Intentions

This blog may evolve over time, but for now my goal is to share the following:

  • tips on creating, performing, and touring your show based on my own experience
  • my personal narrative about touring my first show and working on the next ones
  • links to websites/blogs/TEDTalks/stuff I love that have helped me on this voyage.

This blog will not be a step-by-step instruction manual on how to create an autobiographical solo show, because others have already written such guides and written them well. I’ll give you links to those folks’ excellent instructions. There’s one at the bottom of this post! For now, I want to impart these two ideas:

1.  If you know the story you want to tell but fear that:

  • no one will come to the show
  • no one will care even if they do come to the show
  • you’ll start but not finish
  • you’ll hurt someone by telling the story
  • it will be superficial
  • it will be like opening a can of worms
  • you won’t remember important details to help the story make sense
  • you’ll be harshly judged as a performer, writer, and/or person
  • it will be self indulgent
  • it won’t be original
  • it will be too unusual and therefore not relatable
  • it won’t be funny and you really want it to be funny
  • it will be lousy

or any other fear(s) I haven’t named…I promise you that your fears are natural, not uncommon, and I’m pretty sure that every solo show creator has felt at least three of those fears when embarking on this…let’s call it a quest. Because it can feel like a quest: just as impossible and important and deluded and exciting and embarrassing and, above all, risky.

I believe this wholeheartedly: if you want to tell it then it’s a story worth telling. Someone needs to hear it—more people than you expect, probably. Your voice is unique and it matters. If you fear that the story is not original, the way you tell it will be. If you fear that it’s too “marginal,” the emotional truths that underly it will make it relatable. If you’re afraid of hurting people by telling it, you can figure out what to do about that after you’ve put it together. Please don’t let any fear stop you from writing the show, improvising it, workshopping it. The story is likely to morph into something quite unexpected anyway—that’s how these things seem to work—and the people you’re afraid of hurting might not end up in the final draft. If they do, they might come across as more complex (human) than you had expected…and it doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that you have a story you want to tell. Tell it.

I can almost guarantee that it’s going to evolve into something that you couldn’t predict, and you will learn about yourself as you work on it, and that will be invaluable. When in doubt, look at what you wrote on the back of that business card (tip #1 in my first blog post).

2.  If you don’t know which story you want to tell, you can start anywhere, with any story.*  It will be worth writing and as you continue to work on it you will eventually find the one you want to tell. Frequently, when creating, your psyche/muse/genius/subconscious/unconscious/whathaveyou needs you to express whatever it needs you to express first in order for you to get to the main story. So go ahead and express. It will likely be a warm up or a release, but in either case it will be worthwhile because it’s part of the process. Don’t worry about the result or final product at this point—it’s irrelevant right now. I’m going to say this even if it drives you up the wall, because it’s true: trust the process.

*If you’re truly at a loss as to which story to tell, and have a trusted friend/colleague who is willing to participate in one exercise and/or would like to work on her/his own show, too, I recommend doing the Story Exercise in Chapter 25 of Larry Moss’s book Intent to Live.

And now, a link to a terrific 7-part step-by-step guide to creating your show:

Here’s the best advice in the above link, imo (in Part 2 and expanded on in Part 3): “Write Write Write | During this process, it’s imperative that you don’t censor yourself.  Set a timer for 10 minutes, and just write.  Don’t take the pen off the paper.  Let yourself be surprised.  Know that no one will see it. Say something to yourself you haven’t dared to speak until This Moment.”


Thank you for reading my second post! I would love to know what attracted you to this blog. If you would like to leave a comment, but don’t see a “Leave a Reply” box below, scroll to the top and click on “Leave a Comment” or “# Comments” under the post title.

Writing Your First Solo Show

First of all: wonderful!
And: courage!
Not to mention: yoiks!
And finally: YES.

You’re embarking on one of the greatest adventures a person can take. It will be a roller coaster, a swamp slog, a winged flight, a quicksand sink, a melancholy stroll, a thrill ride, a gory brawl, a hilarious road trip with friends, a lonely trudge, and a journey of a thousand metaphorical miles…that are absolutely worth walking.

Five major tips I can give you as a person who wrote, produced, and acts in her own one-woman show and has managed to tour it around the USA and three continents:

1.  Write down the reason(s) that you want to create this show. Every possible reason is valid. Then write a short, straightforward version on the back of a business card*  and place the card where you can see it every time you work on the show. Here’s my card for my first show–I propped it against my laptop stand: SoloShowDream

2.  Deadlines will save you. A call for submissions, a contest, a class that assigns work due by particular dates, will all help you to make progress. If you’re someone who is most accountable toward others, then I recommend you take a class in which the instructor and your classmates will expect to experience your work each week. A class in which you must present a complete rough draft of the whole piece (or a whole scene) in the last session can make all the difference.

3.  Your classmates are a precious source of courage and tenacity if you do take a workshop or class. When I was writing my first show I took two workshops—one for playwriting and one for solo shows—and while both instructors gave valuable feedback and instruction, the gold of those classes were my classmates. Watching them be brave and share their work every single week made it impossible for me to hang back and hide. I watched them make progress, stumble, fall, get up, stumble again, and fly as they presented that week’s work…which gave me the impetus and stamina to keep working on my show. Almost every week I’d find myself thinking, “If s/he’s brave enough to share that, and the sky hasn’t fallen, then maybe I can share my story about ____,” or “If s/he can fail to engage us this week after doing amazing work for the past month, then my ‘failures’ are likely temporary, too…and just as important as the victories.” Above all, I learned from my classmates: about storytelling and about living.

4.  Listen to all feedback. From classmates, instructors, trusted colleagues for whom you workshop segments of your show, and your director. They may say things you don’t agree with, but that will help you to clarify your intent with that scene or character. You cannot see/hear your own work. Even watching it on video isn’t the same as being another human with their own perspective. If more than one person says they want to know more about ___, or wants you to slow down, or doesn’t know why that scene is in the show, etc., listen to them. Experiment with their suggestions. You may need to rewrite or cut something, or just perform it differently. Sometimes a long sentence can be replaced with a physical gesture that is more immediate and effective. If you trust someone’s feedback even when you don’t fully understand it, you may come to understand it over time—sometimes you have to do something repeatedly for it to click. (And if that moment never comes, then, of course: do it the way that feels justified to you.)

5.  Your director is also your dramaturg. You may feel wedded to certain scenes or to the order in which you’ve placed them, but you must listen to your director’s feedback about the text and structure, not just the performance. Give your director credit for her/his dramaturgy. The greatest things my director, Sofie Calderon, did for me:

  1. She made me justify everything that she wanted me to change or toss if I was stubbornly holding onto it. I had to rewrite it or perform it in such a way that it moved the story forward, or gave it rich, fun detail. If I couldn’t make it worthy in her eyes it had to go.
  2. She made me use my whole body and the whole stage. I couldn’t just stand there and mumble, which was my instinct, because I was petrified even after decades of acting. (If you and your director are taking the Spaulding Gray sitting-behind-a-desk approach, this tip is not applicable, of course.)

*I got the business card idea from superb writer/editor/coach Terri Wagener.

BONUS: A gajillion websites and articles have been helpful to me on this journey. I’ll share at least one with each blog post. Take what works for you, discard the rest, as with any advice.

Thank you for reading my first post! If you would like to leave a comment, but don’t see a “Leave a Reply” box below, scroll to the top and click on “Leave a Comment” under the post title.