Therapy is unpredictable. It makes you think about things you thought you had locked away in a box in the back of your mind, situations that happened years ago come flooding back and conversations you wish you had are finally given the airtime. Untitled Monologues is a collection of 7 pieces that explore the many universal yet personal experiences endured by women when they finally have the space to speak. In this interview, Writer/Director by Francesca Bolam, who also performs two of the monologues, speaks to RogueTheatre Festival founder, Allison Hohman about her work, and her debut at the Rogue Theatre Festival Saturday, December 12, at 1:00pm. Also interviewed are members of the cast.
Playwright, Director, and Actor
Allison Hohman: Where did you get the inspiration for writing your piece? Francesca Bolam: This piece really birthed itself. I write a lot. I write a lot of poetry and also have a strong theatre background and the two became entwined. I had individual pieces that I thought could work together and so in this instance it was really about finding the thread they all shared. I have a writing chair in my apartment that all my friends call the “therapy chair” and I said it aloud to a friend one day and that was it. All these women are in therapy. I knew I needed to talk about these heavy topics that often we don’t want to confront. There’s layers to this piece with the idea that they’re all one persons story, yet are so universal.
Allison Hohman: What is your writing process? When inspiration strikes? One hour a day? Francesca Bolam: I’m very much somebody that writes the moment and then can’t stop. Maybe it’s motivated by a song or a building or a memory, a train ride or whatever. I think my favorite process is free writing. I took a Meditation and Writing class and we would meditate for a few minutes and then free write, my teacher used to say “I don’t care what you write just do not put the pen down” I do that often. I also like to keep things fresh by taking classes, anything from Gotham Writers to Rupi Kaurs poetry workshops on instagram.
Allison Hohman: How did you first get involved with theater and becoming a playwright? Francesca Bolam: I started out in the arts singing classically from a very young age. I then gravitated to Musical Theatre and trained in the UK and at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in LA and NYC and then later studying Theatre at The New School. Writing always came easy to me, telling stories and putting on a show was a frequent occurrence in my childhood and now writing is a release for me. It’s really the way I process a lot of how I’m feeling. I love wearing many hats and feel at home being heavily involved in all aspects of a project. I think it’s my type A personality haha!
Allison Hohman: What do you love about this piece and what will others love about it? Francesca Bolam: I love the rawness of this piece, it is unapologetically honest and I believe beautifully vulnerable. The actors really brought my work to life in ways that I never initially expected. It has been a special experience writing, acting in, directing and editing this body of work. I think it’s incredibly relatable to most people and I really enjoy the different mediums it involves, I found a lot of the magic in the editing.
Allison Hohman: How important do you think it is for theatre festivals to offer opportunities for new or up and coming playwrights? Francesca Bolam: I think it’s crucial to the constant reinvention of theatre. I think there’s something precious about being involved in an original piece where the cast and creatives are growing together. It’s a type of magic I don’t think you necessarily see in bigger spaces. I always remember going to Grahamstown Arts Festival in South Africa and being completely blown away by the work of up and coming artists that were just hungry to create and collaborate and tell their stories.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring playwrights? Francesca Bolam: I think this goes for artists in general; just do the thing, get out of your head and just jump, the net will always catch you. I really believe that we spend too much time getting in our own way. There’s always something more you could have done or a different way you could have said your lines but if you never do it to begin with you will never know what could have been.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t a playwright, what would you be doing? Francesca Bolam: I think as a creative we wear many hats and that was proved in the creation of “Untitled Monologues.” I found during this process that I really gravitated towards writing and directing and editing it. It’s not that I don’t love acting but I just really enjoyed pulling a whole concept together. So I’d definitely like to do more of that.
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Francesca Bolam: I want to publish “Untitled Monologues.” I always remember when I was auditioning for stage school I found it difficult finding a good amount of monologues I resonated with. I think this would be a great tool for that. I have so many pieces that could be added to it!
Allison Hohman talks to Selamawit Worku, Actor
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Selamawit Worku: I was first inspired to be a performer around four years old, I use to always carry with me this toy “krar” (which is essentially an Ethiopian guitar or lyre), and I would make up my own songs and sing. As for my desire to be an actor, the seeds were planted not long after that, I had seen footage of performers from the Ethiopian National Theater (they were dancing, singing, and acting) and I would watch so many different types of films and all the award shows on TV from the Emmys to Oscars, just learning and studying.
