Getting to know Brandon Monokian, a Gifted Playwright and Visionary
In this article we turn our attention to Brandon Monokian a gifted and emerging playwright within the theatre community. I was fortunate enough to ask Brandon a series of questions, below you can find our Q and A.
Tell us a little about yourself, where your from, grew up, what H.S./College you attended, etc.
I grew up in a town called Lumberton, NJ, right outside of Philly. I went to Rancocas Valley Regional High School and I went to Montclair State University and got a B.A. in Theatre Studies.
What inspired you to become a playwright? Early experiences worth sharing?
When I went to college I spent a year undeclared to figure out what I wanted to study. I was in between History and Theatre. I chose theatre and at first just wanted to act but wasn’t getting cast as much as I would have liked so I started directing and producing my own shows because I always wanted to be creating in some way. After college I had a job with the Princeton Public Library working with librarian Janie Hermann on a program called Page to Stage where we presented staged readings of plays that had been adapted from literature. I thought I’d try my hand at writing my own adaptation which is how I wrote my first play called Grimm Women which was adapted from several of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales and played in New York and in Philly off and on for two years and starred a reality tv star.
Talk about a where you have faced adversity/conflict and have triumphed.
About ten years ago, I had an acting job at a certain theater where they treated the entire cast like shit. First off, we knew we would have responsibilities for the theater that existed outside of strictly performing, which I was fine with. My responsibility was to do the Equity cast house’s laundry (sheets, towels, etc.) from their summer season. Now while I was at first shocked by the amount of urine and blood stains that I saw, I thought, okay, bodies do things, this is fine. But nothing could prepare me for the pubes. There was this one bed that looked like someone stood over it and trimmed their pubic hair all over the bed and then just left it there for me, an actor with a $30 headshot and a dream, to clean up. I tried to shake out the sheets before washing them but there was only so much I could shaking I could do, so when the sheets went into the dryer and I had to clean out the lint collectors, they were totally covered in the pubes! While I certainly wasn’t thrilled about the pubepocalypse, I thought, okay, Brandon, this is what you agreed to.
What I did NOT agree to was the fact that we had to rehearse during the day in a literal hallway so we could be next to the theater’s phone to answer if any patrons called and asked questions about tickets, the theater’s season, the weather, anything. We were told we wouldn’t have to do extra tasks on days we were already working, or on nights and weekends, let alone literally while we were trying to learn the shows. All of this was a total lie. We were constantly interrupted to do tasks for the theater when we were supposed to be rehearsing (which was why we all took the contract, to perform!). We were supposed to learn four shows but because it was so disorganized and we kept having to stop to answer the phone, we only learned two shows. They also had no props person so when it came time for dress rehearsal we ended up using props for the first time.
One scene called for this giant stack of about 15 shoe boxes that an actor had to carry out and present to me. Well, nobody thought “hey, lets glue these down” so when they were brought out of course they fell right on top of me and scattered around the stage. And so what did I do? I laughed. Big mistake, I got yelled at for being “unprofessional”. But in times like these you can either laugh, cry, or drink, and my wine was back at cast housing. Everyone in the cast was miserable. Then the general manager of the theater came and yelled at us and told us all we should just be grateful that we had a job and called us all inexperienced. To quote Britney Spears: “I know I may be young, but I have feelings too” and my feelings were I may have been many things, but I had worked with Grammy Award Winners and Tony nominees, so inexperienced was not one of them. He then went on this endless rant about how he worked at the theater during Hurricane Sandy and tried to make it sound like the entire cast of actors practically swam to rehearsal and didn’t complain once, which I’m sure like everything else they told us was a total lie.
The theater went bankrupt in the middle of our contract. It was around that time I read Kelly Cutrone’s book If You Have to Cry Go Outside and it really lit a fire under my ass to do something greater than this sloppy bullshit, so I wrote a feature film called Happy Yummy Chicken in six days and then six months later we filmed it and now it’s on Peacock and other streaming services starring Diane Guerrero from Encanto and my mentor Suzzanne Douglas from How Stella Got Her Groove Back. We filmed the entire feature film in six days, which since it was my first film I didn’t really know that was almost impossible. But sometimes when you don’t know you can’t do something, you’re able to do it. I now read Kelly Cutrone’s book once a year and I’m inspired to do something new from it every year (not just creative projects either. One year it inspired me to pick up trash on my local beach).
What do you believe sets you apart from other playwright’s in show business?
