Halston and Daley Help Actors To Show-Off

It's all about girl power, folks!  These two ladies are going to help you through those nail biting auditions with some veritable unique and ultimately refreshing audition material. I am talking about a new book called Monologues for Show-offs, a compilation of material written by stand-up comedienne/actress Julie Halston and actor/writer Donna Daley.

Daley and Julie Halston have known each other for years and have collaborated on several projects before Monologues for Show-offs, among them the animated short Open Call and a new book for young people.

Donna Daley has worked extensively as an actor and writer.  She is the co-author of Mama Drama, originally presented Off Broadway at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Cleveland Playhouse. She is represented in Best Scenes for the Nineties. She also developed and directed Beat: a Subway Cop's Comedy that became the UPN sitcom Diresta.  Her play, The Misconception of Iggy, was presented at Polaris North, MCC and The Actor's Studio with Anne Meara. She developed and directed the NYC production of Stephanie Musnick's one-woman show A Saint for All Wash Cycles, She was a contributing writer and created voices for such award winning animated series as Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz on ABC, Vampires on FOX and Happiness: The Secret of the Loch.  She was a 2004 Writer in Residence at the New Harmony Project with her play, Deeply Shallow.

Julie Halston (www.juliehalston.com) has appeared in numerous Broadway and Off Broadway shows, including Hairspray, Gypsy, Twentieth Century, The Women and The Vagina Monologues. A founding member of Charles Busch's now-legendary company, Theatre-in-Limbo,  she co-starred with Mr. Busch in many of their productions, including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Lady in Question and Red Scare on Sunset. She wrote and starred in her own critically acclaimed show, Julie Halston's Lifetime of Comedy, which led to a CBS development deal. Miss Halston has been the recipient of many award nominations, including the Drama Desk, The Outer Critic's Circle and The Drama League. TV audiences have seen her as Tina Carmello on the CBS comedy The Class and Bitsy von Muffling on Sex and the City. Her films include I Think I Love My Wife, The Juror, Small-Time Crooks, Addams Family Values and A Very Serious Person, which is shown regularly on Showtime.

TJ:  First of all, I read the book and to be honest, I love it. It is wonderful!

HALSTON:  It's good, isn't it! I hate to say it, but you know…you think, a monologue book? Really? Is that entertaining? But I think we came up with some really good monologues! I think they're fresh and in the moment and not too long. Nowadays, you really have to make an impression quick and I think this does give people a chance to show off what they've got. It's very difficult these days. You really have to stand out quickly. I think it's also so diverse that there's enough material for everybody.

TJ:  So, how did the two of you meet?

DALEY:  Julie and I met through old friends. She had friends from college and they were my friends and we'd see each other everywhere. And we always knew we'd wanted to work together because we had a ball together.  We started writing and we did these wonderful animated shorts which were a lot of fun. You might be able to see them on YouTube called Open Call with these two crazy cartoon characters that were just so obnoxious, it's not to be believed. We did that and we were writing together and decided to put our monologues together. We submitted it and got a book deal and went full speed ahead.

TJ:  How did the two of you come up with the idea to do this book?

HALSTON:  Well, it was a real happenstance. We like to write…we're always writing. I do stand-up and she writes all the time. She writes plays and was one of the authors of Mama Drama. We've actually even had actors ask us to craft material for them and things like that. So we're always squirreling around with the pen and paper. We have so many actor friends who are always looking for new things. And Donna and I are really good friends. We love to hang out and usually hang out in her house.  We usually gossip first and I hate to say it, but it is over the coffee and breakfast. We're usually gossiping and that might lead to something.  We might start gossiping over something we read in the paper that day and that might lead to Iraq and then that might lead to politics and then that might lead to a women being upset about her age. The fact is that we that we like hanging out together. It started out doing monologues for women because we have so many issues being that we're both women of a certain age.  But then, it continued to grow.

