FREE audition monologues for women OVER 40

Carolyn Bock performs Catherine’s monologue at the premier of e-baby at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne in 2015.

Here are nine monologues for women over 40 to showcase their acting talents

If you’re looking for a contemporary monologue or scene for your audition or for a performance, here are nine that showcase older women in a range of challenging roles.

Writing for older women is such a joy, as their range of life experiences is rich and inspiring. In this ageing Australian population, their stories are particularly relevant.

Yet, as more than 100 UK actors recently attested, women over 45 are poorly represented in the film and theatre, which means female actors have a “limited shelf-life”.

The Acting Your Age Campaign (AYAC) is seeking a parity pledge, with equal representation between male and female actors over 45.

Part of the problem, of course, is the lack of roles for women over 40.

As actor Juliet Stevenson said in The Guardian recently, “The perception of women of my age is so reductive, that they are considered invisible and less interesting. The reverse is true. The breach between your life experience and available parts gets wider. I’m on the up escalator – life is getting more and more interesting – but my parts are on the down escalator, getting less interesting. That’s frustrating.”

I hope to ease such frustration with roles that put women on the up escalator.

Three of these monologues are from published plays – e-baby, d-baby and Uked! – The first play-along ukulele musical, while the remainder were written as stand-alone monologues or scenes.

Click on the links in the descriptions below to read each monologue.

  1. FOR WHEN SHE COMES – CATHERINE 45, talks secretly to her unborn child. A monologue from e-baby.
  2. THE RIGHT TIME – JUNE, 60, finally tells the truth to her donor-conceived daughter. A monologue from d-baby.
  3. THE LAST MINUTE – MARY, 40s, tells her husband why she won’t be hanging around for Christmas this year
  4. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH – SUE, 60, tells a depressed neighbour why growing old is not so bad after all.
  5. SOMETHING DIFFERENT – LINDA, 40s, pays a life-changing visit to the hairdresser.
  6. THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT (from UKED!) – KARLA, 50, buys herself a special present after being dumped on her 50th birthday.
  7. FLOWERS – SOPHIE, 50s, tells the police officer why she was picking flowers from a public garden.
  8. MAKE HIM SUFFER – ANGELINA, 40, pleads with the authorities to release her husband from a WW2 Internment camp for enemy aliens in Victoria, Australia.
  9. ADVICE TO YOUNG LOVERS ON VALENTINE’S DAY – OLIVE, 50s-60s, a flower shop owner gives advice to a customer on Valentine’s Day.

The monologues are available for free on the condition that you let me know you are using them, and in what context.

I’d also love some feedback, and any suggestions for other monologue topics featuring women over 40. Comment here, or email me at jane.cafarella@gmail.com.

Google yourself and discover awards

My play d-baby a winner – in 2019

You’ve got to be in it to win it – but you’ve also got to check to see if you did.

I did a Google check recently and was surprised to find I was a finalist in the Hidden River Playwriting Award – in 2019.

 I’d entered my play d-baby, which is about a donor-conceived teenager searching for her true identity. When I didn’t hear back, I assumed it hadn’t made the cut.

But last week, during a routine Google check on my name, I was astonished to find that I was a finalist. (As a former journalist I find it useful to occasionally check where my work has ended up, so it wasn’t complete vanity that sent me searching.)

There were 63 semi-finalists in the competition, whittled down to 27 finalists, so I was in good company.

Belated congratulations to the winner, Jason Forbach of New York, for his winning entry Heathen Hill, a futuristic play where six men in an internment camp for homosexuals turn to creativity, art and truth to help them survive.”

Forbach is a Broadway actor and Heathen Hill was his first play. It had an industry-only rehearsed reading in New York in September 2019 directed by Kevin Newbury and starring Dan Amboyer.

And belated thanks and much gratitude to Hidden River Arts, an independent Philadelphia-based literary, visual and performing arts organisation “dedicated to the service, support and celebration of all artists”.

This is the third gong for d-baby, which was a finalist in the 2018 New York-based international playwriting competition New Works of Merit, and a semi-finalist in the Gary Marshall Theatre’s 2018 New Works Festival in Burbank, California.

Great roles for older women – available for producers now

d-baby is the story of Dee, 17, a donor-conceived teenager searching for her true identity in the wild west of the commercial gamete-trading industry in the United States, and is available to producers now.

It’s a four-hander, with exciting roles for two teenagers (1F and 1M) and two women in their 60s. The story is fictional but it’s based on true events that happen every day in the world of donor conception.