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Selamawit Worku: I got involved by taking classes and receiving training. I dived in and submitted for jobs and various opportunities. I experimented with some modeling, performed as a jazz/pop singer, auditioned and acted in local film and theater productions (first in the DC Metro Area and then later in NYC). I expanded my theater experience when I moved to NYC and completed my training at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Although I did work on film as well, after finishing the conservatory program, I focused primarily on developing myself as a producer/writer and performing in as many plays as possible. So in one way or another, acting or theater has been part of my journey as a storyteller and multi-disciplinary artist.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Selamawit Worku: I loved that in her memories, which were rightfully filled with hurt, trauma, and frustration, my character is able to find interesting aspects about her mother that made her seem, at moments, nice, bold, or dynamic. I think that will resonate with the audience as they listen and watch my character, that there can be something humorous or likeable even with the most messy and volatile parents.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Selamawit Worku: It was fun to look at this character and think about her childhood, what went wrong and right. What her dreams and hopes may have been and how she’s so shaped by her upbringing, and in some ways likely afraid she’ll turn out exactly like her parents. Since we were filming and not on stage, figuring out the physicality of the character became a fun challenge.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Selamawit Worku: It’s different but it feels in a way much more free and intentional. I think one of the best parts of shaping the story or project is how you build and connect with each other while physically on set or stage. But in a way, now the process feels somehow much more explorative, specific, and minimal. In that, we are able to have much more intentional conversations with the director or writer, with rehearsals being very focused and maximized. We get to really focus specifically on the story, words, and actions. I definitely miss other aspects of theater and rehearsal, but it’s been a good change to experiment and stretch in this way as an actor.
Allison Hohman Talks to Alexis LaBarba, Actor
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Alexis LaBarba: I always loved watching movies, mostly movie musicals like The Wizard of Oz and Grease. I foundmyvoicebysingingalongtoJudyGarlandwithSomewhereOvertheRainbow. Iwould sing around the house and put on plays with my neighbors. I’m not sure that there was a defining moment. From a young age, I just knew performing was something I loved and couldn't stop.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Alexis LaBarba: Aside from learning the material, I’ve found that character work is crucial before rehearsals begin. I want to know everything about the character - their favorite food, their first love, their biggest fear, their desires, their most important relationships and more. I have discovered that knowing my character informs my choices and conversations in the rehearsal room.
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Alexis LaBarba: My mom took me to an open dress rehearsal for the Houston Grand Operas, The Little Prince. I was eight years old at the time and completely fell in love. I sat in the audience mesmerized and I begged her to let me audition for a season. This was my first audition. I was so nervous and had no idea what I was doing. I remember showing up in shorts and a t-shirt and singing ‘Happy Birthday’ because I had left my sheet music at home. I cried the entire car ride home but much to my surprise, I was asked to join their season. After that audition, I started taking voice lessons and auditioning for shows and the rest is history.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Alexis LaBarba: This piece explores safety, family and heartbreak. l see this character as someone who has never fully expressed how they feel about their mother. She has been strong since she was young and I loved exploring that tough resilience.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Alexis LaBarba: I enjoyed watching these words jump off the page. At the start, the concept seemed simple in which a group of women share their stories to their therapist but as we started working, the layers to the characters began to unfold. It was exciting to see what the performances revealed about the play as a whole. The most challenging part about this play was figuring out how to translate work intended for stage to film.
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you? Alexis LaBarba: We found so much in the making of this piece, specifically with the creative process. This process had me thinking about the unpredictable and how we use it to inform the work.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Alexis LaBarba: The biggest difference between Covid times and regular times has been the absence of a live theatre experience. If “Untitled Monologues’ was to be done on a stage, it would be a completely different play.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing? Alexis LaBarba: I love to sing so when I’m not acting that’s what I’m doing!
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring actors? Alexis LaBarba: I spent the first half of my career doubting my talent based on what others had to say when it came down to looks or experience or even popularity. Its easy to write yourself off at the start or when things get hard. But as I’ve settled into my strengths I recognize that I am fully capable and worthy. You just have to keep going and putting yourself out there.
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Alexis LaBarba: Spending more time at home has led me to my piano and songwriting. I’m very excited to work on music of my own which is my next project!
Allison Hohman talks to Anne Windsland, Actor
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Anne Windsland: I have always been in the performing arts, since I was 4 years old, but it wasn’t something I was thinking about pursuing professionally until I saw an all female production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” at the performing arts school in my hometown in Norway. I remember immediately thinking: “This is it. This is what I want to do with my life”. Then my journey started.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Anne Windsland: Of course starting by reading the entire script, at least twice. Then I always like to start asking myself “What is this really about? What is the question the playwright is posing by writing this, and what are they trying to hold up to the audience”. From there I work with my character: Who are they? Why do they do the things they do and say the tings they say? I believe that the actor always needs to know more than the character knows about themselves. Then I memorize my lines and show up ready to play!
