Jun 4, 2015

The Art of Flying Solo

The Art of Flying Solo
   |   KERA Art & Seek  |  June 3, 2015


Bremner Duthie [credit Alexander Howe]

The ability to stand alone in a spotlight and hold an audience’s attention – that seems a basic requirement for any performer. But more than basic, it can make a performer memorable, vivid. The second Dallas Solo Fest opens this week with eight performers who have very different ways to try to keep us watching — and there’s no one else to blame if they don’t. KERA’s Jerome Weeks looks into the fine art of flying solo onstage.
  • The Dallas Solo Fest runs June 4-14th at the Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park.
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO INTERVIEW.... HERE

Think of solo performance artists, and you’re likely to think of Mike Daisey or the late Spalding Gray delivering their monologues seated at a table. Or perhaps a stand-up comic like Lily Tomlin with the one-woman show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the UniverseThese are what might be called “minimalist” minimum theater: The artists can play ‘themselves’ or they can portray multiple selves, but it’s one person, one format, one story. This is the theater of talk, albeit often funny talk, compelling talk, full-of-character talk.
Then there’s the opera-trained singer Bremner Duthie. He’s performing his show, ’33: A Kabarett, at this year’s Dallas Solo Fest. Duthie is more a maximalist performer: he sings, he dances, he clowns, he performs in drag.

“Solo performance comes in a lot of forms,” the New Orleans-based theater artist says. “There’s storytelling, there’s dance, there’s movement. There are solo operas. With every show, I just keep adding things. I’m like, ‘Maybe I could do that and I could also juggle.’”
That wide range of solo styles was one thing Brad McEntire wanted when he created the first Dallas Solo Fest last year. McEntire came up through improv and sketch comedy (the Fun Grip duo) and regular theater (Our Endeavors and Plano Rep). But in 2010, he developed his own macabre-comic solo show, Chop (it’s about amputation enthusiasts — “needless to say,” McEntire adds needlessly, “it’s a dark comedy”). And he began performing it on the fringe festival circuit – at places like WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Festival, where he originated Chop.

But there’s fewer than a dozen outlets in America dedicated solely to the solo artist: the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, for instance, or the Solo Collective in LA or the Women’s Solo Performance Festival in Pennsylvania.


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Brad McEntire at the Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge. Photo: Jerome Weeks

“So I decided,” McEntire says, “to just put together the kind of festival that I’d want to go to. And I had met a bunch of solo performers around the country and kind of tapped into that network. Because there’s a lot of us,” he adds with a laugh.

Actually, solo performance in different formats has obsessed  McEntire for years — long before Chop. He created the Dribble Funk Solo Improv in 2005 and developed the “Monologue Jam” (in which solo improvisers use audience suggestions to “jam” on a storyline). In addition to writing ‘regular’ plays, he hires out, creating “hand-crafted” monologues for people. He’s a tireless founder of things – like the Audacity Theatre Lab, which is officially presenting the solo fest.

What was different about Chop is that it gained a degree of popularity — McEntire’s still performing it at fringe festivals. So given all this mono-theatermania, it’s not surprising McEntire created the Dallas Solo Fest — and launched a website as well, one dedicated to the art form: TheSoloPerformer.com. He even wrote an e-book, Seven Considerations for the Solo Performer (although, he confesses, the book’s mostly a come-on to get people to sign up for his email newsletter).

Long before McEntire was setting up shop as a one-man solo-theater factory and before he created his carry-on, show-in-a-duffle-bag show, North Texas was the home of a godfather of solo theater: UTD professor Fred Curchack (who will play the title role of King Lear this fall for Shakespeare Dallas). Although Curchack has created many more ensemble pieces than solo works, he first gained international acclaim in the ’80s and ’90s for his magical, one-man, performance-art adaptations of William Shakespeare: Stuff as Dreams Are Made On (akaThe Tempest) and What Fools These Mortals Be (aka A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

Curchack’s cross-cultural, Jungian-mythological, self-referential mash-ups take the solo show about as far as it can go as a “world art,” a world-encompassing art form. This is theater with an almost Joycean density of wordplay and ritual — if James Joyce ever managed to work Balinese masks and dance moves into Finnegans Wake.

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UTD professor-performer Fred Curchack
Even in his most maximalist shows, however, Curchack will sometimes touchingly, sometimes self-indulgently, bring everything back to just himself, the poor forked creature onstage. Come for the magic, stay for the all-too-human — yet a human who can still, somehow, hold a spotlight.

Solo artists may have an ancient pedigree going back to preachers, medieval minstrels and shamans around the fire, but the current ones are more likely to draw on modern theories of ‘poor theater,’ vaudeville, stand-up comedy, post-structuralism or just their professional need for making-do and getting-paid.