The play draws parallels between Dee’s situation and the play she is studying at school, Ion, by Euripides, and the challenge posed by the Oracle of Delphi: know thyself.

Written as a companion play to e-baby, my play about surrogacy (but not a sequel), d-baby is about a group of people for whom the fundamental human question, “Who am I?” may be impossible to answer.

The play makes creative use of technology, including Skype, text and email in a truly modern story of our times.

d-baby has had rehearsed readings in Sydney, Singapore, Melbourne, Hobart, to critical acclaim.

Director and film maker Nadia Tass, who read early drafts (and who directed e-baby in Sydney in 2016), described it as “a story of our times” with “wonderfully rich characters”.

Writer and former Honorary Professor of Performing Arts at Monash University Peter Fitzpatrick, who attended the Melbourne reading in 2018, described the play as “engrossing, moving and thought-provoking”.

The play is particularly relevant now, when actors are calling for better roles for older women.

According to The Guardian on May 29, in an open letter signed by more than 100 actors, including UK actors Juliet Stevenson and Keeley Hawes, the Acting Your Age Campaign called for equal representation between men and women over 45. As AYAC pointed out, female actors have a “shelf life”, while male actors have a “whole life.”

So, if you’re an older female actor looking for a rich, complex and challenging role, or if you’re a producer interested in a four-hander play exploring a vital social issue of our times, please contact me at jane.cafarella@gmail.com

d-baby is published by Australian Plays Transforms. https://apt.org.au/product/d-baby-2/

Support and information for donor-conceived people, and for anyone else interested in this important issue, can be found at the Donor Sibling Registry, a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 by Wendy Kramer, and which has connected more than 22,000 donor-conceived people with their donors since its inception.

https://donorsiblingregistry.com/

https://www.newworksofmeritplaywritingcontest.com/2018.html

A woman’s place is in the House

As we celebrate the most representative and diverse Australian Parliament to date, it’s worth recalling the women who paved the way.

Of the 20 seats that changed hands in the 2022 Federal Election, a whopping 15 – or 75 per cent – were won by women. So far.  Three seats contested by women are still in doubt.

Women now comprise 37 per cent of the House of Representatives (57 out of 151), compared to 31 per cent in the previous House and across both houses 41 per cent of the total 227 seats.

Joan Kirner, Victoria’s first female premier, would have been delighted.

Joan Kirner died in 2015,  but it’s worth looking back on the history she and her state and federal female colleagues made as trail blazers for a more representative parliament to fully appreciate this new and remarkable achievement.

Interview with Joan Kirner, The Age, May 17 1991, Accent, The Age. Cartoon by CAF (Jane Cafarella)

Change from within

It was Joan Kirner’s firm belief that women must tackle “change from within”, as she told the League of Women Voters way back in 1991.

The League (which still exists), was celebrating the 67th anniversary of the Act that enabled women to stand for parliament, as reported in Accent, the section of The Age which focused on issues affecting women in all spheres of life, (but which no longer exists).

“Women must tackle the broader issues that have traditionally remained in the male domain, such as micro-economic reform, investment, jobs, development, the environment and planning if they are to influence the future,” Mrs Kirner said. “And they must do so within mainstream institutions, such as the parliament.”

Women are not a homogeneous group, any more than men are, but as Kirner noted at the time, “Being in parliament and in government has given women the opportunity to directly influence and formulate policy, so that instead of fighting for our agenda from outside the mainstream, we have been able to fight from within.”

Easier said than done, as she well knew. Standing for election was one thing.  Getting elected and maintaining your seat was another.

In 1991, when Kirner was giving this speech, the number of women in the House was 6.9 per cent – roughly the same as the percentage increase in numbers today – despite almost a century of women’s suffrage.

Drought

Up until then, only 16 women had ever been elected to the Australian House of Representatives, and between their terms there were big droughts where there were no women at all in the House.

Until 1978, for example, only four women had ever graced its chambers: Dame Enid Lyons in 1943-1951 (retired), Doris Blackburn, 1946-1949 (defeated), Kay Brownbill (1966-1969 – defeated), Joan Child 1974-1975 (defeated, although she stood successfully in 1980 and became the House Speaker, holding the seat of Henty until her retirement a decade later).  

There were no women in the House from 1951 until 1966, when Kay Brownbill was elected. She was defeated in 1969, when there was another woman drought until Joan Child was elected the only female MP in 1974.

