The 2019 Mouthful Monologue Festival featured 18 monologues written by students in grades 8-12, directed and performed by theater professionals.
The winning monologues were selected from more than 660 submissions from students in 27 different schools.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jen Cleary
The Road to the 2019 MOUTHFUL MONOLOGUE FESTIVAL: A Student Reflects on Helping Choose the Winning Monologues
BY ISABEL MEHTA
Germantown Friends junior and PYP intern Isabel Mehta considers her time reading and selecting 2019 Mouthful Monologue Festival winners as part of the Final Committee.
As a high school student, it’s easy for me to get caught up in my own world. I interact with the same people everyday - sit with the same people at lunch, talk to the same people in class, workout with the same people on my crew team - so I rarely gain new perspectives and become aware of experiences other than my own. That’s why sitting on the Final Committee was so great for me, because for the first time ever, I read writing from students that didn’t attend my school and was exposed to a breadth of student voices and stories from across Philadelphia.
When I first started reading monologues, there were some things that I began to notice. There were many repeating themes, such as gun violence, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, and various reflections on race issues. And while this is a generalization, many schools that are considered “urban” definitely had more work submitted that stemmed from these themes. It was, at times, difficult and uncomfortable to read these monologues. But that’s what made them powerful. Sitting in the comfort of a heated office building sipping lukewarm coffee, I read about a girl confronting her abuser and reclaiming her body and her story. I read about a boy who’s best friend was shot dead in the streets. I read about a girl who longed to be pregnant only to be devastated by the arrival of her period every month. These were stories with weight behind them, stories that jumped out from the computer screen, stories that resonate with people and transcend all identities and experiences.
As I began to read more from suburban schools, I came across more quirky, “out of the box”, submissions. A balloon laments over her inevitable demise after she is “let go” by a child at a birthday party. A magician declares he must be best friends with David Copperfield. A teenager has a poignant daydream in class. Reading these were powerful too, but for different reasons. All good writing can tackle real and relevant issues through the refreshing lens of humor, and these writers did it with ease. I absolutely loved the funny monologues.
When it came time to decide the winners, most members of the Final Committee came to the table with similar ideas of which monologues deserved a spot in the festival. There were, however, a couple areas of disagreement. This was a reminder, to me, to remember that everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences that make them resonate with a particular monologue. While some people really want to push for a piece about a recently divorced father struggling to reconnect with his daughter, others will strongly advocate for a powerful piece about the use of the n-word in the black community. There will always be sacrifices made and good work that will not make it into the festival - that’s the price for choosing only 18 winners out of over 600 submissions. But what can be controlled is the flow of the festival, the diversity of monologues selected, and how we can give a platform to messages and stories that the world needs to hear, right now. That, at its core, is truly what the Mouthful Monologue Festival is all about.
Featuring six plays chosen from more that 700 submissions as part of Philadelphia Young Playwrights' Annual Playwriting Festival. Written by students, directed by theatre professionals, and performed by Temple undergraduate actors.
PHOTO CREDIT: Paola Nogueras
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in the Northeast part of Philadelphia in Lawncrest. I went to a very secluded, strict charter school close to Bensalem where I felt very oppressed and like an outcast. Attending SLA has helped me discover who I am as a person as well as who I want to be in the future. After my senior year, I plan to attend university and study towards a career in engineering! I also plan to take up a minor in theatre to continue my playwriting career.
What was it like to hear that you were a winner of the Annual Playwriting Festival?
When I got that phone call and email; the joy and pride I felt was surreal. I have always had a really deep love for theater and everything about it. In my past, I never got the chance to showcase my writing, directing, or acting skills, and to have this kind of opportunity from such an amazing company such as PYP is a blessing, really.
Tell us about Prom Queen. What inspired you to write it?
Prom Queen is about a teenage boy at the peak of his senior year preparing to go to his Senior Prom! He is very excited about it, but deals with both external and internal conflicts. He has this desire to be himself and feel like himself wholly a this prom by wearing a dress instead of a suit. He is hesitant because he believes that his loved ones and others in his life won’t accept him for his identity and ways of expression. This play shows his emotional journey as well as the journeys of the others in his life. Prom Queen is inspired by the queer people in my life who go through so many struggles behind closed doors, and who feel like no one understands them or accepts them, when in reality there are so many people willing to support them. This play is for people who may be trying to find themselves, who may need to learn about the community more as an outsider, or for anyone who enjoys theater with deep, complex characters and plot!
What has the process been for New Voices? What has been the biggest challenge? What is most exciting?
The process has been quite the experience! I know some of the rehearsal and choreography process from my early theater days, so I was able to keep up with the rest of the team. The biggest challenge was making sure each character had their voice heard and was represented in a fitting way for both the story and the character themselves. I didn’t go against this challenge alone, though. I had my dramaturg Carlos by my side as well the director of my play Bi who both gave such great insight and questions for the story to help me make this story as complex and as amazing as it is now. Honestly, everything about the process was exciting! The struggles and the triumphs have all made such a roller coaster of an experience, and I have enjoyed every second of it. From meeting the actors to designing stage behavior and movement.
What is one thing you are learning through this process? What stands out?
Something I learned throughout this process was the importance of collaboration between a team when creating a work on stage. Everyone involved can have a different viewpoint and amazing ideas to collaborate on and develop together as a team to make the whole production better than it could have been if one person had been calling the shots.
Prom Queen by Lily Rivera is included on Bill One of the 2018 New Voices Workshop Productions beginning October 25th. All performances, running through November 5th, are Pay What You Decide. Reservations are required.