I’m almost as busy as you are. In that rush of “on to the next thing” I currently get most of my news on the fly from my Twitter and Facebook feeds. On a quick scroll through Twitter I caught my friend Reina Hardy crowing about her pending crossing of the border for something called Monologues for Nobody. I chased it down through a few links, saw that this was a Toronto Fringe project curated/commissioned by longtime #2amt contributor Jordan Mechano, read just a little about it and got excited to share this project more broadly. I asked Mechano a batch of questions I had about Monologues for Nobody and I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did.
So what is “Monologues for Nobody”?
Monologues for Nobody is an experimental theatrical project that I am producing at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival. The Toronto Fringe is a traditional Fringe model, whereby artists are drawn from a lottery and are assigned a venue for their show. Toronto Fringe has 14 traditional theatre venues, but they also have what they call their Shed Shows. In the Fringe Club beer garden they construct a small shed that is designed for intimate pieces of theatre presented under a Pay What You Can structure. That’s where Monologues for Nobody is happening.
The conceit of the show is straightforward: One patron at a time will be given the opportunity to select one monologue from a list of 20 that were written by a variety of playwrights. The patron will take the monologue into the Shed by themselves and, for five minutes, perform the monologue with no one watching (except for themselves). They are cast as both performer and audience, as observer and observed.
It’s a chance to hear the words of some great emerging contemporary writers in the sound of your own voice, in a completely safe environment.
What is the idea born from? Have you seen or heard of other pieces that led you to this?
I’m always wary to assume any of my thoughts are original, but I can’t think of any examples of theatre pieces that do a similar thing to this idea, which originally came to me in the form of a question – Is it still art, even if it’s just for you?
I think about the person on the bus writing poems in their notebook they’ll never show to anyone. Or the person whose hard drive hides an old novel that no one has ever read, or the person who sings softly at home with no one to hear. Those moments and those acts of creation have profound meaning to those individuals, and just because they aren’t offered to an audience doesn’t mean they lack artistry or substance.
So because I’ve brought this line of thinking to the medium I work in, theatre, the question then becomes – Is it still theatre if no one is there to watch you?
Lots of people, trust me, lots of people reactively say ‘Uh no of course not’. But I think that isn’t the case.
I perform for myself all the time. I sing in the shower. I make faces in the mirror while I’m getting ready for work. I put on funny voices as I do the dishes. I hold long conversations with myself in my apartment, sussing out some problem or another, switching between perspectives like a performer switches between characters. All of these things possess theatricality.
And it’s okay that those moments are just for me! In some ways those moments may be me at my funniest, or most grounded, because I’m free of that dreaded self-editing that can occur when I perform in front of people. Of course as a writer and performer I desire an audience to share my ideas and feelings with, but we can have both!
Some of my greatest experiences with art occur when I am alone, with a book or a song or a movie or a painting. So really what I want to find out is if that can also occur with performance, in addition to replicable, physical objects of art.
How did you come to select your stable of playwrights?
I had a few different goals. I wanted some Toronto Fringe veterans because I thought that our local audiences would respond well to them. I wanted some writers that I know personally, to champion their work, and some that I’ve never met before so that I could broaden my own circle. I wanted some new writers to give them a chance to have their work read for the first time.
I wanted some writers from outside of Canada. My friend Héloïse Thual is a French citizen living in Scotland, and Reina Hardy and Brian James Polak are both Americans whose work I came across via the wonderful New Play Exchange.
I wanted diversity, and to be self-critical for a moment, I am disappointed in myself for not being more successful at bringing on more people-of-colour than I did. Norman Yeung, Christina Wong, and Jiv Parasram are all terrifically talented Canadians of Asian decent, and I’m lucky to have them on board. But if I do this project again I have to work harder to include non-dominant voices, and be much better at showcasing an equitable roster of writers to match the diversity of Toronto and Canada at large.
Did you give them any guidance or a lane in terms of content?
No guidance in terms of content. I did tell them about the practicalities of the space, the fact that it was ideally meant for non-performers, and specify a word-count limit, but outside of those things I left them alone. Because I gave the writers room to work, the monologues turned out to all be very different. Some are quite straightforward speeches, but others present a real challenge, even for experienced performers. The characters are varied, the subject matter is varied, the genres are varied, and I think the participants will be better off for it.
If theatre is live performance for an audience, what is THIS?
I do contend that this will be an event of small, individual performative moments, so in that sense I still call it theatre. As I said above, I am audience to myself all of the time. There is performance art theory that argues that we constantly perform our lives and our personas every day, which would expand the concept theatre to encompass all that we do in life. I think that is an important and difficult position to consider, and much has been written on the subject that I can’t do justice to here.
Having said that I certainly don’t want to water the term down, the medium of theatre means something to people, and there are plenty of other terms for experimental works that are hard to categorize, for example Live Art (which I wouldn’t classify this as). The contemporary art world is far more forgiving of works that are hard to define. We should have the same attitude as theatre artists. It’s live, it’s performance, it’s theatre.
Do you think this will appeal to non-performers i.e. does this touch the modern audience drive for interactivity/immersion or is this a step beyond that?
I’m producing this first and foremost for non-performers, so yes, I hope it taps into that drive. I think people want to feel more included in their entertainment experiences, which is something that I’ve been slowly adding to my personal creative practice.
If this work steps beyond the interactive works as we typically know them, it only does so to speak to the fact that artistry needs more broad distribution and representation. We need more amateur artists, and we need for that word to stop being a pejorative. Professionals need to unlock the doors and let everybody in. We’ll always need experts, we’ll always want times where we can sit back and simply let someone else take us on a ride, but we need to actively move forward from the model of creators on one side and consumers on the other. Monologues for Nobody doesn’t go all the way with that, but I hope it adds to the conversation.
What do you intend for an audience member/performer to walk away from their time in the Shed feeling or thinking?
The act of sitting alone going over a monologue is something actors do all the time, and it’s weird! It’s a strange thing that very few people get to do, sitting alone in your bedroom playing with an alternate persona and falling into a sort of bizarre trance for a little while. So I hope that the non-actors that participate get a greater sense of what that is like.
I also hope that they connect to the writing. I hope that they can have a sublime moment with what I think are truly artful pieces of text. I hope the participants are moved, just as any writer hopes.
And I hope that, for the more theatrically savvy participants, they come away will a little more of that nuanced debate that I want to provoke about how we define theatre and performance, and how those experiences can be experimented upon.
If nothing else, I hope people have fun.
Featuring monologues from Kat Sandler, Rebecca Perry, Norman Yeung, Jiv Parasram, Laura Anne Harris, Brian James Polak, Christopher Duthie, Reina Hardy, Christina Wong, Héloïse Thual, Cate D’Angelo, and Jordan Mechano, Monologues for Nobody opens at the Toronto Fringe on July 1st (Info here).
This is the sort of playfulness I loved when I first discovered Fringe Festivals with my first SF Fringe in 2000 and I would love to be standing outside the Shed when folks come out to get their reactions.
If you are near the T.Fringe and partake in the show I would love to hear your feedback below.
If you’re not going to make it to the T.Fringe: Is this a sort of Fringe piece you would like to see in your area with local writers featured?
Would your non-theatre making friends ever do this?