Ruth Draper with her costumes.

When I first came across Ruth Draper, it said that she was a monologist. What’s THAT? I wondered, so I read more to find out.

A monologist is an actor or actress who performs monologues, which means only one person is on stage and speaking. In Hamlet, the famous “to be or not to be” speech is a monologue.

Ruth Draper was born on December 2, 1884. She started out performing at parties at her house and her friend’s houses, which was something that was normal for the time for wealthy children like her.

What wasn’t normal in her social class was being a professional actress and her mother did not approve of that idea. Ruth held off on being a professional until after her mother died.

She also invented something that’s common today, “the one woman show” (or one man show) where one person plays multiple characters, sometimes with a minor costume change to show that they’re changing to a different character, sometimes not.

The website RuthDraper.com writes:

“An evening with Ruth Draper would have exhausted a less vigorous actress, consisting as it did of five or six unique sketches, many running a half-hour long, chosen from her professional repertoire of nearly forty monologues. She had in her head at all times the equivalent of about four full-length plays.”

She talked about acting as an immersive task:

“Discussing her creative process late in her career, she acknowledged that her ability to depict imagined worlds was the same one she’d possessed as a young girl. ‘I think that what I do is something that, as a child, I never lost,” she told Studs Terkel in 1955. “Which is the child’s capacity to throw themselves completely into what they pretend to be … [and] if you’re completely given over to what you’re trying to portray, you will convince the other people too.’ “

The quote above is also from RuthDraper.com.

While those of us outside the theater world may not have heard of her, famous actresses you might have heard of (or at least your parents have) truly admired her. Lily Tomlin said, “When I first discovered Ruth Draper’s recordings, suddenly I had a standard, I felt I had something to aspire to.”

Actress Uta Hagen said, “I was in awe of Ruth Draper. Each of her characters was like a Rembrandt on stage – a total human being, a total portrait.”

Ruth died in 1956 after an almost 40 year career acting, including performing for royalty throughout Europe. Though she was wildly popular in her time, it seems that most people don’t know that she invented the modern monologue. But now you know!

Here’s a long article about her for parents and teens who want to learn more:

Where did I hear about Ruth Draper? I have this cool poster that lists the birthdays of American women of achievement. Here’s where you can buy one: https://shop.nwhp.org/celebrate-women-poster-p4545.aspx/em>

Photo credit: Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Ruth Draper” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-c8aa-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99