Volume 18 • Issue 30 | December 9 - 15, 2005

Donald Black Jr.

Allison Findlater, reigning champ of the Manhattan Monologue Slam, held each month at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Thespian smackdown

By Rachel Fershleiser

Don’t be fooled by the black-turtlenecks-and-clove-cigarettes connotation of the term “slam.” The Manhattan Monologue Slam, the latest installment of which took place on December 5th, is not poetry, performance art, spoken word, stand up, or storytelling. It is only, in the concise words of co-founder Robert Galinsky, “actors acting.”

Galinsky started hosting what he asserts is “the country’s only theatre slam” with his brother Philip in 2003. “We were just thinking about how we could get ourselves seen and meet people in the industry,” he explained. “A lot of actors are in that position.”

The slam, which now takes place monthly at the Bowery Poetry Club, helps relative unknowns get face time with casting agents and producers. Each event invites ten professional actors to perform a three-minute, character-driven theatrical monologue. The pieces range from dark and tragic to frothy and hilarious and may be written by the performers, culled from the theatre, or adapted from film scripts. At this month’s 2005 National Championship, actors portrayed a women’s basketball star, an aging black Shakespearian player, a drooling, mentally disabled child, a blind rapist, and even a cigarette-smoking dog.

“It’s a great way of keeping the joints oiled,” said James Mount, a several-time monologue champ. “You can make risky choices, go out on a tightrope, because you have a parachute right there in the super-supportive audience.”

Indeed, the atmosphere in the packed room on that freezing Monday night was one of camaraderie and encouragement. Seats were entirely filled half an hour before the show, and the remaining spectators leaned on the exposed brick walls, stood in the aisles, and gathered three and four deep around the bar.

The industry insiders judging the actors included Neil Genzlinger, a New York Times theatre writer, actress Sarah Jones of “Bridge and Tunnel” fame, and casting director Robert Russell.

“It’s such a great chance to give back,” says Russell, a twenty-year veteran of the business in both New York and L.A. “And these actors are just the cream of the crop; they are phenomenal.”

Most phenomenal, according to scores at last week’s championship, was Allison Findlater, the 2004 champion who successfully defended her title this year. Findlater, in the interest of full disclosure, is Robert Galinsky’s ex-wife, but no one who witnessed her moving performance, a piece from “American Dreams” by Brooklyn writer Sapphire, could possibly suspect that favoritism played into her win.

Though reluctant at first to become involved in the slam, Findlater says “It’s got a momentum all its own now, and it’s an awesome opportunity for anyone.” Contestants say the slam does open some doors - they get sent on more auditions as a result, and some have earned roles in plays and independent films. Such opportunities are not exactly the express tickets to fame participants might hope for, but in a city teeming with struggling actors, every bit of exposure counts.

After a brief intermission, the show moved into its second phase, during which spectators are invited to perform a 30-second monologue. Twenty-three-year-old David Beukema took home top honors, earning thirty dollars and a coveted spot in the 3-minute monologues next month.

Robert Galinsky is quick to acknowledge that the show’s contest format lends itself naturally to reality television. Despite its comfy non-commerciality, the producers are open to a small-screen adaptation, as long as it never veers into what they call “humiliation TV” or undermines the show’s live-audience roots.

“We will continue to do the show live on stage no matter what,” Galinsky vows. He thinks that a television show could be a terrific addition, but says it isn’t his main goal for the Monologue Slam. “I only hope the audience leaves feeling refreshed and invigorated about the future of live theatre.”


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