni or college reps if we have any who can weigh in on this.

realKEVP has been advocating that students should generally look for something other than Shakespeare when required to do a classical piece. I am sure realKEVP will chime in to defend his views :) but I wanted to raise this to a larger group as well. Has anyone heard anything from college sources supporting the view to pick pieces other than Shakespeare where possible? It seems to me that colleges almost go the other way since many of the colleges requiring a classical piece note that they prefer Shakespeare for the piece. At a minimum, it would be mean that a student who picked a non-Shakespeare piece, would have to prepare a Shakespeare piece in addition to a non-Shakespeare piece since it cannot be a good idea to do a non-Shakespeare piece at a college that states a preference for Shakespeare.

In addition, as I understand realKEVP’s arguments, the main points appears to be that the person doing the Shakespeare piece is going to be compared to well known actors who performed the piece as well as more applicants. But if a student picks a more obscure piece, the student can be the best at that more obscure piece. I would think an auditor can easily separate what a professional actor can do with a Shakespeare piece versus a student so the exercise is just about comparing the students between themselves. If you happen to do a Shakespeare piece that 10-15 other students do, why is that necessarily a negative? If there is a certain skill set a college is looking to assess by asking for a classical monologue, such as the ability to handle heightened language, maybe it works against the student to do something that makes the comparison difficult? For example, my daughter has previously worked on a monologue from the Country Wife, a restoration play. She'll brush it up to have it on the list of monologues she does if someone wants to hear it but I don't think she will use it as her main classical piece though it would have the advantage of her being likely the only one to do it. Its a very funny piece as well. But its an entirely different class of writing and I think it would make a very difficult comparison with kids who did the standard Shakespeare pieces.

One could argue well why wouldn't the same logic apply to contemporary pieces? Why do people advocate for finding less known pieces for contemporary plays? My guess would be that there is so much contemporary material available that auditors want to see that the student has actually done some real thinking about a piece that fits rather than doing something that everyone knows. If a school says it wants classical, I think it fully expects that the majority of kids are going to do Shakespeare and I don't think that is held against anyone. Yes, the students will be compared with other students doing the same piece but that seems to me the point of the process.

I'm not arguing the opposite. I have talked to people who have done very well with non-Shakespeare pieces. I'm just not at all convinced that a student should shy away from Shakespeare is the correct one when it comes to college auditions. A college is not looking for the “one” person to play a role like in a professional theater, which is the perspective realKEVP brings. They are looking for many kids -- 8 to 230 or so depending on the school -- who are most qualified. That there may be one or two kids that do the same monologue and do it better is not a guarantee that student will not get in. In fact, the two that do it better may end up choosing entirely different schools or all three might get in. And doing something non-Shakespeare could have some downsides as sell as plusses because it might make the comparisons more difficult. I suspect that is why some schools say prefer or even require Shakespeare as to make the comparisons easier to make.
Post edited by ActingDad on
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Replies to: To Shakespeare or not?

  • fishbowlfreshmanfishbowlfreshman Posts: 801Registered User Member
    Y'all be trippin'! :) It isn't the speech so much as what you bring to it. Yes, they've heard all the age appropriate Shakespearean monologues fifty gazillion times, but the main thing they want with your classical piece is to hear how you handle verse and see whatever spark you might bring. Ninety seconds of truth, ya know? That's what gets you in.

    Not that I'd recommend it, but I've seen girls get in top schools doing Juliet's Balcony Speech and guys using Hamlet's Advice to the Players fer Chrissakes. Just pick one that resonates and you'll be fine. If that's something besides Shakespeare great, but it's best to have at least four monologues on tap to meet the various requirements anyway and having one by the Bard in your package is definitely a good idea even if you don't lead with it. Just don't over think and pick something "different" just because you think it's off the beaten path because they've probably seen that, too.

    It's not like these kids don't already have enough to worry about ...
  • ActingDadActingDad Posts: 663Registered User Member
    Thanks fishbowl. It is a great resource to this place that you take the time to continue to come back and add your perspective. It is very much appreciated. I think anyone new could learn about 98% of what they need to know about the process by reading nothing other than fishbowl's posts.
  • TheRealKEVPTheRealKEVP Posts: 986- Member
    You may be correct that I am talking more about "professional" auditions than about college auditions.

    And most of what I say is merely guidelines, not hard and fast rules. These guidelines have all been succesfully broken.

    My only hard and fast rule is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS follow the instructions and recommendations of the school you are auditioning for. I agree with ActingDad when he says "many of the colleges say they prefer Shakespeare". So yes, for THOSE colleges, DO SHAKESPEARE. I also agree with FishbowlFreshman that you are probably going to need at least four monologues, so you may as well have ONE Shakespeare monologue in your repertoire.

