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I believe everything can be turned into a monologue and everyone can write a monologue. It’s one thing to say that, it’s another thing entirely when you say that in front of a room of teenagers, all looking at you like you’re crazy.

And yet it’s true. It just takes a specific process and specific steps.

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A few months ago I was asked to teach first-time student writers how to write a monologue. Easy, I thought. I’ve been writing monologues for twenty years. This should be a no-brainer. I put together a lesson plan and walked confidently into the room.

Boy was I surprised. Instead of theatre, the students were giving me story, and I wasn’t sure why. What was wrong with my plan?

Are you in the same boat? Are you a drama teacher who wants your students to write their own monologues? Have you tried to incorporate monologue units into the classroom with less than satisfactory results?

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I’ve been there too. I’ve struggled with student-written monologues. But I know how powerful they can be when taught properly.

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Training Times

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Episode 89: Make a Mission Statement for Your Drama Classroom

Episode 88 - 2

Discover drama teacher Amy Patel’s process for creating a mission statement with her students.

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 89. You can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode89.

So, I’m going to get right into this week’s episode. I love it that much. Grab a pen. You are going to want to do this with your drama class in September. My talk with teacher Amy Patel starts now.

Lindsay: Hello everybody! Welcome to the podcast. I am so happy today to be talking to teacher Amy Patel. Hello Amy!

Amy: Hi! How are you?

Lindsay: I am awesome. You are on your Spring Break this week, right?

Amy: Yes!

Lindsay: Are you enjoying that?

Amy: Yeah, it’s really nice. You know, sleep in, stay in my pajamas for a little while, and not have a real strict schedule for a change. And the weather’s pretty – for today, anyway.

Lindsay: Okay. So, tell everybody, I’d like to start with asking where people are in the world. So, where are you?

Amy: I’m in Madison, Alabama, which is just outside of Huntsville, North Alabama.

Lindsay: Yes.

Amy: And I teach at James Clemens High School which is a brand new school.

Lindsay: Ah, cool. Okay. We’ll get into that. So, how long have you been a drama teacher?

Amy: This is my 16th year. I taught for 14 years at Butler High School in Huntsville and then I took a year sabbatical and didn’t teach at all. I visited other teachers around the country, some of my friends who taught in Connecticut and Colorado and Florida. And then, I also got back on stage for a change and kind of regrouped and then started at James Clemens last year so that is two years now at that school.

Lindsay: Do you think sabbaticals are important for teachers?

Amy: Oh, my gosh. It saved me. It really did. I needed that break and I needed that time to, you know, do research for myself – kind of explore and to miss it. My husband asked me, “When do you think you’ll go back to the classroom?” and I said, “When I miss it,” and it didn’t take long. It just really revived my passion for teaching. You know, absence makes the heart grow fonder and having a bit of an absence and getting to explore the things that I’d been turning around in my head really helped me and I feel like I’m a better teacher for it.

Lindsay: So, it seems like it was very purposeful that you would go, and I know they were your friends, but were you asking other teachers about things that they do? It was sort of like a research thing, too?

Amy: Yeah, because, you know, I had taught for 14 years at the same school. And so, I felt like kind of my blinders went up and I could only see things the way I had been doing them or, you know, I had only seen a school being run the way my school was run, and I would hear about other friends at other schools and they would talk to me, but I didn’t get to see it for myself.

So, you know, I went in with an agenda. I wanted to see what’s their space like; how do they structure their classes; what are the things that they feel, like, go really well and what are the challenges that they have; and, you know, I saw a lot of myself out there, and I kind of felt like, “Oh, I’m not the only one who faces that,” and, “Oh, I’m not the only one who struggles with that,” and it was just really nice.

Lindsay: Sometimes, the nicest thing is knowing you’re not alone, isn’t it?

Amy: Yeah, yeah, because, especially as a theatre teacher, oftentimes, we’re the only one of our kind at our school and that’s difficult. You know, a science teacher can just hop down the hallway and say, “Hey, I’m working on this, what do you think?” or, “Hey, do you have this resource?” But a theatre teacher doesn’t have that luxury because we’re usually the only one.

Lindsay: Why did you choose drama? Why teaching and why drama?

Amy: You know, I went into a theatre class in high school, really, because my friends were there and I had an English teacher that I really liked and she was also the theatre teacher and so I thought, “Oh, that would be fun,” and, you know, my girl friends were taking it and I went in for fun and I really liked it. So, I took it my junior and senior year and then I did a couple of plays and was really inspired. I had another teacher, too, named Mike Chapel and was really inspired by him.

But I didn’t consider doing it for the rest of my life. I thought I would go into journalism – maybe even math. And then, I got to college and quickly realized math was not it because I failed calculus the first semester. But I still didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do and then I realized that what always inspired me and what always seemed to be my passion was the learning and whether it was in an English class with a great teacher or a history class with a great teacher and I thought, “Wow! That’s what I want to do. I want to keep learning and I can do that if I teach,” because, when you teach, you learn twice. And then, I realized how much I missed the theatre because I didn’t do it my first couple of years in college and I realized that it wasn’t so much “why do I want to do with my rest of my life?” but “what do I not want to do without?” and it was the theatre – it was the stage and it was being a part of the theatre. And I didn’t want to go to New York or LA or Chicago and try to make it on stage. I really wanted to do theatre every day and I could do that if I was a director, if I was a teacher, and then I could inspire and help other students to hone in on their skills so that they could go to New York or LA or Chicago or become teachers.

Lindsay: Why do you think it’s important for students, for teenagers, to take drama?

Amy: There are just so many reasons. Sometimes it’s to build a confidence in them. You know, I have kids who say, “I want to take theatre but I’m shy,” and I say, “That’s exactly why I want you to take theatre,” because, hopefully, every classroom’s this way but it’s a safe place to kind of crack through your little shell.

Lindsay: Oh, and they have such a shell sometimes, don’t they/

Amy: Exactly! And sometimes they hide it. They put up, you know, their walls. And so, they act like they’re the tough guy or that they don’t care about anybody else. But, the truth is, you know, there’s something there that needs a voice and I think they can find that in the theatre. And I think, too, in theatre, we really work on what it is to be a human – to work with other people, to learn to trust other people, to come together, you know, from different backgrounds, different opinions, different philosophies and visions for whatever the project is, but learn to work together.

So, you learn conflict resolution, you learn confidence, you learn discipline, you learn organization. And then, too, you learn about all the other content areas because you’re reading and so you’re getting literature analysis but you’re also learning history because, what do you know, your play’s about Amelia Earhart and you’re learning about science because you’re learning about electricity with lighting or physics, how to make a set piece move. And so, I think it’s just like everything wonderful in the world is right there in the theatre classroom.

Lindsay: It’s the most amazing class.

Amy: Yeah!

Lindsay: I say often, I’m like, “Where else are these kids going to learn how to work together?” Like, that’s all that your work life is – working with other people – and, if you don’t know from a young age, it’s so hard to make it, you know?

The reason, and this is going to dovetail really nicely because the reason that we wanted to talk today, I wanted to talk to you today is because you sort of contacted us and you were telling us about how you use a mission statement in your program and I’m like, “I’ve never heard about this. I love this!”

Tell everybody first. What is a mission statement?

Amy: A mission statement really is a concise verbalization of what you do, how you do it, and why you do it, and it’s something that companies – you know, corporations – use. But, oftentimes, I don’t know that theatres use them, especially educational theatres. I never did; at my old school, I didn’t, and I think partly it’s because the theatre program already existed when I came on. And so, there was already sort of a system of organization and I just kind of jumped into that. And, when I decided to actually come up with a mission statement, it was because I was at a new school.

Lindsay: Fresh start.

Amy: Fresh start, exactly. And so, my whole vision was that this was going to be something that grew out of nothing and we had a fantastic space. The school itself is beautiful. I felt like we had really energetic and supportive administration and parents and students. But we were all coming from different directions and I really needed for myself to really grow a program that I felt like was strong. I needed to have a strong basis and kind of a foundation and I felt like I needed to do that with a mission statement.

Just like, you know, I hadn’t even decided, “What are we even called? Are we the James Clemens Theatre Players? Are we Theatre JC?” You know, I had to come up with the name of our company and I went with James Clemens Theatre and then went through and started designing some logos and then I had students come up with logos and we had a little contest to decide what our logo was going to be. And none of that was in place yet.

And, when I started looking into branding and how important that was for kind of determining an identity for our program, I ran across something about a mission statement and my husband actually, kind of ironically was, at the same time, he was toying around with starting his own company – it’s a technical company – and here I was starting a theatre company. And so, we were both looking into the same direction – having to come up with a statement, having to come up with a logo, having to come up with what direction we were really going in, and I felt like it was something that I needed to do with my students. I couldn’t just come in and say, “All right, guys! We are James Clemens Theatre and here’s our logo and here’s our mission,” because then it’s not ours; it’s mine.

Lindsay: And what does it mean? Like, what does all that mean, anyway?

Amy: Yeah, exactly.

Lindsay: A mission statement sort of forms the meaning.

Amy: Yes, yes, and I had never written a mission statement. My students never had either so, if I just came in and said, “This is our mission statement, isn’t that great?” it would have been wonk-wonk-wonk-wonk that didn’t mean anything to them. So, it was something that we really had to come up with together.

Lindsay: Would you read your mission statement, please?

Amy: Yeah! “To be or not to be unexpected, dedicated, inspired and inspiring. To train our bodies, minds, and voices. To perform multiple productions from original and modern material to classic plays and musicals. To empower young artists and engage the audience. To engineer imagination and build our community. To be or not to be, we choose to be, James Clemens Theatre.”

