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The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian

By Tina Gill

originally published: 09/19/2018

The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian

Up-and-coming New Jersey native Brandon Monokian has worked as an actor, writer, director, producer, and popcorn sample distributor. He wrote and starred in the film Happy Yummy Chickenand co-founded the production company Love Drunk Life with Katie Frazer. Together they have produced plays, films, books, and, to support their creative work financially, a product line: lovedrunklife.com. Monokian received national attention through Revolutionary Readings (his TEDx talk at Princeton Library), which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. 

I spoke with Brandon at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival where his play, The Living Dragon, was being presented at the Arden Theatre. A satire on Sherlock Holmes and film noir, Monokian puts a fresh spin on the Jersey Devil legend. In this interview, the playwright talks about growing up in New Jersey, his artistic struggles, and his creative present and future. 


Growing up in New Jersey


You live in Ocean City but grew up in Lumberton, New Jersey where, as a kid, you often visited the Pine Barrens, home of the Jersey Devil, as legend has it. How did you feel about the Jersey Devil as a child?

My grandmother would often take me to the Pine Barrens as a kid to go on hikes, and to go visit Batsto, which I still go to. The Jersey Devil was something I was always interested in. I thought it was cool, but it was also something I was scared of growing up. I definitely believed it was 100% real. Later, I knew I wanted to do a film noir style satire and thought creating the Jersey Devil the way we did for this play would help him stand out. The Jersey Devil in my play was made to be an opposite of what everyone thought he would be.




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The Living Dragon and Revolutionary VoicesThe Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian


What is your goal for the future of The Living Dragon? As it is intended for school performances (6-12 graders), what do you want to do to make the play even stronger? 

This piece started off as a commission for the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company’s Jr. Company, which I wrote with Kirsten Sughrue from Egg Harbor. The kids that were in it and their talents informed a lot of the writing we did and the choices we made, so maybe I’ll get hired to do the piece with a group of kids again and it can continue to evolve! I’d love to see it performed in schools throughout New Jersey and beyond. I’d love to do a professional production of it as well, but I think with the cast size being so large that may never happen. However, I have an idea to do it as an animated film or a graphic novel, so maybe it will evolve in that way and come to fruition in the next few years. 

To strengthen The Living Dragon, I’d like to spend an extended period of time working with actors to make the play even funnier and more outrageous.

In one of your blogs, you discussed the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from NJ public libraries, including your former high school—an event, which inspired you to work with others in developing Revolutionary Readingsa way of protesting the ban of such gay content. How important is queer representation to you, especially given our current social and political climate? 

When Rancocas Valley Regional High School, my H.S. in Mt. Holly, and, my former library, Burlington County Public Library, banned Revolutionary Voices, my friends and I got together and performed readings throughout New Jersey of the book. It was an out-of-print book that wasn’t being checked out too regularly. Funny enough, by them banning the book, it started to get a lot more attention and other NJ libraries, such as Princeton Public Library, started carrying the book where they hadn’t before. So because the censors had tried to silence minority members, suddenly gay voices were being heard louder and clearer than before. 

Our protest project, Revolutionary Readings, really just started because we were pissed off and wanted to take some action. So we put our theatre degrees to use and started doing theatrical readings of the book by any organization that would have us. We ended up getting invited by important places like Rutgers University and the New Jersey Library Association Conference among others. 


Artistic gain can also be a financial drain 


You said your film, Happy Yummy Chicken, was emotionally and financially draining. 

Finance in the arts can be draining in more ways than one, but I think it pushes you to discover fantastic things you never would have discovered otherwise. I directed a production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice that had a small budget and the play called for a river to run through the set. We made a river out of recycled plastic bottles and people responded well to it. 

In Happy Yummy Chicken, a line that always gets a huge laugh is, “A lot of people that do shows here bring in incredible sets, but, we ran out of money so instead we just drew pictures of chickens.” If I had the budget, there would have been a big set, but we were broke so pictures of chickens it was! I’m glad, because the moment works so well and speaks honestly to the struggle of many art makers.

There was some cool “merch” for sale at the show, which is used to pay for productions. Is the cost of producing the merchandise and the time involved worth the effort?

We’re lucky because my family owns a laser etching store so they let us create all the products there for a good price. It helps the company financially but it also is fulfilling creatively because we get to create the kinds of products that we would want to use as artists. We have an Etsy page that is starting to do quite well, so we want to expand that and set up pop-up shop style sales with live performances like we did at the Philly Fringe. 

What are your creative plans for the future? 

At the end of September, I’ll be acting in a new play in New York by Charlotte Lang, which I’m very excited about.  So, hopefully this momentum keeps going. I thought I was done creating things after doing Happy Yummy Chicken, so to feel the need to create again is a fantastic feeling. 




