The play’s the thing… eventually. But the tumultuous process of getting cast — whether into a play, or out onto the street — consumes our actors’ daily energies more than anything. And given the dense strata of competition surrounding most casting events, actors everywhere come to perfect a unique performance style, similar to acting in plays but oh so different.
I’m talking about the brave, strange, timeless demand of showing up alone, trying out in public, and in a flash — sometimes only 60 seconds — making an effort to stick in the pan.
Producer Edward Daniels, seeing the chance to show off the strength of the performers around him, concocted Monologue Madness, which played its first Championship Sunday this past weekend. Structured as a bracketed tournament à la NCAA March Madness, the event brought 54 actors to the stage on Sunday, April 3rd, in front of a paying audience and 6 judges. The resulting show at the Warehouse was amusing, diverse (in age, race, nationality, and style), and ended with a bang: one contestant took home over $1,000 in cash and prizes.
“I think that an event such as this serves as a showcase for some of our area’s amazing talent in a uniquely competitive format,” Daniels said in an interview this week. “DC theatre-goers get a behind-the-scenes look at the audition process that all actors endure and see some of their favorite actors in this rawest medium.”
Daniels also hopes that the event can come to fill an industry gap in this area. “New York City is one of the world’s theatre capitals, and a big part of that community involves showcases, where casting professionals can view and audit actors, in addition to offering feedback on actor’s performances on a given night.” he said. “The DC theatre scene needs a lot more of that!”
The ambitious event glints from the touch of a television mindset, intent on bending us one degree away from reality. Here, the scene is all behind-the-scenes, and the production world’s private, pivotal moments become public. Actors accepted into the bracket are overjoyed to have been cast in what is, typically, a chance to get cast. And rather than paying to see a play — the fruit born of hard work — Sunday’s viewers instead came to watch the metaphorical field get plowed before the seeds are even sown.
Daniels has turned the cycle of life back in on itself, so that what most actors think of as the journey suddenly becomes the destination.
It’s not a popularity contest per se… although it was hard on Sunday not to think of high school dances past, faced as I was with a stage full of helium balloons under neon pink and purple lights. And, it’s true, the DJ (also Daniels) was playing prom-ready Top 40 radio hits between rounds. So, maybe there’s that whiff of a fight in the air after all: a fight for love and attention, mostly in good fun but pricked with some small, necessary dread. It’s a formal stab at seeming casual — a contradiction we feel sometimes when we step up onto a dance floor. Once onstage, even in a jungle of lights, we’re all alone.
So, if auditioning is a desert island, your monologue is the loyal companion you bring with you for the long haul. And, like pets, some monologues fit their owners better than others. A long first round of comedy monologues on Sunday night showed off dozens and dozens of senses of humor — sometimes in ways that understood and played to the text, and sometimes woefully the opposite. Even at 60 seconds per monologue, the first round felt like a full evening of theatre, and that’s the round we blame for the event’s stupefying four-hour-plus runtime. Given the excitement of later rounds, this dazed audience member suggests cutting the initial number of contestants in half. What we really want to see, after all, is the actors thinking on their feet.
That doesn’t really come until round four, after half the actors go on through dramatic monologues and then, half again, on through classical monologues. At round four, we freshen it up: the eight remaining actors get handed a cold side (i.e. a monologue they haven’t prepared for) and then give it their best shot. With a page from “Pounding Nails In The Floor With My Forehead” by Eric Bogosian in one hand, finalists John C. Bailey, Joe Brack, Cori Dioquino and Katja Volker threw four completely different takes into the same minute’s worth of words.
Although every round is built around a series of “versus” matches, it’s only the final two rounds that truly feel like sport. The judges gave the final four players no respite in round five, calling each of them in turn to re-do one of their monologues provided a suggestion on how to up the stakes and sell the scenario. Finally, tired and triumphant, Bailey emerged as the champion, with Brack, Dioquino and Volker filling the respective second, third, and fourth winning spots.
Daniels is on a roll over the next few months, with upcoming events including The Ultimate Karaoke Challenge and The Ultimate Team Trivia Challenge. It’s shameless game-show fun, and all of it’s welcome news.
Still, there’s something particularly poignant about a night of monologues. Watching such a long tapestry of talent unfold, one gets an odd feeling of flying through a series of audition rooms all over the country. With open eyes and ears, we ride a warp tunnel through the mind of every actor who’s ever had to climb up into a spotlight, in front of endless critical eyes, and build a new life in a minute or less.
Further information on the finalists, the judges and their criteria, the prizes and sponsors can be found online at monologuemadness.net.
Produced by Edward Daniels and Scorpio Entertainment
Reviewed by Hunter Styles