This playwright is an acquaintance and Dramatists Guild Member.
I had a short play accepted for a festival far from me, and put out a call for directors. Eventually one young man responded, a recent college grad, who didn’t live close to the theatre but was willing to travel. As this was self-produced, he wanted to know my budget, and eventually asked for an advance on expenses equivalent to about 1/3 of the final amount.
I sent this amount to him and everything seemed fine until about 3 weeks before the festival date, when he suddenly informed me he had to replace actors repeatedly and so was withdrawing because he didn’t feel he could do a creditable job in the time remaining. Nothing would make him budge, so given the unlikelihood of finding a new director at short notice, I withdrew the play.
[I also know the pain of withdrawing a play because of flaky directors. I think many of us do.]
This wasn’t great, but the festival was very nice about it and offered me a slot for next year. But despite repeated reminders, this director has failed to return the money I advanced him.
[I hope that director bought a sandwich at Subway with the playwright’s money and Subway ran his card twice.]
Since the playwright sent the original story, this happened…
Update: he finally responded to me and promised to return the money. Fingers crossed.
Thanks for reading.
Abuse and unprofessionalism in the theatre should stop. We’re supposed to be on the same team, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.
The goddess Venus complains that Jupiter has been neglecting her son Aeneas, who has been lost in a storm on his way to found a new Troy in Italy. Jupiter calms the storm, allowing Aeneas to land safely on the North African coast.
Aeneas meets with other surviving Trojans who have been receiving hospitality from Dido, Queen of Carthage. When Aeneas meets Dido, she agrees to supply his ships and he tells her about the fall of Troy.
A NEW LOVE
Dido is attached to Iarbas but Venus sends Cupid to make her fall in love with Aeneas instead, believing this will help keep him safe. Dido rejects Iarbas, which pleases her sister Anna who is in love with him.
Venus and Juno come together to create a storm, forcing Dido and Aeneas into a cave together. There, they declare their feelings for each other and consummate their love.
Meanwhile, preparations are made for the Trojans to depart for Italy. Dido removes the sails from the ships so that they cannot go, although Aeneas denies intending to leave. Dido announces that he will be king of Carthage and they decide to found the new Troy there instead.
Translation: Super-duper lonely Dido meets Mr. Johnny McBadass Hero Stud Aeneas and is totally into him.
Hermes informs Aeneas that he has no choice but to leave as his destiny is in Italy. Aeneas reluctantly agrees and goes to tell Dido. She is horrified and burns everything that reminds her of him. Heartbroken, Dido takes fate into her own hands and, with a single act of protestation, changes the lives of everyone around her.
Translation: Aeneas is a dirty dog and Dido loses it.
Yeah, the play doesn’t end well for Dido. The entire story of course is taken from Virgil’s Aeneid , which took about 10 years to write because apparently publishers lacked deadlines in ancient Rome. Snark.
Dido really, really feels her emotions.
The monologue is below:
DIDO: Speaks not Æneas like a conqueror?
O blessed tempests that did drive him in!
O happy sand that made him run aground!
Henceforth you shall be our Carthage gods.
Ay, but it may be, he will leave my love,
And seek a foreign land call’d Italy:
O that I had a charm to keep the winds
Within the closure of a golden ball;
Or that the Tyrrhene sea were in mine arms,
That he might suffer shipwreck on my breast,
As oft as he attempts to hoist up sail!
I must prevent him; wishing will not serve.–
Go bid my nurse take young Ascanius,
And bear him in the country to her house;
Æneas will not go without his son;
Yet, lest he should, for I am full of fear,
Bring me his oars, his tackling, and his sails.
What if I sink his ships? O, he will frown!
Better he frown than I should die of grief.
I cannot see him frown; it may not be:
Armies of foes resolv’d to win this town,
Or impious traitors vow’d to have my life,
Affright me not; only Æneas frown
Is that which terrifies poor Dido’s heart:
Not bloody spears, appearing in the air,
Presage the downfall of my empery,
Nor blazing comets threaten Dido’s death;
It is Æneas’ frown that ends my days.
If he forsake me not, I never die;
For in his looks I see eternity,
And he’ll make me immortal with a kiss.
