Prof. Jessica Penner | OL05 | Fall 2020

Week 14: Hearing the bones “sing” with dialogue

To understand the title of the week’s announcement, read the quote from the playwright Suzan-Lori Parks:

So much of African-American history has been unrecorded, dismembered, washed out, one of my tasks as a playwright is to … locate the ancestral burial ground, dig for bones, find bones, hear the bones sing, write it down.

Suzan-Lori Parks

If you’ve ever read a play and then saw it live onstage (or onscreen), you’ll know that a play looks rather–well–boring, especially compared to watching it. It’s just a lot of conversation written with a bunch of indecipherable stage directions. It seems like a bunch of bleached bones–at first glance.

Suzan-Lori Parks

However, when you think about it, bones are pretty important. Without bones, we’d all be a pile of muscle, hair, cartilage, and organs. If you’ve ever broken a major bone, you know that you can be pretty incapacitated while it heals.

Dialogue is the “bones” of so many things–it’s one way we communicate, a way we attempt to share the deepest emotions and the most difficult ideas with the world around us. Parks says that her task as a playwright is to find the “bones” of Black people–a group that has been silenced for centuries by slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing racism–and “hear the bones sing.” She wants to record the dialogue/bones and let them speak to the world.

First, I want you to read a monologue of one of Parks’ characters in the play we’re going to read: Lincoln. You can download it here. I’ve also uploaded a copy on the Course Profile page titled “Reading Assignment #7: Lincoln Monologue, Topdog/Underdog.” (Apologies for the graininess of the copy–I misplaced my personal copy and I had to find one on the internet!)

Next, I want you to watch the same monologue on YouTube. Watch it at least twice. Once for familiarity, the second time, I want you to read the text while watching/listening to the video.

By Wednesday, November 25, I want you to respond to the following questions in the “reply” section of this Announcement:

  1. Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
  2. When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
  3. What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?

The details about other things that are due this week are on the Assignment page, but before you run off, let’s talk a little about some vocabulary that’s necessary to know when you’re reading and responding to the text you need to read (in Reading Assignment #6, you’ll be reading three scenes from “Topdog/Underdog,” and eventually responding to questions I have about the scenes).

Rhythm & Pace

Think about music. All music, whether it’s classical, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rap, you-name-it, has a rhythm and pace. There are places where it’s fast, slow, medium, etc.

The same can be said about dialogue in a play or a short story. There are moments when someone isn’t speaking that can tell us a lot about a person or what they’re trying to communicate. Just as important as what is said in a dialogue, it’s what isn’t said or how it’s said that’s important.

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld says it well in the following clip I found on YouTube.

Pay attention to the stage directions in the scenes you’re going to read in “Topdog/Underdog.” I have them below with some explanation.

(Rest)

Take a little time, a pause, a breather; make a transition.

A Spell

An elongated and heightened (Rest). Denoted by repetition of figures’ names with no dialogue. Has sort of an architectural look:

Lincoln

Booth

Lincoln

Booth

This is a place where the figures experience their pure true simple state. While no action or stage business is necessary, directors should fill this moment as they best see fit.

from “Topdog/underdog,” by Suzan-Lori Parks

Go to the Assignment page and see what’s due this week!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Please be safe: socially distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.
I hope y’all have a moment or three to relax!

14 Comments

  1. Diana Rivera

    Question #2:
    When I was reading the monologue I wasn’t aware that it was more of him speaking to a person rather than at a person. That meaning that he was more explaining the way his moment as an impersonator than him just saying it to say it. That showing his commitment to this job and the fact that they want to replace him with a dummy genuinely does hurt him. While reading that I didn’t read it like that I read it as him just saying it to someone like his mom or wife explaining why he’s getting fired or something. Not as emotional as he came off while hearing the monologue.

  2. Jozelyn

    Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    I appreciated the YouTube video more than the text.
    When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?

    • Jozelyn

      Sorry, I hit enter by mistake.
      Question#1: I appreciated the YouTube Video more than the text. I feel like the video portrayed the true emotions behind the monologue more than the text. When I read the text, I read it as if it was a regular paragraph but the video showed more of a communication and dialogue between the person and the audience.
      Question#2: When I was listening to the video and reading the subtitles, I was able to catch more descriptions about the gun. Especially when it said “winter or summer, the gun is always cold.”
      Question #3: Based on the monologue, I would say this play is about the characters journey in reflecting himself and maybe even self discovery since at the end it seems like in his job he will be replaced by a wax figure.

  3. Adama Barro

    Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    I really enjoy and prefer the YouTube video because on the play, the actor make you feel so reel, the text is kind of confusing and difficult to understand.

    When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    While reading and watching the video, i understood better the play,it was less confusing and made more sense,but i was more captivated by the video than my reading.

    What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    I think is someone getting fire from his job and getting replace by technology.

  4. Sarvi

    1. I actually enjoyed both the reading and the video but I liked the video more because I was able to see the emotions and feelings of the character as he spoke. He also used hand gestures and natural mannerisms as we do in our daily conversations and this drew me in closely to listen to and understand his feelings and perceptions of his situation.
    2. When I was reading the play before I watched the video some words such as “thuh” and “uh” was little confusing even though they made sense. But after I read while I understood it more.
    3. I feel like this play is about lynching black man. When he used the word “boss” and “assassins” to me it signaled that he was talking about slave owners who were killing their slave in presence of their families. Also, when he mentioned himself being upside down, I felt like he was hung before being shot and during Jim Crow laws, lots of lynching was taking place in form of hanging and every family member of the slave owners got to see it.