Lindsay: I think that’s awesome.

Amy: I love it.

Lindsay: Okay. So, that’s the end. That’s the product.

Amy: Yes.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about the process. So, how did you get there? How did you do this with your students? And these are all new students to you, correct?

Amy: Yeah.

Lindsay: They were.

Amy: They were, and some of them knew each other but they were actually coming from two different schools because some were coming up from the middle school and some were coming over from the existing high school. So, a lot of my students were new to each other also.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about how did you approach this with them? How did you tell them that this was going to happen?

Amy: Well, we first went in and started, you know, going through, “What questions do you have for me? What are your goals for the program?” and the need for some statement that would solidify all the answers to that.

So, when I was researching mission statements, I noticed that they all had three things in common, or three questions. One was “What do we do? How do we do it? And why do we do it?” and that seemed to be a kind of criteria for any good mission statement.

So, I went and I hung the big Post-Its on the wall, the big white Post-Its, and on one of them, I asked that: “What does James Clemens Theatre do?” The next one was, “How do we do it?” and then next was, “Why do we do it?”

And then, you know, “What are three words that are essential in describing James Clemens Theatre? What sets us apart from other theatre companies? What is our strength?” The funny thing is we were making it up because we didn’t know yet. We were still just learning each other’s names and so we were describing something that didn’t exist yet. We were really describing the ideal and what we hoped for.

Lindsay: Did they dive into that? Were they trepidacious? Like, what a big leap to take.

Amy: Yeah, I think that they really jumped in because everybody came in with these ideas swimming around in their head and this gave them a place to put those ideas. You know, if I said, “What are three words that describe us?” they got to describe what they hoped would describe us. So, everybody really jumped in and I think it was accessible, too, because I didn’t just say, “Hey, write a mission statement.” It was, “Answer these questions,” and that’s easy. We can do that.

Lindsay: Oh, I love using questions in the classroom because they’ve been doing it since kindergarten

Amy: Right!

Lindsay: You know? So, it’s exactly as you say. If you had come in and said, “Write a mission statement.” No one would have known what to do.

Amy: Yeah. And, too, there were no right or wrong answers which is typical in a theatre class anyway and I think that’s one of the beauties of it. There’s no right or wrong. There is no answer key that I’m going to check these answers by. Just tell me what you think.

They went in and they wrote those up there and we kind of did a carousel around and they had their markers and we noticed things that kept reoccurring and said, “Okay. These are pretty common among us. We’re kind of coming to a consensus on these few things,” and that was kind of nice. It started to bring us together.

And then, after that, we talked about how do we take all these ideas that are splattered up on these posters and actually put them into something…

Lindsay: Useable.

Amy: Useable, yeah. So, I found some mission statements from lots of corporations but then I also found some from theatre companies, especially regional and professional theatre companies, and so I took some of those and I created a handout and I gave them to the students and told them to read over them with a highlighter and a pen or pencil and mark them up and really pick out what was meaningful to them. You know, “What are the things that resonate with you? The things that you hope are a part of our company, too. And then, cross through the things that you don’t think really apply to us and then

bring those back.”

Lindsay: How many did you give them?

Amy: You know, I want to say there were about 20. It was a front and back sheet.

Lindsay: That’s good to know. Like, it just gives you a really good visual, you know, for anybody listening who might want to do this. You know, that’s how many you want to pass on to your students so they get, by the end of it, they must have had a really good sense of not only what they wanted but what a mission statement looks like.

Amy: Exactly, exactly, because they read so many and they saw that there wasn’t a standard fill-in-the-blank format for it and I think that kind of freed them up, too.

And, once we took those, we decided on the things that we felt were most important and their homework assignment was to write. I told them, it is your job alone to write the mission statement for James Clemens Theatre.

Lindsay: So, they’ve got the tools. They have the stuff that they talked about for your theatre, they had the stuff that they liked about the mission statement, so they went home and wrote theirs. So, everybody in the class went home and wrote their own.

Amy: Yup. And so, we came back in with, what, 30 different statements and we put those up on the wall and went through the same process that we had done with the professional mission statements and they got to highlight, underline, circle, cross through. So, it was kind of like we were weeding out and really honing in on the things that kept reoccurring, yeah.

Lindsay: Did anybody get a little precious about theirs being crossed out or anything like that?

Amy: You know, I don’t remember that. If they did, I guess they were quiet about it. I think they felt like it was more like an archaeological dig, I guess.

Lindsay: Ah, that’s neat. I like that.

Amy: Even when they would bring in their own mission statement, they would hear somebody else’s and go, “Oh! I like that!” So, everybody knew that it wasn’t a contest. You know, write the statement and we’re going to pick yours.

Lindsay: You’re all working. You’re all together working towards this product.

Amy: Right, and they knew that we were just getting closer and closer and closer and we didn’t have a deadline.

Lindsay: Right.

Amy: Just each day we would get closer and closer and closer until we reached that point that we said, “That’s it.”

Lindsay: How long did this take?

Amy: I want to say, we’re on the block so we have hour and a half classes. Of course, we were doing other things along the way, too. We were doing a lot of team building activities and we would, you know, devote at least half the class to it. But we did it over the course of about four days. And, once everybody crossed through and highlighted the ones we had brought in, I took those and said, “At this point, I’m going to take these and I’m going to do my best to come up with a few different versions and then I’ll bring them to you and we’ll go through the same process.” But they need to get something on one piece of paper that we can ultimately work with.

So, I took it home and I noticed the words that kept popping up and the things that we kept discussing whenever we would talk about the ways, the reasons we were making the decisions we were making. And I bought in two different statements the next day and I read off one and everybody just went, “Ah! That’s it! Yes!” and they didn’t even read the second one. They didn’t even read the second one.

And what I like is that we use this. We’ve got it in the classroom. It’s on our shirts. We put it in our program. And we revisit it when we’re unsure about what direction we’re going in. We’d kind of check it – “Okay, does this really line up with our mission?”

You know, this year, when we decided to do a musical, some of my kids were really trepidacious about that and some said, “Oh, I don’t think that we should be doing a musical,” and we said, “Well, you know what, we actually said that was part of our mission, to do a variety of works. And, sometimes, when the kids are frustrated because we’re doing so many vocal exercises or they are so worn out from the physical exercises, we say, “You know what? We are training our bodies, minds, and voices. It’s in our mission,” so it kind of becomes that check to us to say, “Okay, this is the road we said we were going to get on and we need to make sure we stay on this path,” and it’s a pretty wide path, you know? We give ourselves lots of room. But we just check and to, like, we, each year, when we do a major production, we do some sort of outreach project and that’s built into our mission. So, we want to make sure that we keep that going. And, if somebody comes in and says, “Hey, why are we helping this garden?” well, it’s in our mission to build our community.

Lindsay: Isn’t that amazing? Because, now, you’ve got a piece of paper but also you’ve got a tenet that you can refer to to anything you do. So, every student now who comes in knows exactly what your theatre is about, why you do things which is what students want to know all the time – they want to know why, “Why are we doing this? Why?” you can show them this – and I also really like, in terms of community building, that you’re putting that out there, too. I like that it’s in your programs and on your shirts.

What reaction did you get from, like, the other adults in your school? From your teachers or from your admin?

Amy: I didn’t go into it for that reason.

Lindsay: No, no, no.

Amy: But I thought, “Why didn’t I see that? Of course! This is going to be something not just for us in the classroom; this is going to be something that other people will see. And, if I want to show them what we’re about, this is all I need to do. Hand them this and they have an understanding of what we’re doing, and the significance of what we’re doing.

And, one day, my principal sent an email and the subject line was “This is impressive,” and I opened it up and he had taken a photo of our mission statement hanging on the wall and that was it. And that really meant a lot to me and I think it probably meant a lot to him and I think he could see from that that we take our work seriously. It’s a lot of fun and we love it but we’re passionate about it and we take it seriously enough to actually put it into words.

Lindsay: It’s really important. I think also, well, how often has this conversation come up that nobody knows what they do in the drama class?

Amy: Right.

Lindsay: And that’s when drama classes become unstable and perhaps, you know, fodder to be cut and it’s like, “Well, look. This is exactly what we do. Here it is.”

Amy: Exactly. Now, I think this is a bit of ammunition.

Lindsay: Yeah!

Amy: I think it gives some substance to what we’re doing.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Amy: And it’s something, too, that drives us as a group. Like, when we say it, like, we actually memorized it. I would have kids memorize one line at a time and then add another line and another line and another line until everybody was saying the whole thing together and it was really, you feel this burst of energy at the end of it. You just want to go out there and conquer the world, you know? “We choose to be, James Clemens Theatre!” Roar! It’s just had so many benefits that I didn’t even anticipate. And, now, I want to revisit it.

Lindsay: Oh! So, it’s been in place for two years now?

Amy: Yes, this is the second year.

Lindsay: Ah, okay. So, what do you want to do next year?

Amy: I’m trying to figure out exactly what my process will be. I don’t think I want to start from scratch. I want to say, “Okay. This is our mission now. Now, let’s do some of these same tactics to see what changes we want to make.” And I don’t know – a part of me is kind of, you know, territorial about it. I mean, it’s our mission statement. We shouldn’t change anything. But I know that we should and I feel like, ten years from now, it’s really important that we have a statement that those students are a part of, too, instead of saying, “Well, in the year 2012, this is the mission statement we came up with and now you’re stuck with it ten years later.”

Lindsay: Well, because, as your program changes, your students will change.

Amy: Yeah.

Lindsay: Have you thought about, like, do you have a visual representation of your mission statement?

