One more blog post this week about the Valdez Theatre Conference, I think, before I’m back to the grind of making my through the New York arts scene. (I’ve spent the past week getting caught up at my day job, and apart from this parenthetical sentence there’s not that much to write about on that subject.) Specifically, a post about the monologue workshop which concludes the conference, in which participating actors get to work on brand new one minute pieces – some excerpted from larger works, some stand-alone – provided by the participating writers. If, like me, you’re there in both capacities, you can take part in the workshop as both writer and actor, working on a colleague’s one-minute selection even as another performer is rehearsing your own.
Last year, I worked on a piece by Alaska playwright Heidi Franke*, and was fortunate enough to have the chance to do so again this year. Unlike last year, however, Heidi was participating in the 2023 conference as an actor, and elected to perform one of the pieces I’d submitted. Which made the rehearsal process rather easy – we scheduled back-to-back coaching sessions, forcing our coaches to sit through a half hour of the Michael and Heidi show. And after a week, the performances went up, me speaking Heidi’s words, and Heidi speaking mine.
I think we did pretty good. I know Heidi did – she brought the house down, mining physical comedy I was blissfully unaware I’d thought to put in the monologue. And I got some nice visceral reactions from her piece, which hopefully I’d earned. (That’s always the goal, at least.) And we both had plenty of our fellow conference come up to complement us, which is always a gratifying thing.
But it raises the question – which of us is being complemented? And for what?
After all, if you tell me “good job on your monologue.” which monologue are you referring to? As a playwright, I’m always going to have a proprietary attitude towards what I wrote, and assume that’s what you’re talking about. But that’s not how we experience things as an audience member; the writers and directors and producers are these shadowy figures, these names in a program for most of us, while the actor is right there in front of us. We assume those words are theirs; the hard work and craft of a score of different artists throughout the process is designed to make you think that very thing.
So if you say “my” monologue is good, you probably mean that Heidi’s is good and should complement her on her achievement. But if you complement her, then it’s really a complement of my writing. And if by some chance you did read the program and realize which one of us wrote which piece, will we know that you’re complementing us? And shouldn’t the credit go to the performer who did the hard work on stage anyway? Which, again, is also us?
It’s all very confusing. Fortunately, we tend to drink a lot at the conference, so it’s not so noticeable.
*Heidi is also a terrific visual artist; you can check out her work here.