Tennessee Williams may be among the most accomplished and regarded American playwrights, but he seems destined to be remembered, first and foremost, by one scene in "A Streetcar Named Desire" -- actually just one line. More to it, just one word, delivered by a tank-top-clad factory worker shouting up toward a balcony in the rain:
That's why every year at New Orleans' annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, at the end of four days of mint-julep-infused academic discussion, plays and galas, the festival ends on the street in Jackson Square in the traditional Stella shouting contest.
The participants gathered in the street beneath president of the festival Janet Daley Duvall, dressed in a blue nightgown and slippers in her role as Stella. A constant supply of whiskey sours ensured appropriate participation. The rules were simple: three Stellas per shouter, gimmicks encouraged, and hell, throw in that fourth Stella if you really feel like it. Shouters could also yell up at an actor playing Stanley if they were so inclined.
There were 25 contestants in total, some cracking high in a desperate vibrato and others letting out long, pitiful moans. One mime looked like he let out a truly desperate cry, but, of course, nobody could hear it. A couple of shouters even used the more lackadaisical "Hey, Stella!" of Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan's 1951 film.
The contestants pulled out all the stops to get noticed -- full monologues, gold bodypaint, top hats, the creative use of small children. When it came down to the finals, a muscular LSU student ripped his shirt off, but he seemed a bit too pleased with himself to maintain the proper desperation.
Despite the gimmicks, however, Elena Passarello, a professor of writing at Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, Mich., won with a pure shout -- a loud, desperate, chest-shaking, voice-cracking shout. Down on bended knees, wearing a gray tank top and jeans like a female Brando, she put the rest of the participants to shame with a matrix of emotional content and truly impressive volume.
In the festival's 25 years, Passarello was the first female winner, taking home a trophy, a gift bag, bowling passes and a dinner cruise for two.
She wasn't actually planning on participating, but as she told AOL News:
"I don't really have the cause to scream in public anymore."
For future contestants, Tennessee Williams, in the personage of impersonator Jeremy Lawrence, offered some ambiguous advice:
"It's hard to end when you're on your knees."
Pause. Head cock. Smirk.
"But it can be sweet."
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