I love musical improv so there should be no surprise that Inner Monosong ranks as one of my favorite games. When the scene has sufficient time to breathe, it’s also one of those short-form conceits that can start to feel a little more akin to long-form in terms of its patience and expansiveness. What’s more, Inner Monosong provides an excellent delivery system for character Confessions (and CADs in general) due to its exploration of text and subtext.
Inner Monosong requires a strong musician and if you have microphones available it’s helpful to preset these on either side of the stage. A scene begins with a traditional ask-for and characters populate the stage establishing the basic given circumstances. When inspired, a caller announces “Inner monosong [character name]” at which point the action freezes and the nominated player steps away from the action (ideally to a stowed microphone) and sings their innermost thoughts with live accompaniment. When the musical excerpt is completed – perhaps cued once more by the caller with “Back to the scene” or similar – the featured player returns to their initial position and the scene resumes with conventional dialogue. Several inner monosongs are prompted in this fashion until the scene finds its ending.
A parent (Player A) and their child (Player B) sit in a doctor’s waiting room as a receptionist (C) works diligently behind the counter. B has just returned their paper work as the lights come up.
Player C: “It shouldn’t be much longer now.”
Player A returns to sit beside their child.
Player A: (with concern) “Is it getting any better?”
Player B: (squirming) “My stomach still feels like it’s on fire.”
Player A: (offering a bottle of water) “Here, honey, have a little of this.”
Player B: “I’m not sure I’m able to…”
Caller: “Freeze. Inner monologue young child”
The action freezes as Player B steps to the stage’s edge and music begins to play. They sing…
“There ain’t no easy way to say
I just didn’t want to go to school today.
Mom brought me here to my surprise,
Now I’m digging myself deeper with all my lies…”
Caller: “And back to the scene…”
The music concludes as Player B returns to their chair.
Player A: “I’ve just never seen you this way before. You’ve got me quite worried…”
There is a lot going on in this game technically, such as the crafting of dynamic songs and content, creating sharp contrasts between the spoken and singing portions, and implementing the sung secrets to create interest and tension. Once you have the logistics of the game under your belt, consider the interplay between what the players and audience know as opposed to what the various characters know. The songs provide an effective means for making and shelving strong choices that can enrich a seemingly simple story arc.
Traps and Tips
1.) Build the calling. When you’re calling the game it’s typically effective to make sure every significant character on the team has one opportunity each at the inner monosong microphone so you’ll want to pace your calls accordingly. If you sense someone has a really explosive reveal or confession brewing, it’s wise to leave that character until last so as to facilitate a climactic scenic ending. (The same is true if you have a powerhouse voice in your company as starting with this player can set the bar oppressively high for those that follow.) When I play this game in a timed setting, such as Gorilla Theatre, one verse or a verse and chorus per character are typically sufficient, especially if they are getting material out strongly and succinctly. In less constrained formats, able singers could land an entire song. There are certainly gimmicks that the caller can deploy which I am a little hesitant to include here as they typically feel disingenuous if they are jammed into the scene rather than discovered, so use these are inspirational examples rather than mandates. Playing with the length of songs can provide joy, especially once a “norm” has been set. You can also call singers out of dubious or playfully problematic target rhymes. If you have able singers in your ensemble, it can also be dynamic to culminate in an inner duo-song with two singers on opposing microphones (perhaps conducted by the caller to help with the give and take).
2.) Lay the groundwork. Knowing that songs are a-coming, scene work can tend to be a little under-developed if you’re not careful. Invest in clear initiations and endowments to get the scene moving. The most successful Inner Monosong scenes should feel as if they didn’t need the songs to create interest (although interest is certainly increased and polished by their presence). Help out the caller by making sure all onstage characters have known names or relationships as it’s more difficult to cue the songs if everyone’s identity or purpose is vague. As the songs are essentially subtext revealing moments, it’s also important that characters develop some form of mystery, backstory or ambiguity. It is more difficult to explore subtext at the microphone if there is nothing interesting brewing already, although the music and rhyme can delightfully veer you into new and unexpected terrain.
3.) Mine the contrasts. Few games house such rich inherent potential for contrast as Inner Monosong. In terms of the staging, characters move from frozen scenic tableaux to lively sung solos: a character that might be reserved or modest in the scene could take on a very different mood in the privacy of their sung thoughts. The verbal qualities offer unique contrasts as the scene shifts from dialogue to lyric: perhaps the least eloquent speaker comes alive when we hear their accompanied imagination, or characters may face playfully incongruent musical choices that reveal a whole new energy or facet. Similarly, text and subtext can form dynamic tensions: secrets and lies can add flavor and surprise to scenes as the audience (and fellow players) learn that everything may not be as it seems on the surface. While it is certainly possible for a monosong to largely reflect and uphold the known given circumstances, this is probably not the best use of these metatheatrical moments. If you find yourself walking down this improv path, I’d advise heightening the known fact to the nth degree – so rather than just loving someone in your song if this is already known, you reveal that you are completely besotted or obsessed, for example.
4.) Develop the details. This game can certainly thrive with largely independent and disconnected monosongs, but when this element operates on a higher story telling level the game can truly soar. Look for connections between the various subtexual elements as they unfold. If the child has lied their way into the doctor’s waiting room, can players accept this greater idea and build upon it creatively? Perhaps the parent is also there under false pretenses as they have developed a crush on the doctor and are using this insignificant illness to manufacture another encounter. Perhaps the receptionist is also lying and fabricated their resume in order to secure a much-needed job in tough times… Subtextual connections, games and related themes add a whole new finesse. These choices may ultimately be exploded and revealed in the regular dialogue sections, or remain loitering under the surface as the scene concludes.
If you like the sound of this scenic dynamic but don’t have a musician at your ready disposal (or, perhaps, you don’t enjoy the singing challenge), Inner Monologue operates in largely the same way with a caller inviting characters to reveal their thoughts through unheard asides. It can also prove helpful to play this non-singing version first to gain a better understanding of the logistics at play. Either version, sung or spoken, offers a crowd-pleasing way to explore the power and playfulness of character secrets and confessions.
Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: Confession