Aug 14, 2012

Considerations for the Solo Performer

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I might be doing a workshop in the near future called "Considerations of the Solo Performer." As such, I've been doing a good amount of note-taking as I think about, well, what these considerations should be.

Since solo performance is so idiosyncratic and approaches are so individual, I don't wanna lean too much on techniques, but instead explore larger concepts and notions. I wanna talk about the reasoning behind solo performance.

Here's some of the rough notions that have been jumping around in my brain. These are just my kooky little opinions and not, in any way, gospel from the mount...

1.) Create the show you wanna see. It goes past the usual, and sometimes narcissistic, reason many solo performers put together one-person shows. There are a lot of autobiographical, confessional solo shows. Nothing wrong with this, except it is now a well-worn path and it is hard to differentiate one of these shows from another (How I grew up gay, How I survived some job, I was a mix of two cultures [insert whatever culture/ethnicity here], How I was spiritually awakened by some experience, etc.). The only real differentiation is one of novelty and detail. 

Listen, I'm not saying this content is bad. I'm not making any value judgement whatsoever. It is just, go to any fringe festival and you'll see, it has become old hat by now. Maybe it is a thing to start out from, as a beginner, and then grow past.

My challenge/solution is, instead of creating from what you know (like a writer being told "write what you know"), create with the goal of what you would wanna see on stage if you were watching it. What would you, as an audience member, be completely amazed to experience?  This keeps the focus outward instead of inward. This approach also widens the imagination beyond real-life events. The shows, the creations, can become more imaginative.

I personally value a kick-ass story, virtuosity of ideas, twisty endings, big distinct characterizations and a highly theatrical performance. This is what I put into my solo shows. Or try to.

2.) Build a digital foundation for your show. Unfortunately, the world has progressed to a point where what used to be icing on the cake is now kinda mandatory. Stuff like an informative, easy-to-navigate and well-designed website is a must. Stuff like video snippets/promos are a must. Talking about your show on Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere is a must. Accessibility is of benefit today. Plus, the more you have to market your show, the more you have to think about and articulate your show.

3.) The aim is more important than the target. The beauty of creating a solo show and continuing to perform it around the country (and world?) is that you can tweak and develop and deepen your show over time. You can show it in front of many different audiences in many different settings. This is how the old vaudeville acts operated. They'd tour the same bit over and over until it was streamlined and precise. In traditional theatre, most ensemble shows (outside of specially dedicated touring shows) perform for two weeks, maybe a month, then are put away when another show fills the next season slot.

This means, as a creative artist developing a solo show, you get the luxury of a drawn out process. In fact, process trumps result, direction trumps destination. You have the luxury of "working your show up" over time. And it only ends its artistic evolution when you decide to retire it.

4.) Don't be an asshole. The theatre world is small and if you are a pain, word will spread. And it will make your life more difficult. Be flexible, pleasant and grateful. Say thank you a lot. Listen. 

This includes being polite to fellow artists, administrators and coordinators, technicians and most of all audience members. If a crowd is not with you, do not turn on them. Don't hate your audience. It will never help you in the long run.

On the other hand, being nice and nimble will make you friends. You'll be asked to return to venues and festivals. You'll have people to drink with, crash with, etc.

5.) Have a good WHY. Theatre is performed for a bunch of reasons... to fill season slots, because it is "art", because an actor wants to play a certain role or a director wants to direct a certain play. Creating and performing a solo show is a lot of work. Too much work. If you just want to showcase yourself, hey, no judgement, but you'll need to be honest about that. Be sure you genuinely have something to say, and that that something is original and needs to be said specifically by you.

Often, What we do and How we do it overshadows the Why. Reclaim the Why. Look into the mirror and really explain to yourself why this piece has value and is being added, by you, to the greater culture. 

This serves two functions... 1. It weeds out novelty and weak ideas. If you are trying to spin a single joke out for an hour or more, pick a different format for your art. Just because you have a joke to tell doesn't mean you need to tell it. 2. It allows you to take real, pure pride in your show. You can be a champion for it because you put your name on it. You made it and you present it and it is important. You know it is and you want to show it to people for that reason.

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