Friday, September 10, 2010

Writing the Solo Show, pt. 2; See, Read, Write & Repeat

In the first part of this series of writing a solo show, I talked about “personal” v. “private”.  Now, let’s think about how you get started.

My recommendation is to first get your hands on some scripts for solo shows. 

(Actually, I would recommend going to SEE solo shows, if you can, but depending on where you live, this might not be feasible.  When I was living in NYC, I was able to see the mesmerizing Sarah Jones do her show down at P.S. 122 before she "made it", saw a dell'arte show by Joanne Shirle, and saw Eric Bogosian's Wake Up at the Jane Street Theater, among many others by lesser known actors.  There is no substitute for seeing these types of amazing performers doing top notch material.  And...tonight I’m off to see a solo show tonight at the University of Pittsburgh, Archy & Mehitabel by a dell’arte performer Gale McNeeley.  I’ll post about that next time.)

Don’t just look at the the usual suspects like Mike Daisey, Anna Deavere Smith, Eve Ensler, Eric Bogosian, Lily Tomlin, or Spalding Gray.  There are the most popular shows like Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, Sarah Jones’ recent Broadway hit, Bridge & Tunnel, Sam Shepard’s Kicking a Dead Horse (which I saw in NYC, read here for more), or the brilliantly off-beat Thom Paine (Based on Nothing) by Will Eno.  

Also try to get any and all obscure ones.  Find out if any actor friends have written a show and ask if you can read it.  (I just did that on Facebook, actually…)

You’ll find that these solo shows will be as unique as their creator.  Some will be character-based, some documentaries, some more text-driven, others more song or movement.  Some will be funny and some political.  There will be some similarities.  The important thing is, you’ll start to get ideas about your own show. 

This is where you should start asking yourself, what does my show look and feel like?  What do I want my audience to experience? 

Jot down those ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. 

Creating content for a first draft is, quite frankly, the most daunting part.  Don’t concern yourself with how much you need to produce—whether it’s a ten minute show, an hour show, or longer.  Get down the main ideas and thoughts first.  Like any first draft, don't worry about quality.  Get it down.  All of it.  Most will suck, but that's okay.  You're digging for gold, so you're gonna get dirty.

If you’re an actor, you can have a lot of fun writing the first draft.  There’s no reason to sit down with pen and paper or at the computer.  You have the freedom to discover your characters on your feet, with or without any text to start. Eric Bogosian used to perform his monologues as an improv into a tape recorder then go back and rewrite/edit it.  That’s one way of doing it.  Sarah Jones talks about how she got most of her characters from riding the subway.

Creating the solo show is ideally the best way to highlight your own performance talents, so cater it for yourself, the performer.  I play guitar and harmonica and write silly songs.  Is that going to be in my solo show?  You bet.  There are certain types of characters I can do well and others I can’t.  Sure, I could challenge myself, but hey, writing a solo show is challenge enough, don’t you think?

To get you started, here is a quick (and by no means exhaustive) reading list:

Books about solo performance:
Extreme Exposure, Edited by Jo Bonny
The Solo Performer’s Journey by Micheal Kerns
Your Name Here by Susan Merson

Solo Scripts (in no particular order):
Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett
Not I by Samuel Beckett
Act Without Words by Samuel Beckett
Kicking a Dead Horse by Sam Shepard
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) by Will Eno
Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith
I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright
Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler (not a solo show but it is monodrama)
Bridge & Tunnel by Sarah Jones
Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll by Eric Bogosian
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee by Eric Bogosian
Swimming to Cambodia by Spalding Gray
Monster in a Box by Spalding Gray
My Name is Rachel Corrie, edited by Katharine Viner & Alan Rickman
Lackawanna Blues by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Moonshot Tapes by Lanford Wilson (short play)


velveeta tease said...

Thanks for this article. I'm 46 years and have decided to give the one-man show a shot. Thanks for the inspiration.

velveeta tease said...

I'm 46 years old and have decided on working on a one-man show. No, I didn't say 'one-person' show. Is it okay to be a man, or is that politically incorrect, too? But I digress. Thanks for the inspiration. Cheers!