Teens perform original monologues as Stein, Einstein, Child and more

If you live or work in downtown DC, you have got to take this interactive tour at the National Portrait Gallery: 2014 Portraits Alive!

Seven area teens guide you through the halls of the gallery, each taking on the persona of a famous American. In one hour, you hear personal stories, perspective, and encouragement from:

  • Hellen Keller, author and activist
  • Billie Holiday, jazz singer
  • Julia Child, chef and teacher
  • Joe Louis, professional boxer
  • Maria Callas, opera singer
  • Gertrude Stein, author
  • Albert Einstein, physicist

Each monologue is lovingly performed and written by its performer. The performances are the culmination of their multi-week program where each student selected a portrait from the gallery, researched at the Martin Luther King, Jr Library, and composed and rehearsed their piece. The director of the program encouraged each student to move past a “list of bullet points” to create a flowing narrative from the character’s perspective.

As the group walks from portrait to portrait, the characters engage in discussion with each other and the tour group in a mix of planned dialogue and improv. Whenever a move includes a floor change, two characters announce, “Follow me to the elevator!” while the rest of the group takes the stairs.

I asked several of the students how they picked their character. The answers ranged from “I knew I could dress up as her” to “I was inspired by the way he learned through movement.” (As for the former answer—don’t worry; her performance was wonderful.)

There are five more performances left, including one today:

  • Today, Weds Aug 6 at 2pm
  • Tomorrow, Thursday Aug 7 at noon and 2pm
  • Friday, Aug 8 at noon and 2pm

Meet the group in the atrium at the National Portrait Gallery. You won’t miss ’em—most of the other folks there aren’t dressed in ball gowns and white wigs.

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About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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