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(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Centenary Stage Company’s 2018 – 19 theatrical season continues with the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Jennifer Fawcett’s award winning Apples in Winter. Limited performances will run November 8 through November 18 at the Centenary Stage Company Lackland Performing Arts Center at 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ.
Trojan Women: JCTC Reinvents Classic Tragedy for Today’s Times
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) presents Trojan Women, a multimedia and multilingual adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy reimagined for today’s turbulent times. Trojan Women  opens Friday November 2nd for an 11-show run that closes on Sunday November 18 at Merseles Studios, 339 Newark Avenue, Jersey City. Tickets are $25 ($15/ Student and Senior Discount – must show valid ID).
Douglas Taurel To Perform "An American Soldier's Journey Home" On Veteran's Day
(HOBOKEN, NJ) -- On November 11, 2018 (Veterans Day), Douglas Taurel, actor and creator of the acclaimed solo show The American Soldier, will perform his new play An American Soldier’s Journey Home at the Hoboken Museum in Hoboken, NJ at 4:00pm. The play was commissioned by the Library of Congress Veteran History Project. It was invited to performed at the Library of Congress both on Veterans Day and Memorial Day of 2017. The play will commemorate 100 years when the Great War ended and the last shot was fired.
Fair Moon Stages Presents "Wishes & Dreams: A Celebration of the Music that Animates our Lives"
(RAHWAY, NJ) -- Fair Moon Stages presents “Wishes & Dreams: A Celebration of the Music that Animates our Lives” on Sunday, November 4th at 3:00pm, at The Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, NJ. A 30-piece orchestra and 20 vocalists performing delightfully familiar songs from animated movies highlight the concert. The event is a benefit for the company, whose mission is to present accessible and professional theater at affordable prices. Their well-received inaugural season included Disney’s High School Musical, Legally Blonde and the NJ premier of Mamma Mia.  
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Plant Yourself at Exit 82 Theatre Company’s Little Shop of Horrors!
Little Shop of Horrors is a smash Broadway and Hollywood sci-fi musical that has devoured the hearts of theatergoers for over 30 years. Now, Toms River, NJ’s Exit 82 Theatre Company has developed a unique rendition of the show created by Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin, which is currently running at their new Exit 82 Studio Theatre located on Main Street in downtown Toms River.
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Bram Stoker's Dracula
Long before we had Twilight and True Blood, one vampire ruled them all - Dracula.  Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel brought Count Dracula from Transylvania to Victorian London.  In this blood thirsty tale of terror, the city seems helpless against his power, and only one man, Dr. Van Helsing, can stop the carnage.  But to do this, he must uncover the vampire’s lair and pierce his heart with a wooden stake.  
House On Haunted Hill
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The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian

The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian

Up-and-coming New Jersey native Brandon Monokian has worked as an actor, writer, director, producer, and popcorn sample distributor. He wrote and starred in the film Happy Yummy Chicken and co-founded the production company Love Drunk Life with Katie Frazer. Together they have produced plays, films, books, and, to support their creative work financially, a product line: lovedrunklife.com. Monokian received national attention through Revolutionary Readings (his TEDx talk at Princeton Library), which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. 








Event calendar
Sunday, Oct 21, 2018


MUSIC

DiTrani Bros: Folk, Swing, Jazz, Ragtime!! @ Roxy and Dukes Roadhouse, Dunellen - 7:00pm

Jazz Guitarist Abe Ovadia @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Gypsy Jazz Brunch with Pyrenesia and Max Hansen Buffet @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

Dryden Ensemble: Bach Cantata Fest @ Miller Chapel (Princeton), Princeton - 3:00pm

Suzzanne Douglas @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 7:30pm


THEATRE

The Ghost Princess @ Pax Amicus Castle Theatre, Budd Lake - 2:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm

CDC Theatre presents A Few Good Men @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 2:00pm

Wait Until Dark @ Somerset Valley Playhouse, Hillsborough - 8:00pm

World Premier of, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, A Horror of a Play @ Forum Theatre (Metuchen), Metuchen - 3:00pm

The Color Purple @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 7:00pm

Almost, Maine @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Black Tom Island @ The 1882 Carriage House, Liberty Hall Museum, Union - 3:00pm

*Uncle Vanya, Scenes from a Jersey Life in Four Acts @ Hudson Theatre Works, Weehawken - 7:00pm

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie @ Westfield Community Players, Westfield - 2:00pm







DANCE

DRACULA - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 4:00pm


FILM

A conversation with John Cusack Following a screening of Say Anything @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:00pm


KIDS

Summit Farmers Market Pumpkin Painting @ Summit Farmers Market, Summit - 10:00am


POETRY

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 9:00am


MISC

HAUNTED ILLUSIONS LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 3:00pm

THE MAGIC OF BILL BLAGG LIVE! @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 2:00pm

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