Ten more women were elected in the 80s. But it was the 90s when women began to really make their presence felt.

Labor’s push for change

For Labor women, it was Emily’s List, which supported progressive Labor female candidates, that made the difference.

Emily’s List, which stands for “Early Money is Like Yeast – it makes dough rise”  was established in the USA in 1985 to fund campaigns for pro-choice Democratic women.

Labor community and women’s campaigner Leonie Morgan advocated strongly for a similar organisation to support progressive Australian female candidates.

Joan Kirner became a founding member, along with Kay Setches, (Victorian Labor MLA from 1982 to 1992), and Candy Broad (then head of the Premier’s Office under Joan Kirner, and who later became a Victorian Labor MLC, serving from 1996-2014).

Kirner and Helen Creed, a former social worker and prominent union leader, became co-convenors of the National Committee when Emily’s List Australia was officially launched at Parliament House in Canberra in 1996.

Along with other Labor women, such as Carmen Lawrence and Julia Gillard, Joan Kirner also pushed to enshrine affirmative action in the ALP, and in 1994 the party passed its first rule requiring women to be preselected in 35 per cent of winnable seats in all elections by 2002.

In that historic address to the League of Women Voters back in1991, Kirner cited affirmative action, along with anti-discrimination legislation, better women’s health services, reforms to counter family violence, improved job access, education for women and girls and child care as some of the concrete results of such representation.

Defending their right to the job

But these results came at a personal cost for many female MPs – and notoriously for many female MPs today.

Not only did these early parliamentary pioneers have to defend the interests of their electorates, they often had to defend the legitimacy of their candidacy, and, if elected, their right to the job.

When she was elected Victoria’s first female premier in 1990 to 1992 and the first female premier in Australia, Joan Kirner suffered ridicule, especially at the hands of political cartoonists. Her fashion sense rather than her politics became the chief topic, and her wedding photos were even published – along with her weight at the time.

Her husband Ron, reportedly became so fed up with some of the things that were written about her that he cancelled his subscription to a popular tabloid. Kirner once famously wept with frustration in Cabinet, which, remarkably, was reported without ridicule.

A Peter Nicholson cartoon that was typical in its portrayal of Joan Kirner when she was Premier of Victoria from 1990-1992. Kirner later reflected that she made the mistake of taking to heart the daily cartoons of herself as “a harassed housewife in a polka-dot dress”.

When Senator Janine Haines, another trailblazer, entered Parliament at age 32 in 1978, she faced a barrage of questions about how her young family would cope for the weeks she was in Canberra.

 “Was I going to employ a housekeeper? I said I wasn’t. All three members of my family were able-bodied enough to cope with these housewifely responsibilities”, she said in an interview in Accent in 1992.

Her first day on the job should have been a warning: “The day I walked into the Senate Chamber of the Old Parliament House for the first time in 1978, I was struck with the maleness of the place,” she said.

 “Of the 64 Senators only seven were women. When the 124 all-male members of the House of Representatives joined us for the official opening of Parliament, the place was awash with testosterone.”

Making history

Janine Haines went on to make history as the first Australian woman to lead a political party  when she was elected Leader of the Australian Democrats in 1996, but throughout her career she faced constant attack about the legitimacy of the issues she was raising.

 “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said in another interview in The Age. “If I raise questions of pornography, child abuse, incest, domestic violence, they say I’m obsessed with sex. If I raise equality of opportunity, difficulties women face, they say I’m a man-hating feminist. If I’m flippant about myself, it’s lack of confidence; if I’m flippant about them, I’m a sarcastic bitch. If I make strong statements, I’m aggressive; if not, I’m weak. If I’m angry, I’m ‘emotional’. ”

In 1990 Haines resigned from the Senate and stood for the seat of Kingston, but failed to win.

By 1992, she was done with politics and wrote a book about her experience –  Suffrage to Sufferance, 100 Years of Women in Politics (Allen and Unwin), which also documented the history of female suffrage in English-speaking colonial countries and the US. She said she wrote the book to illustrate how recent the struggle for the vote had been, and to remind women they still had a lot to do to be heard.

Haines died in 2004, with history recording her as“feisty”, a label that few men who rigorously defend the issues that are important to their electorates are given.

Three years later, in 1995, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, became the youngest woman ever to be elected in Parliament – a record now held by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who entered Parliament in 2007 at just 25.

At the time of Senator Stott Despoja’s election, women comprised just 15.5 per cent of the House of Reps.