Before we bring you the two videos of this monologue, I reached out to Devon Ellington, who is much more familiar with the play and brings a unique perspective as someone with a lengthy theatre background as well as an author. Here’s what she said:
On the face of it, this monologue is a woman terrified that the man she loves will leave her and do everything in her power to keep him “shipwrecked at her breast.” She is willing to steal his son and sabotage his ships, perhaps even sink them, because she would rather face his “frown” than his departure.
The first response is “here we go again.” Because, after all, it’s an overused trope that a woman is willing to die for love (which Dido does when Aeneas leaves; she kills herself). It’s difficult, from our modern viewpoint, not to get impatient with her. It’s sometimes hard to remember that is was first published in 1594. Boys would have played the women’s roles then, and that can add more layers, depending on the production’s interpretation.
[Editor’s note: even beyond this custom, according to the title page of the first publication, it was first performed by the Children of the Chapel, which means ALL the roles were performed by boys in the initial production]
But look at the monologue in the context of the play, and, if you choose to work on it, you can find more. Venus has her son Cupid shoot one of his arrows into Dido to force her fall in love with Aeneas, because Venus wanted Aeneas to stay on Carthage, post-Trojan war, so he would be safe. She hoped Dido’s love would keep him there.
In other words, when working on this monologue, one can think in terms of layers. How much of Dido’s overwrought feelings of love – willing to express it in toxic terms to try to make her lover stay instead of letting him stay – are actually hers? What kind of subtext can be played in this piece if a part of Dido realizes something’s not quite right? She might not know she’s under enchantment, via Cupid’s arrow, but what if she starts feeling that something within her is off? What if not only the text is played, but what’s below it?
The text is a ranting plan by a desperate woman to keep a lover who might or might not love her in return. But what if she has a moment of lucidity, where she doesn’t actually break free, but realizes that she is not completely in control? That she is behaving out of character, and not as a queen should, but can’t stop herself? It’s more than the emotion of love sweeping everything else away in her life, and creating this wild need. It doesn’t come from within her. It’s a poison that was put into her by Cupid. This monologue shows that love can be a poison that destroys. This is a queen, a leader of her people. In her legend, she proved her cleverness by outsmarting the people with whom she bartered land for a bull’s hide – which she then cut up and placed to encompass the kingdom. Yet she’s willing to throw it all away for a man, and haven’t we as women lived with THAT trope since it was created?
But what if, in this passage:
“Not bloody spears, appearing in the air, Presage the downfall of my empery, Nor blazing comets threaten Dido’s death; It is Æneas’ frown that ends my days.”
What if here, there is a moment where she realizes that she’s not in control? That, no matter what she does, he will leave, and she will lose her kingdom? That she can’t break free of the enchantment and stop it? She can’t flush this poisonous love from her system. What if this is where she realizes she is doomed? What if needing him to stay is not just about her own personal need, created by Venus’s manipulation and Cupid’s enchantment, but the only way to hold Carthage? And that part of her knows it won’t happen, and death is inevitable?
In an overall production, how does Venus willingness to hurt another woman play out? Common, in legends of Venus. She caused a lot of pain. How much of it is a male interpretation of “women who can’t get along” that we’ve seen over the centuries, and how much of it is a mother willing to burn down the world to protect her child? Those choices would also affect how this monologue is interpreted.
For a modern performer, it certainly gives more to work with than just a terrified woman plotting to keep her lover. One of the reasons we keep exploring and performing plays by Marlowe, Shakespeare, and all the other classics, is the chance to layer on new interpretations as our frames of reference grows, and we understand the contexts of earlier productions.
Taking some of Ms. Ellington’s words to heart will definitely help an actor using this monologue.
Devon Ellington publishes under half a dozen names in fiction and non-fiction, and is an
internationally-produced playwright and radio writer. The bulk of her career was spent working in theatre, including years working backstage on Broadway.
Let’s take a look at two incarnations of Dido’s monologue:
This story comes from a playwright I know. They belong to the Dramatists Guild and are good at what they do.
