Auditioning While Black
Please prepare a 1-2 minute monologue
In my acting experience, this is a phrase I’ve seen a countless number of times. I personally love preparing monologues. They are a chance to show who you are and what you’re capable of, and when you’re prepared, your performance is typically stronger. What I don’t love is seeking them out because it can be a struggle to find a piece I really connect with. And as a 20-year-old Black girl, finding a piece I can connect to is a rarity.
Seeking out plays as a college student can be pretty difficult. Take a look at some of the most popular Black plays and musicals of today: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Marsha Norman’s The Color Purple, or August Wilson’s Fences. All of these plays have similar themes of overcoming adversity and self-discovery. While these stories are powerful, there is unfortunately very few of them. I rarely have the money or time for research, and when I do, I always run the risk of the play not having an age-appropriate character. There is some great content out there by Black creators, but they’re not likely to be widely publicized by the theater and performance community — which is still predominately White — if they don’t fall into the standards that often exclusively focus on Black tropes.
The diversity of the content in the plays I do find is also an issue. Majority of the Black plays I find are dramas and set in the past and viewed through a lens of race. These plays are important because they demonstrate history, but they also put modern Black actors at a disadvantage because the actor rarely gets to show their range as a human independent of their racial and ethnic ties. When you do find contemporary shows with Black characters, those characters rarely depart from what society deems as “Black.” Many plays usually fall into two camps: they are issue plays dealing with struggle and/or race or they are filled with urban characters who use dialects and colloquial speech that are typically viewed as “ghetto.”
It would be nice to see a greater range of personalities and interests in the stories I watch and read. Many plays include women who are strong, determined, and serious, but that is not all there is to being a Black girl. Sometimes we are vulnerable, unsure, and comedic. Furthermore, all Black girls aren’t always loud and abrasive or focused on material possessions and lack empathy. Taking roles that celebrate all of these traits would be an opportunity to embrace my personal uniqueness.
This isn’t too much to ask especially since this is the case for White people. For example, take a character that is a young woman. You could find plays of all types of girls with all types of personalities. Alan Ball’s 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress shows women who are matronly, promiscuous, overly religious, rebellious, and hardcore female activists discovering themselves and the root of their beliefs while serving as bridesmaids at their friend’s wedding. J.P. Miller’s Days of Wine and Roses is a heavy and gritty play the depicts a woman dealing with addiction and loss.
All of these were selected from a shelf right next to me in my room. While they aren’t necessarily written exclusively for white women, they are often cast as such. However, I wouldn’t even know where to begin in finding a range of characters like this from Black playwrights because their works are often so inaccessible. It’s not because they don’t exist but because the World of Theatre has refused to give those plays the proper tools and attention to flourish.
Television and movies also tell a similar story. Black people, for years, were reduced to the thug or the servant. In horror movies, they were another character to kill off, and in romantic comedies, they were the White girls’ best friend — if they were lucky. Otherwise, they served as a few scenes of comedic relief that typically involves sass, snapping, and head-bobbing.
However, Hollywood is beginning to come around and expand beyond these stereotypes. People of all types are finding themselves in a greater range of roles, and that’s amazing. Slowly, we’re approaching a state of culture where the hero isn’t automatically a White man. Black culture has evolved in recent years in such astounding and beautiful ways. There is so much more to the Black person than what I grew up seeing. Even in recent movies, my optimism as an aspiring actress is flourishing. I love horror movies, and Jordan Peele’s Us was a giant step forward. That movie was a breath of fresh air for a genre that had since grown stale with the overuse of gore or cheap jump-scares. And, when you think about it, the Thomas family didn’t have to be played by Black actors. I saw that Black actors were just as capable, if not more, in roles that had nothing to do with race. It begs the question: what else can a Black performer or writer do when given the chance? It all goes to show how much there is to gain if the theatre world were to invest more and take a genuine interest in other cultures.
Steps have been taken, but there’s still a long way to go. I hope to soon see that greater world reflected in performing arts so that in the years to come, future aspiring actors of color will have greater material and resources to be able to show their talent and contribute to this culturally progressing world. Maybe, in a few decades, a 20-year-old Black girl will hear the world “Please perform a 1-2-minute monologue” and think, “Gosh, there are too many to choose from."