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Anne Windsland: I have an older brother who always was a part of the performing arts, and still is, so I started out performing at our community theatre with him at the age of 4. It was the only one out of my 500 hobbies that I never grew tired of and quit. So I really think it is a sort of calling.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Anne Windsland: I am always drawn to characters who are independent, slightly self-absorbed women, who tend to be going through a hysterical breakdown. In the monologue I’m performing, my character just got dumped by what she thought was the love of her life, but is just realizing how emotionally abusive he really was. What I love about her is that even though it is a painful experience, and she is sort of unwrapping all the nasty layers of their relationship, she is still able to find some humor in it, which is how we are ultimately able to carry on with life.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Anne Windsland: The most exciting thing has been to perform a piece written by such a close friend. Francesca is such a clever yet poetic writer, that it makes it very easy for us as actors to bring her work to life. She's also a fearless director and gave us all massive creative freedom with our performances, which takes a lot of courage when you are dealing with such personal material. The most challenging bit was probably choosing the piece I wanted to perform. Francesca gave me the choice to read them and pick the one that resonated with me the most. They are all so different and beautiful that choosing "the one was" a challenge.
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you Anne Windsland: The rehearsal process of a monologue can be quite lonely, as you are performing the piece by yourself. It really requires you to do the work yourself, to get a deep understanding of the text and what you are really saying. Working by yourself can make you a little “blind” to certain nuances in the text, so workshopping it with somebody else can really help you discovering things you hadn't before.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Anne Windsland: Zoom, everything is happening on zoom, and it has been quite interesting to see how well it can actually work. However, nothing will ever replace the magic of live theater.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing? Anne Windsland: This is a hard question, but I think I would still be within the arts somehow or maybe working as an archaeologist at some exiting, ancient digging site in the middle of the desert in Egypt.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring actors? Anne Windsland: Network, make your own stuff and keep going to class!!
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Anne Windsland: First a nice long Christmas break with my family, and then I have some exciting film projects that are both in post- and pre-production. And hoping 2021 will be a wonderful year for everyone!
Allison Hohman Talks to Te’Era Coleman, Actor
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Te’Era Coleman: Growing up in Louisville, KY, with an excessively large family and host of family friends, I was offered many unique characters every day of my life. I always felt I was living in a movie, with me as the protagonist facing obstacles and seeing those around carrying out their own comedies, dramas, futurisms, and autobiographies. One of my favorite pastimes was listening to the stories shared by my late uncle who was surely talented at telling stories that had tragic circumstances in a way that eventually brought tears of laughter and shortness of breath. Sitting in my grandparent’s living room with over twenty-five of us taking up every inch of the couch and floor space. Being a spectator wasn’t enough. I’ve always wanted to participate in helping to share stories. One day my own.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Te’Era Coleman: Before rehearsal, for me, there is practice and prayer. I take rehearsals seriously, in that each moment counts to discover and hone what’s needed for the final delivery. Practice and prayer are the fusion of my spirit and body to embody and create what is written.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character, and what will others love about it? Te’Era Coleman: My character isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. She is dealing with the ancient concept of life and death. She fiercely explains the dry events in her daily life leading to her first suicide attempt, not realizing how deep into a high functional depression she’s become. People will love the irony in how closely her brief but intense sigh of frustration is relatable.
About the Playwright
Francesca Bolam is a British born actress and writer based in New York City. Francesca began singing classically at age 7 and then gravitated towards musical theatre where she workshopped with many Broadway and west end performers. Credits include, “Hair the Musical”, “Rent” and “Me and My Girl.” She attended The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in LA and NYC. Francesca gained her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from The New School for Public Engagement graduating Summa Cum Laude. Francesca has always had a passion for writing in its many different forms and has written and performed poetry with The Peace Poets and at The Poetry Project on Saint Marks Place NYC.
Monologue 1, 2, & 7 - Francesca Bolam
Monologue 3 - Selamawit Worku
Monologue 4 - Anne Windsland
Monologue 5 - Te’Era Coleman
Monologue 6 - Alexis LaBarba
Creative Direction: Francesca Bolam & Alexis LaBarba
Videographer: Sarah Little
Graphic Designer: Jacquelyn Shaw
Untitled Monologues plays Saturday, December 12th at 1:00pm.
Buy Tickets: https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/41762