Sunday, September 23, 2007

Actors of Color, What is Your Favorite Monologue?

This fall one of the courses I'm going to teach is a high school class on writing and performing monologues. I'm very keen on using monologues delivered by characters of color as examples, and I'm on a particular quest to collect film adaptations so that I can play the performance of these monologues for my students. If you are an actor of color, perhaps you can help me out. While I welcome monologues from plays -- especially those by playwrights of color -- ideally, I'd love monologues available on video (e.g. the film adaptation of play) and which can stand alone without requiring too much context.

I find that your average book of monologues -- especially those geared toward youth -- are not very diverse with respect to culture or even scenario. Furthermore, while they may be serviceable for teaching performance, I find them inadequate for teaching writing, especially the unique art of writing the standalone monologue.
Here's an example of a great monologue I discovered while conducting research for a different writing project altogether. It comes from the 2000 HBO miniseries The Corner which was created by the same talent behind the TV series The Wire. In this monologue, Gary, a 34 year old dope addict is getting high with some friends.

I went to see this movie. The one about what they did to the Jews in the war. Lord, what they did to them people. The Germans decided that they weren’t human no more. They just said, “No, you ain’t human like we human.” And when they said that, hey, man… it just got easier for them to do all kinds of dirt. By the end, all the Germans could do, man, was like get rid of them, you know. Kill them all. ‘Cause, you know, they couldn’t see them being anything better than rats or bugs. But it was real, all right. And I’m sitting there, and I’m watching this movie, and I’m realizing that it’s happening again. We sit here day after day making ourselves a little bit less human, and the world is happy to see it. It seems like they happy to see it, man. I mean, when I was making money, it didn’t matter because I was still a nigger. And now that I’m sitting up here getting high with y’all, it’s still the same. Don’t you see what I’m saying? The Germans made the Jews into niggers. That’s what that was about. And that’s what this is here except we’re doing it to ourselves. It seems like the world just can’t wait for us to finish until we all end up dead.

This monologue is perfect because you can either read or watch it with no context and still understand it. The actual movie had a few lines of interjecting dialogue from the other characters present in the scene, but their lines can be deleted with nothing lost. It's a great piece of writing (I especially love the subtext), and it gives the actor several moments to mine.

Another good example is a monologue from Romeo Must Die starring Jet Li and the late Aaliyah. In the scene after Aaliyah's character Trish learns that her brother has been murdered, she tells how she and her brother used to get a kick out of scaring their mother by crying wolf and pretending he got hurt. The scene uses this anecdote to reveal Trish coming to grips with her brother's death which this time is real and no laughing matter. She experiences how her mother felt the moment she thought her son had been hurt yet. Unlike her mother, however, Trish realizes that she'll never know the relief of learning that her brother is actually OK.

So if you can suggest any more monologues like these, drop me a line. I'm looking for all ages, genders, sexual orientations and genres. And by people of color, I do mean also Native American, Arab and Asian as well as Black and Latino. If you've seen great monologues in any independent films, even better as I'm sure that information will come in handy for future initiatives. At the very least, any other character's lines should be minimal and can be cut out without the primary character's speech losing meaning. Again, movies readily available on DVD are ideal so that I can play them for my students as well.

Sadly, as many wonderful solo shows many actors of color have produced in recent years, very few of them have been recorded for sale never mind for educational use. What I would give to Sarah Jones' Surface Transit, Staceyann Chin's Border/Clash or Calvin Levels' wonderful Down from the Mountaintop on DVD. Right now a gal is relying on Danny Hoch's Jails, Hospitals and Hip Hop, Roger Guenveur Smith's A Huey P. Newton Story and The Vagina Monologues and even the film The Breakfast Club, but it's just not enough. Even John Leguizamo' s Mambo Mouth, Spic-o-Rama, and Freak are hard to find and mad expensive!

So if you're a person of color who produces or develops solo theatre, do your creative kin -- be they emerging and aspiring, practicing and teaching -- a favor and plan on eventually making your show available and affordable on video. :)

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