A new era 

In words that feel poignant today, in her maiden speech, Senator Stott-Despoja said, “I look forward to the day when I look across this chamber from my seat and see such a diversity of faces –young people, old people, different ages, men and women, and the many cultures that make up our nation, including indigenous cultures – that we no longer have to strive for it. When that time comes, I think we will accept that neither youth nor age, any more than being male or female, black or white, is a virtue in itself, except that it deserves to be represented in a system that claims to be representative.”

Senator Stott Despoja, who served from 1996-2006, became leader of the Australian Democrats, the party’s s longest serving Senator and an outspoken advocate for better representation of women in parliament.

Later, in another interview, she said,  “I do not believe that more women in parliament would make the parliament a nicer place, but it might lead to a change in the male-dominant style of politics that Janine Haines used to call the ‘stag fights’ of the parliament.”

By 2010, Australia had it’s first female Prime Minister – Julia Gillard – but parliament definitely wasn’t a nicer place.

Who can forget Gillard’s impassioned speech in 2012, where she called out Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for his insults in parliament and for standing next to a sign penned by protestors that said “Ditch the witch”, and another which described her as “a man’s bitch”. In the speech, which made headlines around the world, Gillard quoted an interview with Mr Abbott where the interviewer questioned the under representation of women in parliament, to which Mr Abbott had replied, “…is that a bad thing?”

“I will not be lectured at about sexism and misogyny by this man,” Julia Gillard declared.

By the 2019 Federal election, women comprised 29.8 per cent of the House of Representatives,  and not only wasn’t it nicer, it was an unsafe workplace, as the experiences of Brittany Higgins, Rachelle Miller and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young shockingly illustrated.

A new era

The  Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, completed last November, found that one third of employees in Australia’s Federal Parliament had been sexually harassed, a fact that made headlines worldwide – to Australia’s shame.

Among the review’s many recommendations was a 10-year strategy of targets to achieve gender balance among MPs and to promote diversity.

In its summary, it concluded that “Strong leadership will be critical to its success”.

Already,  Prime Minister Anthony Albanese  appears to have taken note – calling out one of his own leading women, Tania Plibersek, this week for her “mistake“ in likening the new Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton to the Harry Potter villain Voldemort. 

Plibersek has since “unreservedly apologised” but the chastisement illustrates the new Prime Minister’s determination to hold everyone accountable.

As history has shown, the 57 women who comprise the current 47th House of Representatives will need courage and solidarity.  To a large degree, their success has been due to the tenacity of the women who preceded them, as well to the groundswell of community support for cultural change that pushed them to victory.

The women who paved the way – many more than have been mentioned here –  didn’t have such support. Nor did they have the backing of a human rights review, or a Prime Minister’s promise to lead with integrity – all of which have given new hope to both MPs and electors.

Back then, life in the Australian Parliament was the wild west and women were armed with nothing but their courage and their wits.

Jane Cafarella is a journalist and playwright and a former reporter, editor and cartoonist for the Accent pages of The Age, which for 30 years gave women from all spheres of life a voice and advocated for their right to equality.

The value of testing your writing on readers

Advice from author Anna Ciddor at the 2022 Bendigo Writers’ Festival

At the Bendigo Writers’ Festival recently, author and illustrator Anna Ciddor admitted she’d “lost count” of the number of drafts she had written for her latest book, a children’s novel called The Boy Who Stepped Through Time (Allen and Unwin Children’s).

But she did know roughly how many drafts she did for the illustrations – “around 42”. 

Ciddor, a warm and engaging speaker and award-winning author, generously shared an early draft of the opening pages of the novel to prove her point – that tenacity and the willingness to listen to your audience about what’s working and what’s not, are the keys to good story telling.

Initially, she had opened the story with her young protagonist as a slave in Ancient Rome, but this hadn’t resonated with young readers at the schools she’d visited.

It took a teacher to point out that the world and its language were too foreign. And it took a student’s comment that it felt like a “time changing” book to understand what was missing. 

In the next draft, Ciddor created a new protagonist who mirrored her audience – an 11-year-old boy called Perry, aka Peregrinus, trying to comprehend this strange world as an accidental time-traveller. Her original protagonist became Carotus, the young Roman slave boy who befriends him.

The result is a story that shines a light on life in Roman times, with a torch held by the protagonist.

It’s well known that the best writing comes from rewriting, but rewriting is more than just improving word choice and sentence structure – it’s persevering until you  find the best way to tell that particular story.

