Monday, May 7, 2012

Schwartzy Speeches

So for those of you who've been paying attention, for the past two months I've been in the Workhouse Theatre's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Yesterday was closing, which is always bittersweet, BUT it means that I can finally post the blog I've been waiting for since February!

Back story: I played Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Schwartzy), the youngest speller at the bee. She lisps, goes to a magnet elementary school, is up on her current events, is extremely liberal, and is raised by her two gay dads. Daniel Schwartz is one of them; he's the more effeminate of the two, and is usually played by the actor playing Mitch, who in our show was black (I promise, this is important information for several of my speeches). The other is Carl Grubenierre (hence...SchwartzANDgrubenierre as her last name), the no-nonsense, ambitious authoritarian played by the actor playing Leaf. It's revealed over the course of the show that they put a lot of pressure on Logainne, and for someone so young, she has a TON of anxiety over needed to please them. In the second half of the show, Schwartzy goes on a "rant." It's down to the final three spellers, and it's her turn at the mic, but before she's given her word, a cell phone goes off in the house. It ends up being another speller, Olive Ostrovsky, who is still waiting for her dad to show up to watch the bee. Since it's him on the phone, she asks if she can answer (TOTALLY against the rules). The bee's emcee, Rona Peretti, who is protective of Olive since she's all alone, interrupts the bee to answer the phone on Olive's behalf. This is highly irritating to Schwartzy, who not only is waiting to spell, but is a strict rule follower. It's written in the script that while she's waiting at the mic for Rona to finish the phone call, she goes on a rant. It also says the monologue must be re-written at least weekly, because it's supposed to be something topical in order to give off the impression that Schwartzy is just ad-libbing. Other than a few guidelines for what the monologue needs to include, as well as some examples Sarah Saltzberg (the original Schwartzy) wrote, it is completely up to the actress playing the role to create this rant.

This means that for the past three months, I've been writing a new Schwartzy speech every single week (and sometimes more than that). This has been quite the exercise for this "singer-first-actress-second" who balks anytime she sees an audition notice that requires a monologue with her 16-bar cut. But honestly, even though I stressed about these every single Friday, I absolutely loved this aspect of the role. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I really do love writing, and it was nice to be able to utilize that within a performance. Plus after two months of shows, I now feel WAY more comfortable giving monologues (ideally in a interdental lisp, but not all roles call for that...), so that's just an added bonus.

So this post is a collection of all of my speeches (for the most part). Every Friday I would have a panic attack realizing I had procrastinated writing the speech for the entire week, and I would open a blank email and wrack my brain (or Allison's) trying to think of what to talk about. I had a general system that developed over time, as you will see. The script had some guidelines: the topic needs to be current, it should involve Logainne's dads, and if at all possible, address something political. My formula was use the first sentence to segue into the topic (even if it didn't make a ton of sense, so I wouldn't read into the first sentences too much), make a political joke, a gay joke, potentially a racist joke (no one was spared, I guess), and have my final sentence include the words "Lady Gaga." This was so that Jeff, our "Vice Principal Panch," knew exactly when to cut me off. Once I finished writing, I would email every speech to Dan so that it lived in my sent mail folder. Then, backstage before the show, I'd pull out my phone and memorize it. What I have below was usually tweaked during the actual performance, either because it was Saturday and I was referencing something that happened on Friday (for instance, the 4/20 monologue had some tense changes to account for the change of day) or because I felt an urge to change something and just went with it. It also doesn't account for the pauses I took or reactions I gave, so you'll have to use your imaginations. I'm pretty sure there's a video somewhere of at least one of them, so when I get it, I'll post it!

I owe a lot of people thank yous for inspiring these speeches, so as we go, I'll add my commentary in this color. General disclaimer: I was writing this AS A CHARACTER. It does not necessarily mean these are my own opinions. Keep that in mind as you read. :)

Without further ado....I give you...SHANNON KINGETT'S SCHWARTZY RANTS:

February 28 (my first attempt at the speech, so please be kind...I promise they get better): This bee is about as reputable as the 2012 Oscar winners. You know there's something wrong with the world when a movie doesn't even need to have man's greatest achievement, the spoken word, to receive the highest award in cinema. Every year my dads host a themed Oscars party. This year was by far the best theme yet: "Hugo the Descending Artist". As great as the party was, I found the ceremony severely lacking. Cirque su Soleil is so 2007. The only choice my dads found acceptable was the award for Best Actress. Meryl Streep is basically worshipped by my dads. In our house, she's second only to Lady Gaga.

