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Reintroduction: Part II

Continued from Saturday’s opus…

Stallion made it possible for me to ignore my instincts and take chances that sensible people would never take. That may be a problem if you’re studying architecture or dentistry, but I was a theatre major, which demanded that I at least appear to be somewhat creative.  So Stallion got me unstuck many a time in the years that followed.

If you’ve ever taken an acting class, then you know the constant demand for new material – especially monologues. People don’t generally speak in monologue form, so most plays focus on one line at a time, not whole paragraphs. Still, every acting teacher or auditioner demands that the actor perform a monologue, and the number of good monologues out there seems to shrink with each passing year.

That actually makes sense if we’re playing it old school. If you’re doing a classical piece, then there are only 37 Shakespeare plays to choose from, and everyone’s heard all the good stuff in them before.  If I have to sit through another Shakespeare audition where some troubled young punk starts with “Thou, Nature, art my goddess” one more time, I can’t be held responsible for who I may harm. (That’s Edmund from King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2. That sounds relatively obscure, I know, but everyone thinks nobody else has heard it. Consequently, we hear it all the time, whereas nobody ever does “To be or not to be.”)

Anyway, since Shakespeare’s been dead for the past few weeks, you can forgive him for being stuck on his old stuff. But the Troubled Young Actor Community is stuck on all the same tired pieces, and you hear the same ones over and over.  You get very sick of them very quickly.

Now I recognize that I could have just written my own piece, and, indeed, some actors did that. But the minute you did, you were being judged not just as an actor, but as a writer. And the actors who did that always looked like pretentious buffoons. Auditioning is nerve-wracking enough without having to have another layer of judgment slathered on top of the first one.

So Stallion became a monologist.

I remember taking the stage on one audition and unleashing Stallion once again.

What piece would I be performing? I was asked.

“An excerpt from ‘The Worms of Hell,’” I answered.

The Worms of Hell? The director cocked his head. I’ve never heard of that.

“It’s by Stallion Cornell,” I said, assuming that he, like anyone who was anyone, would have heard of him. Which is an easy assumption to make, because everyone in the theatre likes to appear well-read and contemporary and comments on books and plays that they’re supposed to have read.

All right, fine, said the director. Go ahead.

So I did.

“What makes you think you’ll ever be able to understand?” I said. I was powerful. Commanding. And, most importantly, loud.

Loud is good.

“I don’t need your pity,” I howled. “I don’t need your sickly sweet smiles–I don’t need you to tell me everything’s all right.

Time?” I laughed scornfully. Scorn is always good, too.

“What is time to a man like me? I’ve seen a nation die–I’ve seen all I’ve ever worked for crumple into one bloody heap! Can you give me time? Time for revenge? For death? For the angry fire that I will never tame? The churning, fiery volcano of hate that burns hotter than the sun itself?”

Oooh, I was cooking now. Time for just a smattering of PG-rated profanity.

“Damn you! Damn you to Hell! And may the infernal demons which slather for your soul consume your very innards in their unyielding flames! I’d offer you a biscuit first, but I don’t like you very much. So die! And let the worms nibble on your bowels.”

I got the part, and the director didn’t get a biscuit.

It was hard to keep my secret from my classmates, but the adults, if they ever caught on, never said anything. And it didn’t hurt that Stallion’s pieces were now being used at several auditions, on campus and off. My fellow actors, it seems, were just as stuck as I was, and more than a little tired of the same old same old.

So it became a simple thing to toss off a ridiculous monologue here and there, and everyone felt like they were getting away with something. One of the proudest moments of mye life was hearing that one of the actresses in my class used a Stallion Cornell monologue to land a recurring role on a soap opera back in New York. And back in Los Angeles, the last week of my tenure at USC, some the best actors in the school gathered in the largest theatre on campus and produced, to a full house, the entire collection of monologues I had written over the past four years, each as scornfully and loudly as possible.

It was billed as An Evening with Stallion Cornell.

My favorite was Jovan Yvan Rameau, now a world-renowned actor who spent that evening in a white spandex unitard, performing a monologue to his dead wife that involved him ripping a KFC chicken sandwich out of his chest and then pretending it was his heart, which he then proceeded to eat with a big mess of ketchup. The guy who videotaped the performance got some pretty rocky footage of that one, because he was trying to keep from rolling in the aisles. Jovan then pretended to die of leg injuries.

It’s all very silly, I know. And silliness isn’t the best or the only way to get unstuck. But it certainly helps to have a means to step outside yourself and see things from a different perspective.

Besides… if I’d never been Stalllion Cornell, I would never have met Languatron.

Reintroduction
Enter the Languatron

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  1. So true. In 25 years of theatre and some on-camera, I’ve only been asked to do a monologue by agents and by a couple of film students. To be fair, I’ve never really auditioned for Shakespeare or straight plays in general. To me, audition monologues only make sense when it’s monologue that is actually IN the play I’m auditioning for.
    But you have hit the nail on the head of what has been a major obstacle in my career.
    If “acting is reacting”, a monologue forces you to create what you are reacting to. I just want to read the scene… but I’m not alone.

    I love the way you write. AH

  2. Brilliant, sir, brilliant. You and I have independently called upon these principles time and again. The best lives are invented from scratch, with no authority but pure fiat.