In 2016, I pitched a script to a local theatre hoping for just a workshop. The AD [artistic director] said he loved it and suggested three public staged readings, with Q+A. As time went by, three readings were reduced to two, then to one. I was assigned a director and the first rehearsal was scheduled on a Sunday morning one week before the reading date. I arrived at the theatre to find it locked, and a voice mail telling me 3 of the 6 actors were unavailable, but we’d pick up again Tuesday or Wednesday. The week went by and I heard nothing.
[What world did this AD grow up in where it is okay to just cancel a reading and not even tell the playwright????]
I wrote a complaint to the AD which went unanswered. So what if we cancel your reading without notifying you? Eventually I spoke to one of the theatre owners who was sympathetic to me, and he said I was supposed to have received a letter from another of the owners (never happened), and an email from the director (never received).
[Looks like the owners and AD went to the same school of unprofessionalism]
A couple of years later I decided to try to mend fences, even though I was the victim. Sometime later the theatre put out a call for directors to pitch projects for their next mainstage season, and I pitched one of my full-length plays. Got an email from the AD saying the theatre was not doing original plays for its mainstage season (which was not specified in the call). Some months later the theater announced its mainstage season, which included an original full-length play – by the AD.
[What’s the saying? Burn me once shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me? Nah, burn me twice, shame on this dishonest evil little theatre hurting playwrights]
Abuse and unprofessionalism in the theatre should stop. We’re supposed to be on the same team, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Hopefully, I can keep making these posts until American theatre becomes a safer working environment. I’ll probably be 1,500 years old by then.
I want to thank our anonymous playwright who bravely came to me with this story.
If anyone has a story to share, please reach out to me. You will always be anonymous.
Howdy all! Back with another monologue. Generally, the monologues on this site are more-or-less endorsed by the site. However, this week is different. This is a monologue we recommend nobody actually perform.
While diving through Portuguese-language monologues (see A Street Car Named Desire for the fruits of that labor), I discovered the following monologue, which, admittedly, isn’t very good. It is indeed entitled “How to Be a Bitch.”
Don’t do that. Please, put that small box away. Don’t ask me to marry you. Listen, before I met you I was happy to be a slut. People at work considered me a slutty bitch. True. Those people I introduced [to] you as my friends, they were never my friends. They were just afraid of me. I was never the kind of person to say “thank you,” “please” in a restaurant. To be laughing at each other’s jokes. On the contrary, I was always sharp with my tongue, fast in offending people. And now I’m having all these impulses to donate money. Feed the hungry. Hug the poor. Help the elderly cross the streets. Don’t you see? You transformed me into a nice person. And what scares me the most is to think that you gonna open that small box, propose to me, and I might say yes! Shit! I’m gonna say one “yes” and I’m gonna have to be a nice person for the rest of my life. This is terrible! This is awful! The world has plenty of nice people it doesn’t need me. See, I was born this way and I wanna remain this way. It’s who I am. It’s how I recognize myself. Please, do me a favor. I’m not even asking, I’m begging you. Don’t marry me.
“Não faça isso! Não abra essa caixinha de presente! Não me peça para casar com você.
Não posso deixar você fazer isso comigo!
Antes de te conhecer eu costumava ser uma vadia. Verdade! Todos no trabalho me considera-vam uma tremenda piranha. Ninguém realmente gostava de mim. Aquelas pessoas que eu apresentei para você como meus amigos,de facto, não eram meus amigos. Eles estavam com medo de mim!
Antes, eu nunca disse por favor ou obrigado num restaurante. Nunca gargalhei ou sorri das piadas de ninguém. Pelo contrário sempre fui rápida com os insultos e ofensas!
Agora tenho esses sentimentos, esses impulsos para doar a instituições de caridade, distribuir sopa aos sem-teto, dar abraços a pessoas humildes, ajudar velhinhas a atravessar a rua e por aí vai!
Você não vê!?
Você não vê que me transformou numa pessoa agradável!
E o que realmente me assusta é que você vai abrir essa caixa e perguntar-me se eu quero ca-sar com você, e eu vou aceitar, putz! Vou apenas dizer “sim”, e então terei de ser boa alma para o resto da minha vida! Isso é horrível! Péssimo!
