New Victory Arts Break: Monologues

Live performance is back at New Victory, and whether you’re seeing a show or not, New Victory Arts Break continues this season with free arts-based activities wherever you are! Last week, we explored different ways of devising stories from scratch. This week, we continue exploring original storytelling and personalized performance with monologues.

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New Victory Arts Break: Devised Theater

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Who? Where? What? Why?

A monologue is a story or speech delivered by a single actor on stage. In this activity, we’ll create the beginnings of our own monologues, inspired by stories from our own lives. Let’s join New Victory Teaching Artist Heidi Stallings as she guides us through creating a monologue inspired by a treasured photo.

Materials: A favorite photo (with you in it!), a pen or pencil, a notebook or a few pieces of paper

Step One: Take a look at the photo you’ve chosen and conduct a mini-interview. You can do this on your own in a notebook, or have someone read the questions to you and write down your answers! All up to you. Here are the questions:

  • What story is this picture telling?
  • Who is in it?
  • Where are they?
  • What are they doing?

Use your answers to write the first sentence of your monologue.

Step Two: Ask yourself the question “Why?” Why are you telling this story? Why this photograph? Think about it, and jot it down. This answer will serve as the last sentence of your monologue.

Step Three: Let’s get ready to perform. Think about your audience and your intention. Who are you telling this story to and why are you telling it to them? That will tell you a lot about how to perform the monologue.

Step Four: With your audience in mind, practice reading your monologue out loud until the delivery feels right and you are confident in it. Then gather your intended audience, and perform! If your audience isn’t nearby, you can also record a video of yourself performing and send it to them.

All in My Emotions

Language is colored by emotion, and it’s an actor’s job to communicate the emotion behind a monologue through their performance. Two different actors reading the same lines can perform them in entirely different ways, all based on how they choose to interpret them. In this activity, we’ll play with the different ways you can deliver lines to convey the emotion behind them.

Step One: Think of a simple sentence or phrase. It could be as easy as “Roses are red,” “I’m hungry,” or “I’m fine, thanks.”

Step Two: Now say the phrase out loud a few times. As you repeat it, try to convey the different emotions below in your delivery. For example, how would you deliver the line if you were feeling happy? Can you deliver the same line and make it sad?

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Confused
  • Surprised
  • Worried

Check out some examples below from New 42 Youth Corps member Farah Carson. She chose the famous saying, “New York City, the city that never sleeps.”

Step Three: Now try with someone else. You can both deliver the same line to each other, but each of you should try a different emotion with each reading. No one should repeat an emotion.

BONUS: We interpret the emotions behind language all the time, especially in text messages! How would you craft a text to communicate different emotions? When would you use punctuation? Emojis? ALL CAPS? Try Step Three again, but this time just by texting.

From Letter to Monologue

Monologues are always delivered to a specific audience, almost like personal letters that characters read out loud. Heidi showed us one way to create a monologue, using a photo, but that’s not the only way to dream up a monologue inspired by your own life. In this activity, we’ll explore the art of writing for a specific audience through letter writing and turn it into a monologue.

Step One: Who is the last person you texted? Write them a letter! Maybe you have something you’ve been wanting to tell them but haven’t yet? Whatever it is, try to do so in no more than 10 sentences. Here are a few helpful prompts:

  • Is there a secret you’ve kept from them?
  • Did something happen that you’re mad at them about?
  • Do you have a piece of advice you want to give them?
  • Can you tell them something you love about them?

A handwritten letter to a friend named Tanya, expressing love and gratitude.

Step Two: Read your letter out loud as if you were reading it to that person. Do this by yourself and in your own brave space, and then think:

  • What did you notice about your tone?
  • How was your body when you read this? Slouched? Chest open?
  • What emotion would you associate with how you read this letter?

Step Three: Try reading the letter with the opposite emotion from what you initially felt. So, if you felt upset, try reading it happily. If you were joyful, try reading it sarcastically.

  • Did you notice changes in your tone?
  • Did anything change in your body?
  • Has reading it with a different emotion changed how you feel about the letter?

Here is a monologue from Ping Chong and Company’s Generation Rise. The performer, Kilhah, is telling a story of her experience during the pandemic in May 2020. Pay attention to the her face and emotions while she performs.

After watching, think about the following questions:

  • What impact did the monologue have on you, the audience?
  • Did you notice anything about how Kilhah chose to perform it? What emotions did she show?
  • Is there anything you’re now inspired to change about how you perform your own monologue?

Step Four: Make some specific choices about how you want to perform your monologue for your intended audience. Think about how to use your body and your voice to communicate the emotions that feel most important to share. Break a leg!

Thanks for exploring monologues with us! Photos and letter-writing are just two ways to approach writing a monologue. If there are other art forms you love, like dance or drawing, see if you can use them as a starting point for a monologue. We’ll be back in a few weeks with more fun arts-based activities. See you soon!

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.