    The general guideline is to avoid overused monologues. There have been other threads on this very topic. So just following that guideline, young actors should avoid Shakespeare because every Shakespearean monologue written for actors under 35 has been overdone. There are many reasons to avoid overused monologues. Auditors do get sick of them. I have. I have sat through hundreds of auditions by undergraduate college students, and I have certainly heard those overdone monologues. I once had two women IN A ROW give the "tunafish" monologue from Christopher Durang--I can't remember the name of the play right now, but the two "tunafish" monologues--one is a man's, one is a woman's, were a few years ago voted the most overused audition monologues by a group of Chicago directors. That's how those darn monologues work. I remember when a fellow student of mine at Columbia College Chicago wanted to direct Durang's play "'dentity Crisis". The theatre department chair at the time, Sheldon Patinkin--a well known Chicago director--said "ugh, that's the one with the Peter Pan monologue." Because he had heard that darn Peter Pan monologue done so many times, badly, by so many auditioners. It's people like Sheldon Patinkin (or maybe even someone like me) that you will be auditioning for.

    And I have also noticed that the BAD auditioners ALWAYS seem to choose Shakespeare for their classical. Because, yes, these people are so stupid that the only classical playwright they have ever heard of is Shakespeare. In that NSAL contest I mentioned before, we had in the instructions a fairly long list of periods that we would consider "classical". Nevertheless, we STILL had LOTS of phone calls from students saying "Ummm...is Shakespeare okay for my classical?" Even though two of the many periods we had listed were "Elizabethan" and "Jacobean". Apparently not only was Shakespeare the only classical playwright these folks had heard of, but also they were unaware that Shakespeare was both an "Elizabethan" and "Jacobean" playwright.

    If you REALLY can do Shakespeare well enough to stand out from all these other auditioners who have chosen to do Shakespeare, then, yes, it might be okay for you to do Shakespeare.

    If you are reading plays and looking for a monologue, I don't think it would hurt anyone to at least LOOK at the other classical playwrights besides Shakespeare. Maybe you will find something that works for you, a monologue that isn't being done by a dozen other auditioners. I think a good definition of "classical" is anything by an English playwright written before about 1800. And there are LOTS of playwrights that meet that criteria. Also getting yourself some knowledge of Theatre history other than Shakespeare certainly won't hurt your chances of admission.
  • fishbowlfreshmanfishbowlfreshman Posts: 801Registered User Member
    I don't disagree that it would be a good idea to at least look at other classic playwrights and I encourage it. Read plays. ALWAYS be reading plays. But if a kid can't stand out playing Shakespeare, he won't stand out playing Marlowe or Ford, either. It isn't the monologue itself that gets you in. It's the ACTING.

    The really BAD idea is to cause these kids who need to go into those rooms feeling confident in their choices to over think and second guess themselves at this stage of the game. SHAKESPEARE IS FINE and even preferred by some schools. Not "might be okay." C'mon ...
  • connectionsconnections Posts: 909Registered User Member
    Totally and completely agree with fishbowlfreshman here. This is what I've said in the previous post, only fishbowlfreshman says it better.

    My oldest S successfully got into Purchase - among other schools - with Edmund's soliloquy from Lear, Puck's monologue, and the Brighton Beach Memoirs monologue. Every single one of these is heavily overdone.

    What matters is that you connect with the Shakespeare. Shakespeare is Shakespeare because he has many rich monologues that have so many layers of emotion and meaning. Every word counts, and there is almost always a clear progression of feeling. There is a goldmine of monologues to choose from. If you connect with a Marlowe or Sheridan, great. But 'choosing a playwright besides Shakespeare' shouldn't be the impetus. The connection itself should be.

    Furthermore, some colleges specifically request Shakespeare, so if you do a non-Shakespeare, you'll have to prepare a 'back up Shakespeare' as well. Which strikes me as redundant.

    As far as professional--I disagree here with RealKEVP. Most professional classical auditions specifically request a Shakespeare monologue. If you notice bad actors doing Shakespeare badly--well that's not an argument for not doing Shakespeare. That's an argument for training. Bad actors are bad and SHakespeare will reveal this more readily than a simplistic one-note monologue about, say, grief. Yes, you need to be trained for Shakespeare. Yes, it's hard. Colleges will know this and are using the Shakespeare to see how well you attend to the meaning, how well you understand what the feeling is and what the words are for, how this informs your acting. To avoid Shakespeare just for the sake of avoiding it strikes me as a mistake. The only reason to not do Shakespeare is if you fall in love with another monologue and feel a deep connection with it. That's a good reason. Any other reason would be a mistake to my mind.
  • gibbygibby Posts: 6,418Registered User Senior Member
    "To avoid Shakespeare just for the sake of avoiding it strikes me as a mistake. The only reason to not do Shakespeare is if you fall in love with another monologue and feel a deep connection with it. That's a good reason. Any other reason would be a mistake to my mind."

    ^^ I completely agree. The reason Shakespeare's plays have survived all these years is because his work is the most relatable to audiences and to actors.

    " . . young actors should avoid Shakespeare because every Shakespearean monologue written for actors under 35 has been overdone."

    ^^ No. No. No. There are many wonderful, age appropriate, Shakespearean monologues that are not overdone. The actor just has to find them. I posted this on the other thread, but I'm repeating it here.

    Simon Dunmore is a freelance theatre director, writer and teacher of acting. He has authored several books that I personally use and can recommend for alternative Shakespeare monologues.

