BY ISABEL MEHTA
The fourth and final installment of Germantown Friends junior Isabel Mehta's blog series about the process behind the Mouthful Monologue Festival.
And so it is finally complete. The Mouthful Monologue Festival. Two weeks, nine shows, six actors, 18 monologues. Some were hilarious, some heartbreaking, and so many were both.
Before even entering the performance space is the lobby. With the walls adorned with photos and quotes from the 18 playwrights, it was the perfect way to bring audience members into the world of PYP. I entered the Drake Theater space nervous, but was pleasantly surprised by the quirky music playing and the dim, warm lights. There was something special about the air, but maybe that’s just theater. The anticipation of a performance is what gives space energy.
What makes the Drake Theater so special, I think, is its intimacy. The theater seats 80 people maximum, so it has the feel of a small, back-alley comedy club. If sitting in the front row, an audience member could be less than three feet from a performing actor. While I never sat in the very front row, I was surrounded and engulfed by the entire theatrical experience.
As the background music faded and the last audience members took their seats, the five or so actors for the first piece, "Organic," emerged on the edges of the stage with backpacks, posing as students. After a short introduction video with some “turn off your phone” and “this is what your about to see” type messages, the first performance began. "Organic" was the perfect piece to kick off the show, because it was the right balance of humor and heart. A young teenager who can’t stay awake in class transitions into an inner monologue about his struggle with identity and staying true to himself. It set the tone for the rest of the show.
After "Organic," the monologues rolled in, one after the other. Each one with its own great one-liners, moments of power, humor, and imagery. Each one with a dedicated and passionate actor driving the performance. Each one touching the audience in some way, whether it was relating to the teenagers in the audience about the loneliness of summer vacation or having everyone contemplate the meaning of life through the perspective of a balloon. This, folks, was magical. It was fast, all of the performances contributing to the collective rhythm of the show. Not a second was wasted, not a moment was spared. An impeccably orchestrated night.
As Jack, who had a balloon tied to their rear end, spoke the last lines of "Letting Go" and the house lights came on, the other five actors emerged from backstage and took their bows. After a friendly Q&A between the audience and the writers and actors, the theater emptied out.
But what stayed in the space were lines like “I just want to belong” and “I’m so lonely;” lines like “I am reclaiming the right to be happy” and “I’m scared you will stop loving me.” These words, and so many more, will live in that space forever.
That’s the point of theater, I think. To tell stories that will hang in the air long after the audience leaves, long after the lights shut off and the curtain closes. So the Mouthful Monologue Festival of 2019 lives on, because when the actors and writers triumph, it is our triumph, and a gift for everyone to hold on to forever.
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
BY ISABEL MEHTA
The third installment of Germantown Friends junior Isabel Mehta's ongoing blog series about the process behind the 2019 Mouthful Monologue Festival.
While Dramaturgy Day #1 was culmination of introductions, new things, and new people, Dramaturgy Day #2 was less about adjusting to new surroundings and more about the writing. And more specifically, how we, as the playwrights, could revise our monologues to make them triumph on stage.
Anyone can write a monologue, or a piece of writing from a single voice. But to take that writing to the stage, to perform it for theater, is another process that is unique to typing in front of a computer screen.
How do you make something pop on stage?
How do you make the performance engaging for the audience?
How do your words take command of space?
These are all questions we were asked to answer by the end of the day. I was excited, because today wasn’t just a day to think like a writer, but to think like a playwright.
We spent the morning with our directors and dramaturgs, discussing edits made so far, staging ideas, and how we were feeling about our pieces. This was productive for me, because I got to chat with my actor, Taiwo, about which lines needed clarifying and general questions she had. It was great to get her perspective, because as an actor, it was important for her to understand the meaning and motivation behind every line to give the best possible performance.
We all also participated in the “Make Every Line Count Challenge”, which in a nutshell, forced playwrights to categorize every single line of their pieces as either “keep”, “clarify”, or “cut”. The goal of this exercise was not only to shorten the pieces, but to make them more clean and concise. Before the exercise, the playwright sets a “cutting goal” - the number of lines they want to delete. For me, as a playwright, I love cutting lines. It doesn’t make me nervous, but rather giddy because I know my piece is better off for it. After the exercise, I ended up cutting about ten total lines. I was pretty proud of myself.
