The Manhattan Monologue Slam
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 2, 2005
The tag line is "Masterpiece Theatre meets American Idol." I was actually afraid it would be more like Actors Studio Auditions meets the Gong Show, but happily, friends, that's not the case, not one bit. Manhattan Monologue Slam is, first and foremost, a great deal of fun: a high-energy networking event held once a month at the Bowery Poetry Club where aspiring actors (along with a few who have already proven themselves) can showcase their talents for 30 seconds or three minutes in front of five industry insiders who are judges and a passel of insiders/insider-wannabes/outsiders who pack the house. The work is waaaay better than you might expect. And the love in the room is palpable and nurturing and wonderful—it turns out to be the secret ingredient of MMSlam, the reason why this terrific new concept, blending traditional theatre blood-sweat-'n'-tears with up-tempo Reality TV savvy, is one to be savored and supported and turned into a bona fide NYC institution.
The masterminds behind MMSlam are the Galinsky Brothers, Robert and Philip, who among them boast credits in virtually every aspect of the entertainment business, on- and offstage, and who host this two-hour extravaganza with serious pizzazz, keeping the event well on the organized side of anarchy despite the mammoth challenge of doing so. The Galinskys are firmly in control throughout, with one of them always centerstage emceeing and the other nearby keeping score and keeping watch. They're both very funny and clearly dedicated to the importance of what they're doing—i.e., giving new performers a moment in the spotlight and an authentic chance to take their budding careers to the next level. The grand prize of MMSlam is a $100 check from NYCastings.com plus consultations with each of the contest's five judges, who on the night I attended included master acting teacher/director Terry Schreiber, magazine scribe/publicist Michael Martinez, and casting agents Brette Goldstein, Maria Haut, and Stacy Siedel. The judges take their job seriously and so do the Galinskys and so do the contestants, which means that the work we see at the Slam is always earnest and often very good. No goofing in sight.
Act One of the Slam is a competition among eight invited contestants (one of them is the returning champ, one is the winner of the previous month's 30-second contest (see below)). Each gets three minutes to do a piece of their choosing. It has to be theatre—it can't be poetry or spoken word or standup or storytelling. Most of the actors at the show I attended did monologues they'd written themselves, which occasionally proved dicey. There was also a familiar speech from Death of a Salesman, a showy speech from Swing Blade, and an unexpected and very effective excerpt from A Raisin in the Sun. Costumes and the occasional prop are apparently encouraged (though they don't seem to ultimately help much in the scoring). Characters evoked—all with passion and conviction—ranged from a pimp to a killer to England's Queen Mary I.
The judges provide Idol-style pithy commentary following each performance, some of which will actually help the contestants in their future endeavors. Robert Galinsky, host of this half of the evening, keeps the audience's adrenalin flowing to provide consistent and friendly support for everyone on stage.
The second half of the evening features 30 contestants each doing a 30-second monologue. Philip Galinsky helms this segment; he's the sillier and more exhibitionistic of the brothers, punctuating his stint with eccentric dancing, goofy jokes, and lots of banter with the DJ in the booth to keep the energy up. The actors sign up to perform either before the show or at intermission (and one volunteered at the last minute). I was surprised how prepared and competent every single of them was. They did everything from Shakespeare to a portion of a monologue featured in one of this month's FringeNYC shows. 30 performers turns out to be a lot—this part of the show lasts about 20 minutes or so longer than it probably should. At the end, the judges help select finalists who are voted on by the audience; the winner gets $30 plus a slot in next month's three-minute slam.
That I fully expect to encounter at least a few of the performers I saw at MMSlam on stage somewhere else in NYC during the next several months speaks to the high quality of the work on view here. Bravo to the Galinskys for finding a genuinely fun and innovative way to turn the spotlight on a few dozen of NYC's best and bravest actors once a month.