Since 2013 The Mono Box has been supporting actors and theatre creatives from venues in London, ultimately becoming an Associate Company of Hampstead Theatre. Then in 2019 they launched The Speech Share podcast, allowing everyone access to the imparted knowledge and experience of some of the UK’s most renowned actors. The Mono Box rose to the challenge of the 2020 lockdown by creating The Monologue Library, an online resource for actors which is both invaluable and free of charge.
This article takes a look at how not-for-profit organisation The Mono Box got started, the wide range of resources and activities helping to support the UK’s creative community, and the astonishing collection of performed monologues now available online.
The Mono Box Founders
Joan Iyiola and Polly Bennett met through the National Youth Theatre, and remained good friends as they embarked on their careers in the creative world.
Joan trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, National Youth Theatre and Cambridge University.
She then won roles in a range of stage and screen productions, including The Duchess of Malfi (RSC), Black Earth Rising (BBC), Enterprice (BBC), New Blood (BBC/Netflix), and feature film Denial (2016). She also appeared in productions at the Almeida, Shakespeare’s Globe, Young Vic, Complicite, Gate Theatre, and Bush Theatre. Recently, Joan has branched out into writing and production.
Polly moved into the field of choreography and individual movement coaching for actors and music artists. She holds an MA in Movement from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and was Resident Company Movement Practitioner at the Royal Shakespeare Company 2013.
As a leading movement director and choreographer she works both nationally and internationally with some of the world’s leading directors and performers.
In addition to working at the National Theatre, Royal Court, and London 2012 Olympics, Polly has also worked on feature films Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Stan & Ollie (2018), The Little Stranger (2018), Mogul Mowgli (2020) and No Time To Die (2020), along with a number of TV series including Killing Eve, The Great, Urban Myths, and The Crown.
Creation Of The Mono Box
Even as their own careers developed, Joan and Polly recognised that many support networks for young actors and theatre-makers were fast disappearing.
So when they created The Mono Box in 2013, they envisioned not only a drama training hub but also an extension of the career support they had given each other when they started out.
Working initially with the Old Vic Theatre and from 2019 as an Associate Company of Hampstead Theatre, the team organised a series of affordable workshops, Speech Surgeries, Speech Showbacks, and Q&A sessions with industry professionals. Financial support from the Arts Council England enabled the not for profit organisation to develop and expand its activities and resources for new and emerging actors and creatives.
Meanwhile donations from professional actors, directors and writers working in the theatre industry created a diverse collection of more than 350 plays. The collection helped actors find audition speeches and directors find new stories to tell.
Further donations over the years means the collection now holds thousands of texts.
The Aims Of The Not-for-profit Creative Hub
Today The Mono Box website set out its aims to:
- SUPPORT emerging talent in theatre
- Provide access to a UNIQUE RESOURCE of play texts
- ENCOURAGE the personal, professional and social development of young artists
- Equip young people with PRACTICAL TOOLS for the industry
- Form a COLLECTIVE that fosters and nurtures creative relationships
- DISCOVER new plays, writers and parts
- Get ADVICE when looking for audition speeches for auditions and showcases in a relaxed FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT
- Test a monologue out in a SPEECH SHOWBACK then get peer feedback and help from a director
- Talk to passionate INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS about their experiences both informally and in Q&As
- Participate in SPECIALIST WORKSHOPS
Furthermore, everyone is welcome to participate and develop a strong sense of artistic empowerment in the supportive community of The Mono Box, from new and emerging actors and creatives to vastly experienced professionals.
The Mono Box Speech Share Podcast
The success of the Q&A sessions with industry professionals led to the idea of a podcast. This allows a wider audience to access the expertise and insight of the guests.
So in June 2019 Joan and Polly launched The Mono Box Speech Share Podcast, recorded on Hampstead’s Main Stage.
The concept is a simple but valuable one. They talk to a renowned performer about their work, their routes into the industry, and discuss one production they have worked on.
At the end of each 30 minute episode, the podcast guest recites their favourite monologue.
The Mono Box YouTube Channel
For those who prefer to watch conversations on screen, or who want to enhance their knowledge with wider topics, take a look at The Mono Box YouTube channel.
In the full length Creative Acts episodes, a discussion panel of top level creatives come together to talk about their views and experiences of the topic under discussion.
Usually chaired by Theo Bosanquet, participants have included Cherrelle Skeete, Steven Kavuma, Jessica Bastick-Vines, Tom Ross-Williams, Ella Hickson, Oliver Fenwick, Hazel Holder, Isobel Waller-Bridge, Indhu Rubasingham, Ayse Tashkiran, Tom Jackson-Greaves, Anna Morrissey and Vicki Igbokwe, Maria Aberg, Naomi Dawson and Ayse Tashkiran.