McEntire certainly embodies that last, the all-American, self-reliant, DIY impulse. It can be found in his welter of websites, labs, formats and the solo fest itself. “I’m not averse to collaboration and doing traditional ensemble theater,” he says. “But I firmly believe in self-instigating theater artists. Which is not how we are trained as theater artists. We’re trained to play our roles. And I think there’s a place for that. But I think in contemporary times, the artist is more entrepreneurial.”

For his part, Duthie followed the familiar path of frustration — exiting a typical stage career and entering solo entrepreneurship. He started performing his “one-man musicals,” he says, after years of trying to make it as an opera singer. He performed in the kinds of “really terrible productions” that make a performer happy simply because he got cast. “And I was doing the rounds auditioning as a working actor doing commercial stuff.” He sighs. “And I just wasn’t enjoying it. But I had this little idea for a show about Kurt Weill and the Weimar.”
And it became a hit — he’s toured ’33: A Kabarett around the country, to London, Scotland and Canada, in addition to performing concerts.

This is the performing artist as independent contractor — a very contemporary, libertarian-free-market idea, although for performing artists, the fact of having to do-it-all-yourself is as old as busking. Or perhaps, this is the performing artist as obsessive-compulsive, the narcissist who must control everything, every detail. And who isn’t about to share the spotlight.

But, strictly speaking, Duthie is not a “solo artist” — as if he were the lone creative agent here, like a painter or sculptor. Instead, as with many solo artists, he publicly credits the directors, choreographers and researchers who actually helped him shape the works he writes and performs. This is still theater — somebody’s gotta take the tickets, operate the lights and sound. It’s always a cooperative venture, somehow.

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Bremner Duthie in ‘33: A Kabarett. Photo: Alexander Howe
So how do we distinguish these new sorts of ‘entrepreneurial soloists’ from traditional magicians or singers or that guy who twirls plates?

Both McEntire and Duthie say it’s the narrative. Amid all the singing and joking, solo artists must tell a tale. The story in Duthie’s show ’33 is in the title. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933.

“When Hitler took power in 1933,” Duthie says, “he didn’t have the power yet to attack the homosexuals, the Jews, the Gypsies and all the people he wanted to get. But he did have enough power to close down and censor the theaters and the cabarets.”

That’s why 1933-’34 saw the great exodus of Germany’s experimental artists: Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg, Heinrich Mann, George Grosz. They fled because some of the first people sent to what were then the Nazis’ “re-education” camps were theater performers and satirists.

The Weimar Republic’s angry, enthusiastic burst of unconventional sexuality, social unease, economic privation and disturbing art was over. Of course, all of this sounds perfectly familiar to us because of the Kander-and-Ebb musical, Cabaret. But remember, that was a Broadway show. The era — and the art of that era — have more bitterness, more pathos, than Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome.

In Duthie’s performance, an actor comes to his now-ravaged cabaret, only to find his fellow performers have all been dragged off. “But he decides to stick around and do a tribute to his disappeared friends – the singer and dancer, the comedian and the showgirl – and do their acts as best he can,” says Duthie.

So it’s a retrospective, a farewell to what the Weimar once was. But Duthie’s performer decides to stick around to sing and dance only because we’re here. His audience. The audience is one of the seven considerations McEntire writes about for solo performers. The performer has to decide who the audience is in this story she wants to tell. What is the ‘frame’ for the performance? Is she pleading her case to a judge and jury? Perhaps the audience plays the role of therapist or a fellow barstool-warmer listening to the actor’s sad-funny life story.

“Most solo performers speak directly to the audience in some way,” says McEntire. “So the audience is your partner. Not somebody else on the stage. The audience.”
Which would seem to mean no solo performing artist is ever truly alone.


Original article... HERE

[NOTE: This might be the most thoroughly researched article I have ever appeared in. Mr. Weeks dug around online to uncover a lot of stuff I did not tell him directly, including uncovering Dribble Funk and the Monologue Jam.]




May 16, 2015

Episode 003 of The Rumbleshanks Tapes is online


A new-to-the-compound young agent named Jeremiah Hanson sits down for the first time with Captain Rumbleshanks.

Listen/ download for your private collection of wonderful, whimsical things... HERE


May 5, 2015

UNAUTHORIZED FACEBOOK BIOGRAPHY: BRAD MCENTIRE

Courtesy: Flickr
I somehow got included on David Mogolov's twisted online project...

UNAUTHORIZED FACEBOOK BIOGRAPHY: BRAD MCENTIRE
Professional perjurer Brad McEntire has long walked a very public legal tightrope, his audacious courtroom antics sharply dividing the nation into critics and supporters. To his critics, McEntire is representative of the corrosive, dishonest forces that pervert our legal justice system, but to his supporters, he is a roguish hero, a Robin Hood or Han Solo, swooping in to help the defendant in peril.