DALEY:  What's fun is that when we get together, we just sort of channel these characters and get them in a jam and wanted to keep it immediate so that people can actually play something when they get up there. They don't have to explain what play it's from and be compared to anyone else. It's a process of writing it and honing it and have actors reading it and cutting, which we love.  It's weird but we love to cut.

TJ:  Now, you not only wrote monologues for women but also for men?

HALSTON:  And we wrote monologues for African American men, for gay men, for older men, because, like I said, we have a lot of friends in the theater…we are both married to men. We know what concerns a lot of people are going through.  We thought, "Well, why not write them?"  So it started out kind of about women but then it grew and grew.

And also, we did notice that there's a lot of young actors out there, which is why we're thinking about doing a book for young people. We've heard from literally their mothers and agents that they don't have any appropriate material. So there's a lot of thirteen year old kids in the theater or the business. What are they going to be doing…Blanche Dubois?? At an audition for a new agency?? I don't think so. You know what I mean? They can't!  They need age appropriate material!!

TJ:  Sure, I can just picture one of them getting out there doing, "Stella!!".

HALSTON:  Unfortunately, it's probably already happened. Yeah and maybe they even booked the job, but whatever. So that's how it came about. You know, I was in LA a lot last year doing The Class, which was cancelled by CBS, and I had a lot of time on my hands, because, you know, when you're out in LA, you have a lot of time on your hands. And I've said this, but, you either become a drug addict or you write a book.  So, I just kept writing.

TJ:  Well, that was the better choice of the two.

HALSTON:  I think it's the better choice. And of course, in this age of computers, we could go through our laptops and I could send her things and she would send me things. You know what I mean? We could do it online, so that was great! Writing is one of those things. It's a worthy craft. Then, we also thought to ourselves, having seen a lot of monologue books and some of them with very good advice and what not, but I think actors really like to know what does a casting agent really think or what does a composer really think.  What does a director or what does an actor really go through. And that's why we really thought it would be great if we could scatter and pepper throughout the book these really big names in our industry. We got people that are really respected in their field to give practical advice.

DALEY:  We have embarrassing audition stories from people who have and others like casting directors and composers like Tony Award winner Lynn Ahrens. We could have run five pages on her. We loved all of it.

HALSTON:  So it's not enough, much as I love Oprah, to LIVE your dream.  You know what I mean, like everybody's living a dream…and people would say that their dream is to be rich and famous. Ok, but how do you do that?? First of all, don't chew gum at an audition and wear really bad clothes. That doesn't work. You need to hear that! You need to hear practical advice.

TJ:  But do you think that people really do things like that at auditions??

HALSTON: They do!  That's why I was stunned when I did an interview with casting agents and Lynn Ahrens. They told us.  And I was stunned!! And I really couldn't believe it. That's why I said to Lynn that you have to write that story about this guy who was wielding a knife at his audition and people who will come in with their gum and they put the gum on the piano. So it like, "Really, they just did that in front of Stephen Sondheim. Really???" And they wondered why they didn't get it. So that's what we wanted to know. We really wanted that practical advice. And those are all true stories.

Heineman Press has been so supportive of us. There are a lot of compilations out there that are very worthy and we're finding that people are looking for fresh things. It seems to be more accepted that you can do original material.  That's why we did this and I have to say, it's selling!  Drama Book Store has sold out it's first batch so they've re--ordered and Amazon.com has re-ordered a number of times. So, I'm very pleased that people have responded to it.

TJ:  And it's an alternative to the monologues that people are using everyday.

DALEY:  All the time. Everyone hears it. There are no surprises. And we were told by people,  having heard the monologues, is that it's new and it's fresh. I think that they now have something 'in the moment' that they can play. Not something they're thinking back on. It's nice to have an 'in the moment' need…to have a conflict right away. Each one seems to establish itself. Ours was to make it clear from the start. Otherwise, we'd change it.

TJ:  One of my favorites in here is called FORTY, HEY!

HALSTON:  I love that you love that!! I will say I wrote that myself and I was very inspired. I had seen Borat and that Eastern European accent just stuck in my mind. It reminded me of my former maintenance man on West 53rd Street, who told me that his son…I believe it was…who was his partner in maintaining the building, was thinking of getting some work done. And he was horrified. I actually found out that the son didn't do it.

