by Kimberly Megna Yarnall
Recipe for a Perfect Workday (if you are a literary nerd in the theater)
Preparation time: 5 hours
Yields: An exciting evening of new work sure to surprise, delight, and inspire audiences.
- One straight-backed wooden chair
- One small table
- One obscenely large chai latte
- One cookie, preferably oatmeal, larger than the latte
- One laptop
- 80 brand-spanking-new monologues
- Arrange the first five ingredients to find the perfect balance of comfort and attention. You want to feel cozy and relaxed but alert and present before adding the last ingredient.
- Turn on the laptop and open the Mother Of All Monologue Spreadsheets. Take a moment to bask in its color-coded organizational glory.
- Open the Submissions folder. Using your cursor take a quick tour of the file names enjoying all the potential contained in the list of monologue titles.
- Cross-reference the spreadsheet and monologue files making sure it’s all queued up correctly. Bask in the organization prowess of your colleagues (namely Karen Moeller).
- Make a note of the title and open your first monologue file.
- Stop here and take a breath. This is the moment: 100% potential energy at the cusp of becoming kinetic. It’s the very apex before the first downhill of the rollercoaster. What amazing ideas were sparked in the minds of these writers by the festival title we chose (Out of the Fire - Banned Books)? What historical perspectives, heartfelt pleas, hilarious tell-alls, tragic characters, and surprising glimpses of a fantastic future await? Who will charm you? Disarm you? Dismember and disgust you? Who will move you? To tears? To snorty laughter? Who will make you spill your latte or gorge on your cookie?
- Read and evaluate.
- Read and evaluate.
- Read and evaluate.
- Stop here and think about all of the writers across the country who sat down to write these words – maybe with a similar ingredient list. Think about the good energy created and sent out into the universe when people dig deep and find something they want to say and then say it and then send it and then you read it.
- Consider getting another latte or cookie or both.
- Make a trip to the restroom.
- Read and evaluate.
- Read and evaluate. (Rinse and repeat until every file is completed.)
- Stop here and take a breath. You’ve done it. You’ve paid homage to the muse. You’ve done good work. You’ve been open and honest and ready to receive. You’ve been generous and critical and earnest. You’ve done your small part in creating an inspiring event for audiences. You’ve supported new work.
- Review the Mother Of All Monologue Spreadsheets and bask in the completed column under your initials.
- Wait with fidgety anticipation for opening night (and consider going decaf next year).
by Richard Ganoung
Here in the Midwest we enjoy Summer the old fashioned way, we EARN it! Among the myriad festivities which abound this time of year I'd like to offer a jaunt to our beloved Door County where audiences can be entertained under the stars at both American Folklore Theatre and Door Shakespeare. Last August, I had the privilege of visiting these outdoor venues in the "Thumb of Wisconsin" and I can promise you laughter and rejuvenation should you choose to make a long weekend of hiking, swimming, and theater going. And the best part is you can often wear the same clothes to all three! It's an unassuming, relaxed, and carefree adventure in the great outdoors. You'll see familiar faces onstage and behind the scenes at these venues as many of the theater professionals there have worked with Forward Theater. As an actor I thoroughly enjoy watching companies throughout my state and marvel at the fortitude of individuals who relocate their whole lives for a few months each summer. Actors who battle mosquitoes, ticks, and heat exhaustion, just to ring laughter from hundreds of grateful audience members. Please visit FolkloreTheatre.com and DoorShakespeare.com for more information. I'm half tempted here to include lodging information and restaurant tips but I've been asked to write only about the 'play experience'. Maybe Forward could send me for another weekend this year to just check out hotels and restaurants? I should get on that! Best wishes for a safe and relaxing summer to you all. See you in the lobby!
by Sam White
When I learned I was commissioned to write a monologue for Forward Theater's upcoming festival, I was overwhelmed. Looking at the list of commissioned playwrights, I was honored, humbled and significantly freaked out. All tremendous writers, I... completely unworthy! Then, when I discovered the festival's literary theme – "Banned Books." The bottom dropped out.
Do not misunderstand. I think it's a marvelous idea. The issues surrounding banned and challenged books are fertile territory to explore, full of important issues, and limitless "dramatic" possibility. Today, besides being in danger of possible extinction, books are still in danger of censorship! There are even in our day and age – the 21st Century – books that some people don't want you to read. Astonishing!
Regardless, what really made me balk at this clever and important theme – and this is a frightful admission for a theater artist – I am not literary person. Don't tell anyone, but I do not very well read. I'm not a "good reader." Credit that to a mild case of undiagnosed dyslexia and a state of perpetual motion. I'm a slow reader and I find it challenging to sit still long enough to read anything... especially fiction. It's not that I don't read. I do. But when I pick up something to read, it is invariably either a play or research about a play.
So when I reviewed the background material Forward supplied – a list of the 100 most banned, challenged, or censored books, my heart sank even further. I'd read maybe two – One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest and Catcher in the Rye – one because I was directing the play and the other because I had to read it in high school. I never even read any of those Harry Potter things, which are on that villainous banned book list, too. Yeah, I'm not normal. And all those books I was supposed to read throughout my forgettable scholastic career? Well... perhaps another confession I should not make. Suffice it to say, I was not a studious youth. There was too much adventure to be had to waste valuable time sitting in a room reading something.
