Who Wants Hear Me Pontificate About Monologues?*

photo of man standing in front of speech desk

OF COURSE YOU DO, FRANKLY, WHO COULD RESIST SUCH A GREAT TEASER?

The good news: this will be a short post. The bad news: I’ll be acting as if I know something. And I think it’s only fair to reming everyone of the late, great William Goldman wrote, “Nobody knows anything.” So, that said, let me tell you what I know. Or think I know. Or think I think I know. I think.

WAIT, SERIOUSLY, YOU’RE ACTUALLY GOING TO TALK ABOUT WRITING MONOLOGUES?

Yep. So, recently, a good friend of mine, who is among the best playwrights I personally know (her name is Julia Blauvelt, btw. Remember that name. You heard it here first) paid my a great compliment. She felt that I wrote monologues especially well (modesty forbids I repeat the full extent of what could, and indeed must, be described of her gushing to me about it. But Capitalism compels me to remind you my plays, Poetic License and Jericho are both available on Amazon and begging you to judge for yourselves whether or not she was right. For my money – or rather, yours – start with Jericho). She asked me my approach to them, which was very flattering, primarily because she assumed I had one.

But, it turns out, I think I do have one. And I offer it to you here, gratis, so you can be assured of getting your money’s worth. So, bounded in a nutshell, here it is, more or less:

OBVIOUSLY, NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO TAKE OUT YOUR NOTEBOOKS.

My personal theory on monologues is that they should be like Shakespeare’s soliloquies, or songs in a musical: they should only happen when the stakes and/or emotions are so high that regular dialogue simply won’t cut it. The should feel, at least in retrospect, inevitable. They should either reveal something frightening but necessary to articulate, or that the character feels profoundly unheard. Ideally both.

Approach them with caution, I say. Like you would, say, a dog you don’t know, or someone who ends their Facebook posts with “Just sayin'” Monologues are also – for me certainly, but I suspect I’m not alone – when a playwright is most likely to give into falling a little in love with the sound of their voice. And now you’re not articulating your characters’ issues, but your own. And you’d be amazed how less invested audiences are in your own.

Now, do I follow my own advice? Generally, I’ve found that following my own advice never ends well (e.g., “These denim shorts would look AMAZING on me). However, on this, I try to. I try to. It’s hard no to fall into this trap. And sometimes, let’s face it, it’s just easier. Because, as that insufferable dictum states, you’re now telling and not showing. Incidentally, I also believe that maxim, while a good rule of thumb, should be more of a guideline than a rule, because sometimes telling something to an audience, if done well, can, to quote Chekhov, “Fucking rock!”

SORRY, I’VE FORGOTTEN: WHY THE HELL SHOULD WE LISTEN TO YOU?

A fair, if somewhat needlessly aggressively question. I would say in my defense between a playwright who follows me on Twitter and myself, we have racked up a Pulitzer prize. So that’s something, maybe? I don’t know. I could be wrong about it all. I guess my best reason to offer would be that I have actually spent time on this gloriously sunny day, devoted some time to writing about it, which means I must have given it a modicum of thought. And I’m not a TOTAL idiot (those are rare). After all, I just used the word “modicum” successfully. Anyway, let me know your thoughts about this.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. My next one: “Tank Tops: 10 Reasons Why I Should Never Wear Them.”

  • I know, I know, the picture is a speech, not really monologue. Apparently a commencement speech for a depressingly small group of students. But you, know, you get the gist.

Published by Jack Canfora

I'm an award winning and losing playwright and screenwriter; I'm a dad of two great kids, an aggressive spoiler of dogs, and hopelessly addicted to baseball and The Beatles. I have no recollection of ever having worn a mullet, yet photos in the 80's say otherwise.

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