  5. Robert Rampersaud

    Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!

    I read and listen to Lincoln ‘Monologue Topdog UnderDog’. However, I enjoy the reading version of ‘Monologue Topdog UnderDog’. I do hate to read, and I will always prefer watching a video, but for some reason reading this short story actually gives me a better imagination of what is happing. When I was watching the video, I felt the narrator tone influence me on what was playing out.

    When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?

    When I read the monologue and watching/listening to the video, I was not able to get the sense of urgencies of the characters from reading the short story. For example. I did not get the tone of the character while reading the short story, but listening to the YouTube video I was about to understand how upset the character was.

    What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?

    I think Topdog/Underdog is about a person making it to the top, and he was killed by someone that is jealous of him. The places that the character hangs out wants to place a wax statue of him to remember the character.

  6. Dylan

    Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    I appreciated the video more, McClarin’s facial expressions, pauses, and gestures added another layer to the monologue that I didn’t notice when I first read it. I also found it easier to catch on to the scenario when it was performed. It was difficult for me to understand what exactly was being discussed by just reading the script.

    When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    I didn’t pick up the tone of the monologue until I watched the video, which felt very bleak, maybe even angry.

    What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    I think the play is about being invisible to others despite your best efforts, and struggling to break the glass that separates you from them.

  7. Leviza Murtazayeva

    Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    -In my opinion the video was more enjoyable over the text because I could listen and feel the tone and emotion the speaker is expressing rather than trying to imagine what is going in the text. I appreciated it the most because the speaker did a good job of telling the monologue and expressing the pain and the fear in the tone of his voice, a reader reading a text may not feel that as much as a viewer or listener may have.
    When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    -When I read the monologue separate from the video, I did not feel as much expression as to when I was reading and listening to it at the same time. The pauses the speaker had made, made me feel motion all through out while reading and listening at the same time.

    What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    – I believe it is about someone getting killed by the so called assassins’, they did not care about the person because they seemed to be jealous him. So they just keep and remember him as a wax figure.

  8. Angelica Hernandez

    1.Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    I appreciated the Youtube video because I can sense more emotion rather than reading it. When I was reading it I honestly didn’t understand the reading, but watching it helped me understand and predict what it’s about.
    2.When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, where you
    able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    When reading the monologue I didn’t get any sense of emotion, I didn’t understand how to feel when reading it. That changed when I watched the monologue being performed because of his execution and the pauses he takes.
    3.What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    By the ending of the dialogue, I think the play or a portion of the play is about a man working at a historical site or a historical recreation worker who performs Linclons murder but isn’t doing a good job anymore.

  9. Luzmery

    1. Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    – I enjoyed the video more, I read the monologue as if it were any paragraph so I couldn’t feel any emotion, but when I watched the video and the speaker’s body movements the monologue somehow had a new meaning.
    2. When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    – Yes, the word “thuh” did not make any sense to me at first but after watching the video I realized that I was written the way it is pronounced.
    3. What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    – I think he is talking about a play portraying what black people experienced during the time Jim Craw enforced racial segregation where their family got to see them being executed and now his “cheap boss” wants to replace him by a “wax dummy”.

  10. Amna Ahmed

    1) Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific!
    I enjoyed the YouTube video more than the text. From the YouTube video, the readers can hear and feel the tone and vibe of the poem. I was able to hear the pauses in the sentences.
    2) When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    I noticed some things when I watched the YouTube video. For instance, the author would say “uh”. The reader maybe confused if they were to read this word without hearing the pronunciation of the word.
    3) What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    I think this play is about a specific power dynamic. There is the person who has high power and then there’s the person who does not have power.

  11. malik lee

    1). Which did you enjoy/appreciate more–the text or the YouTube video? Why? Be honest and specific
    I appreciated the YouTube Video more than the text. I feel like the actors would be able to show the true emotions out of the monologue. The video made it easier for me to follow along.
    2). When you read the monologue while watching/listening to the video, were you able to read/hear anything you hadn’t noticed before?
    While reading the monologue I wasn’t able to really feel out the characters but in the video, I was able to see the emotions of the characters and notice how upset they really were.
    3). What do you think this play is about, just based on this monologue?
    Based on the monologue I think the play is about a black man who was killed by being hung with the use of words mentioning he’s being upside down.
    I feel like this play is about a person who holds a lot of power and people are jealous of him and don’t like that he wants to be remembered by a wax figure.

  12. Angelica Salazar

    I enjoyed reading the text but i appreciated watching the YouTube video more. Although I was able to read the text with no issue watching the monologue on YouTube gave me a better understanding to the events playing out in the text.

    When watching the video I was able to just listen and be able to picture a scenery and after watching the video and reading its description I was able to capture the scene.

    I think based on the monologue the play is about the events of the character that is being shot at, he is describing the feeling of the people coming in an shooing at him over and over, all to be possibly replaced with a wax statue.

  13. Marina Malak

    I enjoyed the video more because in the video, the guy was able to use not only words but facial expressions and body language to deliver the emotion and the idea of the piece. When I read the monologue while watching the video, I could see a transcript of the delivery including the (rest); I was able to understand the written words more such as “thuh” which is “the” but the author used accent to add even more character and detail in the piece. From the monologue, I think the play is about a worker that is getting replaced by a wax dummy.

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