Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: No by Palesa Molefe

Hello and welcome back to Monologue Monday. This week’s monologue is perhaps the most unique monologue featured on the site so far.

It is simply, yet strongly, the word “no” repeated. This is an incredibly powerful monologue that forces the actor to, well, act. It isn’t merely saying “no” with different tones. The writer/performer Palesa Molefe runs the gamut of human emotions as she expresses various iterations of the word “no.”

As a produced monologist myself, Molefe has achieved with one word anything greater than I have (I know it’s not a competition). Let’s take a look:

 

Many people in life find it hard to say no. Palesa Molefe isn’t one of those people.

Specifically, women have been conditioned to not say “no.” This monologue attempts to shatter that mold.

On the flip side of things, there are people who say “no” to everything, but they tend to exist in Jim Carrey movies.

As for the performance aspect, I asked actor, dancer, director and intimacy choreographer Nicole Perry for her take on this monologue:

This monologue is great for actors working on developing emotional nuance or range. Similar to the Meisner game that requires partners to repeat, the monologue is simply the word “no”. Memorization made easy! 

This monologue is a great showcase of “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”! Each repetition is different. She covers great emotional range throughout the performance, and a variety of commitment levels and/or intentions. From adamant denial to a meek admittance, from scoffing to delight.  

Because the words are easy to remember, this could also be a great monologue to work on movement. As a movement analyst, I’m interested in when our movement supports what we are saying, and when our movement belies our true intentions. This would be a great piece to play with not just saying “no” with a variety of emotions and intentions, but also adding a layer of movement that either supports or denies what you are saying! What characters/situations come up for you as you experience this? 

I love that this monologue allows us to say “no”. Frankly, in 2019, it’s a skill we need to practice. As actors, we are conditioned to say “yes”. But, as the Broadway Intimacy Director Claire Warden likes to say “No is a full sentence”. If, as a performer or an acting student, you are put in a position that is unsafe, triggering, or questionable, you have the right to ask questions, or to just say “no”. The difficulty in this is that the power dynamic of actor/director, particularly if it’s student actor/adult director, makes us very fearful of the consequences of saying “no”. So, practice saying “no”. I hope you always get to train and work in situations that honor your agency and personhood, and allow you have and hold your boundaries. But, in case you don’t, know how to say “no”. 

Ms Molefe was kind enough to give us her introduction:

My name is Palesa Molefe a 20-year-old self-taught actor and scriptwriter from Botswana. I have always had a love for the arts, specifically film and stage performance, however my acting career truly began after the short film ‘Lacunawhich I wrote, produced and featured was amongst the official selection in the Botswana National Film Festival 2018. I’ve gained recognition for my creative and unorthodox style of storytelling. Currently I am working under my mentor Mr. Tefo Paya – an internationally recognized performer and director from Botswana, to help develop and sculpt my career. 

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Palesa Molefe, monologist extraordinaire.

Beyond introductions, Ms Molefe went out of her way to answer some questions for us.

Where did the idea come from to write/perform this monologue?

  I wanted to give light to the abuse women in Botswana go through. For reasons only known to us, most of us stay silent after having gone through such a traumatic experience. This piece to validate every woman’s ‘NO’, whether she’s saying it drunk or nervously laughing because she might be afraid. Her no is valid and she’s worth being listened to and taken seriously.

How did your prepare/rehearse this monologue?
  I did not rehearse this monologue because I know that women who have gone through this weren’t given the luxury. The day I decided to shoot the monologue, I grabbed my camera, set it up in my room, gave myself time to find my center and remembered all the stories I had heard prior to that moment. I then allowed myself to feel every emotion that needed to be felt in each moment as I started to record. 

What has the response been?
  I come from a very conservative country, so it was a bit of a culture shock. The delivery of the message was different from what a lot of people had seen but overall viewers were warm and appreciative of the message. 

Have you done much other writing, dramatic or otherwise?
  I continue to write to this day. I have plans for these scripts, whether it’s to share them on stage, film or just to keep them to myself. I recently returned from a tour around Botswana called ‘Madi Majwana’, it focused on using theatre as a tool to educate people from all walks of life on financial literacy. Right now I am focused on being a good student and learning from the ones who came before me in the creative industry.

What was the hardest thing about this monologue?
  Being honest. Being honest about how I truly felt in telling the story of many women.

What are your influences?
  What I feel, hear, think and see every day plays a big part in what influences me. If I was to move to a different country, my story and my truth would be different from the one I have now. I would experience life differently, I would hear different stories, I’d think differently because new environment adjustments and I’d see different scenery, different people, different ways of life.

What advice do you have for other performers/writers who want to use their voice for activism?
  Only you can tell your story best. When you’re convicted to write a script or perform a piece, do it in a way you know only you can. That means trusting in your capabilities, trusting in your own voice, in your own truth and owning it. You have to admit that it’s kind of hard to write a story about the life of a 50-year old man in Africa whilst you’re a 25-year old young man from America because well that’s not your story, it’s not your truth.

What do you have coming up next? How can we find out more about you?
  Currently I am working on a script for another short Film. It’s still in its early stages but it will be out and up on my YouTube channel before this year comes to an end.
 Email –  paalesamolefe1234@gmail.com.
YouTube channel – Palesa Molefe 
(is where my content can viewed, including Lacuna the short film.)
Facebook Page – Palesa Molefe

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Botswana should be more famous just for having a neat flag. 