March 6 (the speech I used during tech week): This bee is about as successful as Lindsay Lohan’s latest attempt at salvaging her career. It’s a weekly tradition in our house to watch Saturday Night Live as a family. It’s the only time that my dads do not strictly enforce my usual 9 o’clock bed time. After whipping up our themed midnight snack of good-enough-to-steal-hummus and better-than-crack vegan brownies, we sat back to enjoy what would turn out to be an hour and a half of mediocre sketch comedy. Despite the fact that last week’s episode was panned by critics across the board, my Dan-dad, a longtime proponent of Lindsay, said that it was a big step towards recovery, and even wrote about it in his blog: “The Manifesto of a Black Gay Jew.” Carl-dad still says that SNL will never reach its fullest potential until they let Lady Gaga host. 

March 9 (opening weekend): This bee is as confusing as the explosion of news regarding Ugandan war lord, Joseph Kony. As a self proclaimed political activist, I support the use of social media to spread important information (follow me on twitter, @schwartzyspells!), but I find it pretty ironic that people believe retweeting Kim Kardashian is the way to incite global awareness. My dads were pretty inspired by the video though, so much that they decided to use the same medium to help spread their own political interests! So this week, in addition to prepping for the bee, we’ve been filming their first project, entitled: “Someday We’ll Find it: The Rainbow Connection”. My dads are the co-writers, and I’m the cameraman. It’s about 5 minutes long so far, and while there are some heavy hitting photo slideshows and statistics, most of it consists of a choreographed dance they do to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.”

March 16 (I was only in for one show this weekend, because we had an FSO concert that conflicted, so my understudy went in. She wrote her own speech, so I used this for the weekend of March 24 as well): This bee is about as insane as America's preoccupation with "March Madness." In my house though, we're not that into sports, mostly just politics and Perez Though my dads and I are all blue-bleeding liberals, we have been following the elephant race with much interest. That's why for the past 6 months, we've been monitoring our own "Republican Trainwreck" brackets. It's a very exciting time now that we're into the final four. If you ask me, America's true madness lies in the very real possibility that Rick Santorum may take the GOP nomination. Talk about a Cinderella Story. My Carl-Dad thought Newt Gingrich was going to go all the way, but he's probably regretting that decision now! He said maybe Newt would win if his sister was a more of a lipstick lesbian rather than a butch bag, but I don't really know what those things mean. Dan-Dad says that no matter who's up for election, he's writing in Lady Gaga.

March 30 (this was hands down the easiest speech to write. I think it took me less than five minutes. What can I say, I was inspired! I had decided to write about The Hunger Games movie in combination with Dick Cheney's heart transplant until I happened to hear a radio story mentioning the lottery, and I just knew. This is probably my favorite speech that I gave the whole run): This bee is as crazy as the mania surrounding tonight's half billion dollar lottery. I think the only other time I've ever seen 7-11 that crowded was the day after Ramadan ended! Let's be honest though, the real gambling story of the week is America's willingness to gamble its sanity by allowing Dick Cheney to get a second chance at life. I plan on being an organ donor when I am old enough to get my license, but I also plan on adding an addendum next to that little heart that says: "Except for Republicans". My dads have both decided to try their luck at tonight's big lotto. Carl-dad says that if he wins he's spending the money on high-risk investments, but Dan-dad says his list is much shorter and simpler. He'd just buy Lady Gaga.

