Posted by: Idioma Extra | March 29, 2011

The Weird and the Wonderful

Shouters Sound Off (and Honor Tennessee Williams) at New Orleans Stell-Off


NEW ORLEANS — In New Orleans, screaming in public can win you fabulous prizes.

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.

A lot of people put their hands out in front of them like they were holding a platter, she said — but she was able to free up her voice by putting her arms back and pushing her chest out. She is writing a book on the human voice in performance.

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.

Word of the Day

\ˈmīm also ˈmēm\
Origin: Latin mimus, from Greek mimos
First Known Use: 1616
1: an ancient dramatic entertainment representing scenes from life usually in a ridiculous manner
2a: an actor in a mime; b: one that practices mime
3: mimic
4: pantomime

More Vocabulary

Clad: adj. being covered or clothed
Gimmick: n.
an ingenious and usually new scheme or angle
Incline: v.
to lean, tend, or become drawn toward an opinion or course of conduct
Lackadaisical: adj. lacking life, spirit, or zest : languid
Matrix: n.
something within or from which something else originates, develops, or takes form
Mint-julep: n.
a drink consisting of a liquor (as bourbon or brandy) and sugar poured over crushed ice and garnished with mint
Playwright: n.
a person who writes plays : dramatist
Vibrato: n.
a slightly tremulous effect imparted to vocal or instrumental tone for added warmth and expressiveness by slight and rapid variations in pitch

Love those Phrasal Verbs

Come down: to take place; happen.

  • Sally is so nervous. When it comes down to it, will she be ready for the presentation?

Free up: to release, as from restrictions

  • Congress voted to free up funds for the new highway system.

Throw in: to bring into (a discussion, plan, etc.) as an addition; interject

  • The president threw in an amusing anecdote to relieve the tension.

Idioms & Phrases

Pull out all the stops: to use every means available

  • Edgar, when you give your presentation, don´t hold back, pull out all the stops and dazzle them!

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