The New Orleans Tennessee Williams Festival Always Ends with Stella vs. Stanley

6 years ago

When I think of the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, I don't think of comedy. How about you?

The people who produce the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans each year also would never call A Streetcar Named Desire funny, but they do know how to have a good time and show the renowned playwright some love. And so, when the festival ends this year on March 28, it will culminate with an outrageous tradition, the Stella Shouting Contest. Actually, it's the "Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest," but the Stanleys steal the show. The attention on Stanley may be more about love for Marlon Brando's portrayal of him than any commentary on Stella.

Visiting Twitter a few days ago, I talked to LipRap of Lip Rap's Lament about the contest. She said:

Saw it when my husband tried competing in it. All the Method acting stops need to be pulled out to make the finals. ... You gotta see it at least once in your life. It's a hoot. (She shares more at her blog)

If you take her advice, we'd love to see you in New Orleans for all festival events March 24-28 or as a face in the crowd gawking this tradition. If you can't make it, however, at least you can watch this video from A City of Friends with clips from a past contest.

You may notice contestants trying to channel Brando screaming "Stella!" However, one of the former contestants declares to win you must go deeper than that; you must go primal.

The festival's producers have a few rules:

Each entrant competes by calling "Stella!" (or "Stanley!") three times. Loudness counts, but contestants should also portray Stanley’s angst and emotion.

Here's the Stella shouting scene from the 1951 movie.

That production stars Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski, and Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois. Miss DuBois also has one of the more memorable lines from the play: "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Imagine that with a southern belle drawl.

I suspect every actor who's appeared in the play live or in video productions of the drama since 1951 is trying to live up to and surpass the performances of the actors in the famous movie.

While the play involves serious topics such as alcoholism and abuse, clearly the Stella/Stanley shouting contest is about letting the good times roll with some New Orleans mischief, and it's also, per the festival's website, an "homage to the bellowing mates in Williams' masterpiece." However high that mischief, it ends a four-day literary explosion of more sobering topics. The festival offers masters classes for writers, thoughtful theater productions, a poetry slam, book discussions and great food, an attraction without which New Orleans festival would not succeed.

Williams is almost as popular in the blogosphere as he is at the festival. By popular I don't necessarily mean always well-loved. Coco at Mommyhood and Life on her post "I Once Fought A Dragon Over Words," tells a commenter, "Oh, poor Tennessee. He really was a tormented creature. But I still can’t stand his stuff most of the time."

Her post tells of a high-school experience with a teacher she did not like much and Tennessee Williams:

Then the time for our final paper came along. We were each assigned an author, playwright, or poet from one of our class modules as our subject. God help me, I can remember conversations I had with people 25 years ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember the point of this one paper, only that it was 1/3 of our grade and I got handed Tennessee Williams. Now, I am not a huge fan of plays in general and I hadn’t particularly raved over Mr. Williams’ works the first time around, but there was my name with his right next to it on the board. I was not about to flush 1/3 of my grade down the toilet because I personally thought A Streetcar Named Desire was very much like fruitcake – heavy, hard to digest and full of nuts. (Read more)

The Anti-Blogger seems to have a little more love for Williams than Coco does. Speaking of A Streetcar Named Desire, she writes:

Wow! What a story! Love, betrayal, lies, abuse, you name it, this story has it. ... Loads of family bonding. (More)

MovieNut at Life of a Cinephile says unequivocally that she likes Williams's work, and then shares her opinion on the play versus the movie. She is a genuine movie buff. I learned from her post that Jessica Tandy was originally supposed to play Blanche DuBois not Vivien Leigh.

And yes, there are more links.

Williams was born March 26, 1911 in Mississippi as Thomas Lanier Williams. Tennessee was his nickname. He died, per his bio at East Tennessee State University, February 23, 1983. Here we are more than fifty years after he wrote his most famous works such as A Street Car Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Glass Menagerie. The continued interest in his writing is a testament to his genius and how his work touched people. Add that note to the affection he had for New Orleans, and it's no wonder the Crescent City throws him a big birthday bash each year under the tag "festival."

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer CE & you can find her other stuff through Her 411.

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