Monahon ’13 discusses her acting career

by Katherine Schreiber | 10/11/15 6:11pm

During her time at the College, actress Talene Monahon ’13 was involved in a number of theater productions, including “Angels in America” in 2012 and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in 2010. During her senior fellowship, she wrote, produced and acted in “All in Good Fun,” a one-woman play about the social scene at Dartmouth.

Since graduating, Monahon has been cast in a number of productions in New York City and Boston. Most recently she played Mae in “The Wild Party,” an Encores! Off-Center series production in New York, replacing “Orange is the New Black” actress Kimiko Glenn.She is about to start working on her new project, an adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces,” in which she plays an aspiring stripper with a pet cockatoo.

When did you first become involved in theater?

TM: I started acting when I was a kid. I did some plays at my church in Belmont, [Massachusetts]. After that I started doing community theater around Boston. I was not a very successful child actor, which was probably a good thing. My high school theater director, Mark Lindberg, was hugely influential to my starting to work as an actor and the way that I approached acting. My senior year he entered me for a national Shakespeare competition that I ended up winning, and they paid for me to go to Oxford [University] and study Shakespeare. That was the first time I realized that acting might be a viable career choice — I hadn’t seriously entertained the idea before.

What was your experience with theater and the arts at Dartmouth like?

TM: I went to Dartmouth very much wanting a liberal arts education, but also knowing that I wanted to pursue theater. Most of the decisions that I made at Dartmouth were made knowing that I wanted to pursue theater and go to New York after graduation.

At Dartmouth I was in as many productions as the theater department would let me be in. I think I was in six or seven productions. My freshman year I was cast as Janet in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which was a wild role. My favorite role was playing Harper in “Angels in America” my junior fall. My senior year I did a senior fellowship, so I didn’t actually take any classes. I worked on a project called “All in Good Fun,” which was a one-woman show about the social scene at Dartmouth.

I’m so thankful to Dartmouth for being so supportive and helpful, and giving me the time and resources and mentorship to develop my own sensibility as an actor. Beyond just my own acting skill, I developed a taste for the kind of things I like to do and the way I approach my work.

What was the transition between college and professional acting like?

TM: After I graduated from Dartmouth, I moved to New York [City]. It was hard at first. New York was scary, at least for me. But then I got an agent and was cast in this small off-Broadway musical. It helped me jump right into the theater community, and I got to meet a lot of people. The cast was really wonderful about helping me start my career in New York. And then there was a lot of waiting time, and a lot of babysitting and figuring it out.

What projects have you been working on recently?

TM: About a year ago I got cast in this musical called “Here’s Hoover!” which was directed by Alex Timbers, who is this prolific New York director. It was this crazy, wonderful, eccentric musical about Herbert Hoover. Right after that, [Timbers] cast me in this off-Broadway play called “Permission,” which was a really exciting production written by Robert Askins. It was a five-person play — a really dark, existentialist comedy. I haven’t had formal training as an actor, but working with Alex Timbers for six months, doing two back-to-back shows, was kind of my post-grad theatrical education. He’s just a brilliant mind and a kind and insightful director. I loved those projects so much. It was fun to go to work every day as an actor and to work with really talented people.

This summer, I did a short revival production of the musical “The Wild Party” with Encores! Off-Center at New York City Center Theater. I was initially cast in the ensemble, but was bumped up to one of the lead roles after someone had to leave because of their television schedule. That was also thrilling, because I got to work with Sutton Foster, who’s been a musical theater idol of mine for about 12 years.

What excites you most about the projects you’ve been working on?

TM: What’s been really thrilling is that “Here’s Hoover!” and “Permission” were new works. I got to originate roles, and I was working with the writers as they were rewriting the material. To develop a character without any precedent of someone else playing the character has just been the most thrilling part of my career so far.

When I was younger, I thought I would do all these great classic roles, but now I think doing new work is the most exciting thing that I could imagine, especially with writers like [Askins] and directors like [Timbers], who just have such specific voices — it’s just been such an honor to work with them.

Will you be starting any new projects soon?

TM: On Tuesday I start my next rehearsals for my project, which is a play version of the book “A Confederacy of Dunces,” at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. It’s starring Nick Offerman from “Parks and Recreation” (2009). I think the adaption is really good — the book is just an iconic, cult classic, and it’s the first time it’s really being theatricalized. I play an aspiring stripper with a pet cockatoo. I’m really excited to start working.

Do you have any idea what the future holds for your acting career?

TM: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much agency I really have and how much control I really have over what projects I do. I’m not at a point where people are offering me roles — I audition for everything I do. The dream for me is never doing the same thing twice, which is hard because once you do one thing well, people keep wanting you to do different variations on that one thing over and over again.

But I’ve been so, so lucky. In the past year, everything I’ve done has been something that I’m passionate about and that I’ve believed in. I’ve just had the luckiest, most wonderful year.

This interview has been edited and condensed.