Ms Molefe is truly one of the most impressive theatre people I’ve interacted with. Please subscribe, follow or contact her. Folks like Ms Molefe are the future of theatre.

Feel free to check out all our monologues, unknown playwrights or theatre horror stories.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Intimacy Theatre

Intimate Theatre: Why?

[This is a new feature – a collaboration between Unknown Playwrights and guest writer Nicole Perry about intimacy choreography/directing.]

As an intimacy director, I get a lot of conversations that start with “What exactly IS intimacy direction?”

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This is the definition Intimacy Directors International offers. 

Theatrical Intimacy Education says that training in the art “empowers artists with the tools to ethically, efficiently, and effectively stage intimacy, nudity, and sexual violence.”

What exactly is intimacy? Let’s ask Google. 

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I certainly hope that guy doesn’t need an intimacy director for his relationship with Swahili literature

For us, stage intimacy isn’t just sex or nudity, it’s personal vulnerability. Intimate moments could happen between grieving siblings, close friends or lovers. One good part about Google’s definition is that it uses the closeness between husband and wife as an example.

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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon-Marigolds is ripe for an intimacy director. Here are Arielle Hoffman, Skye Coyne and Laura Turnbull in a Florida production

 

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Even Ah, Wilderness! (a play featuring Eugene O’Neill’s least dysfunctional and depressing family) could use an intimacy director. Here are Thomas Stagnitta and Christina Liang in a San Francisco production

Maybe you remember in high school how awkward that kissing scene was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It would’ve been nice to have someone take that awkwardness down 1,000 notches. The adult theatre needs this. 

If stage combat is choreographed, stage intimacy needs to be choreographed as well. When something is choreographed, it means there is a level of accuracy to be achieved and maintained. Think about how lame unchoreographed fights would look.

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The grand-daddy of all intimacy direction needs: A Streetcar Named Desire. Here, a Korean production from 2013.
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Here’s an interesting poster for a 2019 Korean production of A Streetcar Named Desire, ironically showing the different intimacies involved in the play. In fact, this poster could use an intimacy director. 

Just like with fight choreography, personal safety is a mandate. Similar to dance choreography, in intimacy choreography, a person with training has created movement for the moment that heightens the actors’ performance, that furthers the story, that fulfills the director’s creative vision. As a bonus, choreography  is repeatable. 

This is what happens when you lack an intimacy choreographer:

All of these elements make for story-telling that is safe for the performers, clear, and consistent. Communication with the audience is part of the goal of any performance, and intimacy choreography makes that possible.

Just like a dance choreographer trains in various genres of dance and fight choreographers train with weapons and hand-to-hand, intimacy choreographers should have training in creating these moments for the stage. The two organizations linked above are doing that. I have been lucky enough to train with both.

The importance of this work transcends everything from youth theatre to ballet companies to professional theatre to ballroom dance competition teams. All of these instances require a performance of authenticity and vulnerability, for the communication of a story to an audience. A performer’s personal safety and professional integrity should never be compromised for that. Nor should the story or the audience suffer because intimate moments weren’t crafted with the same deliberation as the rest of the performance. That is what an intimacy director or intimacy choreographer does.

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Intimacy direction isn’t just for creepy old misogynistic plays. In fact this year’s revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune used an intimacy director. Above: Michael Shannon and Audra MacDonald.  

This is the first in a series of posts penned by Nicole Perry, a dancer, choreographer, actor, director and intimacy director. We let Bryan Stubbles have some minor input.

Please check out Nicole’s Twitter feed where she often posts about the topic.  

And when you’re super bored, please read our Theatre Horror Stories, watch monologues or learn about Unknown Playwrights.

 

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: How to Be a Bitch by Frank Edwards (maybe)

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.”

The Monologue

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. 

And in Portuguese:

“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.

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Luísa Todi – good enough for a Portuguese stamp, not male enough to perform in Portugal.

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.

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In the English-speaking theatre world, this goes all the way back to when women were banned from the theatre. Ever wonder why women make up less than 16% of characters in Shakespeare’s plays? Because little boys played Juliet, Ophelia, Cleopatra and all the other female parts.

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A modern interpretation of a “boy player” in John Ford’s The Lady’s Trial by a company that’s into that sort of thing.

Women only began appearing in theatre with the restoration of the Merrie Monarch, Charles II.

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Charles II’s Portuguese-born wife, Queen Catherine is related to Maria I and Joaõ VI, linking the monarch responsible for allowing women on the English stage to the monarchs banning, then allowing women on the Portuguese and Brazilian stages. Monarchs suck.

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.

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Pictured: Sexual delirium in a bottle.

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.”

Chicago-based playwright Sharai Bohannon echoed her concerns:

“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.”

The mystery

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.

Worthwhile monologues

Female performers should not have to subject themselves to inferior/poorly-written roles, especially when it comes to monologues.

Worthwhile female monologues exist, also written by women, including Allison Moore, Tera Meddaugh (and here), Neith Boyce, Ntozake Shange, Alice Gerstenberg, Aurora Rooker, Annie Eliot and Diana Son. All of them are 1,000 times better than How to Be a Bitch.

English

 

Portuguese A

 

Portuguese B (she calls him Felipe at the beginning)

Oooh, look how popular!

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Portuguese C

 

Portuguese D

 

Portuguese E

 

Portuguese F

 

Portuguese G

 

Thanks for reading/watching and join us next week for more monologues!!!