TJ:  And the other one that really stuck with me was PHOBIAS.

HALSTON:  That was a Donna one! I think that a lot of people can relate to that for some reason. They either know people like that or they are that.

TJ:  I know someone who is that person!!

HALSTON:  Oh boy! And there's always an excuse, isn't there? Every time and you want to say like is there a clinic they can go to? PHOBIAS is a really good one! One of the things we were also concerned about was not only diversity but a lot of them can be played by a man or a woman.

TJ:  Of course, with that one, I think today they can probably prescribe a pill for that. There's a pill for everything these days.

HALSTON:  It's true. But we're really hoping that actors of all kinds, of all ages, all genders, gender benders, whatever, can respond to this material. So often, I have seen really, really talented performers never quite relating to material. I mean, there's a lot of gay actors, for example, that are obviously gay. They're not going to be able to do some of the material. Some of them they can, some of them they can't.

What about an African American male that's older? Well, yeah, you can do Fences. You can do August Wilson. And of course, that's brilliant! But sometimes, you think that you've done that for six years and you'd like to look at something fresh…something else to work on. People are frequently called upon to do things with actors in classes and in schools. A lot of times if you want to get another agent, agents actually make you do monologues in their offices. They still do that! You've got to come up with something! They're probably not going to make you do one classical, one upbeat…sometimes they want to see just something. And why not give them something fresh and different? They need to see personality. I think these do accomplish that.

TJ:  Donna, do you have a favorite monologue?

DALEY:  Well, Julie wrote Keep Walking and I couldn't stop laughing while she was reading it. And I still laugh when I flip through the pages. That one just tickles me so much. I have other ones that I really love too.  But that one really made me laugh and it was very Julie, too!  But hearing other people really it too made me laugh. We had other actors come in and read it and it really worked too. A guy can read it too and it's very  funny.

TJ:  They all seem to be very down to earth. Very everyday real life. Which is a nice thing. 

HALSTON:  That's a nice thing because they can be theatrical but also….let's face it. We live in an age of reality television. The world is both big and small at the same time. So you really do need to know TV, film and theater. Everyone is kind of moving through all different mediums. So I think it's important to be able to do those things and these monologues allow you to do it.

And also, we had fun. That's another thing, we like people to have fun with the material. Impose what you would like to do with it. Add your little touches. We're not being picky here. We do give suggestions but you can find your own little quirkiness. Whatever makes you unique. Figure it out. You know, actors are very bright.  They have a bad rep of being dumb but they're not.  Good actors can be very smart and know how to make it unique for themselves.

We're both actresses and wanted to flex our writing muscles. Why not?? It's fun to do other things and if you have the time, writing is one of those things you can do.

TJ:  It keeps you busy for sure in the down time. Now, how long did it take to compile the material for this book?

DALEY:  We were just talking about that and figured out it was probably about a year in the works. It was kind of on and off. We did it and submitted it to wait for a response and they loved it. After that, they gave us a deadline and we kind of stepped on it. We had to do rewrites and honing the material. But every part of it was pleasant. I would say it was about a year.

HALSTON:  Another reason why we wanted to do this is that auditioning is a terribly artificial atmosphere. And let's face it, who wants to go to a job interview where you have to be judged so severely all the time. It's not a fun situation. That's why we wanted this book to be fun and creative for you and also, to be positive. That's why I love some of the actor anecdotes and some of the actor advice because this is a tough business and you have to be on your side. It's not so easy and we wanted this book to be on your side.  So that's why we did it.

TJ:  And you're also giving back, too.

HALSTON:  Yeah. The theater's been very good to me and I became Julie Halston through the theater. That's a very nice thing because what was she? Just a gutter snipe on the lower east side. (Laughing) Charles and I started that theater company, Theatre In Limbo, and we didn't have two cents to rub together. It really has grown and yes, it is time to give back.

TJ:  Now, you have a book signing coming up?

