Birth of a Monologue

We created our monologue piece-by-piece. By this, I mean that we created various scenarios that were meant to build towards the final monologue. We might use parts of the scenarios or we might not. What mattered more was going through the process before sitting down to write the monologue.

For the first piece, we were asked to create a several-sentences-long monologue, incorporating two scene partners, performing a time when we said NO. I have to say that this disconcerted me quite a bit because I don’t think quickly on my feet, much less write quickly, and I only had five minutes to come up with a scene! Trained actors, on the other hand, are really good at doing things like this – you should have seen what they came up with in almost no time at all!  Before we even got to the point of writing the sentences that would comprise the scene, we had to think about a body gesture that would conjure the “NO” moment as well as the colors that radiated from it. So, we were always building any performance in a way that went beyond writing the story down and in a way that went beyond linear storytelling. Since it was fresh in my memory, I decided to create a performance out of the day I was surprised with the news that I had to move out of the offices I had shared with my colleagues for over 15 years. I only had about 2 minutes to rehearse and create the scene with my scene partners, so I asked them to be the movers moving me out of my office even though there were no such movers in the actual move and I did it all myself. So right from the start I was seeing how autobiography quickly veers into something else when considering the demands of performance. The two scene partners mimed moving boxes while ignoring my protestations: What’s going on? Why are you taking my books out of my office?  As they continued moving back and forth, I proceeded to tell the story, more or less coherently, ending with a NO moment that broke out of narration, as I started speaking directly to my audience as if they were the powers-that-be. At that point, I said loudly, “NO, it is NOT OK and I will too talk out loud and often about my disagreement and dissatisfaction with what feels like a very arbitrary decision.” I don’t know how cathartic the performance was for my audience members, but it sure was cathartic for the performer.

For the second piece, we were asked to think of a moment of transformation and to tell or perform that story in 8 sentences or so. Once again prior to getting to the writing, we did body work around the idea of transformation, and we thought about how we would embody that idea in a symbol and then we actually drew those symbols onto our bodies. Once again, we had to work with scene partners so since my symbol was the megaphone, I asked my two scene partners to sit in the audience and to work really hard at not listening to me as I tried to encourage them to listen to me and to take a stand toward DOING SOMETHING (I was thinking about a second year in a row with a pay freeze and about my efforts to communicate with faculty). The transformation part was me giving up on my voice and acting by pulling the non-listeners up out of their inaction and onto the stage floor with me.

The final piece was the performance of a story our body was telling us we needed to tell. Tim asked us to create a 5-minute monologue that came out of the work we were doing all week, whether that work was what we were drawing or what we were performing or what we were writing. Since the two parts of my body I kept coming back to were voice and hair, and because in one of Tim’s comments to me, he mentioned the word manifesto, and because in one of his commentaries to the group, he talked about the power of theater to create a vision that was utopian, I decided that I should create a Hair Manifesto. I have NO IDEA how exactly all of that crystallized into words on paper, but my theory is that Tim Miller is an actual magician. We were given about 20 minutes or so to sit down and write without stopping. As I sat on the floor looking at a blank piece of paper and took up my crayon to write down words that I wasn’t sure were anywhere nearby, I found myself suddenly face-to-face with an AHA moment:  “AHA”, I said to myself, “since I’m not really comfortable with talking about myself, I will use my hair to talk about varying kinds of injustice.” I then started writing furiously because I had a plan. I would start small and perhaps humorously with the injustice of people not being able to age appropriately and having to feel that they needed to color their hair in order to look young (what you need to know about me is that I have a lot of WHITE HAIR on my head). Then I would move to the injustice of people not being able to cross borders while my hair falling out of my head at a considerable rate crossed borders all the time. Then I could move to the injustice of insisting upon categories of gender and race when my hair did not declare itself a particular gender or race. Then I could end with asking the audience to imagine a Utopian future. One that welcomed all hairs from all parts of the body including the ass and crotch (thank you Walt Whitman for giving me the imagination to use those particular words) and one that ended by asking for more disorderly conduct. I added that last line on the very day of the performance after I heard a story about one of the water protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota being charged with disorderly conduct. That water protector was female, well into her 60’s, standing up for the environment and humanity, and still she was being charged with disorderly conduct. I thought that that was also a story that needed to be told and the least I could do was incorporate her inspiring spirit into my monologue. If what she is doing constitutes disorderly conduct, then I want in!

4 thoughts on “Birth of a Monologue

  1. I love the idea of hair as a method of rebellion. I usually think of people who are African descent who let their hair be in its natural state, despite employers, school administrators, and others in power telling them to “fix” it, but I rarely think about rebelling against dyeing your hair. Your hair was something I thought was cool when I was a freshman in your Writing Power class because it was white.
    It makes me think of how often we’re told to keep our hair a certain way. Keep it down, keep it up, keep it back, get it out of your eyes, curl it, straighten it, don’t cut it. Hair as rebellion has turned into a trope in media, but in real life, it’s still jarring.

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    1. I hadn’t really thought about whether I had anything to say about hair until I sat down and started writing, and lo and behold, all these phrases and ideas started rushing at me, like how I always tell my hairdresser that I can’t really style my hair because it has a mind of its own, or how because of the color of my hair people assume that I am a lot older than I am. And when I started thinking about it, I realized that I had also been saying things like “tough” and “too bad” which led me to the idea of rebellion which, truth be told, is always kind of hovering around me somewhere.

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      1. I love the idea of speaking through your hair. Reading your hair narratives made me think of mine.
        It is so straight that it won’t do anything else. Curls and knotted hairdos fall out even with copious amounts of spray and pins, and haircuts require something that never doesn’t need to be styled because it will never be that style for long. It rebels against everyone and everything, and it’s up to us as to whether we try to beat it into submission or embrace it.

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  2. Sounds like the beginnings of a new hair manifesto to me. Makes me think that it would be interesting to create an entire performance out of different hair manifestos. Hmm, something for me to ponder and thanks!

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