When you think of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet’s soliloquy “to be, or not to be” is probably the first thing that comes to mind. This scene is just one well-known example of the power of monologues. Monologues, whether in a 17th-century play or a recent movie, have a special power to delve into the mind of characters and connect with audiences. This summer, Kelsey Crane ’17 is exploring the particular power of monologues. Working with Professor of Theatre Craig Latrell under an Emerson Summer Research grant, Crane is researching and performing theatrical monologues, exploring their unique form of storytelling.
Crane has been interested in theatre since a young age, and she has been able to explore that interest more at Hamilton, where she is a double major in Theatre and Economics. She first got involved in theatre on campus in a production of Dark Play put on by her project advisor, Professor Latrell. Since then, Crane has explored a variety of kinds of theatre and has gained a deep appreciation for it. She realized that “not only is acting one of the only ways that I can find to personally experience life as another person, but it can have a similar effect on the audience too, and that makes performance an incredibly valuable tool.”
In particular, Crane found that monologues help to create a shared experience between characters, actors and audiences. In a monologue, she commented, “the performer casts the audience as listener and so …the audience is part of the conversation.” Crane and Latrell pinpointed four functions of monologues that they wanted to explore: storytelling, giving a voice to a marginalized individual or group, construction of identity, and solo performance as activism. As part of her research Crane has been reading and watching monologues that exemplify those functions. She has also been rehearsing monologues that she will perform on campus next semester.
Throughout the summer, she has been asking the question “so what?” of her monologues. She wants to understand why each piece matters, asking herself, “What is the function that this performance might serve? What do I hope the audience to leaves with?” She’s learned that one of the more important roles of a monologue is to connect an audience with a feeling or experience they would otherwise not have. “One of the most powerful things an actor can do,” she said, “is to get the audience thinking about a people or an issue they wouldn’t typically think about and consequently encourage empathy and understanding for people with different experiences.”
Crane has seen this application for monologues not only within theater, but at campus events that give individuals a space to speak and to be heard. Within this space, people have been able to share their experiences about gender, mental illness, sexual assault and other topics. Monologues, just like these real-world conversations, have a power to share important personal feelings and experiences, and to enable an audience to genuinely connect.