April 6: This bee is as insane as a kid at an Easter egg hunt. My Carl dad says that other than Arbor day, Easter is the gayest holiday there is. I find this somewhat contradictory to the religious basis of the holiday, but I guess not much about a pink bunny who delivers chocolate screams heterosexual. That's why we usually celebrate at the big gay Easter parade in New Orleans Louisiana, but this year we couldn't go because of tonight's bee. But it's definitely a cultural celebration for us, because My family isn't religious. The only things my dads worship are karaoke, grey goose martinis, and Lady Gaga.

April 13 (Two of the people in my cast, Anna and Amie, were just as obsessed with Titanic as me, so we went to see it in theatres on April 12, and it inspired this entire speech): This bee is about as well thought out as the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, and it's not a day that goes unnoticed in our house. We usually celebrate by visiting one of America's many Titanic museums or exhibits, but we couldn't go this year because of tonight's bee. On the car ride here, my Carl-Dad said it would have been convenient if the other spellers had to take the Titanic to get to tonight's bee, but I told him that if I had to wish a Titanic voyage on anyone, it would be Mitt Romney. Then we had a good laugh. Since we couldn't visit Orlando's Titanic Experience as planned, this week we went to the 3D showing of the James Cameron film. My dads said the 3D was good, but it would have been better utilized if Leonardo Di Caprio was the one doing the posing instead of the painting. We stayed all the way through the credits, because My Heart Will Go On is my Dan Dad's favorite song. He says that nothing could ever top it....well, unless Lady Gaga did a cover.

April 20 (at this point in the run, I was starting to develop major writer's block, so the BRILLIANCE of Allison Kinney inspired this speech): This Sunday is Earth Day, which means it's time for the annual camping trip my dads go on with their friends. I don't know why they always go two days BEFORE Earth Day, but they say that's their own way of celebrating. I asked if I could come this year but my Carl-Dad says the 420 camping trip is definitely not for children. I did get to help him pack the car last night though. I was surprised at how many bags of cheetos they were going to need for a one night trip! I always stay at my babysitter's house, and we celebrate Earth Day by watching Planet Earth or Captain Planet. Is it just me, or do all the villains in "Captain Planet" resemble the current leaders of the Republican Party? Whatever Al Gore might say, if you ask me, THAT'S America's actual Inconvenient Truth! On actual Earth Day, we're having a costume party, and my Dan-Dad's is totally best. It's made of REAL DIRT. He calls it "Mother Nature meets Lady Gaga."

April 27 (this speech was inspired by two people, one inadvertently and one in another stroke of brilliance. This was my only speech not centered around a current event. That morning I got a text from my friend Chris that told me to look at that day's Groupon, because one of the things you could buy was an inflatable shark that FLIES. We have a long running joke about inflatable sea creatures, plus that sounded AWESOME anyway, so I checked it out and was obsessed immediately. There was even a youtube video of said "Air Swimmers," which I then showed to anyone with eyes. The first person I knew I had to show was Ash, because I know how much she loves sharks...well, toothy predators in general. Then, later that day, when I was agonizing over a speech topic, she was the one who suggested the shark vid...which I adapted into this): This bee is as bizarre as the recent rise of Groupon. My dads suffer from what I call "Extreme Grouponing." They're both shopaholics, so it's hard for them to resist sales sent right to their iPhones. That's why as of this morning, we're the proud owners of a $25 inflatable remote control shark. But if you ask me, Groupon is as pointless as Newt Gingrich's recent race resignation (yeah Newt, like that was a shock). For instance, my Carl-Dad got a laser hair removal Groupon, and after he finished all the sessions, he still had all his hair! Well, at least where I could see it. And it's gotten to the point that people think my Dan-Dad is African American...but really, it's just too many Groupon Spray-Tans! I mean come on, his last name is SCHWARTZ. And trust me, it was the Harvey Milk assasination ALL over again when they realized they missed the Groupon for tickets to Lady Gaga.

