The following is an interview with Alisha Gaddis, Alessandra Rizzotti, Leah Mann, Jamison Scala, and Ilana Turner, the creative team behind the new book, LGBTQ Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with the team about the inspiration behind the monologue collection, their approach to creating well-rounded characters within each monologue, their experiences in performing the pieces, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of LGBTQ Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny! What was the inspiration for this collection of monologues?
Alisha Gaddis: Thanks so much! After the release of five other books in the series “Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny (Women’s, Men’s, Teen Girls’, Teen Boys’ and Kids’),” my agent, Sara Camilli, and I discussed the possibility of doing an LGBTQ edition. There was no book of monologues out there for LGBTQ actors, or actors auditioning for LGBTQ roles, and with the urging of one of the contributors, Alessandra Rizzotti, I went into action and made the pitch. It is so incredibly important that this book exists for LGBTQ actors and their allies auditioning for LGBTQ roles. The book is chock-full of hardy, hilarious roles for truly anyone and everyone.
Alessandra Rizzotti: As a current volunteer and former Communications Manager of The Trevor Project, the only national accredited suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization serving LGBTQ youth under age 25, I found it important to give young people a positive outlet that could serve as a form of self-care, inspiration, and passion. I was frustrated that I didn’t see enough LGBTQ theater or media out there, so I reached out to Alisha Gaddis with this idea. I’m happy to know that the work of one of my fellow Trevor volunteers is also in this book — and he happened to train me at Trevor when I started.
Leah Mann: I’m inspired by people. It’s as simple as that. Everyone has their own perspective on the world and way of moving through it which is colored by their experiences. Love is love, hate is hate, and heartbreak is universal. It was great to give a funny take on the things every human — regardless of gender and sexuality — goes through, in voices that have been so severely under represented.
BD: How would you describe the creative team’s approach to creating fully fleshed out characters for the actors to perform in such a short period of time within each monologue?
AG: As the editor of the anthology, it is incredibly interesting to work with all the different writers and see their different approaches. Some writers sent me fully fleshed out pieces, complete with stage directions, character descriptions — the whole package. Some contributors sent an idea for a sketch of a person, in a place, and we worked together to craft a deep, interesting character that an actor can really dig into it. It is fascinating to see how different people create.
For me as a writer, I let the character talk in my head for a bit. I picture her in place, having the conversation. I see the scene around her — what does it look like, feel like, what does she look like, what does she have on? I let the character write herself. Then, I go to the paper and let her into the world!
Jamison Scala: I approached my writing coming from a background of improv. The art is instantaneous and quickly erased, never to be seen again. In improv, we’re taught to create a world as quickly as possible so it can inform our characters and our scene work, and I lent that approach to the monologues I wrote.
LM: I generally brainstorm various characters and scenarios that speak to me, creating a long list before sitting down and pulling specific elements together. I want each piece to have a clear and specific voice, high stakes (fighting for love, your life, revenge…) and a funny setting. Strong choices and small details let the actor and audience know who this person is, where they are, and who they are talking to right off the bat.
Ilana Turner: Monologues are almost always written for an actor to perform as though their character is talking to someone else — it’s just the audience can’t see the other person. (Soliloquies are written to be performed as though the character is talking to themselves — “To be or not to be,” being a classic example.) As people, when we talk to or at someone for a long time, we are usually trying to get something from them — and we usually reveal an awful lot about ourselves, even if it’s not what we expected to reveal. For my piece, Sugar Coat It, I kept the character, a middle-aged figure skating coach, focused on his what he wanted from his student, and then let all the details he maybe didn’t plan to reveal leak into his monologue.
BD: Do you feel that your previous work has prepared you for this project, and have your experiences in performing the monologues affected the writing process?
AG: As an editor, I have been editing my friends’ work and jokes for a long time (and vice versa). My stand-up comedy background helps me find the funny in each of the pieces I edit. My goal is to work with the author to make their work as smart and hilarious as possible.
I also come from a classically trained acting background, and I really believe my training feeds how I work. I think I can I SEE this piece being performed. I read each piece that is contributed, or that I am writing, aloud to see if it resonates. Sometimes, things are funny on the page but don’t jump out for performance. And sometimes things read horribly on the page and are hilarious aloud. Being an actress, I get it. I love that part of my job.
LM: I’m not a performer, I’m a writer. I have had the pleasure of working with Alisha and contributing monologues to the other collections in the series (Men’s, Teen Boy’s, Teen Girl’s, Kids). With each collection, I think (I certainly hope!) that I’ve become more adept at the monologue format. I studied playwriting and directing in college, and writing monologues has always helped me discover who my characters are for every type of writing, from screenplays to short fiction.
AR: While I didn’t directly use any of the stories I’ve heard from The Trevor Project as inspiration for this book because the work we do is confidential, the fact that the rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth, and 2 times greater for youth questioning youth than straight youth and nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, it’s clear that LGBTQ youth need to see that people support them and this book is one form of showing support. (For more statistics, please visit http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide.)