Pelo amor de Deus, coloque essa caixa de volta no bolso. O planeta já tem milhões de pessoas agradáveis – ele não precisa de mim! Eu sou uma safada e é assim que quero permanecer … desse jeito!
Não estou pedindo …não!
Estou te implorando:
Por favor … não case comigo!
You don’t have to be a professional translator to know the English version is more like a Reader’s Digest version of the Portuguese.
Women in Portuguese-speaking theatre
Since this monologue is so popular in Brazil (and I suspect was actually originally in Portuguese – more on that later), we should look at the history of women in theatre there. Maria I (known as The Pious in Portugal and The Mad in Brazil – quite an achievement) banned women from the theatre in both countries except for women portraying the Virgin Mary. In 1794 a theatre producer opened a small theatre which indeed had a female performer, but it closed quickly. Only after Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and the flight of Joaõ VI to Brazil with his court in 1807 did women begin acting regularly on the Brazilian stage. He was ruling as regent for his mother, Maria I. Maybe allowing women on stage was an act of rebellion against mom?
Portugal suffered under the same general ban, but occasionally the government made dispensations. One of the greatest European actresses and singers of the 18th Century, Luísa Todi, only performed once in her home country with special permission. I can’t find specifically when things relaxed in Portugal, but I’m guessing around the same time they relaxed in Brazil.
Women in English-speaking theatre
Women can have it rough finding good roles in theatre. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search. Or go audition for a play with like six male parts and one or two female parts.
Then the breeches role became popular for women. This is where a female character dresses up like a man (i.e. wears breeches) and the audience can see her legs.
To Be a Bitch or Not to Be…
From this bizarre start, things haven’t really progressed much. I asked playwright, producer, published author and podcaster Laurel Myler about this monologue and roles for women in theatre and she had the following insights:
“Characters who are women are not often written as complete characters. Instead, they exist to fill an archetype: the love interest, the nagging wife, the ingénue, the old lady, the vixen, et cetera. Female roles rarely delve much deeper than their surface textual functions. Take the “How to Be a Bitch” monologue for example. Women do not talk like this. Women do not think like this. The character shows little complexity or forethought. It’s a laughable, stale stereotype, and yet I suspect that this monologue might be praised as “bold” or “daring.” A comprehensive examination of female roles in theatre does not yield much different results. This is what women look like in plays. Of course, there are exceptions, and I do think contemporary theatre is trending toward the creation of more engaging, complex roles for women, but it’s hard to unlearn the standard system. I’m a female playwright, and I’m guilty of this kind of characterization myself. I don’t suggest that female characters can’t be unlikable, can’t be the villain, can’t be wrong or in the wrong, or can’t genuinely be bitches. They absolutely can. They absolutely should. But they should also be people.”
“The roles aren’t there because very few theatres are producing work about women. Most theatres still treat the canon like the end all be all so roles for women are still just wives, mothers, mistresses who work more as props in the male narrative. It’s frustrating to watch and mirrors how society treats us (which is why the government keeps trying regulate our bodies).”
To get a performance and pedagogical-based perspective I reached out to prominent director, teacher, intimacy choreographer, choreographer, actor and dancer Nicole Perry She had a lot of insight into this piece. Possibly more than the piece deserves.
“I have a few problems with this monologue. Some from a technical/educational perspective. Some from a feminist/political perspective. I’ll start with technical/educational, as I think that’s a little more objective.
As a high school drama teacher and a coach for competition monologues, something I often see from the young women I work with is the choice of an angry monologue. As women, we’re so often told to be “nice”, “polite”, “act like a lady”, etc. So, getting to play a character that embodies the opposite is refreshing. I get the choice. However, it often doesn’t serve the actor.
This monologue, for example, might seem refreshing at first go. She’s owning her negative qualities. However, this monologue, like so many “angry women” monologues, does not actually empower women. It does not show us a character that is using her voice, to own all parts of herself, to accept all emotions and behaviors she has. She has no self-examination as to WHY she feels these things or WHY she feels threatened by the opportunity to change. Therefore, she’s not making interesting choices. She’s insisting on same-ness, which is not compelling. The character is, frankly, flat. The monologue only has one note or one emotional tone. There is no nuance in this monologue. She does not arouse our curiosity.
