A Tournament of Acting Returns to D.C. and Brings Tenacious Talent

By Michelle Leibowitz, Bloc Reporter

Edward Daniels is an actor. He’s also a huge basketball fan.

So when it came time to plan the fourth annual Monologue Madness competition, he knew he wanted it to coincide with March Madness.

“I wanted it to be a tournament of acting, right in the middle of the March Madness tournament,” he said.

The competition, produced by Daniels, opened to a crowd of about 150 at The Miracle Theatre at 6 p.m. April 6.

The finalists included winner Kelly Marie McKenna and runners-up Kashayna Johnson, Tim Torre and Ryan F. Johnson.

Michelle Leibowitz/Bloc Reporter~Monologue Madness 2014 champion, McKenna, gives her all during the competition.
Michelle Leibowitz/Bloc Reporter~Monologue Madness 2014 champion, McKenna, gives her all during the competition.

“You can go anywhere in New York and find acting showcases, but we just don’t have that in D.C.,” Daniels said. “I wanted to do something to showcase the talent in town.”

The categories for the three rounds included comedy, drama and classical.

During the cold reading, judges gave the Final Four competitors five minutes to learn dialogue from the show “Cabaret” before they had to perform it.

Judges asked McKenna and Johnson, the final two competitors, to deliver Oscar-worthy performances with the given dialogue.

Competition winner McKenna received $1,000, an iPad mini and the opportunity to compete at the Manhattan Monologue Slam in New York City, among other prizes.

“I kind of went into this thinking I could do it since I started acting when I was 14 and I’m almost 30,” said McKenna. “The confidence is half the battle.”

Other actors, like Lawrence Whitener, 61, were not as confident.

“It’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in 14 years in this business,” he said. “Getting up in front of your peers, solo, for 60 seconds is very difficult.”

During each round, actors took the stage in pairs and delivered minute-long monologues from various plays. Judges scored actors individually on a 1-10 scale and eliminated those with the lower score.

Attendee Niles Finklea of Silver Spring, Md., a Yale-trained actor, said he enjoyed the event’s diverse talent.

“I feel like each round got better and gave the audience more,” he said. “There was great talent and versatility.”

A casting panel chose 32 actors to compete at Sunday’s competition. Over 120 actors auditioned at the open call on March 16 at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Arlington, Va.

Actors used facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements to support their lines. Judges scored the actors based on their choice of monologue, their acting choices and their stagecraft ability, competitor Ben Cunis said.

“It’s not like a basketball game where the score is strict,” Cunis said, whom the judges cut after the drama round. “A lot of factors go into it.”

Judges included Kimberly Skyrme, who did the casting for “House of Cards” season two, and Anne Chapman, who casted “When Harry Met Sally.” “Gossip Girl” casting director, Sara Conte, was in the audience to scope out talent.

John Pallotta, owner of the John Pallotta Studio of Acting, acted as a judge for the competition. He donated free acting school classes, an iPad Mini, free headshots and expense-paid travel to New York City for the winner of the competition.

Pallotta teaches acting, but said he prefers for people to refer to him as an acting coach.

“Teachers go by the book,” he said. “I go by the heart. That’s what they’re doing up there, they’re following their heart.”

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