I would say my plays tend to be absurdist with a pop culture sensibility. I think I’m somewhere between José Rivera’s Marisol and The Real Housewives of New York City. I don’t know if that sets me apart or not. I just try to focus on making the thing I want to create and not worry if it’s too different or too similar to what’s already been made, because focusing on those sorts of comparisons tend to lead to something that’s inauthentic.
Do you have other interests or hobbies?
In my free time I like to walk this very long bridge next to where I live and on the other end sits my favorite bar in the world which is outside right on the bay. I then like to eat a lot of sea food, drink copious amounts of Pinot Grigio (one time I realized the staff referred to me as “The Pinot Grigio”), and then stumble back over the bridge and take a nap. I also read about 30 books a year.
Any projects you have out or or currently working on?
I started taking a playwriting class at Barrow Group with Arlene Hutton a little less than a year ago and it’s been a game changer for me in terms of how I write and the quantity I’m able to write. In the last 8 months I’ve done a complete overhaul of one play and written first drafts of 3 full length plays, 1 feature length film, and have started a new full length play. So I have some editing to do, but I also want to keep writing new material while I’m being gifted this inspiration.
Two of the plays I wrote while taking the class have readings coming up, which will be my first in person theatre activity since the pandemic began. I’ll be doing a short, two day workshop with college students in Geneva, NY of two new plays I wrote called Quiche and Zombie Cheerleaders, A Teenage Witch & The Demonic Voice on the Other End of the Phone. And then in June I’ll be in Alaska doing a reading of Quiche with the Valdez Theatre Conference.
I’m also going to be acting in a new piece by Charlotte Lang. She wrote a short play for me to be in a few years ago called “That Feeling When You’re The County Sheriff” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cj_5r1AX5_Q) and now she’s writing a new full length piece for me and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve read some of the pages and it is so twisted and funny. She’s brilliant and we work really well together.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
If all goes to plan I’ll still be eating amazing food, drinking great wine and writing a lot. In terms of things I want that I don’t currently have, in 5 years I’d like to have a husband and some alpacas, have a few plays published and productions running in theaters and colleges all over the country, and I’d love to act in some more indie films.
What advice can you give in regards to individuals looking to enter your line of work?
Follow your intuition, because it’s almost always correct. The times I haven’t followed my intuition are the times I’ve crashed and burned the hardest. This can be difficult because I believe we have two voices inside of us, one being the voice of the divine or the universe or whatever you want to call it leading us to where we are meant to be, and another voice telling us we are horrible and that everything we do will fail, and both of these voices can be pretty strong, so you have to learn to discern between the two. Recently after going on a walk and asking the universe “what should I write next?” a complete story just landed in my brain and I wrote an entire full length draft in four days. Almost immediately I had these thoughts ranging from “this is trash” to “if you show this to people they’ll think you’re a fraud” and even “if this play gets produced you will DIE!” which is ridiculous, but the doubtful voice inside of us can be that extreme. I sent the play to a few friends who know my work and give good, honest feedback and they told me it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Discernment is what I’m taking away this year from my yearly read of If You Have to Cry Go Outside.
Another piece of advice is to always ask for what you want, and when the answer is “yes” you better be ready to follow through. I see people all the time say they want something but when it comes along they turn it down for one reason or another, which is total self sabotage. Chris Woodworth, a brilliant playwright and professor recently told me “your plays would be great with college students” and I said “I would love college students to do my plays and if you know of any way to make that happen I am very receptive to that” and now because of that I’m doing a workshop with her students. I could have said “oh, you’re too far away” or “oh, the plays need more work before they get in front of people” but when the offer is there you have to jump on it and give it everything you have. Another example is when I was a recent college grad, working as an assistant director of an Off-Off Broadway play starring Suzzanne Douglas, she and I talked a lot about creating our own work and I said “we should create something together” which was a bold move for a young kid who grew up watching her on television, but she said “yes” so I knew I had to show up and bring my A Game, and we ended up on Martha’s Vineyard devising a piece with poetry by Yorri J. Berry and music by Carol Lynn Maillard and Louise Robinson who were original members from Sweet Honey in the Rock and brilliant drumming by Mama Yaa. It is one of the fondest memories I have not only as a creative person but just as a human being who seeks out beautiful experiences.
How can we follow along in your journey? YouTube? Social media? Sites?
My instagram is @brandonmonokian and my Etsy shop which has things for theatre artists and writers is at lovedrunklife.etsy.com
Click title to watch “That Feeling When You’re the County Sheriff”