She also does not engage our empathy. The most interesting villains are ones that still have some shred of humanity that makes us, as an audience empathizes with them and their choices. To see ourselves in them, and understand, just for a moment, how someone could get there. There is none of that in this monologue. She’s simply hard and cruel. There are plenty of strong female characters out there, who know why they are angry and help us see their side of the story. And, at the end, even if we don’t agree, we empathize. Whether your monologue is for an audition, competition, or show, you want the audience on your side, at least for a moment.
The poor sap with the box though, I feel very badly for that person! I am much more curious about them. How did they fall for her act so long? How did they inspire these feelings of “nice”-ness in her? What are they thinking and feeling right now? If you are an actor, performing a monologue, you likely do NOT want the audience or adjudicators thinking more about the person NOT in the scene than about you. But that’s what happens here.
Speaking of “nice”, that’s just an incredibly vague word. It may have to do with the translation, but “nice” doesn’t really tell me anything. Compassionate, empathetic, helpful, generous, all of these words are better choices and would tell me much more about her state of mind.
Ok. Now. Feminist-wise, this monologue is troubling. The first concern that I have with this monologue is its use of derogatory words for women when it’s written by a man. I am NOT saying men can’t write female characters or that they can’t write women who make bad choices or are even villainous. But, “bitch” and “slut” are really loaded words. For a really great take on this, check out the short play Webster’s Bitch by Jacquline Bircher on New Play Exchange. But, quickly, it’s about defining the word for the dictionary, and who gets to define it, and what it means when a specific person defines it.
“Make no mistake, “bitch” is a gendered insult that has undercut women and reduced them to their sexual function as long as it has existed (Allison Yarrow, 2018.).” Its use in conjunction with “slut” is a bit redundant. But besides bad writing, it is a sexist choice, regardless of the fact that a female character is delivering in the line.
“Slut”, like “nice” doesn’t really mean much. Every person has their own definition of behavior that fits, from wearing a miniskirt and red lipstick to frequent sexual activity. Again, poor word selection, and sexist choices.
In this monologue, a male writer has reduced a female to a sexual definition and contrasted it against her partner (who is genderless, but my gut says intended male), who makes distinct social behavioral choices (gives to poor, feeds the hungry, helps the elderly). It’s not an even playing field: he is a social agent, she is a sexual one.
If you are a female actor wanting an angry monologue to claim those emotions for yourself, or to contrast with a saccharine-sweet character, I understand. But this one isn’t it.”
Despite all the videos attributing this monologue to an English-language writer named Frank Edwards, I can find no evidence Mr. Edwards exists or that it truly was translated from English into Portuguese. Translation credit is given to Aguinaldo Silva, a renowned Brazilian writer.
The source of the monologue seems to be the Facebook page of an arts school named after Mr. Silva. The monologue is also on the homepage. There is a video of an English version of this monologue. My feeling is it was translated out of the Portuguese, but I can’t prove this.
Female performers should not have to subject themselves to inferior/poorly-written roles, especially when it comes to monologues.
Hello everyone!!! Welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. I know the blog hasn’t been a priority this summer, but it touches my heart to see so many people visiting it.
We’re going to look at a monologue here through the lens of different cultures. While researching Portuguese monologues, I discovered Blanche’s “He was a boy..” monoloue from a A Streetcar Named Desire is popular on YouTube for some reason. I found a Portuguese site with Blanche’s monologue. Here is what the site says about Blanche’s role in the play:
[translation after the Portuguese]
Na peça, Blanche foge de Laurel para a casa da irmã Stella Kowalski em New Orleans, devido ao seu envolvimento com um de seus alunos. Stella vive um relacionamento abusivo com seu marido Stanley e a chegada da irmã perturba o sistema de mútua dependência na casa, pois esta vive um mundo de fantasias e ilusões misturadas a sua realidade e acaba influenciando aqueles ao seu redor.
Blanche DuBois, sulista, e professora de inglês tenta encobrir a realidade a todo o custo. Disfarça suas desilusões inclusive a maior delas, seu breve casamento desfeito pela homossexualidade do marido Allan Grey e seu subsequente suicídio, através da ideia de se mostrar ainda atraente e com a possibilidade de novas conquistas amorosas.