IT: I’m a playwright, and I’ve also been an actor for 18 years now. Having spoken other people’s words for a loooong time, and auditioned with a lot of monologues I’ve found in books somewhat like this one, I am comfortable with the monologue format. As a writer, I always tend to start with truth and research, and sometimes those truths are closer to home for me than others. Sugar Coat It is inspired by my own trajectory training as a figure skater and becoming a coach. This coach character I created is an amalgamation of so many coaches I saw over the years (not mine — don’t be mad, Cecily!) And the part in there about he repeatedly sees Brian Boitano warm up to “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” — well, that is 100% taken from my own experience. At one point, I was lucky enough to be on the ice with Brian often, and the kids consistently played on the South Park movie soundtrack. He is a class act, and he just focused on the work.
JS: Performing the monologues I’ve written has been a joy! There’s something magical about creating a person in my head and then eventually (Read: many drafts later.) becoming that person on stage. Without a doubt, the audience loved “Judy’s Guy Friday,” — imagine Judy Garland’s fictional, eccentric right-hand-man in the 1960s turned current-day Uber driver. At this point, I see him as his own person and when I get to play him, I try and honor the odd, spicy, and passionate man he has become. I’m not saying he possesses me… wait, actually I am, help me!
BD: What kind of impact do you hope that LGBTQ Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny will have for actors within the LGBTQ community?
AG: Personally, I am hoping that it resonates in a meaningful way. I hope that actors of the LGBTQ community feel represented and supported. As an ally, and the creator of this series, without the LGBTQ edition, I feel as if we would be leaving out a BIG, IMPORTANT part of our theatrical community.
I know the book won’t change the world, but I hope that someone, somewhere can grab this and say, “This character speaks to me! To my soul! This represents me and who I want to be onstage!” And I hope they scream that while laughing hysterically to no one in particular.
JS: By nature, I think all humans want to know they fit in somewhere, even if they’re not in that place at that moment. I certainly can’t represent all gay men’s perspectives, but I hope somewhere there’s a gay kid who loves pageants or home shopping or salty old people and will read my monologues and know there’s someone somewhere in the world (I’m in LA!) who has with the same odd sense of humor he does.
LM: Hopefully, LGBTQ performers will start to see some of their experiences reflected in the pieces and find material that speaks to them. It should allow all actors a wider range of characters to step into. Reading fiction increases empathy, and exposure to a range of stories helps normalize and elucidate how other people feel. Having LGBTQ characters represented in auditions, on stage, in front of the camera, and seen by casting directors and producers has the power to broaden the perspectives of both audiences, creators, and performers. On a more personal level, I hope individual actors will feel better knowing no matter who they are, there is something out there written just for them.
AR: The Trevor Project was founded with inspiration from a one man show by founder James Lecesne. This show became a short Academy Award-winning film directed by Peggy Rajski and produced by Randy Stone, which led to the creation of the Trevor Lifeline. With one monologue, a young person could find a passion in theater, which could turn into changing their own future. It’s important to show LGBTQ youth that their voices matter, and this book shows them that they can express themselves and be who they are. It could also inspire them to tell their own stories so that they don’t isolate themselves. Imagine the possibility we can give to young people who don’t always see brighter futures ahead.
IT: As an actor, some of the pieces I’ve performed have resonated with me so deeply that they made me think, or grow, or even helped me. I’ve grateful that I’ve gotten to say words that made me feel like I was understood, and a part of something bigger — or just plain made me and/or my audience laugh our asses off, which is so, so important. I hope some of the pieces in this book resonate on some or all of those levels with LGBTQ actors and their allies.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are working that you would like to share with our readers?
AG: My biggest current endeavor is my creative consultation business, Artist Life. After having (thankfully) much success in the artistic arena, people kept coming up to my husband and me asking us how we do what we do. Now, we have set up Artist Life and go around the country, as well as offer private coaching, to creatives who want action steps to achieve their creative dreams and goals. I LOVE it!
Oh! The TV show I co-created and star in, Lishy Lou and Lucky Too, is about to start airing in heaps more regions via PBS. It is so kitsch, delightful, and magical. Watch for it and then actually watch it!
AR: I’m in grad school to study social work, so I can help more LGBTQ youth learn how to tell their stories and create more positive narratives for themselves. At The Trevor Project, I recently helped launch our Suicide Prevention Month campaign featuring actor Kira Kosarin at thetrevorproject.org/SaveLGBTQLives. The campaign teaches young people how to communicate and connect with others when they need help. It also offers tips on self-care, which could certainly include writing your own monologue or learning one in this book. If you’d like to connect with a safe community of LGBTQ folks and maybe even share a monologue from this book or write your own, join TrevorSpace.org and become a part of a chat group that loves theater.
IT: I’ve just finished a play, a rom-com nod to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit which examines the intersection of “true love” and the “long-term relationship,” as two old friends-with-privileges navigate the existential landscape of purgatory whilst stuck in a Maserati. I’m also researching three new plays about strong women, one of whom is based on my grandmother, one of whom is a Nordic Goddess, and one of whom is entirely made up. For updates and other entertaining nuggets, please visit www.ilanaturner.com and follow me on Twitter, @itoverdrive.
BD: Lastly, where can our readers find more information about LGBTQ Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny?
LGBTQ Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny is available from the Publisher, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books (part of the Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group) via the Backwing store and on Amazon. Please check out the five other Monologues That Are Actually Funny books, too.