    1. Alternative Shakespeare Auditions for Men (Theatre Arts (Routledge Paperback)): Simon Dunmore: 9780878300754: Amazon.com: Books
    2. More Alternative Shakespeare Auditions for Men: Simon Dunmore: 9780878301614: Amazon.com: Books
    3. Alternative Shakespeare Auditions for Women (Theatre Arts (Routledge Paperback)): Simon Dunmore: 9780878300761: Amazon.com: Books
    4. More Alternative Shakespeare Auditions for Women (Theatre Arts (Routledge Paperback)): Simon Dunmore: 9780878301133: Amazon.com: Books

    You don't even have to purchase the books. Just use the "Look Inside" option to see lists of overdone Shakespearean monologues (avoid them like the plague) and Mr. Dunmore's suggestions for seldom used monologues. As a professional actor, who is called upon to audition using Shakespearean monologues from time-to-time, I swear by these books!
  • TheRealKEVPTheRealKEVP Posts: 986- Member
    Here's my advice.

    Read those Dunmore books, and then DON'T choose any of those monologues. Because everyone else is choosing their monologues from those books. So very quickly these will become the new overdone monologues.
  • gibbygibby Posts: 6,418Registered User Senior Member
    LOL. I guess you are just one of those director types that an actor cannot please no matter what material they choose.
  • Times3Times3 Posts: 1,229Registered User Senior Member
    It's especially amusing because these books are not exactly hot-off-the-press...
  • fishbowlfreshmanfishbowlfreshman Posts: 801Registered User Member
    Dunmore used to have a website with all that info including contemporary monologues that are overdone in the UK. According to him, two out of the three young womens' classical pieces I used the two times I went through the college audition process were overdone and probably are. However, I did well the first time through and had a clean sweep of acceptances the second with every one of my auditions that year beginning with "Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd's daughter ..." :) Did I know others would be doing it? Yes. Did I have plenty of others I could have chosen? Yes. Why did I use it? Because people I trusted who had been successfully coaching kids for years said it was one of my best Shakespearean speeches at that point in my development and that it made for an effective contrast with the lesser known contemporary piece I followed it with. I doubt there are many circumstances in which I'd use it in the professional world, but I'm just a dumb ol' screen actress now and have yet to be asked for a monologue outside the script at hand anyway. Not that I don't keep a few worked up just in case and as a means of keeping my theatre chops sharp, but still ...

    Really, I think the only things I would tell someone to "avoid like the plague" for the purpose of college auditions would be monologues that require an accent or dialect, one-note angry and/or profane pieces, narrative pieces, those that require playing intoxicated, monologues from TV and Film, pieces from those accursed monologue books, and anything a particular school specifically says to avoid. Farce and monologues from musicals were to be generally avoided at last count, too. Of course, my experience was seven and eight years ago so it's possible that things have changed. But I say choose what you do best and just bring it. Confidence is over half the battle in any audition scenario.

    Where do the faculty people stand on this? Doctorjohn? You still out there?
  • connectionsconnections Posts: 909Registered User Member
    Fishbowlfreshman, totally agreed. Nothing has changed. The rules are the same. And sadly, I haven't seen Doctorjohn in a while :-( But there are a few other faculty folks who comment, and it would be great to hear from them. But I think you're absolutely right. Although even a piece from a monologue book can be ok if you read the whole play and fall in love with it. How is your own career going? It's really cool how you still keep in touch with CC. I find it invaluable to hear from an adult working actor.
  • fishbowlfreshmanfishbowlfreshman Posts: 801Registered User Member
    I keep telling myself to stop posting here, but I look in from time to time and can't seem to help myself although I try to limit it to what might be helpful or to provide the other side of an equation when only one pole seems to be represented. Funny how most discussions recycle from year to year, but this anti-Shakespeare advice for the purpose of college auditions is definitely a new one. Sounds like it's from way out in some non-union and community theatre universe to me ...

    And career-wise I'm staying busy. There's a pretty good chance you've seen me by now. :)
  • connectionsconnections Posts: 909Registered User Member
    Ok, Fishbowlfreshman, I'm terribly curious! Where have we seen you? Commercials? TV? Movies? I totally understand if you don't want to respond, but I'm thrilled you're that successful (knock on wood)!
  • geekgirlgogeekgirlgo Posts: 11Registered User New Member
    you can do with this information what you will but i will tell you what a professional actor who graduated from BoCo and was currently staring as Paul in a Chorus Line at a fairly big name theatre in the area who came in to talk to our theatre class said:

    "Why wouldn't you choose a Shakespeare? I mean i guess if you REALLY are apposed to it then you can pick a different author, but i just don't understand why you would need to. He's the best there is! it's not like someone is going to come along and be the new Shakespeare. He is it and your not going to do any better!
  • Times3Times3 Posts: 1,229Registered User Senior Member
    Quick note--after presenting his two required monologues (both contemporary) at Ithaca yesterday, my son was asked for another and did a Shakespeare monologue he's been working on--the auditor watched S, not the stop watch, and the response was good. Certainly didn't seem to hurt that he had this one in his repertoire. If you're "fluent" in Shakespeare, why not show it? :)
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