Translation: In the play, Blanche flees Laurel to her sister Stella Kowalski’s home in New Orleans, due to her involvement with one of her students. Stella lives in an abusive relationship with her husband Stanley and the arrival of her sister disturbs the system of mutual dependence in the house, as she lives in a world of fantasies and illusions mixed with reality and ends up influencing those around her.
Blanche DuBois, Southerner, and English teacher tries to cover up reality at all costs. She disguises her disappointments, including her biggest disappointment, her brief marriage broken up by her husband Allan Gray’s homosexuality, and his subsequent suicide, through the idea of still being attractive and the possibility of new love conquests.
I asked American playwright Mattie Rydalch her thoughts on this interpretation and this is what she had to say: “I felt more like grief was behind a lot of the fantasies she had, and then that final trauma from Stanley tipped her over the edge in the end. She’s always seemed to me like a person that a lot of crappy things have happened to, and that she’s been driven to detachment from reality because of grief and trauma.”
Of course these are simply two folks’ opinions. We do also have a neat little infographic from Shmoop about Blanche:
It’s interesting because in English productions, I think most actors go for a New Orleans accent or at least a generic Southern accent. But the part would lose that characteristic in translation.
So, this time around, we’ll have both Portuguese and English versions.
Here is the text of the Portuguese:
Não. Era um menino. Apenas um menino, quando eu era ainda muito jovem. Aos dezesseis anos fiz uma grande descoberta – o amor! Foi tudo tão simples, tão completo. Foi assim como se acendesse uma luz intensa, num lugar que estivesse sempre no escuro. Foi assim que ele iluminou esse mundo para mim. Mas não tive sorte. Desiludi-me logo.
Havia nele qualquer coisa muito estranha… Um nervosismo, uma doçura, uma delicadeza que não eram próprios de um homem – se bem que ele não tinha nada de efeminado. Mas havia qualquer coisa… Ele me procurava em busca de ajuda. E eu não sabia disso… Foi então, que eu percebi que o havia enganado de uma maneira misteriosa e que eu não lhe estava dando a ajuda de que ele necessitava, mas da qual não podia falar!
Ele estava num atoleiro e agarrava-se a mim. Mas eu não o estava puxando para fora. Eu estava afundando com ele. E eu não sabia de nada…
And in English (but I added more of the follow-up):
He was a boy, just a boy, when I was a very young girl. When I was sixteen, I made the discovery–love. All at once and much, much too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me. But I was unlucky. Deluded. There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit effeminate looking–still–that thing was there…. He came to me for help. I didn’t know that. I didn’t find out anything till after our marriage when we’d run away and come back and all I knew was I’d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn’t able to give the help he needed but couldn’t speak of! He was in the quicksands and clutching at me–but I wasn’t holding him out, I was slipping in with him! I didn’t know that. I didn’t know anything except I loved him unendurably but without being able to help him or help myself. Then I found out. In the worst of all possible ways. By coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty–which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it… the boy I had married and an older man who had been his friend for years. Afterwards we pretended that nothing had been discovered. Yes, the three of us drove out to Moon Lake Casino, very drunk and laughing all the way. We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly in the middle of the dance the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few moments later–a shot!
I ran out–all did!–all ran and gathered about the terrible thing at the edge of the lake! I couldn’t get near for the crowding. Then somebody caught my arm. “Don’t go any closer! Come back! You don’t want to see!” See? See what! Then I heard voices say– Allan! Allan! The Gray boy! He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth, and fired–so that the back of his head had been–blown away!
It was because–on the dance-floor–unable to stop myself–I’d suddenly said–“I saw! I know! You disgust me!” And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this–kitchen–candle…
Anyways, I thought it would be interesting to see how different cultures portray the same monologue. Hopefully, watching the Portuguese can somehow influence or help any English-speaking actors reading this. The English monologues will follow the Portuguese.
And now in the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Hansberry aka English:
English D (from a Brazilian)
Here is a type of trailer for the production in Portugal mentioned earlier:
And I know what you’re thinking: What about Korean? Well, we got the first 20 minutes of the play in Korean.