Returning for an Encore: Drama Workshop with Lawrence Crawford – 8 December 2021

Experienced actor, director, producer and drama tutor, Lawrence Crawford made his return appearance at the Mercure Hotel, leading us in an interesting and entertaining drama workshop – with emphasis on drama in the ‘second act’ (after our tealess tea-break).

As the curtain rose on our last meeting of 2021, Lawrence posed a couple of questions. What is a monologue? And what purpose does it serve?

Apparently, the dictionary definition is – a long tedious speech by one person. But Lawrence says a monologue should never be tedious, instead it should have your audience/listener riveted and desperate to hear more.

Lawrence explained how Shakespeare used soliloquy, when a character speaks their thoughts and feelings aloud, to drive the story forward giving information which might have sounded clunky between two characters.

The stage play and subsequent film Alfie makes excellent use of monologue as Alfie pulls viewers into his life and make them connect with his character’s thoughts and emotions.

Comedic monologues in pantomime, when a character such as the Dame talks directly to the audience, gives time for set changes behind the curtain. It allows the character to give instructions, like shouting ‘Behind You!’ when the villain appears and breaks down the barrier between the audience and the stage…oh yes it does!

Billy Connolly, during his stand-up routines is the master of the comedy monologue, as he effortlessly tangles us up in his long hilarious stories and gives the audience an insight into how the Big Yin sees the world.

From an actor’s point of view, monologues are hard work, Lawrence informed us. For starters, there’s a big chunk of prose to be memorised then delivered smoothly, remembering where to pause and when to stress particular lines and all with no cast onstage to bounce off. There’s pressure on an actor not to mess up their lines, especially if reciting well known Shakespearean soliloquys as, chances are, the audience will know.  However, for auditions an actor usually prepares to read two monologues – one classical and one modern/contemporary – which can prove their ability to tell a story, capture their audience and take them on a journey.

Lawrence also spoke from a scriptwriter’s point of view, describing the buzz you feel when you hear actors speaking your words, although on the other hand, you cringe when a director makes changes to your work you don’t agree with.

Moving on to our club’s dramatic monologue(s) competition, which Lawrence has set and will adjudicate. He’s asked us to write in the ‘Rashomon Style’, which he feels will challenge our members, pushing them out their comfort zone. These are a series of monologues told from the different perspectives of at least two characters.

The name is derived from a famous Japanese film Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa. Lawrence had brought along a series of monologues from the original short story written by Akutagawa and we split into two groups to read them aloud.

A samurai has been murdered – various potential witnesses/suspects give statements to the police. Fiona read the woodcutter’s words, Damaris, the man’s mother-in-law and I read a Buddhist monk’s statement. The different monologues tell the story from each character’s perspective, building up the plot and were good examples of the Rashomon Style. Other examples are Stobhill by Edwin Morgan and The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kaye.

So, just to recap, for the competition – Rashomon-style monologues require different points of view from at least two and a maximum of five characters in a drama script of ten minutes long (roughly ten pages).  Visualise your characters, make them three-dimensional and give each one a strong individual voice. Think about punctuation and what words need to be stressed. Brief stage directions can be included. Introduce conflict and build up tension. The monologues can vary in length i.e., one character could say much less than the next. Don’t worry – Lawrence will email details and advice to the club.

Sounds fascinating and a challenge indeed. Good luck to all the entrants!

After our half-time interval, the workshop focus turned to the exercise set by Lawrence the previous Wednesday – two radio play scripts adapted from Nigel and Carolyn’s short stories. Both their groups had worked hard over the week to dramatize then perform these pieces.   While last-minute rehearsals and script tweaks took place, Lawrence explained to those of us who hadn’t been involved (including me), we’d have the important task of being the critics. We had to consider what we liked about each piece, whether we thought the dialogue and characters were realistic and effective and if we thought the script had tension and a hook to keep a listener interested.

Nigel’s group read A Table Turned – a brother and sister, ably played by John and Jeanette, whose elderly parents are moving home and downsizing, argue over who’s getting what from the house and a startling revelation is made about the dining room table that would put you off your dinner (the couple conceived their daughter on top of it).

Carolyn’s story, adapted by Maggie M, One Man’s Trash had a similar theme – a daughter, Maggie M, and a family friend, Fiona McF, help an infirm elderly woman, Damaris, downsize and dispose of surplus belongings. The daughter finds a fascinating scrapbook of newspaper clippings written by an ancestor and plans to take this treasure home with her …then the book vanishes.

Both radio scripts were well received by the critiquing group. Humorous and relatable, great natural flowing dialogue, interesting ‘real’ characters and an excellent build-up of tension.

Oscars all round to the script-writers, directors, narrators and actors and a big round of applause for Lawrence for yet another inspiring and illuminating drama workshop.

There was no time for encores or acceptance speeches – we’d enjoyed ourselves so much, we finished 15 minutes late.

So, the curtains swished closed on our theatrical evening and we all left the Mercure on a high by the stage door*.

 

Linda Brown

* back door – front doors were locked due to strong winds!

 

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