Talene Monahon is a Brooklyn-based playwright and actor. Her play, How to Load a Musket, an interview-based exploration of historical reenactors, premiered January 2020 at 59E59, produced by Less than Rent and was ranked #3 on TheaterMania’s list of “The 10 Best Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Virtual Theater Productions of 2020.”
Her new play, Jane Anger, starring Michael Urie, runs February 21 – March 13 at New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street in the West Village). More information and tickets are available at www.JaneAngerPlay.com.
Talene’s other plays include Frankie & Will (MCC), proud revengeful ambitious (Play- PerView) and All in Good Fun (Peterborough Players). Her writing has been published by StageRights, the Cincinnati Review, and on McSweeneys. Her plays have been developed by Red Bull Theater Company, Cape Cod Theater Project, and Northern Stage. Her writing has been featured on McSweeneys Internet Tendency and Points in Case. As an actor, Talene has performed in productions at the Roundabout Theater Company, Playwrights Horizons, the Atlantic, MCC, New Georges, Encores! Off- Center, Red Bull, Clubbed Thumb, La Jolla Playhouse, Huntington Theater Company, Gingold Theater Group, Partial Comfort and Les Freres Corbusier as well as selected film and television.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
During my senior year of high school, I won first prize in the English Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition for high schoolers. The final part of the competition was judged by the late great Gene Wilder and the prize was an all-expenses paid summer studying Shakespeare at Oxford. I don’t think I necessarily would have pursued
a career in the theater if the competition hadn’t given me that sort of wild confidence boost at eighteen. Not for nothing, it also cemented my love of Shakespeare.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
Well, theater is so ancient. Doing it makes me feel connected to something sort of eternal—both to the many who have practiced this art form for thousands of years and also to the ancient childlike part of me who would prance around in the backyard as a kid and entertain myself for hours. I think that aspect of theater really appeals to me
and, obviously, it’s a lot of fun.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I had a wonderful drama teacher in high school, Mark Lindberg, who taught me a great deal. While at Dartmouth, my professor Carol Dunne gave me numerous invaluable opportunities to act at local regional theaters. I haven’t had a lot of “formal training” in acting or writing, but starting to work professionally as a teenager taught me
so much. I learned a lot about acting on the job. And I learned a lot about writing as an actor on the job.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
Oh, encouraging! Except when I tried to dance in things, because I am a repulsive dancer. No one ever saw me dance and said “oh you should keep going with that…”
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Yes! When the pandemic hit, I was like “gosh why have I invested my entire life in such a perishable industry!” I moved home to Boston for a few months and worked as a nanny for my sister’s children. Which was actually really lovely and fun. But I lost my Actor’s Equity health insurance for the first time in a decade and that was tough. Then I
came back to New York and did some TV work and had a play produced virtually but also tutored SO MUCH. It’s not so easy to make a living — even when you are working — and honestly, I am constantly wondering if it is financially responsible or sustainable. I think having a good and flexible day job is key.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
After about a year of auditioning and sort of flailing post-college, the director Alex Timbers cast me in two shows back to back. I learned so much personally working with him. But also from a professional standpoint, having those credits completely changed the sort of auditions I was receiving and, as a result, enabled me to continue working consistently in the New York theater scene. As a practicality, everyone needs someone to take that first chance on them, and I’m so grateful to him for giving me that. Alex Timbers, if you’re reading Woman Around Town right now, thank you!
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
Navigating being an actor and a playwright is tricky in so many ways! A couple of years ago, I had to say no to an acting job that paid really well in order to be there for rehearsals for my low-budget play in New York. Also having so much experience as an actor, there are parts of being on the other side of the table that are challenging. During rehearsals for my play How to Load a Musket, the cast was really bonding and I was kind of trying to be a part of it, and my director Jaki Bradley said to me, very wisely: “you have to accept that they will never love you as much as they love each other.” A brutal truth! Then again, right now I’m out here playing a small role in my current play Jane Anger, so I suppose the desperation is still there…
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Probably being able to cry on cue. I taught myself how to do it back when I was an ambitious community theater child actor. I’m pretty good at just cranking on the waterworks! I don’t think it particularly speaks to my talent as an actor and honestly it’s rarely the most interesting choice to play in a scene. But listen. As an actress, it’s a useful thing because actresses are asked to cry constantly.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Certainly, the plays that I’ve had produced as a playwright! And also raising my two loving cats.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Oh man. It’s so hard! Navigating the balancing act between caring so much and being able to let things go. Having enough humility to take criticism but enough confidence to not feel beaten down by rejection. I really feel for the young people entering the industry during the pandemic. I think finding people that rhyme with you artistically and pursuing them can be really valuable. That, and saying yes every time a free ticket is offered.