So, looking at the list of infamous and often revered books I was lost. I wasn't about to read Slaughterhouse-Five just so I could write a monologue about it. Despite the fact it would be undoubtedly good for me, I'd enjoy it immensely and come up with a lot of ideas, that's not what I wanted to do. Reading a book just so I could write about it would take too long and I probably fall asleep – which invariably happens when I try to read a book. Bottom line, I had no idea what to write. NONE! Not only was I faced with I subject I felt was over my head, I was issued a deadline! I've lived deadline life before during a brief, shining career as a journalist, but a deadline for a creative work? Heaven forefend! Yeah, well, welcome to the real world, dude.
So almost immediately I exchanged a few ideas with Forward's dramaturge, Kimberly Megna Yarnall. She quickly became my muse, my Melpomene, my Thalia (primarily the later). One of the primary ideas to come out of our correspondences, which eased my anguish, was that I didn't have to write something profound and deep. The main goal, as a commissioned playwright, was that I needed to write something more specific. Something that worked with the rest of the pieces – see, the other writers got their stuff done before the deadline – jerks. Then it clicked.
I stuck to what I know best, being a character... I mean creating a character. I didn't need to, nor should I write something based on profound literary themes or a great piece of literature. I needed to write something character-based. What better character to create for this particular project than a portraiture of a librarian. Someone who is on the front lines of the banned book war, a battle that is essentially over our freedom of speech. Librarians are truly in the trenches on this battlefield. They are the generals in this fight.
Ironically, they are not all on the same side. And there lies one of the keys in writing stuff – where there is irony, there is often great theater. So here is the origin of my piece, "Bad Librarian." I wanted to explore the idea of being in the midst of combat. So Miss Helberschlaben was created. Kimberly was delighted and encouraging – frankly something I desperately needed. Being an actor by nature and a writer by necessity (long story there), that's all I needed to throw myself into the project. Often, one "atta boy" goes a long way. Doesn't it for all of us?
She also affirmed we absolutely needed that type of representation in our festival. A librarian was a perfect fit. To add even a little more texture to the festival, we decided a comic bent would be nice – like I can help writing anything that isn't humorous. When I get serious about anything, it's generally droll and pedantic.
The first draft is now done, only a few weeks behind deadline. We have several very fine actresses in mind for the role and I am looking forward to developing the piece further. Nothing is more enlightening for a playwright, than putting a work into the hands, or rather the voice of a good actor. That is where things really come to life.
So mission mostly accomplished and lesson relearned. Write what you know. I know crazy, fun characters, because I are one. However, by writing something from the perspective of a combatant in this war against censorship, it has given me something to say. Because, bottom line, if you don't have something to say, how can you write anything?
Now, I need to thank Kimberly for her guidance and encouragement. I also hope you come out to the libraries where the commission pieces will be performed this fall. As well as to the festival in February, which is part of FTC's season. The monologue festival has become a semi-annual favorite of our audiences, and it's an exciting and unique type of theater experience. We'd love to see you there.
by Karen Moeller
One of the things I'm often asked is, "How do you pick your plays?" I love to hear this question. It means our audiences are engaged and interested in the plays we present, or that they were surprised to discover and fall in love with a play they had never heard of before and are wondering where in the heck we found it. To that end, we work hard to read and consider as many scripts as we can so that we can continue to present the plays that will truly speak to you, our audience.
A key part of this process is our Literary Committee. Made up of actors, designers, writers and dramaturgs, this committee reads and discusses in depth over 60 plays a year. We check out the Pulitzer and Tony Award nominees and winners; look at what other top theaters in the country are doing; comb through reviews and research playwrights; read new works; and take suggestions from our audience, staff, cast members, Board members, creative and production teams, and fellow artists. I've always enjoyed reading scripts -- I was that annoying student in lit class who always wanted yet one more play by Shakespeare or Chekhov on the syllabus. (Actually, I've still managed to remain annoying in this regard, as I often read many of the plays we are considering twice.) And it's even more fulfilling (and fun) to read scripts with the purpose of helping to find the plays that might make their way into a future Forward season.
Each play is read and evaluated by at least three members of the Literary Committee, then discussed at the monthly meeting. And the discussions don't just concern the scripts themselves. We talk about the success and reviews of past productions, as well as other works by the playwright. We even put some writers on our "to watch" list, in order to get an early look at any new works they create. If the reaction after this initial discussion is positive, it's then read by the committee as a whole (currently seven permanent and two rotating members). From there, plays needing further consideration are read by our Advisory Company, where Artistic Director Jen Gray weighs in as well. A short list forms, and in time, a new season begins to take shape.
Without the Literary Committee, the number of scripts to which we could give this much consideration would be significantly lower. As a member of the Committee since it began, I've treasured the opportunity to read so many great works. There have been dramas that have left me sobbing, or that have made me run to the computer to research a particular topic. There are the comedies that drive my husband crazy because I keep interrupting whatever he's doing to read him another funny bit. There are the plays that I've wanted to turn around and read again the moment I finished because I just can't bear to say good-bye to the characters. And when I read a play that makes me think," This could be perfect for Forward and for our audiences in Madison," it's magical.