May 4 (For closing weekend, I did a different speech every night! This was hands down my nerdiest speech of the whole run, and interestingly enough, the only time my character vocally acknowledged her speech impediment the whole run): This bee is as unorganized as the rebel alliance's first attack on the Death Star! My dads' best kept secret is their affinity for nerd culture. They love it all: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Comic Book movies...I'm still pretty tired from last night's midnight showing of The Avengers. But their first and truest nerd love is Star Wars, so today is a pretty big day in our house. For all you newbs out there, today is Star Wars Day! Today is May May the fourth be with you! And YES. I said it that way ON PURPOSE. I think my favorite Star Wars character is Anakin Skywalker, aka the sith Lord Vader, because his character arch is the most compelling. You know...speaking of sith lords, is it just me, or is Emperor Palpatine a dead ringer for Dick Cheney? Anyway, my Carl-Dad's favorite character is Mace Windu. He says he has a thing for strong black men with purple lightsabers. My Dan-dad loves Queen Amadala, but I think that's because she's usually dressed like Lady Gaga.

May 5 (writing this one was hard because I did on the drive back from JMU graduation on Saturday. And I didn't write it so much as dictate it to Katie, who was riding shotgun. I'm a visual person so it was REALLY difficult for me to think and brainstorm out loud rather than on paper, so I think this was the longest it ever took me to write a whole speech. But Katie was awesome for doing this and helping me brainstorm!!!): This Bee is as inappropriate as America's fascination with Cinco de Mayo. Today is not only Cinco de Mayo but the Kentucky Derby, which means that currently I'm living in a broken home. We normally celebrate them both independently, but because they fall on the same day, it's created a lot of tension. Let's be honest, just like everything in life, this all boils down to racial discrepancy. On the one hand you have my Dan-dad wanting to celebrating his ethnic background, which by the way isn't even Mexican, and on the other you have my Carl-dad with his hats and horses, aka basically the whitest thing you can do as an American...well besides NASCAR. Either way, I think both are ridiculous. Animal cruelty versus people celebrating a national victory for a country that's not even theirs? Typical America. So I suggested a compromise. That's why before we came to the Bee, we had a joint celebration which my dads entitled "Cinco de Drinko". Everyone's race hats were sombreros and they placed bets with tequila shots instead of money. That's why we had to get out next door neighbor Mrs. Rogers to drive us to the Bee. It was so embarrassing; my Carl dad kept insulting Mrs. Rogers's cats and my Dan-dad wouldn't stop singing Lady Gaga.

May 6 (MY FINAL SPEECH! Not gonna lie, was not sad that this was the last time I had to do this IN THE SLIGHTEST. I was getting pretty sick of it. I wrote this yesterday morning in the dressing room in a COMPLETE panic. It was the longest I've ever procrastinated a speech. So this speech, appropriately so, was influenced by my entire cast! :D): This bee is as stereotypical as Mother's Day. We celebrate most holidays in the typical American way. A Christmas tree in December, Fireworks for Fourth of July, A 19 pound vegan tofurky at Thanksgiving...but, for obvious reasons, Mother's day is a little different in our house. Even though it's not till next week, I'm already excited. We start by waking with the dawn, and my Carl-dad leads us in morning yoga to honor our earth mother. Then we go to brunch, not because it's Mother's day, but because brunch is pretty big in the gay community. After that we take midday nap watching fox news. Nothing puts me to sleep faster than Glenn Beck! In the afternoon Dan-dad gives his yearly presentation on the year's most compelling Baby Mama. This year we're learning about Beyonce! Then after dinner they both give a joint performance honoring their Monster Mother--meaning they do a choreographed dance to Lady Gaga's "Born this Way".

And that's that! It was really a great run and I know I'm going to miss it a lot. Since it's only Monday, it hasn't really hit me that it's over, but I'm sure come Friday I'll be feeling some post-show blues. And hey, maybe one day I'll play this role again and will have to write even MORE speeches. GET EXCITED!

The cast of spelling bee:
(Back L to R) Anthony Williams at Mitch Mahoney (Dan-dad!), Amie Cazel as Olive Ostrovsky, Shannon Kingett as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, Ben Gibson as William Barfée, Eben Kuhns as Leaf Coneybear (Carl-dad!), Mary Omohundro as Rona Peretti, Jeff Davis as Vice Principal Panch.
(Front L to R) Harrison Lee as Chip Tolentino, Anna Jackson as Marcy Park