DALEY:  Yes, we do at Jim Caruso's Cast Party, which is held at Birdland on April 21st. That's a fun show. Jim is so charming and funny and he's just great. Billy Strich plays the piano. It's such high end group of people who go to the Cast Party on Monday nights. It's so much fun. So, we're lucky that we'll be sitting at the bar with a stack of books.

TJ:  So what is coming up for you, Julie?

HALSTON:  Well, I am doing a new workshop with David Zippel and Jerry Mitchell. It's called Going Hollywood and it's a new musical based on the Kaufmann and Hart piece, Once In A Lifetime. We're going to be doing that from May 1st to May 6th to see how it goes.  The next step for that is going to the Old Globe in California and after that, Broadway.

And then, Charles Busch and I are going to do Shanghai Moon, which is one of his pieces, at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor the whole month of June.

TJ:  Ok, so now let's find out about some of your favorite things to let our readers know a little bit more about you both. First up, what is your favorite NYC restaurant?

HALSTON:  Favorite NYC restaurant? Hmm, well I'll tell you my favorite hangout. The Sosa Borella on 50th and 8th Avenue. We started going there when I was in Hairspray and it's like an Argentinean Italian one.  A lot of us still hang out there. Other than Angus Mac and Joe Allen's, Angus had become a real NYC hangout. So that's my favorite place.

DALEY:  I like Ocean on 78th Street. They have great sushi. And I like Nick and Tony's because I used to go see The Light In The Piazza, like almost every night. I just couldn't stay away from that show.

TJ:  How many times did you see that show?

DALEY:  I don't know. People I took to the show went five times with me. I started thinking, "Nobody's gonna notice, are they?"  I think there were people who were even worse than myself. It sort of gets in your bones. I don't usually do that but I just had to see it all the time.

TJ:  How about your favorite thing to do while you're not working?

HALSTON:  I have to admit, I have a little sad addiction.  I love watching on the E Channel that stupid show, The Girls Next Door. It's a very sad thing to say and I don't know how to explain it but I am addicted to Hugh Hefner's girlfriends and The Girls Next Door. So when I have a little down time, I do actually watch that show and I am embarrassed but that is my really sad addiction.

TJ:  Yeah.

HALSTON:  I know.  There's nothing to say and no way to justify it. It's a sad lonely moment in Julie Halston's life. But I also do a lot of reading and a lot of writing.

DALEY:  I like talking. Being with my kids, because they're pretty amazing. I guess seeing friends, going to plays.

TJ:  Moving on, what it your favorite vacation spot?

HALSTON:  A city. I love Paris. I've been there a number of times. My husband and I like cities. We like to go to other cities. Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London.  We're not big beach people. We're the type that get those books out and go to every museum. We are those people.

DALEY:  Besides Rhode Island, anywhere I can get my husband and my kids together. My husband works a lot. Even if it's just for one night. Anywhere, anyplace. It doesn't matter what the background is.

TJ:  OK. How about your favorite playwright?

HALSTON:  Well, I have a real fondness for Tennessee Williams. I have great respect for Craig Lucas. I absolutely adore his sensibility.

DALEY:   It's hard not to love someone like Tennessee Williams and I love Paula Vogel.

TJ:  Finally, who is your favorite actor?

DALEY:  I love Toni Collette. She's so perfect. From the time she was in Muriel's Wedding and she just killed me. And she was brilliant in The Sixth Sense. She's the real thing!

HALSTON:  I don't have one, really. I'm always interested in something that Helen Mirren is doing. I thought her series Prime Suspect was unbelievable. I think she might be my favorite actress.  And Humphrey Bogart.  Humphrey Bogart and Helen Mirren. I'll see anything that Humphrey Bogart did. Weird, quirky, I know but that's the way it is.

Thanks to both Julie and Donna for their time and insight. You should pick up a copy of their new book Monologues for Show-Offs, from Heineman Press, available at Amazon.com or the Drama Book Store. For now, I bid you adieu and remember, theatre is my life.



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