By Maria Edmundson, Assistant Director
As a play made up of 25 monologues compiled into two variations — “Stars” and “Stripes” — Our War required a unique rehearsal structure. After an initial read and table work with the whole cast, director Anita Maynard-Losh, met with the actors, one-on-one, to work through each piece. We moved on to ensemble building, staging and technical rehearsals, but in the midst of these steps, we kept returning to these individual meetings to continue to discover and deepen each monologue in the play.
Performing a monologue can seem deceptively simple. There are no other characters interjecting dialogue, no moving parts, no fight scenes or songs. But there is also nothing to hide behind. A monologue exposes to the audience the structure of the text and the foundational skills of the actor. During the tête–à–têtes, we methodically asked the questions central of each piece:
- What does the character want?
- Where is the character?
- Who is the character talking to?
- Why is the character telling this story?
Since the audience has only a few minutes to get to know each character, the actors had to make clear decisions and hone the story of each monologue. The actors explored how each of the characters walk, talk and think. Playing multiple characters every night gives the actors the opportunity to make bold transformations.
The structure also impacts the shape of the performance. Once the story of each monologue is clear, we have to figure out how to unify those disparate voices into one piece of theater. Part of this process is choosing conventions on the piece. All of the actors are on stage for the whole show, creating tableaux that support the individual pieces. Much of this unification is also done through technical elements — the style and color of the costumes, the shape and quality of the light, and the framing of each scene with projections of its author and title.
We hope to leave the audience with a polyphony that tells a story about America. What would your monologue be?
(Photo: Sara Waisanen (standing), Tuyet Pham, Ricardo Frederick Evans and Lynette Rathnam (sitting) of Our War. Photo by Teresa Wood.)