Lawrence Harbison: Monologues vs. Narration
For more than 30 years, Lawrence Harbison (Brooklyn, NY) was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc. He is a now a freelance editor for Smith and Kraus, Inc., for whom he edits annual anthologies of best plays by new playwrights, best ten-minute plays, and best monologues for men and for women, and for Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, for whom he has edited two anthologies of monologues, Best Contemporary Monologues for Men 18–35 and Best Contemporary Monologues for Women 18–35.
His column “On the Aisle with Larry” is a regular feature at http://www.smithandkraus.com. Harbison was a member of the Drama Desk Nominating Committee for the 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 seasons and is a member of the Outer Critics Circle as well as the Drama Desk. He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website: http://www.playfixer.com).
Harbison comments on his experience with helping actors work on their monologues:
“ When I worked at Samuel French, actors would troupe in to our bookstore all day long, looking for monologues and scenes. Often, they’d ask for me, because the word was out that I was glad to help them and knew just about every play ever written. Sometimes they would do the monologues they had in their arsenal and ask me to comment on them. Often, their monologues were stories. The action in them was to relate something that happened in the past. This is what I would say to them:
Would you agree that an audition is a chance to demonstrate your skill for the job? (YES) Are you hoping to get work as a narrator? (NO) Then why would you go into an audition and tell a story? An actor enacts a present tense action; a narrator tells a story about something which happened in the past. I think that the best monologues are, in essence, very short scenes. Only one character is speaking but it’s clear who he’s talking to, enabling the actor to provide some semblance of conflict – which is the essence of the drama. Storytelling. The best monologues are mini-plays, with onstage action, onstage conflict and a beginning, middle and end.”