Performance Tips

What was your character like?  Think about your character’s personality, then write and perform like your character would have.  Was he proud and haughty? Or shy and awe-filled?  Intelligent? Confident?  Quiet? A jokester?  Observant? Reclusive? Assertive? Confident? How do you imagine those qualities would show up in your character’s way of walking, or using his hands, or holding her head? You won’t have time to tell your audience everything about your character, but you can SHOW them many things just by the way you move, or stand, or speak.

Face your audience: With big movements, keep your audience in mind and choreograph it so that you don’t have your back to the audience or face to the floor for a long time.

Practice with the real thing:  Just like with lifting a heavy object, you’ll want all of your motions to be as realistic as possible.  If your character is changing quickly out of a bathing suit and into an evening gown, try practicing the movements at home with the real thing – actually put on a bathing suit, then try to change quickly into a dress!!  Think about some of the most interesting movements you make.  Do you wiggle your hips to strip off the tight bathing suit?  Do you use one hand and then the other to slip on the gown’s shoulder straps?  If your character is drawing Micky Mouse, try drawing it yourself and think about your motions.  If you draw with your right hand, how are you holding the paper with your left hand?  Are you biting your lip or scrunching up your brow as you draw?

Gesture your VERBS: Find the verbs in your writing and think of ways you can use your hands and body language to SHOW the audience what you’re doing.  Show us how you were BITTEN by the spider, or how you SEWED till your eyes could no longer focus, or how you RACED your car down the rocky road. Are you driving, hiding, writing, giving a speech, shoeing a horse, thinking, worrying, carrying a baby, pouring water, looking out a window, or receiving an award?  Every single sentence in your story probably has some emotion or movement that you can share with your audience – finding and sharing these details will really bring your performance to life!

Show a wide variety of emotions:  The emotions you share with the audience make ALL the difference – instead of blandly or quickly giving the audience a list of bullet points about your life, when you add real feeling and emotions you take the audience with you back into history.  Look through your monologue and seek out a wide variety of emotions you can share with your audience, then think about how you could SHOW those emotions in your performance.  Could you hang your head in shame? Stamp your foot in frustration? Twirl around with glee? Stumble across the room with fatigue?  For example, when the circus performer speaks of her fall she could express many different emotions within just a few seconds:  pain at the injury, embarrassment at the mistake, determination to continue on and showmanship to cover it all up.  You can also use emotion in your performance just by delivering your words expressively!  For example, in the phrase, “I was witty as a fox and sweet as a flower” you can play up the contrast here by showing a spicy look on your face and speaking more sharply when you say, “witty as a fox” then shifting a bit to a more demure look on your face and a softer tone as you say, “sweet as a flower”.   Play around with interpreting your text vocally, and try not to slide all of it together in the same tone of voice.  When switching between different emotions, use a pause to give the new emotion more effect – this really helps the audience see and feel things along with you.

What to do when you forget: Stay calm and try to remember what happens next in the story, even if you can’t remember the exact words you wrote.  As you’re rehearsing, sometimes you should practice pushing through your story without someone prompting you, just to get some practice at telling what happened even if you can’t remember the precise words you’ve written.

Make eye contact:  When you are excited and run in to tell your mom about it, you probably look her in the eyes as you’re speaking. Your character would also look in the eyes of the people he’s speaking with. Practice making eye contact with your audience – don’t tell your whole story while looking at the ceiling!  Ideally you’ll choose someone in the audience and look them in the eye as you tell them one sentence or thought from your monologue.  Then you’ll choose someone else to look at directly as you relate the next sentence or thought.   The whole audience feels much more involved and connected when you’re looking right at an audience member.


When you’re NOT making eye contact… really SEE the details of the invisible world around you.  For example, when you discuss the short frock your grandmother made you wear, or the long gowns of the other girls, really try to SEE those things yourself, and your audience will see them, too.  Are you in a dense jungle, a horrifying insane asylum, a spectacular cathedral, or on an inspiring mountaintop? Is the air thick with smoke, or brightly lit, or filled with perfume or the stench of sickness? How would your facial expressions and body movements change in the different environments that your character experiences?  Even when you’re involved in “acting out” a scene -such as flying an airplane- there is a certain magic that happens when you sometimes look at the world around you, and ALSO sometimes check in with the audience as if they are right there with you on your adventure. If you look at your imaginary world continuously for too long, the audience can begin to feel disconnected.

Define vocabulary with your body language: When you use an unfamiliar word, give the audience  a gesture or movement to help them figure out what it means.  For example while you say, “the sharks made a cordon around us” trace a large circle in the air or walk around in a circle to help your audience picture the formation.  For more advanced students, it may work to try interacting directly with your audience, such as asking your audience a if THEY know the meaning of a word. You must be prepared for your audience to answer either correctly or incorrectly, and no matter what they answer, you don’t want to insult them or make them feel stupid.  Remember to repeat the answer so the whole audience hears.  This can be a great technique for connecting with your audience, but remember that it takes extra time to have that kind of give and take with your audience.

Geographical directions:  Sometimes you need to define locations or directions in your story  – you should choose one part of the room to ‘represent’ a particular location to help your audience keep track of where the action takes place.  For example, on a battlefield you can choose to place the Tarquins near the window and the Romans towards the door.  As you relate the story, you’ll gesture towards each army in a consistent manner which helps the audience understand the scene with more clarity.

Take your time:  There can be a great temptation to move quickly through your monologue so you can share lots of information about your character.  However, your audience will understand you better and learn more from you if you speak slowly and clearly.  It can be a fantastic practice tool to go through your performance leaving…a…big…space…between…every…word.  It may feel awkward at first, but it will help your speech become clearer.

No swallowing!:  Another common problem is “swallowing the end of your sentence”.  This is when you start a sentence with a strong, clear voice, but as you reach the end of the sentence it gets quieter and quieter and sort of trails off at the end in a mumble.  Practice your performance for friends or family and ask them if you do this – if so, your audience may be missing almost half of your monologue!

Setting the stage for your monologue: You’ll come up with a scenario that ‘explains’ to the audience who they are and why you are speaking with them.  Try to create something realistic, though there is some flexibility and creative license here.  Often it is best to keep the explanation simple and just get started on your monologue – it’s not necessary to go too deeply into the details.  

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! And observe…:  Practice in front of your stuffed animals, in front of your family, or in front of a video camera.  When you have a few moments riding in the car or waiting in line, think about a moment from your monologue and how you would act it out with your facial expressions, body movements, and emotions.  When you’re out in the world, notice the emotions and actions of other people – how do your friends move when they’re nervous or excited?  How does a confused expression differ from an irritated expression?  The more you notice and the more you practice, the better you’ll be!

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    S. as Julius Caesar

    S. as Julius Caesar