Amy: No, I don’t. But, you know, what’s interesting is the space program. We’re right next to Huntsville, Alabama, where the Space & Rocket Center and Marshall Space Flight Center are and, when I was in college, I actually worked part-time with the Space & Rocket Center and one of the things they did was program with teachers and we learned about how each mission into space has a mission patch. And, on that patch, a group of designers and artists actually come together and, depending on what the different projects are for that space mission, they will create a visual representation of it and it has the names of all the people who are on that mission and it has little pictures of things that are going on and you can actually purchase these patches now and you can go to the gift shop and you can purchase those patches and that’s how they came to be. And I always thought it would be neat if we had something and it might be, you know, something fun to do maybe with the art classes. “These are the words, how do we visualize that so that everybody can connect to it visually, too?”

Lindsay: Yeah! And then, like, to be able to, if you pass that on to the arts students, like, how do they interpret it? And then, that’s something that can come back that the drama students can reflect on. Like, is it what they expected or not what they expected?

Amy: And does it speak to us in the same way? Does it mean that same thing to us?

Lindsay: Yeah.

Amy: When it’s visual.

Lindsay: That sounds very cool, too. Well, I like that.

Amy: Wouldn’t that be a great mural?

Lindsay: Yeah! Oh, my goodness. That’s an awesome idea. Like, what a great way to, you know, and it’s not just the words because, as they say, you know, these students whoa re coming up now in the 21st century is like they’re visual learners – they learn by what they see and that’s how they process – and, to get these students to process visually this very important and wonderful thing, you know, it’s just going to add another layer.

Amy: Yeah, absolutely.

Lindsay: Awesome! Amy, this has been such a great… I’m so really happy about this because I think this is something that is unique but also “why not?” and it’s like this is something we should all be doing. Just to give such a grounding for your program and to make students feel a part of your program and responsible for your program.

Amy: Yeah.

Lindsay: And that’s how your programs are going to stay and thrive and become a vital part of the school life.

Amy: Yeah, and I think one of the biggest things for it was really getting to that “why” and, at the time, I had never seen this but Simon Sinek has a TED talk and it’s called “The Golden Circle” and he gets to how the most important thing is not what you do or how you do it but why you do it and so he draws these three concentric circles and he says some people work from that outside in and first they’ll tell you what they do and how they do it and then they’ll get to why.

He said, “But, really, start with the why. Start with the why and then the how and the what will come.” And I had never heard that but I really, as soon as he said it, I thought, “Ah! That’s exactly how we approached our mission statement – with those three questions.”

And then, this year, we actually got on our stage, we grabbed sidewalk chalk and drew – we watched his talk and then we drew three concentric circles and then I asked kids, “Start in the center of it. Write why you are an actor. Why you are a techie. Why you are an artist.” And, of course, the reasons were just so varied. It was wonderful. And then, we got to “Okay. You know why you do it. Now, how do you do it?” And then, finally, what is it that you are doing? That was a good kind of a follow-up to what we had done last year when we created the mission statement because we got to talk about our mission statement again and, you know, we always get to why. You know, no matter we’re dealing with, let’s get to the “why” and then we can figure out the “how” and the “what.”

Lindsay: Oh, that’s a great exercise and I’ll make sure that I link to that talk in the show notes.

Amy, thank you so much for talking to me today. It’s been a pleasure.

Amy: Thank you! I appreciate all you do. I’m really glad to be a part of it today.

Lindsay: Aww! I just think it’s really great that we can put this out there.

Amy: Yeah.

Lindsay: Have a great day!

Amy: You, too. Bye!

Thank you, Amy! I just think that is an awesome exercise, an awesome process, an awesome thing to do for your students, for your classroom, just to let everybody know exactly who you are, where you stand, what you do this with your students. I just think it’s really a great, great, great exercise.

So, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

This week, we are offering a free drama teacher training. Set the stage for student-written monologues. So, a few months ago, I was asked to lead a workshop in student-written monologues – easy, right? I’ve been writing monologues for a long time – for almost 20 years – that should be a no-brainer and put together my lesson plan, you know, walk confidently into the room, and it did not go well. It was, you know, that’s a pretty like, “Oh no!” experience, right?

Instead of theatrical monologues, the students were giving me story and I wasn’t sure why. You know, what was wrong with my plan? And I thought to myself, “You know, there really has to be a way.” There has to be a way to lay a foundation for student-written monologues that are character-driven and theatrical.

Are you in that same boat? Are you a drama teacher who wants your students to write their own monologues? Have you tried to incorporate monologue units into the classroom with less than satisfactory results? You know that feeling.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. If you want your students to write terrible monologues, tell them to write a monologue. If you want your students to write good monologues, you need to take an entirely different approach. Join me. Join me for a free drama teacher training where I’ll share my tips on how to prepare students to write, to set the stage for awesome student-written monologues.

You’re going to learn a very specific way to prepare students to write without the panic that student writers often face. The five critical steps you must take to ensure students are ready to write their first amazing monologue and the answer to the most common frustration I hear from teachers, “How do I get students to write monologues that are theatrical rather than short stories?” I have been there, you know?

I struggled with those student-written monologues that sounded like stories instead of something theatrical. But I know how powerful they can be when taught properly and I want you to learn how to teach them properly, too. You can get quality theatrical monologues from your students and I’m going to show you how. So, this week, training times: Thursday, April 24th, 8:30 Eastern Daylight Time or Friday, April 25th, 8:30 Eastern Daylight Time. 8:30 PM. What else do you want to do on a Friday night but take some training, right?

I’m really excited to share this training and these exercises with you. You can find more information at theatrefolk.com/episode89.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Episode 88: Tips and Tricks for Directing Youth with Steven Stack

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Playwright Steven Stack is a long time director. He shares his tips and tricks for directing youth. Bonus! Steven also shares some writing tips when you can’t wait for inspiration.

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 88! Woohoo! Yeehaw! Oh ho!

You can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode88.

Today, I’m talking to playwright Steven Stack whose new play, Ashland Falls, has found a lovely home in our catalog. But he’s also a long-time director so we’re going to get him to share his tips and his tricks for directing youth and student actors. How do you do it? He’s also going to share some bonus tips for how to write when you can’t wait to be inspired. Now, that is a trick. Let’s find out how he does it.

Lindsay: Hello everybody! Welcome to the Theatrefolk Podcast. I am very happy and thrilled today. I’m looking out my window. There’s snow on the ground but I can see green. I can see green and the sun is warm so that’s good.

And I’m very happy to welcome Steven Stack to the podcast. Hello, Steven!

Steven: Hi, Lindsay!

Lindsay: How are you?

Steven: I’m doing great. Been sitting at my computer since 4:00 this morning.

Lindsay: Why?

Steven: Well, because, at the studio I work for, we have an end of the year show, and I need to write seven scenes and I’ve only had six days to do it because of planning issues and stuff. So, I’m in the final, like, stretch now.

Lindsay: So, Steven is one of our playwrights but he also directs youth and we’re going to talk all about that – some tips and tricks about working with youth. But you’ve just said a very interesting thing which I think also would be good for others.

So, you need to write, you can’t wait for inspiration, you have a deadline, you have to get this stuff done. How do you do it? How do you propel yourself to write those seven scenes?

Steven: Well, basically, it’s just make myself. I sit in front of the computer and then I start writing regardless because one of my writer friends, Alex Bledsoe, once when I was talking about writer’s block, he basically just said, “You know that’s a myth, right? If you want to write or need to write, then you write,” and, at that point, it was pretty much done. So, I need to write so I do and, basically, you get a semblance of an idea and then you just run with it and get that first draft out of the way and don’t go back. When you write a terrible line, don’t go, “Oh, that’s awful, I need to fix it.” Just keep going until you finish it and see what happens.

Lindsay: I’m a firm believer in ugly writing and ugly first drafts and that’s the only way to write. So, do you create on computer?

Steven: Yes.

Lindsay: Yeah? Why does that work for you?

Steven: Because, usually, I listen with my headphones with music, too – which, there’s no one here, I don’t know why I put on my headphones but I do – and it’s just easier for me because I like the bright screens, I like my comfortable chair. But, I mean, I also use, sometimes, when I have more time, I use my memo pad, too. I don’t like writing just on notebook paper but I’m a huge fan of, like, the flip notebook. I have tons of them and I get more and more for, like, birthdays and Christmas even though I have a lot already.

Lindsay: I use to, in my temping days, I temped a lot at lawyers’ offices and government offices and I have a very fond affection for yellow legal pads.

Steven: Oh, nice, yeah!

Lindsay: You know? So, it’s a little bit longer and it’s just, you know…

Steven: Well, I like the white better just because I’m mesmerized by the yellow. And then, when I write with different colors, I get kind of carried away and distracted because I get distracted very easy with those things and I just like, “Oh, that yellow and red just blends really nicely,” and then I’m not writing anymore.

Lindsay: Then you’re just in your own little mesma-world, right?

Steven: Yeah, and it happens a lot so I have to go white there so it’s less distracting.

Lindsay: That’s interesting, too, that you listen to music when you write. Do you find that’s a good focuser for you?

Steven: Absolutely, because I can’t watch TV at all. But, when I have the music in, it just kind of fades into the background and, because I don’t like working in silence because then I end up just talking out loud and that’s just kind of weird for me because I’m not talking about what I’m writing. So then, listening to music just makes it like a little perfect world.

Lindsay: I’m a silent writer. You know, sometimes I listen to – it sounds very ooky spooky but I listen to – mantras. Those go into the background for me. They’re on YouTube everywhere. But music? I will listen to. But here’s a site which is really interesting. I think it’s called Focus@Will. The music, apparently, is very specifically designed for focused writing or focused work on computer or whatever and I’m going to put it in the show notes. I’ll make sure I have the right website. Craig uses it and you put a type of focus that you want, you know, and the music will play – you know, excited or soothing or driving – and he loves it.

