As a writer and theatre enthusiast, I've always been thankful for great monologues. Interestingly enough, as it turns out, being thankful can actually help a great deal with monologue writing.
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Scratching the Surface
On the surface sometimes—and especially for younger students, theatre can seem to be all about the actors, their gestures, inflection, expressions and movement. But when it is all about the actors, and not the story, the characters, their revelations and their truth, that’s where the work remains—on the surface, on the cusp of emotional engagement.
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Enter the Monologue
The Monologue would seem to fully support the formula that is:
Actor Alone On Stage + Words = Brilliant, Larger-than-Life Actor
However, the potential is much greater. The monologue is a wonderful way to reveal meaningful aspects of a character’s journey, his thoughts and his truth, while enriching the overall story—in a most pure and emotionally engaging fashion. There can be a beautiful vulnerability to being alone on the stage, and whether or not it’s the characters’ intention, vulnerability breeds truth. How do we as writers achieve that truth to be realized by actors within the greater context of a good play?
I’m reminded of Constantin Stanislavsky’s Affective Memory, wherein actors were encouraged to recall memories of a situation with similar emotional import as that of their character. An element of his famous “Method," Affective Memory may be just as easily, and perhaps intrinsically, applied to writers.
Everyone, for example, has felt thankful for something (e.g., “Thank you for the kind gesture," “Thanks, that was fun," or, sarcastically even, “Thanks for nothing.") Either way, that gratitude comes from a deeper, more vulnerable place, a place that breeds good actors and writers alike.
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Exercise: Following the Emotion to the Letter
1. Ask students to reflect on a time when they were thankful for something. Give them an opportunity to cluster about their emotions and their thoughts on “thanks." Note that they don’t have to provide information about a real experience of theirs. They need only access the feelings associated with it.
2. As they make notes, write the following probing questions on the board:
From where is the writer writing this letter? How old is he/she?
What is the relationship between the writer and the recipient of the letter?
What occurred just before the writer wrote the letter?
Why does the letter have to be written now?
Does the letter stay on track or meander a bit? If the latter, is something revealed unintentionally as a result?
3. When they’re done clustering, acquaint students with the questions on the board, and ask them to begin writing a thank you letter to someone, from characters other than themselves. Remind them that they can branch out as widely as they’d like as it relates to the events surrounding the thank you. (Note: If teacher decides it’s prudent, students may use markers or crayons to add color and style to the letters in order to emphasize certain points or traits of their character, The Writer.)
4. Collect the letters, shuffle and redistribute them. Have a few students come to the front of the class and read aloud the letters of others, one at a time.
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Engage the students in exploration of their experience in working through this exercise, writing any noteworthy responses on the board.
What did you learn about the character(s) as you wrote the thank you letter? What details came to light?
After hearing the letters, did they engage you? Did you believe the writers? Why or why not?
Could you envision these monologues connecting to a greater play? Why or why not?