Ready, set, “STELLAAAAA!!!”
If you’re in New Orleans this weekend, you’re invited to an elite sporting event that features competitors yelling at the top of their lungs, grabbing their heads in agony, writhing to the ground dramatically and ripping their T-shirts off in fits of passion.
Welcome to the Stanley & Stella Shouting Contest – also known as “the Stell-off” – the finale of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and a quirky tribute to the playwright’s masterpiece, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
This is where you get to channel Marlon Brando’s raw, explosive performance as Stanley Kowalski in the classic 1951 film adaptation of the play. Competitors try to recreate Stanley’s primal call to his wife Stella -- a movie moment so famous it’s been parodied everywhere from “Modern Family” to “Seinfeld.”
“Some people just go crazy,” said Peggy Scott Laborde, one of the founding members of the festival, who came up with the idea of the contest as a way to attract more attention to the literary event.
“You would be so surprised as to how many variations there are of ‘Stella’… it really always makes me smile.”
The first Stella Shouting Contest took place in 1997, with Laborde and other organizers forced to act like “carnival barkers” to get reluctant people to take part.
These days, little encouragement is necessary. Men and women sign up – yelling either “Stella” or “Stanley” -- with a crowd of hundreds packing Jackson Square in the French Quarter to watch the spectacle. The event takes place at the historic Pontalba Apartments, with actors dressed like Stella (complete with a slip) and Stanley (sporting an undershirt) standing on a second-floor balcony to help the contestants get into the spirit of the play.
The competitors are mostly men, Laborde said, but the contest saw its first female winner in 2011. A woman also won last year, after entering on a lark.
“I happened to be in the Quarter that day and when they were setting up, we walked by and my friend said, ‘You’re real loud, you should be in that.’ And I said, ‘Well, if I have enough to drink, I will enter the contest.’ And I did,” said Nicole Martin, the 2012 champion.
The New Orleans paralegal, who described herself as “something of a literary nerd,” won by yelling “Stanley” at the top of her lungs and finishing her performance by pulling a handkerchief out of her bra and wiping her face with it for dramatic effect. Her approach to the scene was simple, she said.
“I kind of channeled every ex-boyfriend that I could have ever thought of in my head,” Martin, 31,said.
“I guess I put on a good show that day and I was very, very loud.”
A panel of judges decides the winner. Celebrities have signed up for the job in the past, including Alec Baldwin, who played Stanley on Broadway, and Kim Hunter, who starred as Stella opposite Brando in the movie.
The most outrageous, unique, and convincing rendition wins. Champions get a trophy and prizes that range from Stella Artois beer to bowling alley passes, a nod to Stanley Kowalski's penchant for bowling.
This year’s competition is set to take place on Sunday. If you want to take part, Martin recommended imbibing “a lot of liquid courage” to prepare and remembering every ex-boyfriend or girlfriend you’ve ever had to get you in the proper mood.
Then brace yourself for a massively sore throat. Martin couldn’t talk after the contest, which became a problem when reporters approached her for an interview the next day.
“I had to whisper through the whole thing,” she said.