Steven: Oh, that’s really cool.

Lindsay: Yeah! And it’s always interesting, I always like to have these kinds of discussions because, you know, there’s all that big myth about how writing happens the same way for everybody and, if you don’t write a certain way, or you don’t like silence, then you’re not a good writer and it’s like, “Nope, that’s not the way it works.”

Steven: Yeah, because, I mean, in the end, that’s what you have to do. You’ve got to find what works for you. And, I mean, at different times, different things will work for you because there’s times when we’re getting near the end where I’ll go upstairs and I will just have nothing and then, as I’m editing and as I’m writing, I’ll be playing all the characters out loud which is highly entertaining for my kids and that’s one thing I really enjoy doing.

And, sometimes, I do that early on in the project. Like, for one of the scenes I just wrote today, I turned off the music and I just played all the characters as I wrote. And then, I established that nice flow which I have to because they audition Wednesday and they have to have the final copy before Spring Break.

Lindsay: Yup, got to get it done! And, you know, for you to speak out loud, this is what we do. Plays are meant to be said aloud. You can’t just leave it on the page and never have put it out there.

Steven: And it’s really fun to do, too. Like, it’s highly enjoyable – unless it’s bad and then you go, “Ah, man.”

Lindsay: Or unless you’re in public and people are like, sometimes I catch myself because I’m really good at inner talking out loud and I will actually gesture and I’ll start to do that and see rhythms in my head and, if I’m in public, because sometimes I like to change up my location just to go choose a different location and that jogs things a bit, and I have caught, I have been stared at and I’m like, “Oh, shoot! No, I’m not crazy. I’m just writing.”

Steven: Yeah, I tend to embarrass my older daughter sometimes when I’m doing and it’s like, “My bad and I’m sorry. It’s just really fun. Let me write that down.”

Lindsay: So, this is a nice segue into what we’re going to talk today about – you know, having plays and not leaving them on the page – getting them not only said out loud but getting them produced. You direct with your studio so you direct the first production of all your plays, correct?

Steven: Right, and that does help out a lot.

Lindsay: I imagine, just because you can, well, you have a testing ground to see what it’s like when your plays are brought to life.

Steven: Yeah, it’s a little nerve-racking, too, because, basically, I have my first draft and then I make the edit and then it has to be ready to perform almost instantly because, you know, the actors need more time and then we have a show coming up and an audience that expects the show to work and it’s a little stressful at times but it’s also really cool to see if we can all pull it together in basically one take in some ways.

Lindsay: Do you do a lot of rewrites in rehearsal?

Steven: I started that this year because, when I did, for the first couple of years, I just did random scenes and that was cool. Well, this year, I decided that I want a play. I wanted a play to tie it all together with the scenes and so that made it. There was a lot of times where they would be rehearsing – and this happened all the way, like, a week before the show – and I go, “That doesn’t work for me anymore. Let’s go with this.” But, the thing is, they were just so, like, amazingly excited about doing it. Like, they enjoyed the changes even though it caused them stress. But they liked the aspect of “Okay, the show’s not finalized until almost opening night.”

Lindsay: I find that, particularly with high school students, they don’t have a preconceived notion about what it’s supposed to be and they’re so adaptable and they work on the fly really well.

Steven: Absolutely.

Lindsay: I’ve been to shows and have learned that, well, the lead in this show had to be replaced, like, two days beforehand. In fact, the last play that I just premiered in February, that would happen – the lead wasn’t memorizing her lines, a week before the show, a new girl came in, she was in grade five, she learned an entire full-length play in four days and she had no concept and she was fantastic. And it’s like they’ll work with what you’ve got.

Steven: Oh, yeah, because I also work with seven to nine-year-olds and they had the same thing. Like, I was changing their lines and one of them happened to be my daughter who’s in the class, too, and they got so excited because they felt like they were the teen class, like the older kids, and their professionalism at that age was fantastic.

Lindsay: Aww. I love that, that’s awesome!

Steven: It was really great to see.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about what it specifically takes to direct young people and youth because it’s quite different than directing adults, wouldn’t you say?

Steven: Oh, absolutely, and I enjoy it a lot more. Like, nothing against directing adults. I mean, it’s fine, but directing kids, like, they just seem to be more into… The ones I’ve worked with, because some adult actors have been fantastic, but the students just seem to go, “Okay, let’s do this,” and their ego hasn’t taken over as much.

Lindsay: Right.

Steven: And they accept direction really well.

Lindsay: What do you do? Do you ever have to deal with shy students? Like, how do you bring a shy youngster out of their shell?

Steven: Well, basically, what I do is try to put them in a position where they’re going to succeed and, with rehearsals, it starts, like, in rehearsals, at the beginning where we do things where they get more and more outside of themselves, and a lot of what we do, too, is focus on letting them understand that it’s not about one person; it’s about everybody and everybody has to do their part.

And then, we also taught, too, one of my beliefs is that self-consciousness comes from putting the focus on yourself and, when you take the focus off yourself and you put it on the character or on the work, what happens is you’re not self-conscious on stage or you’re not shy on stage anymore because you’re focusing on what that character wants and you’re working for that.

So, what I do is push them in class and in rehearsal just to keep taking the focus off themselves – not to make it about them, to make it about what the character wants or needs – and it’s amazing how that, when they’re actually doing that, it changes. Like, we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs, just this year, with certain students who have been the quietest, shyest students.

We had one with this one girl in a very serious scene, like, for weeks, nothing, really. But I was like, “I know she’s got it,” so we stressed it and kept doing it. And then, one time in rehearsal, she just busted it out and I stopped rehearsal and I was like, “That is it. You’ve had your moment where you just dominated that character.” It was beautiful and she did it in the show, too.

Lindsay: I think that’s amazing. I wonder if that’s the same reason why, a lot of times, young students, when they put masks on, they can find themselves because it’s not them; it’s somebody else.

Steven: Well, yeah, and I think that is, and one thing we’ve stressed, too, like, this always sounds rough at the beginning but, when I talk to my class, I’m like, “This class is all about you. But, we start rehearsal, it’s all about the character. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about the play and then it’s about each other creating that world.” And there’s some kind of relief that actually comes from knowing it’s not about them. That it is about the character and about creating this magic on stage. It’s kind of freeing.

Lindsay: Are there any specific exercises that you do or is it just in the process of rehearsal?

Steven: Well, we do a lot of that in the process of rehearsal and we do a lot, like, I’m a huge fan of character bios and talking about what the character wants and getting those action verbs in there and stuff. So, that allows them to start thinking that way. So, before a scene starts, it’s like, “Why are you coming on stage? Why do you say this? Why do you say that?” and, if the focus is on themselves, they can’t answer the question.

Lindsay: Yes, awesome!

Steven: And, the more that we do it, because, you know, it’s like anything in life. The repetition of it, the constant pushing and the constant to go deeper and deeper because the whole thing, one thing they’re used to, they actually laugh at me sometimes when I go, “Hey, that was a really great show,” and we talk specifics and then they would go, “Well, I know what you’re going to say now.: now go out and do better.” It’s like, “You did this today, what are you going to do tomorrow? Like, what are you going to discover about your character?” and the more your push that, you know, since it’s a process, and if you push it and you have kids that are willing to work and willing to get better, it’s just amazing what they’re capable of.

Lindsay: Where do you lie in the process product about which is more important when you’re working with students?

Steven: Oh, it’s actually really interesting. When I first started directing, I felt it all came down to the product and that it was all about the product. And then, as time went on, I realized I became more obsessed with the process. And then, I read a book about John Wooden and he was talking about they were asking him about his undefeated seasons in basketball and he said, “I don’t necessarily care whether we win or lose. I care that we got into a position at the beginning of the game, that we could win, that we were going to do our best, that we practiced as well as we could have to do everything in our power to have a chance at winning.” And, in the end, that’s what I really value.

Like, in our rehearsal, like, I love rehearsals so much now because you focus on that process – developing these characters – because, in the end, there’s so many variables that go into that final show – like, you know, the actual performance – that, sometimes, you just can’t control props and things. You’ve got interesting audiences and stuff but you can’t control that but that, you know, when you go through the whole rehearsal process and get where that last dress rehearsal and you go, “This is your show,” it’s one of my favorite moments when I just give the show to them and I just say, “This is your show. Be there for each other. Come through for each other. And then, when you take your curtain call, know that you deserve it.”

Lindsay: I love that. Really, that whole notion, it’s very true. You can’t control what happens in a performance all the time but you can certainly control your process.

Steven: Yeah, and that’s what I have and I realize I wish I would have known that earlier when I first started, but now I do, so I fixed it from there. You know, it’s like, getting better and learning new things.

Lindsay: You know, it’s funny, we just did a Google Hangout about what I wish I knew when I was starting out as a drama teacher and I think that is a really good one about look at process and product – that’s what the difference is. You can control process and then let the product happen and where the chips fall where they may.

Steven: Yeah, exactly, and it takes a lot. It puts some added pressure on them but, at the same time, it also knows, lets them know that they’ve done the work, that they deserve success – and knowing that you deserve it, like, you deserve the success because of what you’ve done is so powerful.

Lindsay: So, a couple of times, you’ve been really brought up about the notion of the community of your players – your students – and how they sort of have to work together and that it’s not about you as an individual; it’s about a “we.”

So, talk about how community you think is important for student actors.

