Saturday, August 15, 2015

Spotlight On...Monica Hannush

Name: Monica Hannush

Hometown: Newtown, PA      

Education: Yale University, The Lawrenceville School

Favorite Credits: So far my favorite credit has definitely been being the writer of this show.

Why theater?: It started because I was bad at sports – and at being a carefree little kid. I begged my mom to enroll me in my first acting class when I was nine years old, where we read "I Never Saw Another Butterfly". My little world was utterly rocked – inspired, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. The summer I turned ten, I was determined (read: desperate) not to go to the usual kickball-in-the-woods summer camp. I scoured a brochure we received in the mail from a local community college, advertising classes – “camp” in tens of different subjects – for kids my age. I took the acting class they offered as well as a creative writing class – both sold me. I knew I couldn’t do anything else with my energy.

Tell us about Under: Under follows two disjunct timelines in the life of Serena, a nineteen-year-old Yale student who has been admitted against her will to Yale Psychiatric Hospital after blasting a suicidal text message to her classmates. The temporal distance between the two timelines is exactly one year; one spans her freshman year, one spans the near entirety of her time as an inpatient, her hospitalization having interrupted her sophomore fall. I and the Under team believe that what makes Under emotionally compelling to audiences beyond Yale is that unseen casualties like Serena riddle the entirety of America’s (and beyond) educational meritocracy, uniquely piercing in the era of LinkedIn and BuzzFeed celebrity, when more than one generation finds the person reduced to their webpage. At stake is a new breed of angst and a newfound fight to build genuine self-concept on solid ground: a return to the logic of getting out of bed. Frustrated ambition, envy, the feeling of never being good enough for oneself or others... this is, for many of us, what it feels like to be parsing out your identity in late adolescence / young adulthood today.

What inspired you to write Under?: Under started as something of a log in script format. I had these hyper-dramatic friends – not actors, but they were so, so theatrical. And sometimes the night would end and I would go back to my room and say, Man, I have to write that down. That was just too perfect. The experiences were painful, but the drama was somehow so intact while being naturally-occurring that I couldn’t not record it, even if I never looked at it again. A close friend would ask, “What happened last night?” and I’d just say, “I’ll send you the script.” But at this point, it’s not like any given character correlates to any specific person in real life. Eventually the characters took on lives of their own. I was unsure whether I’d make it a full show, but when I got locked up in the hospital, I was presented with the narrative glue I needed. I knew the scenes I already had needed to be flashbacks held together by the psych ward timeline.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: There’s no “kind” of theater that most speaks to me. Any work with the capacity to be both funny and heartbreaking is something I want to see. But I need to know that the writer – whether or not their work is autobiographical – has been through something. I once read the advice never to trust someone who hasn’t had their heart broken, but that’s not enough – I want to see work by people who’s lives have been rocked in some other way. I’m inspired when I read or see work in which I can feel that the author is confident but not cocky – simply assured that the story at hand is worth sharing, not trying to outsmart the audience, and supported by the story, not the way it’s told.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Diablo Cody, Amy Poehler, Louis C.K., Jenji Kohan, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of "Broad City", Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Megan Amram, Liz Meriwether.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I plan to drag each friend of mine who has not seen Les Misérables to at least one performance. There’s something about that show that gets me every single time.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Ellen Page. “Transgression."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: My parents are always raving about Aida !

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Lying around listening to stand-up comedy tracks on shuffle for long, long periods of time.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be ____?: Writing for TV, if the opportunity arose!

What’s up next?: Mr. Arkansas, a straight play I’ve been working on all year – I plan to put up a campus production of it during the upcoming school year.

For more on Monica, visit