Last week, I was observing at the Fresh Ink National Studio or Monologue Camp, as I like to call it.
It’s hard not to feel pressure to write a monologue at Monologue Camp.
Luckily, writers don’t generally travel in packs and so rarely have the means to corner you and challenge you to write something.
The danger, I realized, is at meal times when the group is larger and stronger.
I can’t remember how many there were now, all I know is that suddenly, a group of articulate individuals were persuading me to put pen to paper.
“It will be fun”, they said. One of them patted me on the shoulder encouragingly. Some gave me approving glances. It was all very frightening.
So I asked around for some advice.
Lauren gave me the first good piece of information: know your audience, know who you’re talking to or who your character is talking to.
Eloise said to have a really good premise and a juicy character, Jessie told me to keep it short and Kendall told me not to be boring.
Based on this, my first idea to write a 30 minute piece from the perspective of a book restorer talking to no one about what tools would best suit the recovery of a 19th century book on sailing, should probably be discarded.
Jess gave me some advice on setting the right mood for creativity. Good views, beautiful imagery, great conversation, some light jazz piano, walks up mountains and amazing food.
Sarah told me to sit naked and meditate in water heated to 31 degrees. I’ve yet to decide whether this is good or bad advice. All I know is my fingers are wrinkly and all my ideas are bath and water related.
Then Ewen gave me the most specific advice of anyone: a whole lot of ferrets. I feel like he was taking advantage of my vulnerable and impressionable state but I also know that these are all trained writers. So I had no other choice but to start from this point: a monologue that contains a lot of ferrets.
To begin this monologue, Alex told me to ask my character a lot of questions and to wear comfortable clothes. This may fit in with Alice’s procrastination-based approach of alternating small amounts of work with big walks.
I did also see three of the writers rolling down a hill at one stage, so I guess being prepared for physical distractions is a wise move.
Laura’s recipe was: two shovels of ice cream per sentence.
Georgia told me to pick someone funny and plagiarize their life.
While staring down the barrel of a monologue about a ferret who goes on adventures that are really similar to one of my hilarious friends, Carolyn told me she begins by writing a couple of stories and finding one she wants to tell.
Brooke advised that the character is talking to someone for a reason at a specific time.
Phil talked about negotiating the relationship between the character speaking and who they are speaking to, thinking about why they are saying it.
Lydia told me to think about the things the character does not need to say.
Ali, still amused and slightly horrified by some of the monologues aimed at the teenage boy market, said not to underestimate how totally sick and disgusting people could be.
The monologues in question did this very well, so I’d not like to compete.
But this approach does suggest that unique voices with a brave idea do resonate pretty solidly.
In worrying about your idea compared to someone else’s, Alysha’s suggestion was to not get caught up in what other people are doing but to write the story that you want to write. Once you have words on paper you can worry whether they’re good or bad.
Emrys was encouraging. For him, the monologue is about the immediacy of a character in every facet of the way they’re telling the story. It’s an opportunity to be as surreal as you like because there’s no one between you and the truth, and a chance to tell a story honestly.
Throughout the week, this was the advice the writers gave themselves (well, maybe not everyone) when working on their monologues.
They went to masterclasses in the morning about general craft and then broke into groups of 6 where they discussed their pieces and worked on specific elements of technique like writing in different tenses and writing autobiographically.
They were paired with a dramaturgical friend who would assist them and read their piece aloud.
In the afternoon there were one on one sessions with a tutor and on the final two nights, half the group’s pieces were read out and received written feedback from the participants.
The tutors were all impressed by such a high standard of work which will now be showcased in: THE VOICES PROJECT: THE ONE SURE THING, at atyp early next year and published as monologues for use by drama students in the practical component of the HSC.
Which brings me to the monologue I have written.
It is a short, kind of surreal piece from the perspective of an animal that may or may not be a ferret.
It’s really funny.
If you read it or see it you’ll definitely know who the animal is talking to and why.
You’ll also see straight away that as well as being hilarious, it has extraordinary cultural and political significance.
It is formally challenging but without being too intimidating, so don’t worry.
The resolution is so powerful that many have not known whether to cry or laugh. Some have done both.
Unfortunately it was not developed as part of the Studio so won’t be published or showcased in February.
I also lost my only copy in a fire. It’s devastating but you’ll just have to trust that based on the advice I received, it was brilliant.
Read more from Jenni from this year’s National Studio, here.
THE VOICES PROJECT: THE ONE SURE THING opens at atyp in February, while the call for the 2012 Fresh Ink National Studio opens in May.