Steven: Well, I think it’s vital. One of the things we do in all my classes that we do in all the rehearsals is a check-in where the students are allowed to, at the very beginning, we do a check-out afterwards, but where they’re allowed to share whatever they want. Like, how their day’s gone or something funny that happened to them or something they’re struggling with and they share it with the whole group. They don’t have to share and we talk clearly about how it stays in there and what happens is and what’s amazing to watch is that these students really open up and they share things about themselves and they share what they’re going through and it helps just to create that community of one, basically, that we’re not alone.

And then, we also do an activity called “Who Am I?” where the students walk around and then they think about who they really are – not just what the people, the teachers or what I think of them or what their parents think of them, but who they really are – and then, when they know, they share it with everyone and it is amazing how you do, like the check-in and the “Who Am I?” activities that, after those are done, just the first couple, like, the first time or the check-ins constantly, you really see people wanting to come through for one another and it changes the whole spectrum of the rehearsal process. It’s actually probably the most important thing I do with like the who are you and the daily check-in. I mean, some check-ins are completely ridiculous, but those are important, too, just as the meaningful, like, the really serious ones, too.

Lindsay: Well, yeah, you need that balance. It sounds like what you’re doing, too, is creating an atmosphere of trust.

Steven: Yeah, and you have to because, if you really want to transport your audience to the world of this show, that means that every single actor has to be in on that, too – that they have to trust each other to be able to take that journey with each other – because it can’t happen if, you know, a couple of people don’t feel like they’re involved or they don’t trust the other actors, they’re not working as hard. Because, if we can create that magic on stage, then we can create that magic for the audience, too.

Lindsay: Ah, it’s awesome.

Steven: So, we really push for that because it’s so much more fun to watch and it’s so much more fun to act when you actually feel that, like, “Wow! We created that magic tonight!”

Lindsay: For sure. Okay. So, what would you say is your biggest challenge with directing youth?

Steven: Well, I think the thing is that you want to. I actually talked to a parent a couple of days ago and he was seeing, like, they really try, because I really focus on the process, sometimes when I’m casting, I put actors in a position that they’re not necessarily ready for. Well, I know it’s going to help them grow if I get them there. So, I’m like, “Okay. You know, if the show doesn’t work, that’s okay because it’s a learning thing.” And then, you talk to parents and then they talk about other actor’s breakthrough and then you see or you hear them go, “I really want this for my kid, too. Like, I feel like they’re on the edge of something.”

Because, when I had this conversation with this dad, I thought about my own kids and I was like, “Okay. This is what we’re going to do.” And then, you want to get them all to that next level so it becomes so much more than about the play because it’s their life. It’s like they’ve chosen to spend this part of their teenage years or their childhood with you and you really want to come through for them to make sure you get to find all the talent they have and just get them ready for the next step – whatever that may be.

And so, that’s the challenge because, sometimes, you know, you look back and you go, “I could have done more with this student.”

Lindsay: Yeah, and it’s hard, too, when you put them in a position and they don’t always step up, you know?

Steven: Right. And it’s like I had this conversation with the play we did just recently where I told the lead, I was like, “You have the potential to pull off this role. You also have the potential not to pull off this role and you’re the lead. So, here’s your part. I’m going to work you and you’re going to do the work. But we’ll see what happens,” and you see their eyes grow big and they’re like, “Okay. I can do this.” She totally nailed it, too. She has huge breakthroughs. But, yeah, I’ve had it happen before where I put someone in that position and did, well, it didn’t go that well.

Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, and do you ever get the other thing where parents aren’t so interested in the breakthrough? They’re like, “Well, Jimmy should be the lead. Why isn’t Jimmy the lead?”

Steven: Oh, absolutely. But the way I deal with things, and I tell them, like, when we’re casting, I say, “Look, I promise you this: I will cast this play not of what’s necessarily best for you – except for those exceptions where you’re really pushing – but what is best for the characters.”

That’s what it’s about for me because I would never cast someone that had no chance to pull off a role and I tell parents that, too, when they come up to me. I’ve had parents come up and I was like, “Well, it’s not about your daughter because this person was better for the role,” and, you know, when they get that, some get angry and I was like, “But I put your daughter where she’s best. It may not be the biggest role but this is where she’s best at right now.”

Teaching middle school, I’ve dealt with some really interesting parents so I’ve had a lot of moments where you have to go, “You know what? It’s just better to deal directly with them and just be very matter-of-fact.

Lindsay: They’re coming from that emotional place and, if you match them, that’s not good. That’s just not going to end well.

Steven: Oh, yeah, because I found out in teaching middle school, too, like, I never yell as a teacher at all because it just never worked for me because, when I was growing up, my dad, when I was about to blow off a course in college. He called, I talked to him and I thought he was going to yell at me and it would have made me not care.

But, instead, he just said, “Just so you know, you can do whatever you want but I’m extremely disappointed in you.” And I was like, “Oh.” And then, I stayed up the rest of the night to do that paper and did not blow off that class only because of that. Like, I could tell that he cared and then I’ve used that in my teaching and parents see that, too. You know? That you care about their kids but there’s just some things you have to do.

Lindsay: I like putting it on the character because, well, there’s really no argument.

Steven: Yeah!

Lindsay: There’s just no argument. It’s like, “This is what is best for the characters.”

Steven: And having, you know, written most of them, too, they understand that I’m going, like, I like these characters so I want to see them represented well on stage, you know?

Lindsay: That’s right. Absolutely. Oh, you segue me so well! So, let’s get into, speaking of talking about your plays, you’ve got a new one with us and it’s called Ashland Falls. Do you generally do full-lengths when you write? You seem more like in the hour – or is it? Yeah, because She Wrote, Died, And Wrote Some More is a one-act. The Bottom of the Lake is a longer one-act.

And then, we’ve got this really full – and I mean that as in wonderful as opposed to full-length – piece called Ashland Falls which takes place at a high school and there’s a lot of mystery behind it. We have students who are putting on a play but it was mysteriously delivered and their original director disappeared and then there’s another director kind of shows up with an English accent and then mystery gets deeper and deeper and deeper.

So, do you usually do full lengths?

Steven: Not normally, and this one actually came out from the fact that last year was my first time teaching a three-week high school summer camp at UW-Madison so I was like, “I want to do something different than I do for my middle school.” And so, I was like, “I’m going to write a two-act. I haven’t written one before but let’s just do it anyway.” So, I was like, “What do I want it to be?” and, instantly, I thought of Noises Off because that was my favorite show to ever do, and I have a really funny story about that at some point about the rehearsal process. It’s really funny. So then, I was like, “I want to do the first act similar to Noises Off where it’s a rehearsal process. It goes awful.” And then, I’m obsessed with English accents and ghost stories so I was like, “Well, I want the second act to be an English ghost story then.”

Lindsay: Ah! Well, and it’s what you’re good at, and I love that it is very much inspired by Noises Off but it’s not a comedy and, well, except that it’s got so much humor to it but that second act is just very genuinely intense.

Steven: It is, and when the actors were working with it, because they were having a lot of fun with the first act, and then, the second act, and that’s where the challenge comes in as an actor because the vibe is totally different.

Lindsay: You have to switch gears very, very abruptly between act one and act two.

Steven: And it was so much fun for me to write, too, because, in the first act, you have hints of that they’re similar in a lot of different ways but, in the second act, you get to deal with some very serious life issues, like, non-directly and stuff which made me happy because I love when I see a play or when I watch something or I read something, that you’re getting all the different kind of emotions that we deal with on a daily basis. It was so much fun to write, too.

Lindsay: So, when you came to direct it, what were your challenges?

Steven: Well, basically, one of the challenges was to do a two-act play in three weeks where you only could rehearse in the afternoon for three hours because, in the morning, you were doing class.

Lindsay: Right.

Steven: That was the biggest part. And, also, like, when the summer came, you don’t know necessarily who’s going to be there and you have to cast on whoever signs up for the class.

Lindsay: Right, because, usually, in your studio, you have been working with a lot of your students for years.

Steven: Absolutely.

Lindsay: So, you can write specifically to students. So, this is a much different situation where it’s a normal situation.

Steven: Exactly. Right! So, you knew that everybody in the class was going to get a part. So, I mean, you know, because I make sure the numbers where I needed a certain number of guys and, you know, girls – I needed that. But, other than that, it was just going, “Okay.” So then, we had, basically, that one day for auditions and then you have to cast people where, you know, you’re making judgment calls on “where could they go?”

Lindsay: I find it really rewarding when I write something and then I go see it and I’m like, “Well, I never saw it that way,” and how awesome is it that it can be interpreted that way and it can be that the text supports it meaning you’ve done a good job. How is that when you put your hands, your work in hands of people that you weren’t quite sure and then it came to life?

Steven: Well, I love it, like, when the actors make your work better than it is which is one of the things that I’d go, “Oh, wow! You just made that way better. You took that writing to a whole new level,” and that’s really fun to see, especially when you have that, like, very first draft to something, and it’s fun when they interpret it a way that you, like, when I’m reading all the characters out loud and, you know, in the early stages, and then they take it in a brand new direction and you’re like, “That is really cool!” So, there was a lot of compliments there. Like, I got to see those actors do that and then, some of the actors, I just got blown away, like, by the time of the performance because, you know, in a short amount of time, it doesn’t really come together until probably opening night, you know?

Lindsay: As it should be. That’s all right.

Steven: Exactly! It’s where you go, “How is it going to work out?” So, yeah, that was really cool and it was a lot of fun to do and to see it because the actors really enjoyed the fact that they got to have more fun, like, just goofy kind of fun, like, be high schoolers in the first act.

Lindsay: And then, just not. Be English aristocrats.

