Sunday voices: A scribbling woman’s limbo

The expression, “15 minutes of fame,” is credited to Andy Warhol, who included the words, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” in the catalogue of his first international retrospective exhibition at the Moderna Museet gallery in Stockholm (1968).

Since the early 1990s (since “The Real World” debuted, and then later with the global success of “Survivor” and “Big Brother”), we’ve seen this phrase explode: “reality TV” plagues most major networks, which means hundreds of normal, everyday people are getting their 15 minutes.

But fame does not mean good entertainment, let alone good art.

There are still excellent TV shows out there (“Breaking Bad” and House of Cards being my top two). But in general, smart, poignant storylines are being replaced with dumb, cheap productions; networks don’t have to pay writers and actors when Joe and Jane Schmoe are willing to tell their “real” story.

It is my goal to one day break into television writing so that I might create better shows.

Earlier this month I had a reading of my play for a well-known off-Broadway theater company. I chose the cast by holding auditions at Actor’s Equity in Times Square.

The way it worked was: I put out a notification explaining what the play is about and the kind of characters I’m looking for. Those interested came with a headshot and biography, and performed a two-minute monologue in a small studio.

From 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., one after the other, I watched more than 250 actors audition.

It was surprisingly difficult to stay focused for every single monologue. But it was also exhilarating to watch people bear their hearts and souls.

A monologue I heard several times was from the play “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by Sarah Ruhl:

“I never had a cell phone. I didn’t want to always be there, you know. … But when Gordon’s phone rang and rang, after he died, I thought his phone was beautiful, like it was the only thing keeping him alive, like as long as people called him he would be alive. That sounds – a little – I know – but all those molecules, in the air, trying to talk to Gordon – and Gordon – he’s in the air too – so maybe they all would meet up there, whizzing around – those bits of air – and voices.”

I thought about this monologue when the day was over. I sat in the audition room by myself, and even though the studio was empty and silent, it wasn’t an empty silence. The room was still buzzing and whizzing; all those actors – good, bad, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, young, old – were still in there with me.

It came to me then, the importance of listening to artists’ words. This is why I exist, I thought. To be part of this human monologue, to collaborate, to create, to listen and support, even if I don’t understand or like what I’m listening to, I will support it nonetheless because that’s what artists do for each other.

I received several thank you notes in the weeks following the audition, even after the reading had been cast. Several people wrote that they had, “appreciated the opportunity,” and thanked me for “my time.”

Everyone might get their 15 minutes of fame sooner or later, but maybe it just takes two to make a world of difference.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

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