Only those closest to him know his reasons. The rest of us can only speculate, as McEntire has never spoken publicly outside of court. All that we know of him is preserved in court transcripts. If half of that is true (and almost nobody believes that any of it is true), he’s lived an incomparably strange life. McEntire has appeared as a witness in 714 different trials. In every case, he has come forward to the police or defense attorneys as an eye witness, always in support of the defendant. Almost invariably, he has appeared in cases where the defendant had no alibi prior to McEntire’s testimony.

Many suspicious of McEntire’s activity have tried to discover a pattern of payments or social contacts that connect one appearance to another, but investigators have yet to find anything. McEntire seems to derive no income from his testimony, and has appeared in jurisdictions from Juneau, Alaska to Key West, Florida, from the lowest municipal levels to the highest federal courts. He has never made contact with a defendant after a trial, despite all 714 of them being found not guilty based on his spellbinding tales.

His fans largely believe he is lying, but they marvel at how one person has managed to tell 714 distinct, undocumented, and unprovable stories without contradicting himself or slipping on a detail. Investigators have yet to find evidence that puts him anywhere at all. It’s as if he’s a ghost who only appears to haunt prosecutors by ruining their slam-dunk cases. Some examples of his work:

* In 2008, McEntire testified on behalf of accused bank robber Freddy Hendricks in Nashville and a cat burglar named Lexi Purchase in Cincinnati. His testimony in the two cases is remarkable, in that he told a plausible story of meeting them separately on the same evening in Lexington, Kentucky, at a Fishing Expo that happened to occur on an afternoon that both were accused of plying their trades in their hometowns. Until his appearance, neither of the accused had said anything about that expo, but upon hearing his story, both confirmed they were avid fishermen.

* In 2012, McEntire was able to exonerate an entire Mafia family with an account of a late-night bottle rocket party near the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Investigators discovered the site was indeed littered with old firework remnants. The family got off with only a littering charge.

* In 2010, McEntire claimed to have picked up a hitch-hiker in Duluth who was accused of being 100 miles away, vandalizing a pumpkin patch.

* In 2002, McEntire testified in federal court that an accused antiques smuggler was volunteering at a literacy workshop in Reno. The workshop kept no records of its volunteers.

* In January, McEntire perplexed the entire nation by providing an alibi for the pilot accused of the high-profile theft of an experimental jet from an air force base in Southern California. McEntire says he saw the jet fly overhead while sitting on a bar patio with the accused pilot, playing poker. He said the pilot identified the jet on sight, and attempted to call in a report of the theft, but couldn’t get a cell signal.

A union of six state Attorney Generals has funded a task force to investigate McEntire, but they’ve yet to find evidence of criminal behavior. A subreddit devoted to McEntire sightings attempts to map his travels against later testimony, but so far it’s produced nothing more than smoke, and most conversations devolve into supernatural speculation or arguments regarding the popular theory that McEntire is a ninja.

More Unauthorized Facebook Biographies... HERE


CAKE AND PROSE recap


With Bryan Pitts, Maryam Baig, Greg Schroeder and David Hopkins
Last week, I joined a wonderful group of folks to celebrate David Hopkins' birthday. He held a book release for his excellent new collection of short stories, WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES. Donations were collected at the door and the proceeds went to The BirthdayParty Project.

David did a pretty great (and thorough) post on the event. Read it HERE. He even captured an audio recording. You can hear me reading around minute mark 9:15.




Apr 26, 2015

WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES book release


My friend David Hopkins is doing a book release next week. Here's the info...

thatdavidhopkins.com presents: CAKE AND PROSE, a unique presentation of essays, short stories, and music... plus cake! Let's not forget the cake.

I am part of the evening. I'm reading David's piece "Shopping Mall at the End of the World"

Cake and Prose is Friday, May 1st at the historic Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park, 1121 First Avenue, Dallas TX 75210. The event will feature readings from WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES, performed by great local actors ( besides myself, you can also see Bryan Pitts and Maryam Obaidullah Baig). 

Plus, live music by the talented Greg Schroeder.

Admission is a pay-what-you-can donation to The Birthday Party Project, cash or check accepted. It's a wonderful non-profit that brings joy to homeless children throughout the Dallas area.

The event starts at 7:30 PM and will probably last about two hours.

Some information on parking:
 http://www.margojonestheatre.com/directions--parking.html

Copies of WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES will be available for sale (both paperback and hardcover).

Facebook Event page at: 
https://www.facebook.com/events/1390010577987158/permalink/1390010984653784/