Steven: Exactly, yeah! And it was so cool because, when they first found out they have English accents, they’re like, “I can’t do one!” I was like, “All you have to do is get one close enough to play a high school actor who’s not actually British doing this accent.”

Lindsay: Did you do any exercises to help students sort of gain confidence with those accents?

Steven: We would practice. We’d go over various words on how they basically should sound. We would listen to a few dialect tapes but not a lot because we just didn’t have the time. So, it was really interesting. And we would do those were parts of our warm-up where a line that they were having trouble saying and then they would just go for it because really what I pushed is basically the character stuff because, in that second act, they have to really – well, in the first act, too, but in a different way – in the second act, they have to develop that character.

Like, why is that character the way they are? Why did they get to this point that all of this stuff is happening? And I was like, “And then, what’s going to happen is, the more you know about the character, basically, the accent’s just going to come from that because you’ve got it already in you because of the little practice we’ve done. But, also, you’re playing that character and everything else is just going to blend together if you push it enough.” And then, they did.

Lindsay: Well, it’s a multi-layered thing because, if we connect to who those characters are when you’re the actors and then we want to see and we see the little snippets of who they are in the play within the play and then we see them – and then, of course, because it’s a full-length – things happen at the end of act one. And then, we get to act two where they’re playing the character in the play, we have to have connected to them.

Steven: Absolutely.

Lindsay: So that we are on for the ride.

Steven: And the only way that can happen, it’s like you brought up, for the actors to connect, and that connection actually happens in rehearsal because, you know, the connection that the actor forms with the character can’t happen on opening night. The work had to be done beforehand.

Lindsay: And all that stuff we’ve been talking about – character profiles, just community building.

Steven: Oh, yeah, and because it’s so many things factor in to creating that, you know, the magic on stage – so many things – and it’s just fun, like, all of the process. If you look at all of the variables that just go into creating a show, it’s really cool.

Lindsay: I like it. It’s kind of the reason I’m in this field. I think so.

So, just before we go, what advice would you give to a director who’s looking at your play Ashland Falls?

Steven: I think the main thing is to just go into it and look at it first, the first act and second act, completely differently. But then, just go into creating, like, spending a lot of time on character development and that they have two distinct characters that they’ve got to create. But allow the character actors to explore and really work on developing that community where they feel, all the actors feel safe with one another and that they’re all on the same page and just to make it a journey.

Like, go, “We’re about to embark on a journey that’s really, really awesome. It’s going to be serious at times. It’s going to be funny at times. It’s going to be scary at times. It’ll never be boring.”

Lindsay: It’s a rollercoaster.

Steven: Yeah!

Lindsay: It’s a rollercoaster.

Steven: As we create this world and just go with that because they really, I mean, once you set it out like that, the actors just jump at it and you’re like, “All right. Let’s do this,”

Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, let’s do it! It’s awesome.

Steven: Hey. Can I tell you my Noises Off rehearsal story?

Lindsay: Of course!

Steven: Because it’s pretty awesome and painful. It’s ridiculous, too.

So, I did it, originally, like, a year after college and we had such a great cast that we’re like, “Ten years later, let’s all get back together and do it again.” So, we did! Because I figured, like, it would just be talk. But we did. We got all together and then, one weekend, we had a rehearsal, or one week we had a rehearsal and then we were going to get back and perform it a month later. So, I was Gary which meant I had to fall down the stairs.

And, when I got there and I saw the set, it was all, like, the stairs were really small and really steep and wooden and sharp because it wasn’t finished. And, if I fell down the flights of stairs right, when I got close to the bottom, there were two drops – to the left, there was a six-foot drop, to the right, there were three steps and I’d be happily laying there at the end.

Lindsay: I can see where this is going.

Steven: Exactly, right? So, during the last rehearsal, I have done perfectly well. I mean, I was covered in bruises because of the way the steps were built but, the last time, I started going all the way down the stairs and I’m like, “Oh, whoops! I have now lost control of my fall.” Had no control over it at all so I fall off the other side, fall six feet and landed on my back. So, the other actors, I think, think I’m dead and I’m just like, “Uh, hey, uh-huh… keep going, I’m good.” So, we kept going and I’m in serious pain.

And then, after the rehearsal is over, the director – one of my friends, too – he looks at me, he goes, “That was a good fall.” I’m like, “Thanks.” He goes, “Can we keep that fall for the show?” I’m like, “Are you serious?” He’s like, “Yeah, it looked really good,” and I was like, “Okay?” So, when we did the show and we had one more, I guess, one more rehearsal, I had to fall off the six-foot drop each time and it worked though because it did look really, really cool. But, man, it was painful.

Lindsay: Ah, it’s only good if it hurts. As my friend says – my friend who’s an aerialist – it’s like, “All the good tricks hurt.”

Steven: That’s right!

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, thank you so much, Steven! It’s a really great conversation. I think it’s really good to just get out there about directing and what it’s like to build a community and how important characters are. Actually, I think those are the only two things as a director of high school or middle schoolers – community, character – that’s it.

Steven: Yup!

Lindsay: You know what?

Steven: And that’s where the most fun, too.

Lindsay: Oh, yeah, absolutely! And so, Ashland Falls, and that’s Ashland Falls by Steven Stack. We will have the link in the show notes so that you can go and read the wonderful sample pages because it is a rollercoaster – I think that’s the only way to describe it, with an accent! So, you know, awesome!

Thank you so much!

Steven: Hey! Thank you!

Thank you, Steven!

Don’t forget; you can find the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode88.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

So, what have we been doing? What is new? Well, there was an in-depth blog post last week about preparing middle school students to perform monologues; we did a Google Hangout, Drama Teacher Hangout all about finding, choosing, and performing monologues; and there was – well, now I’m tooting my own horn, I was just about to say “pretty awesome” – okay, well, I like it and I think it’s okay – it’s a shark tank meets monologue exercise. You can find all the links to all of these in the show notes, theatrefolk.com/episode88, and you may have guessed, April is all about the monologue. Monologue, monologue, monologue, and we are going to have something pretty special coming your way later in the month. Stay tuned.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Enjoy this replay of our live Drama Teacher Hangout. We talked with Michael Wehrli about the challenges drama teachers face when guiding their students to choose and perform monologues.

Topics covered:

  • Why monologue books are bad.
  • Why monologue books are good.
  • Making bold blocking choices.
  • Pieces to avoid (and why to avoid them).
  • What to do with “the chair.”
  • And lots more!

See below the video for a link to a transcript.

Click here to get a transcript of the conversation.

Episode 87: Character Interpretation – The Student’s Point of View

Character Interpretation Student's

Lindsay talks with two sets of students who prepared the same characters, in the same show, but in two different productions. How did they prepare? How did seeing their character played by another actor affect their work?

Play

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 87! Yes, dork central, that would be me. So, you can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode87.

Last week, we talked about character interpretation from the director’s perspective and how two directors from my play, Cobweb Dreams, saw their particular productions. You know, same script, same set, same costumes, same blocking, and then completely different productions.

So, this week, we are going to talk to the students from that production. I have two sets of students, each who prepared the same character – one for the high school production of Cobweb Dreams and then one for the middle school production – and I really wanted to get their point of view on character interpretation, especially since they were able to see, you know, basically, right in front of them, another actor preparing the exact same role. So, how does that affect their preparation and were they intimidated or exhilarated, right?

So, let’s talk to our first set.

Excerpt:

Oh! Do you smell that? Ugh!

What?

It’s the worst thing I have ever smelled! Quick! Plug your ears! Hold your breath!

Why is everybody yelling?

Bottom… you have changed!

Cha-cha-changed!

What is on your head?

Can we get up yet?

Not yet! Still stinky!

Hee haw!

You’re all just making asses of yourself.

Lindsay: Hi! All right. So, I am here and I am in Owensboro and this is actually a very cool situation because we’re sitting in a theatre and it’s empty and it’s quiet. The stage is empty and I’m sitting here with two actors. I’m sitting here first with Tucker. Hello!

Tucker: Hello!

Lindsay: And with Cory. Hello!

Cory: Hello!

Lindsay: And, Tucker, what are we here to talk about?

Tucker: Cobweb Dreams.

Lindsay: Cobweb Dreams! That’s right. It’s tonight, right? It’s this afternoon. We have the middle school production doing their first performance and then tonight with Cory we have the high school performance, right?

Cory: Yes, we do.

Lindsay: Are you guys excited?

Cory: Oh, yes.

Tucker: Very.

Lindsay: Very? You guys can finally get to get it in front of an audience. Are you ready, Tucker?

Tucker: Yeah! As ready as I’ll ever be!

Lindsay: Yeah? That’s good. How about you, Cory?

Cory: Yes, very much ready.

Lindsay: Good. So, what’s really interesting is that, so, Tucker is in the middle school production of Cobweb Dreams and Cory is in the high school production and they’re playing the exact same roles. Cory, what role do you play?

Cory: Bottom.

Lindsay: Yes. So, Cobweb Dreams is a sort of a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and some of the same characters are the same. Just like that. So, did you want this part, Cory?

Cory: Oh, yes, very. It’s a comedic role. Love to make people laugh. When I read the script, wanted Bottom.

Lindsay: How about you, Tucker?

Tucker: Same.

Lindsay: Yeah? You really wanted this part?

Tucker: Yeah, I did.

Lindsay: Tell me why.

Tucker: I like making people laugh and being laughed at. So, that’s pretty much it.

Lindsay: Now, is this part easy for you or difficult?

Tucker: Well, it’s something that I know how to do, but there’s different difficulties because it’s a different character.

Lindsay: What’s something that’s difficult?

Tucker: The lines confuse me sometimes.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Tucker: I just cut people off a lot in the show.