After the morning revising activities, every newly-revised piece was sent to print. That afternoon, we ran through the entire show! And all I can say is, it brought me to tears, twice.
It was obvious that the “page to stage” revising attempts worked, because all the monologues transformed beautifully from the initial first drafts. The actors were incredible and the pieces were unique and funny and devastating. I can’t wait for the festival. It’s going to be something that will touch the hearts of so many people, and that, I think, is why I am so proud of the work we’ve done.
BY ISABEL MEHTA
Germantown Friends junior Isabel Mehta continues her blog series about the process behind the 2019 Mouthful Monologue Festival. She is one of 18 winning student writers.
Most of the writing I do, I do alone. Alone in my room, at my desk, sitting in my bed, in the library. Very rarely do I interact with other slightly nerdy, quirky, passionate writers like myself. That is why I loved Dramaturgy Day #1, because every person I met had their own story to tell, a story that was chosen out of hundreds and given a platform to be shared.
By 10 am on the cold Saturday morning of January 26th, 18 playwrights from all over Philadelphia made their way to the PYP Learning Lab.
Some were dressed subtly, rather nondescript, like me. I wore dark blue skinny jeans and a red sweater paired with off-white Vans. One boy had bright red Converse. One girl wore her flaming red hair in pigtails, and another black tights with a short black mini skirt. Before I get to know people, I first notice their physical appearance. So this is what I noticed first, people’s clothes, shoes, and style. Everybody had a different style, a different way of expressing themselves to the world. It made for a dynamic and vibrant room, and I was thrilled.
It is important to note that I am not an outwardly social person. In large groups, I tend to retreat into my shell. So when I first entered the Learning Lab, I felt slightly awkward in my own skin. I think many other people felt that way, too, but luckily Steve and Stephanie—two of the Festival's directors and dramaturgs—had planned a warm-up game for us all. One person in the center of the circle holds an imaginary pie in their hand, and rotates looking for someone to tag with the pie. After calling their chosen victim’s name, the person has approximately one second to duck before they are "pied in the face". If they don’t duck in time, they are the the new person in the center. It got pretty intense. After the game, everyone was louder, looser, more comfortable on their feet, including myself. It was the perfect way to start the day.
After the lively warm-up, we headed to various locations around the PYP building to meet our dramaturgs, directors, actors, and several fellow playwrights. It was during the next few hours when I would meet three other young female playwrights like myself, and hear their work and mine read aloud and give and receive valuable feedback.
This was my favorite part of the day, because I finally got to meet the faces behind the monologues. I loved "Becoming Friends with David Copperfield", and I finally got to meet and chat with the girl who wrote it. Same goes for "What I Wouldn’t Do" and "What You’ve Done". I also heard my piece read aloud for the first time ever, which was powerful as well. I immediately got a sense of what worked, and what needed to be changed. After meeting so many incredible female writers, I left those couple of hours feeling inspired to revise my monologue to its highest potential.
To close the day, everyone returned to the Learning Lab more educated, inspired, and comfortable than they were when entering the space in the morning. No one was nervous and quiet, people were chatting, laughing loudly, snacking on the leftovers from lunch. We completed the day with a simple but powerful reflection activity. Everyone stood in a circle and took one penny from the jar passed around. The empty jar was then placed on the ground in the center of the circle. When moved to do so, one person at a time stepped forward, shared a short, one-sentence reflection about what they’re grateful for, and dropped the penny in the jar. The “ding” of the penny signified another person could step forward to share. This went on until everyone had dropped their penny in the jar. Hearing everyone’s unique reflections was a perfect way to end the day, because it reminded me why we’re all really here. When it comes down to it, we’re all here because we are passionate people. Passionate writers, storytellers, actors, directors, dramaturgs, teachers, artists, or all of the above.
To be able to collaborate, inspire, and share our stories, to me, was what made this day, and what continues to make this process, so wonderful and special.