Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Going Solo: writing the solo show, pt. 1

A few months ago, I got a request from a reader for advice and tips on writing a solo show.  Now, I’ve never written a solo show, but okay, I’ll admit it—like any other actor, I’ve always thought about putting a show together for myself. 

And then my stomach flips over with angst and fear.

Anything worth doing is difficult, most likely, and now I have actually started to ignore the nagging fears and have started putting together some writing for the purpose of a solo show.  So I will gladly post some of my thoughts on the subject as I try to tackle the beast called “monodrama”.  There are other more experienced folks who have written books on this subject, so I encourage you to do your own research.

First off, I know there are theatre-goers out there would rather rip off their own arm and eat it rather than sit through any solo show.  I have seen a fair amount, actually, and most of them succeeded or failed on the strengths of the actor or the writing.  Some, however, were beautiful combinations of text and performance.

The biggest problem with the solo show is the same with any kind of writing—you can fall into the “private” category instead of the “personal” category.  The result is that if the audience is not friends or family, they don’t care about any of your problems.  I’m sure you’ve seen this show before—it’s usually self-indulgent, theatre-as-therapy perhaps with a dash of nostalgia and melodramatic emotion, with themes ranging from “why can’t I get work as an artist” to “why my mom and I never got along”.

“Personal” v. “Private”

I learned this concept when I took my first poetry writing class and it's always stuck.  What’s the difference?  Personal is something you reveal about yourself that is universal, that everyone can relate to and therefore, will empathize with you.  Private is so personal that only a small circle of friends might understand it.  This type of writing doesn’t bring the audience in on it, but keeps them at a distance. 

And here is the key to the successful solo performance.  A solo show is not about “I, I, I, me, me, me, the performer”.  It’s about the audience.  It’s about “I have to tell YOU this story and here’s what YOU will get out of it.” 

Many monodramas ignore the fourth wall (but not all).  They use the audience, feed off the audience, and the audience knows it.

Of course, this is common sense, right?  The actor-audience relationship is crucial with all good theatre, but even more so with the solo show because 90% of the time, there’s no set, few lights, just one actor and a crowd of people.

So how do you get to that place of writing/performing “personal” stuff?  

That’s coming up in pt. 2.

1 comment:

erin eloise said...

I think you would rock a solo show. I would come see it