Lindsay: Right. So, it’s hard to get the timing right.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: How about you, Cory? Is this an easy part or difficult?

Cory: It’s a difficult. I believe that the mindset of the character you have to play is very difficult to understand. You have to get that arrogant feel.

Lindsay: So, because you guys are playing two different productions, exact same part, what’s really interesting to me is how there’s a lot of similarities – same script, you guys are working on the same set, you have essentially the same costume – and yet, time and time again, the characters, two people who are playing the same character do them differently. So, Tucker, what do you think that you do that’s different than Cory?

Tucker: I feel like, since our group’s younger, we react differently.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Tucker: To different things. Like, I don’t see Tatanya the way his Bottom does.

Lindsay: Yeah. How do you see Tatanya?

Tucker: I see it as there’s a girl who likes me, why not join on in the fun?

Lindsay: It’s a fun experience for this character.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: What about you, Cory? How does Bottom interact with Tatanya?

Cory: I believe that he’s so into himself that he doesn’t realize that the person in love with him isn’t even human. He’s just like, “Okay. This gorgeous girl is hitting on me. I’m just going to go along with it. Why not?”

Lindsay: Right. Then, you guys, when you were doing your rehearsals, did you guys talk about the role together?

Tucker: Yes.

Cory: Yes.

Lindsay: What was that like, Tucker?

Tucker: Well, we talked about our back story a lot.

Lindsay: Oh, tell me what your back story was.

Tucker: Well, I’m related to Snout in the show and I don’t believe he is.

Lindsay: Oh, cool. Okay. We’ll do one then the other.

Tucker: All right.

Lindsay: So, you’re related to Snout in what way?

Tucker: Yeah. We’re brothers and Quince is like his best friend and they needed somebody else in the show that they were doing.

Lindsay: Hey, is Snout the one who jumps into your arms at the end?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah! Okay. That’s really good. I like that, building that relationship.

Tucker: Yeah, they needed somebody else and I was like, “Nah,” and they were like, “Come on,” so I did it. And then, it turns out I’m obsessed with it so why not do it everywhere I go? And just perform and perform and perform it even though I’m not that good.

Lindsay: Do you think this character knows that he’s not that good?

Tucker: No. He thinks he’s the best thing in the world.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Cool. And then, what was your back story, Cory?

Cory: It was I actually am related to Snout. However, I put it as more of adeeper sad kind of like our mother left us after which so Snout kind of raised mee and all that with my father and I put it as he doesn’t really see the world through anyone else’s eyes except Snout. So, he’s really arrogant, he’s like Snout.

Lindsay: Really? Why is back story important?

Cory: It helps character development so much. It tells you were you’re from, how you develop, how you perform out there.

Lindsay: Yeah. Do you have a lot of experience, Tucker, doing all this kind of back story and character development for your stuff?

Tucker: Well, I usually wrote, like, a page. But, for this one, I had somebody who was that but they were behind me and helped me which was Cory. So, I ended up writing two, three pages because he helped me, like, he helped me get through. So, I was confused on a lot of stuff and he’s older so he would have understood.

Lindsay: So, you have someone who’s older who’s playing the same part as you and he’s sort of like, if there’s anything that you didn’t understand in the script, then he sort of explained it.

Tucker: Yup.

Lindsay: What’s something that you didn’t understand?

Tucker: The song because I’m singing and he told me the song. That didn’t really work out for me because I’m a younger kid so I ended up singing a different song. But that helped me out a lot.

Lindsay: Yeah, just to have someone who kind of throws you, lets you know.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Did you ever feel any pressure, Tucker, to act the way Cory does?

Tucker: I wanted to be as good as Cory, but I wanted to be different because I’m not Cory. I’m not going to be Cory. But I wanted to be with him but be myself and be different, but still be as good as Cory.

Lindsay: Did you feel any pressure, like, just sort of that you know you had to mentor kind of another person who’s playing your same character?

Cory: Yeah, when I saw the middle school perform and he was up there, I kind of felt, like, responsible to help him develop and help me develop in the same way.

Lindsay: How did it help you?

Cory: He taught me the differences between, like, his reactions are totally different from my reactions. So, I kind of combined them together to make a completely new reaction that both parties helped create.

Lindsay: Yeah, and have you ever done this before where there’s another person, like, right there all the time, playing the same part?

Cory: Nope, never done this before.

Lindsay: So, how has that helped you as an actor?

Cory: It lets me see two different sides of the same character – two different roles of the exact same character – because, when I see the show today, I’m going to be looking at his part. He’s doing it completely different from me, but that’s okay because he’s doing it his own way which is what I respect. I love that people can go, “I’m going to do it this way, but I’m going to do it this way, and it can be even better. It could be amazing.”

Lindsay: Well, this is a perfect example of character interpretation, right? That there’s no one way to play a part, there’s no one way to interpret a theatrical experience. How has this helped your acting, do you think, Tucker?

Tucker: Well, I felt like I had more help this time. Like, not that I needed help but Cory was there to help me. Like, I wouldn’t have understood half the stuff in the show if it wasn’t for Cory because Cory knew how to explain things to me when other people didn’t really understand our role because they weren’t the ones practicing the lines every night. So, he helped me, like, back story a lot. He helped me through that, like, because it’s not the easiest thing for me to do.

Lindsay: No, and also, I mean, how long have you been acting?

Tucker: A while.

Lindsay: Yeah, but is this one of the few parts where it’s been this involved?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah. So, how are you going to tackle your next role, do you think, based on this experience?

Tucker: I don’t know. Like, I’m going to find somebody who can help me out, too, who will actually, like, they know it as well because, like, I saw that when Cory helped me, it helped me grow so much and another person could do the exact same thing because I want the help. I want the criticism because all criticism does is help you. It helps you more and more.

Lindsay: What about you, Cory? What will you take from this to the next thing that you do?

Cory: I believe the next thing I do is, when I get the character and when I get the script, I’ll actually have someone perform the other character so I can take their interpretation and mold it into my own interpretation to get two different sides of the story.

Lindsay: Well, it’s so funny because sometimes you see something you just never thought of, you know? And that can really help you grow. Just what you guys are saying, it can help you grow as an actor.

So, you’re excited for the show. What’s the thing you’re looking forward to the most, Tucker?

Tucker: I don’t know. Doing my final monologue.

Lindsay: Doing your final monologue

Tucker: It’s really fun.

Lindsay: Yeah? I think that moment that you guys have, well, I just love it when Snout just runs down and he leaps into your arms.

Tucker: And I catch him, yeah.

Lindsay: Are you looking forward to the audience?

Tucker: Yeah, yeah.

Lindsay: Responding to what you have to do?

Tucker: Yeah, definitely.

Lindsay: How about you, Cory?

Cory: My favorite part about performing is the audience reaction because I take what they give me and I go, “Okay. I’m doing something really good here.” I just love when they give me a laugh. That’s my favorite part of doing this.

Lindsay: Awesome. Cool! Thank you so much for talking to me.

Tucker: Thank you.

Cory: Thank you.

Lindsay: Ah, great!

Awesome. Okay. So, now we’re going to talk to two different actors – again, one high school student and one middle school student – and this brings in a different aspect of character interpretation – the same character played by two different genders. So, how does gender affect interpretation from the actor’s point of view, okay? Let’s do it.

Excerpt:

Ow! My wings! Get off of me!

You get off!

Do you mind? I don’t like being flattened.

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

Why are you hiding in the bushes?

Who’s hiding? It’s a free forest!

It’s not like we were spying you.

What?

Spying? Who said anything about spying?

How long have you been there?

We were visiting our friend! You have no business here!

None of you have business here.

Ugh!

It isn’t nice to sneak up on a fairy, Moth.

Lindsay: Okay. So, now I’m here with John Thomas. Hello! And Lucy, say hi, Lucy.

Lucy: Hello.

Lindsay: And both of you also play the same character in Cobweb Dreams. Lucy, what is your character?

Lucy: Thicket.

Lindsay: Thicket. Thicket is sort of the best friend-ish, brother-ish character to the main character, Cobweb, right? Right.

Now, the thing is that, in the middle school version – Lucy, which you are in – Thicket is played by you and you are a…?

Lucy: Girl.

Lindsay: Girl, yes. And John Thomas in the high school version, you’re a guy, right? And so, what part were you looking for when you auditioned for the play?

John: I was actually looking at Puck. I really thought he was very playful and mischievous. It was a different character than I was just playing. And then, Miss Greer put on the board on the auditions the names of flower fairies and water fairies and all that, and then she starred certain ones that she wanted to turn into a guy and I was just thinking, “Huh. That’s going to be interesting to see how they’re going to turn it into a guy.” I didn’t think I was going to be the one to change it. But it’s been really interesting.

Lindsay: It’s interesting for me, too, because, you know, for me, I saw Thicket as a girl, but I really like Thicket as a boy. Like, what do you think of the character as a guy, John Thomas?

John: I just think he’s more like a brother to her. If you have a girl play it, it would be more like the best friend, you know. Willow’s kind of like the mommy. But Thicket is kind of like the brother and he’s also kind of an authority figure to her in the end whenever he just tells her, “You know, you belong with us. I don’t know why you can’t see it.”

Lindsay: Now, Lucy, how do you see the character?

Lucy: Well, I see it really playful that she doesn’t really want to get in trouble with Tatanya but, at the same time, she wants to have fun and she wants to go with Cobweb. And, every time Cobweb gets in trouble she’s worried that Cobweb will rat her out, really.

Lindsay: Do you know what’s really interesting though? When I saw taking pictures yesterday of you, Lucy, every time, like, Cobweb was threatened or every time the flower fairies came around, you made a fist and it’s like you were going to get up and you were going to beat somebody up. Is that conscious? Did you make a choice to be angry and make that really tense fist?