Anna Ciddor is an Australian author and illustrator and the recipient of the 2021 Nance Donkin Literary Award. Three of her novels were selected as Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and several have been translated into other languages. Her sister Tamara Lewit, (School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne), an archeologist specialising in the Roman Empire, was her researcher for The Boy Who Stepped Through Time.

Many more great writing tips can be found on Anna Ciddor’s website:

Our hero, Peregrinus (Perry), with slave boy Carotus and the master’s daughter Valentia, illustrated by the author. (Apologies for shadowing from reverse illustration in the book).

On setting boundaries as a female writer

Advice from author Elizabeth Gilbert at the 2022 Bendigo Writers’ Festival

Are you a female writer who struggles to find time to write?

At the Bendigo Writers’ Festival this week, Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert (interviewed from New York via zoom by Claire Flanagan-Smith)  spoke of her own struggle to break free of expectation in order to live a life that protects her health and creativity.  

The discussion was prompted by an audience question about whether women can “say ‘no’ too much”.

The answer, of course, was no. Women need to say no more often and set limits in order to protect their creative time.

“I have to be honest about my limitations ,” she said.

Her approach is to tell people, “I understand why you want that from me, but I can’t give you that right now.

 “I cannot prioritise what everyone wants me to prioritise and still hear the voice that only I can hear.”

It makes sense – to anyone without children or other dependents. As all mothers know, raising children is a creative project in itself. Personal creativity has to be fitted around that – or after.  

Gilbert has been frank about her own decision not to have children. In a 2014 interview with Oprah, she famously identified three types of women: “There are those born to be mothers; those born to be aunties, and there are women who shouldn’t be allowed within 10 feet of a child. And it’s very important you figure out which of those camps you belong in, because tragedy and sorrow results from ending up in the wrong category,” she warned.  (Gilbert belongs to the “auntie camp”, as does Oprah.)

My own view is that setting limits is difficult for most women, not because they aren’t assertive enough, but because they understand that behind the decision NOT to take responsibility for something or someone is the assumption that someone else WILL.

Setting personal limits means having the courage to accept the consequences if others don’t step up. Sadly, that cannot always be guaranteed.

Gilbert acknowledged that she spoke from a position of privilege: she has a room of her own, success, income and the solitude to allow the mystical collaborators, as she calls her muses, to visit whenever they choose.

But “privilege” these days is a loaded word that comes with the assumption of luck and the whiff of the undeserved.

As any writer knows, even when you are able to set limits, success still requires 10 per cent talent, 90 per cent hard work, and the courage to try – and fail.

Here’s some more great writing advice from Elizabeth Gilbert, as told to the eager audience at the Bendigo Writers’ Festival on Saturday 14 May 2022:

Find your sacred writing time

“Find what time of the day your brain works best. Mine is between 6am and 10am.

Find your sacred writing time and defend it with your life.”

Clarity is vital

 “I don’t want the writing to interfere with the work. When you open the book and read the first sentence. I want you to relax.”

Gilbert says that with Dickens, for example, the feeling is that the reader is in good hands and that they are going on a wonderful adventure together.

Know when to let the story take over

“My weakness, and the most difficult part, is figuring out what the book is about.”

For Gilbert, setting and time come first, followed by the who – or character.

She usually makes a detailed outline. Sometimes she uses notecards – and she can spend years on research.

But even a plotter can get to the point when the story has to take over.

“There are parts of the book you can’t know till you get there.”

Don’t worry about writer’s block

“The way it feels to me, is that creativity has sentience. They are living forms that circle the world looking for human collaborators to bring them into being. But that’s just the start. You have to show up and commit.”

But what happens when the mystical collaborators don’t show up?

Relax.

“In due time, you’ll be notified.”

Roe vs Wade: the battle to control women’s desire

Elizabeth Gilbert’s most recent book is At Home on the Range (2022), a cook book first published by her feisty great-grandmother Margaret Yardley Potter in 1947, and revived and celebrated by Gilbert.

But it was her 2019 book City of Girls, pictured below, that she spoke about at the festival. City of Girls is a novel “celebrating female desire – not just for sex but for life ” – championing the lives of a group of women in New York in the 1940s who, in the absence of the men who had been called to war, suddenly and briefly found themselves with jobs, income and personal autonomy.

The recent threat to Roe Vs. Wade in the USA was “a battle for control over women’s desire”, Gilbert said.


For more about Elizabeth Gilbert: