I love seeing young writers encouraged to tell their stories, and that’s why I was immediately excited when I heard about the The Monologue Collective: HSC Monologues written by teenagers for teenagers.
The project was created by Laneikka Denne, the playwright and actress behind Dead Skin, who I previously interviewed last year.
Last week, we sat down on zoom and she told me about how ten young writers have spent a year developing their monologues, with the help of funding and some industry mentors. This week, a cast of young people are performing the monologues in Kings Cross Theatre, and doing another run at Shopfront theatre in December.
Laneikka and I were joined in our call by Parker Craig, one of the teen writers on the project. We chatted about giving young writers opportunities, telling realistic teen stories, and why young female actors are sick of playing housewives in their HSC monologues.
Please note, this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Jo: Laneikka, tell me about this project.
Laneikka: The Monologue Collective has been a one-year program where 10 teenage writers were commissioned to write a six-to-eight minute monologue that could then be performed by teenagers for the HSC individual drama performance.
It’s been a wild year. We’ve had a mad time, and Parker is amazing. So, I’m glad that we get to chat today about all things theatre for young people.
Jo: So, this all started with a canva callout on Instagram and you were overwhelmed by the response?
Laneikka: We did an open call out for the writers, and then there was over a hundred applications. There was such a demand for teenagers to have an opportunity like this. I’m so happy that so many teenage playwrights get to be published now because of this.
Jo: So, it is getting published?
Laneikka: Yep! So we just found out yesterday that PlayLab in Brisbane are going to do a hard copy and a digital copy of The Monologue Collective. It’s just going to be such a good resource (for students).
Jo: That’s so cool. Parker, tell me about your monologue?
Parker: Sure. Through the process of the workshops and developments, and also the more that I went to theatre, I realized how, underrepresented really authentic teenage voices were.
I’m a filmmaker as well as a theatre maker, and all of the media I was consuming about teenagers didn’t reflect any of the experiences I had. And I became so frustrated that I was like, “Well, I’ll just write it.”
I saw a lot of media that paraded around this expected idea of youth that was fun and good and rebellious, but in my life, I wasn’t having that. And specially, when I was developing my script at the end of last year, I was coming out of high school, I was graduating, and I was recovering from mental health. And I just thought “this sucked, and all of the media about it said it wouldn’t suck”. I was disappointed, and I wanted to write something that tells you the truth—that the teenage dream is such a lie!
I wanted to write this character that was trying to put together her teenage dream when she knew it was falling apart. In my life, I really saw that happen on my schoolies. So, I wrote this monologue, about a girl named Rosie who is on her schoolies, and it is essentially the last time she will see her friendship group as a cohesive group. It’s her saying goodbye to being a teenager in a lot of ways.
Because I was on my schoolies and I was like, “Everybody said schoolies was a great time, but this is just kind of weird. This is just people who are a little bit tired of each other, who are just getting drunk for a week. I want to write a monologue about that.”
Jo: I didn’t actually do schoolies, I was underage.
Parker: You’re lucky. (Laughs)
Jo: But all of the drama of forming your cliques and booking hotels in advance sounded so stressful.
Parker: I would be in the school library on my study periods (not studying) and I would overhear the girls being like, “Okay, so we have to get a thousand dollars together for the flight”, and I’m like, What the fuck? You’re crazy.
Jo: And then, obviously some high school friendships last, but it’s a lot to do if you don’t think the friendships are going to last.
Parker: Yeah! And I was just thinking “You guys don’t even really like each other!” so I just really wanted to write something that tried to embody all of these feelings.
Jo: I’m really excited to see it. I’m coming on Tuesday morning. Because I’m a director as well and I’m interested in new writing, so I was so excited when I saw this idea that you’re doing Laneikka, because it’s just so cool.
Laneikka: I wanted to focus on how young people actually use theatre and use text. In most cases, the only interaction that a teenager will have with theatre will be the HSC drama monologue. So, we really need to make it a good one because it’s been so terrible for so many years. And if that interaction doesn’t hit, we won’t have theatre audiences in a few years, because theatre is already an aging population, and that’s so concerning.
Parker: I will say that when I was doing my drama major work, a really big reason why I didn’t perform a monologue (even though like I’m an actor and a writer) was because I truly didn’t like any of the ones out there written.
I didn’t know where to find any that I could like, and I didn’t want to write one because I didn’t have the time to, because I’m such a perfectionist. It would have to be good if I wrote it and I didn’t think I had the time to write one.
Laneikka: And did you feel this way, Parker—HSC teachers in my experience, were very much like, “Don’t write your own monologue. It’s a terrible idea.” So, I feel like there was also that pressure: “I don’t like anything and then I’m not allowed to write something.”
And every time I would look up “seven-minute monologues”, it would always be fucking boring Shakespeare or really boring Australian plays from the fifties. And frankly, I don’t care! I like it, but I don’t care enough to perform it.
Laneikka: And you’re not old enough to be a housewife, so you can’t keep performing the old lady or the housewife’s monologue.
Parker: Why are all of them about housewives? (Laughs).
Jo: I remember in school my drama teacher had me do Lady Macbeth and obviously it’s good to practise Shakespearean language, but I was like, “I’m 16, I can’t perform this character well.”
Jo: Let young people play roles that are for young people and not middle-aged women. (Laughs)
Laneikka: Yes. That was a huge, huge perimeter in the criteria as well. That was my only boundary, I was like, “Please make it a character that is under 20, so we can actually play them, so it’s real”.
Parker: This one of my favourite parts about The Monologue Collective because teenagers are actually performing people that are their own ages and their own experiences.
Especially in terms of gendered roles in theatre very like if you are a girl, you would be performing like a housewife character. And if you’re a guy, you’d be performing some like, abusive, alcoholic war veteran. And that’s the two options. (Laughs)
Jo: Yeah, I actually did a David Williamson where I was literally playing an alcoholic dude.
Parker: Oh my God. Yeah. Classic David Williamson.
Jo: So, Parker, how old are you, and when did you finish high school?
Parker: I am 18, I graduated last year.
Jo: Cool. And you’re at AFTRS, is that correct?
Parker: Yeah, I am.
Jo: So, you applied for this program last year, when you were still in school?
Parker: Yeah, that’s right. So, when I initially applied, I was like, “Oh my God, this is so cool. I wonder what I’ll be doing in a year.” And the very initial ideas I had are so drastically different to what we’ve got now, and that’s primarily because we workshopped it so closely. And because the resources were so fantastic and the access to them was such a blessing. It was just so mind-growing.
This interview was conducted and edited by Jo Bradley.
The Monologue Collective is playing at Kings Cross Theatre is playing on Tuesday 18th, Thursday 20th and Friday 21st of October. Tickets can be purchased here. For details about their December Shopfront performance, follow The Monologue Collective on Instagram. You can read my review of the piece here.
The full team behind The Monologue Collective include:
Writers: Nick Annas, Marco Sindoni, Clauda Elbourne, Jesse Phillips, Niranjanan Sriganeshwaran, Parker Craig, Ayah Darwich, Fletcher Scully, Milena Barraclough Nesic and Lola Sargasso
Actors: Emily Lomman, Laila Chesterman, Isabelle Nader, Jasper Lee-Lindsay, Martha Russell, Harry Winsome, Niranjanan Sriganeshwaran and Jesse Phillips.
Directed by Nisrine Amine, Assistant Directed and Stage Managed by Charlie Vaux.
Mentored by Anchuli Felicha King, Lewis Treston, Ayeesha Ash, Merlynn Tong, Polly Rowe and Jordy Shea.
Dramaturgs Bernadette Fam and Riley Spadaro.
Lighting Design by Martin Kinnane, Production Design by Jess Hole and Sound Design by Jade Elenora Carter.
Created by Laneikka Denne.