Lucy: The first time that happened, like, I was up in her face and I was like, “Wait. Hey, how did I get here?” and then, the other times I thought, “Oh, well, I thought that was fun. Might as well go with it.”

Lindsay: Yeah, it’s a really interesting image which I think the high school, John Thomas, your Thicket’s not like that at all. How do you see that?

John: He is a lot like Willow. The way that I looked into the back story is that Willow and Thicket were brother and sister.

Lindsay: Right.

John: And they both do kind of worry about Cobweb and they’re really concerned about Cobweb, but it’s also like she has to make her own decisions and she has to fail at times, just like everyone.

Lindsay: Right. Yeah, everybody has to. Lucy, did you do some background work on your character?

Lucy: I did!

Lindsay: So, what’s your back story?

Lucy: Well, Thicket is Willow’s twin sister but they’re like fraternal twins – they’re nothing alike – and Cobweb, they just kind of ran into Cobweb one day when Cobweb was about to get beat up by a flower fairy and Willow and Thicket kind of jump in and save her.

Lindsay: Yeah. There’s a moment at the end where, in the middle school version, it’s you and Willow and you’re sort of Willow’s revealing to Thicket for the first time that she’d really missed Cobweb and you guys hold hands when you walk away. What’s that moment like for you?

Lucy: Well, it’s kind of big for us. I mean, Willow has always been, you know, like, “Oh, I’m worried about her,” but, you know, she’s offended in that and then, in that scene, she’s more, “She’s my best friend. I’m going to die without her. I really need her there.”

Lindsay: Did it make sense for you to hold hands when you walked off? You hold hands in other areas, too, don’t you?

Lucy: Uh-huh.

Lindsay: Yeah. John Thomas, you and Willow don’t do that, do you?

John: No.

Lindsay: Why?

John: I think Thicket really gets annoyed with Willow because she’s always worried and she’s always trying to control Cobweb and he really just, as he says, she has to make her own decisions and he gets annoyed with her because he has a bunch of stuff to say. Thicket is younger than Willow and I think he’s a lot wiser even though he is younger and he has so much that he wants to say and he wants to take care of everyone but Willow isn’t letting him so he just gets annoyed with her sometimes.

Lindsay: I love how we have, like, so it’s the exact same show, essentially, but, you know, people are able to make completely different interpretations of their character.

Lucy, what was it like to see your character played by another person?

Lucy: Well, I always saw Thicket in one way. Like, the boyish fairy, very happy, very playful, and then, when I saw John Thomas, I was like, “Oh, Thicket can be another way,” and I was amazed by that.

Lindsay: Yeah? Did you ever feel any pressure to play it his way?

Lucy: Not really, no.

Lindsay: That’s good. That’s good. And what was it like to see the different interpretation of Thicket?

John: It was interesting to see how the show was written for a girl. I really thought it was cool and, you know, I had known Lucy just through seeing her perform at the middle school and so I really was happy for her to get the role and it was just, you know, just looking at her, it’s just like, “Wow!” I really love how we can interpret things differently and it still can be such a good show.

Lindsay: Yeah. It’s like it’s very open, isn’t it? I love that. So, are you guys looking forward to the show? So, tonight we have the high school and this afternoon the middle school. What are you looking forward to, Lucy?

Lucy: Performing for my mom. She’s been really excited about this. She’s helped me run my lines. She’s made my costume. She’s with me all steps.

Lindsay: Cool. How about you?

John: I’m just really excited to premier something. You know, we’re the first group to do this in the United States and it’s just really cool when, you know, twenty years down the road, I can look back and say, “This is what I did.”

Lindsay: Well, and also your names are going to be, when it gets officially published, you’re going to have your names in the published work which is also very cool.

This is a very unique experience that we have the same show as middle school and high school. And, also – you must have – did you have a conversation together about your character?

Lucy: Yeah.

Lindsay: And how do you think that this experience is going to help you the next role that you do? Lucy, what do you think?

Lucy: Well, next role I do, I’ll know not just to see one way. I’ll know to look at it from different points of views, you know, see them as something else.

Lindsay: Cool. How about you?

John: I’ve learned that you can’t just look at a script and get your character that way. You have to research and you have to, I mean, it’s little stuff like looking into the name like where does the name come from. So, I’ve learned that I can’t just not do back story. I have to know who this character is.

Lindsay: Awesome.

John: It just makes the experience so much cooler.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. Break a leg, buys. Thank you!

John: All right. Thank you.

Thank you, guys!

Okay. So, don’t forget, you can find the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode87.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!

So, our play of the week this week is Postcards from Shakespeare by Allison Williams. Allison has a number of plays with us – Drop Dead, Juliet!, Hamlette, Mmmbeth, The Scarlet Heart – and we are thrilled to have another in our catalog.

So, here’s the deal. Shakespeare has writer’s block and he doesn’t know how to fix it so he turns to the only person who can get him out of this jam, Queen Elizabeth I. Of course! Who else would you turn to, right?

Okay. Here is a short moment from the play:

WILLIAM: The words just aren’t coming out…it used to be so easy! Bang out fifty-odd pages, rush it to the theatre, collect the money. Four histories, two comedies and a really long poem in the last four years! But now, I am a block, a stone, a worse than senseless thing. Please, Elizabeth, no-one understands me like you do. What shall I do?

ELIZABETH: How dreadful for you! Sometimes I don’t know what to say, either! But then I just yell, “Chop off his head!” or “I’m not getting married!” and that covers most situations. If I yell it in French, I look clever, too. “Couper la tête! Je ne vais pas épouser!” I don’t think that will work for you, though. You’re already married. And you can’t chop off people’s heads. Well, you can, but you may not. Where would we be if everyone just chopped off someone’s head when they felt like it? Spain. And then we’d all have to take three hours’ nap every afternoon, just when the weather’s getting nice.

Willy—William—your plays make me—what’s that feeling when no-one’s attacking you with guns or asking you to marry some repellent little toad from Norway? Happy! They make me happy. Not too many things do that any more. They say a change is as good as a rest, Willy dear, so let’s have a change of scene. See what I did there? “Scene?” I’m sure I could be a writer, too, if I wasn’t so busy crushing the Welsh. Enclosed is a purse of ducats. Well, not enclosed, attached. Well, handed to you by the messenger with this letter. You know what I mean. Take a little trip on me, Willy, and see if that gives you some fresh ideas. Don’t think of it as giving up—it’s like a strategic retreat. Like the Spanish! “Invincible armada,” my Aunt Fanny.

So, Shakespeare takes a whirlwind tour around the world in thirty minutes looking for inspiration. Venice, Egypt, there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. Go to theatrefolk.com. Search for Postcards from Shakespeare. Read the sample pages. Laugh your butt off. Buy a copy. Do it now.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.” That’s where you’ll find us.

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

How to find monologues

I never enjoy looking for monologues. It’s sort of like a hunting expedition and I don’t like hunting. And don’t get me started on fishing…

But – big BUT – I love when I actually find a great piece that suits both me and the thing I’m auditioning for. I feel like Livingstone seeing Victoria Falls for the first time.

Here’s some advice on finding the perfect monologue for you.

Monologue Books

Monologue books are a great starting point. Monologues in collections have usually been curated by editors who have gone through dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of plays to create the collection. And they can be a godsend if you really need something specific in a pinch. But they’re just a tool, not a solution. They’re not the end all and be all.

Lots of people buy monologue books. And it’s very likely that lots of people have the same monologue book that you have. And it’s possible they like the same piece that you do. And I’m not saying that they’re better than you per se, but if they happen to have their audition scheduled before yours, then when you announce what you’re performing there will be a small drop in the room’s barometric pressure as the director thinks to herself, Dang, how many times will I have to watch this same piece today???

But as I say, these books are great starting points. Here’s how to use them…

  • Find a piece you like in the book – you identify with a character, the writing appeals to you, etc.
  • Buy a copy of that play and read it.
  • Look for the monologue from your book. It’s possible that the piece in the book is edited down from a larger monologue. Maybe you can reshape it into a different piece altogether than the one in the book.
  • Look for other monologues by the same character. It’s possible they have more than one monologue in the play.
  • Look for other monologues in the same play by a different character. Playwrights who write good monologues , ones that aren’t in the monologue book.
  • Get other plays by the same author. There are probably well-written monologues in those plays as well.

Visit the Library

Yes, the old-fashioned library. That building with all the books. While a lot of theatrical publishers are starting to put their plays online, there are still thousands of amazing scripts that are only available in book form.

If you’re near a major city, budget a day to spend at their largest library, whichever branch has the best performing arts section.

Just start completely randomly. Grab a couple dozen plays off the shelf and start flipping through them. You’ll begin to get a feel for which playwrights are likely to write monologues that appeal to you, then start focusing on those playwrights.

Editing

Here is the one place in the theatre that I think it’s ok to edit the playwright’s work to suit your needs.

Don’t be shy about cutting together a monologue from a series of smaller speeches.

Don’t be shy about slicing out bits that don’t make sense out of context.

The object of this piece is not a performance. It’s a showcase for you, not the writer. You’re the one auditioning.

When I was auditioning a lot, this is where most of my pieces came from. Since I was the one putting them together, I could be pretty sure that what I was doing was unique.

Consider What You’re Auditioning For

If you’re auditioning for a play, look at pieces by the same author. Or look at pieces in a similar style. Or find out what playwrights inspired that playwright.

If you’re auditioning for a school, look at the plays they’re doing in their season. Again, look at pieces by the same playwrights and in similar genres.