In 2017 The Mono Box launched a new writing initiative, Playstart.
The annual competition allowed new 15 minute plays from emerging writers to be evaluated. Some of them went on to have further life at venues. Furthermore, a collection of plays was published by Oberon Books.
In 2019 the competition developed further. Four entrants were paired with emerging directors. Given the support and mentorship of a professional playwright, free rehearsal space, facilities to cast actors, a producer and feedback from industry professionals, the plays came to life for The Mono Box’s Fundraising Gala at Hampstead Theatre.
The Monologue Library
During the Covid pandemic of 2020, The Mono box team used the monologues recorded for The Mono Box Speech Share Podcast to launch the Monologue Library.
They also collaborated with more than a hundred highly respected actors to produce a wide ranging and diverse audio collection of monologues.
These monologues are free, accessed on The Mono Box’s website.
The Monologue Library is truly a valuable resource for every aspiring actor and anyone who loves theatre.
Contributors To The Monologue Library:
Ronke Adekoluejo, Stefan Adegbola, Riz Ahmed, Thomas Aldridge, Adjoa Andoh, Gethin Anthony, Sheila Atim, Alex Austin, Marion Bailey, Joe Bannister, Ben Batt, Sir Simon Russell Beale, Max Bennett, Leanne Best, Leo Bill, Nicholas Bishop, Kirsty Bushell, Fiona Button, Richard Cant, Claire Cartwright, Pandora Colin, Alistair Cope, Emma Corrin, Kenneth Cranham, Dona Croll, Liz Crowther, John Dagleish, Les Dennis, Sope Dirisu, Phil Dunster, Laura Elphinstone, Alfred Enoch, Paapa Essiedu, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Jake Fairbrother, Patsy Ferran, Dino Fetscher, Denise Gough, Rob Heaps, Georgie Henley, Sarah Hoare, Hazel Holder, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Rebecca Humphries, Siu Hun Li, Joan Iyiola, Sir Derek Jacobi, Valene Kane, Youssef Kerkour, Yolanda Kettle, Vanessa Kirby, Danny Kirrane, Natalie Klamar, Joe Kloska, Gwilym Lee, Lauren Lyle, Pearl Mackie, Simon Manyonda, Joseph Marcell, Sam Marks, Joshua McGuire, Gina McKee, Harry Melling, Justine Mitchell, Amy Morgan, Deirdre Mullins, Joseph Mydell, Mimi Ndiweni, Luke Newberry, Arian Nik, Sarah Niles, Pamela Nomvete, James Norton, Josh O’Connor, Theo Ogundipe, Enyi Okoronkwo, Ciarán Owens, Clare Perkins, Martha Plimpton, Imogen Poots, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Karl Queensborough, Siobhan Redmond, Kirsty Rider, Sule Rimi, Rhys Rusbatch, Jenna Russell, Sirine Saba, Sid Sagar, Cherrelle Skeete, Leo Suter, Sam Swann, Thalissa Teixeira, Paul Tinto, Annie Tyson, Olivia Vinall, Anthony Welsh, Susan Wokoma, Gabby Wong, Daniel York and Shane Zaza.
The Mono Box Team And Supporters
Joan Iyiola and Polly Bennett still enthusiastically lead The Mono Box. The organisation also has a board made up of Catriona Cahill, Joseph Bell, Alfred Bridi, Fiona English, and Hannah Osborne.
The Mono Box welcomed Development Manager Helen Waters in 2017, and producer Alison Holder arrived a year later. The positions are part-time. Both Helen and Alison continued creative practice on other projects.
Actor Miles Sloman joined as an administrator in 2018, followed by assistant producer Harriet Taylor to complete the team of employees.
Sir Derek Jacobi, Vanessa Kirby, Danny Kirrane, Joseph Marcell, James Norton, Annie Tyson, Susan Wokoma support The Mono Box as Patrons.
An enthusiastic volunteer squad provides further assistance to the not-for-profit organisation. They each found The Mono Box an invaluable source of support and advice as they forged their own way into the acting and theatre-making industry.
The Threats Of The 2020 Pandemic
Over the years, the organisation has become known for its affordable, continual training, writing and performing opportunities, affordable rehearsal space, insightful podcast, and supportive community.
Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 puts the entire organisation at risk. The studio lease has terminated. No one knows when the theatrical industry can return to full health again.
While The Monologue Library entertains and educates actors and theatre lovers, please spare a thought for The Mono Box and the future of everyone the organisation helps.
A Just Giving page has been set up, with both one off and monthly donations welcome. The messages of support show how much the work of The Mono Box is appreciated by the people it supports. It’s a difficult time right now for all self employed professionals and organisations in the creative field. But any donation, no matter how small, makes a difference.