What They Don’t Tell You, Part 1

This post is about solo show performance and the experiences that surround it. If you’re still in the creating stage, I recommend skipping this post until you’re about to open your show. In fact: go to this link, enjoy, and don’t come back to this post until right before opening night.

 

I can see you, person whose show is nowhere near opening! Seriously, skip this post and go to the funny link above. It’s helpful.

 

 

What They Don’t Tell You, Part 1

1.  The first time you find yourself waiting alone in the dressing room and there is

  • no one to chat with or make room for while you wait to be given “Places”
  • no one to wish “Good show” to as you make your way to where you stand after you’re given “Places”
  • no one to spot in the other wing—what other wing? this theatre’s a CUBICLE! “wing” my ass!—right before you make your entrance…
    • and by the way, you’re still in the dressing room because it opens directly onto the stage. (Did I call it a dressing room? Let’s call it the musty, hasn’t-been-cleaned-in-at-least-two-years, crammed-with-other-shows’-props-and-paraphernalia, closet backstage area with a smudged mirror.)

…this is when it may dawn on you that you are the entire cast. And: this is the stupidest, scariest, most deluded thing you’ve ever thought you could do. You can’t even… What were you… Someone give me strength.

Tip: I urge you to set something up in the closet backstage area that will give you comfort and courage for that lonely, potentially terrifying wait.

  • I wrote “LOVE! FUN! JOY!” on a piece of paper and taped it to the closet backstage-area mirror to remind myself of what I wanted to experience and share with my audience.
  • After the Preview, I compiled and printed out every word of praise that I received via email or social media and brought the printout to the theatre. I also typed what I could remember of people’s spoken praise. I kept adding people’s kind words to the document and printing an updated copy to bring with me each week. I read it right before every performance during the first run. It helped.

2.  Terror Nerves may affect your bladder. Since this is your first run and is thus likely to be in a subatomic-sized theatre, there’s probably no bathroom anywhere near the closet backstage area. So if you keep drinking water backstage as you wait, you’ll probably have to use the public bathroom over and over, no doubt bumping into audience members as showtime approaches.

Tip: Hydrate all day and then stop an hour before the show. Then, when you get the “5 minutes” notice, steadily and carefully drink an entire 24-oz bottle of water. You should also keep a bottle of water on stage somewhere—I use one as a prop—that you can swig from whenever needed. I recommend all of this to help you to avoid

  • having to use the public bathroom every 10 minutes in the last hour before “Places”
  • your tongue turning into cotton, your throat closing up, and your body fainting from dehydration once the show begins.

3.  If you go up on your lines like I did in the preview—yes, my mind blanked midway through my performance of the play I wrote about my own life—it will be okay.

  • The audience will hold their breath for you in a totally supportive way.
  • Unfortunately, you won’t know about their support in the moment because you’ll be acting calm while being possessed by Munch’s Scream on the inside until you remember your line—but you’ll find out afterward how supportive they were: “Did you go up on a line? You should keep that in! I felt so connected to you in that moment!”
  • The Preview audience for a solo show is likely to be a bunch of very kind people who like you or they wouldn’t be there. (Previews are the worst. The show is not ready, hence the Preview, and those audiences help you to make the show ready. Preview audiences are saints.)

In conclusion: even with temporary memory loss, you’ll be fine at the Preview.

4.  When you wake up the day after the first performance, you may know what it must feel like to be 119 years old. Uncurling your body may take courage because your bones might feel rigor-mortis ossified.

Tip: Just keep doing your physical and vocal warmup before the show, do whichever exercise keeps you limber and strong during the week, don’t train for the Ironman during the run, and stay hydrated.

  • There’s no way to prepare for the aftermath of all that adrenaline in your body making you move faster, jump higher, twist twistier during performance. You won’t even be aware of it in the moment. You’ll just wonder what you did to your body when you wake up the next day. So treat your body well before and after each show. Call it your instrument, your temple, your home—whatever sparks you to treat it with love, patience, even reverence.

5.  You may be tempted to self medicate celebrate your survival tremendous achievement with alcohol, junk food, or some other compulsion you thought you had tamed, after opening night. You may or may not be able to breathe through this and rally. (I succumbed. First morning after first weekend of show: sugary starchy items. With beer. End of run: hello, unflatteringly tight costume. I don’t even like beer.)

Tip: It’s the adrenaline again. This advice is paraphrased from the astonishingly talented Heather Woodbury: performers are adrenaline junkies. Post-performance is the equivalent of withdrawal. So be very gentle with yourself; get your antioxidants and water and green tea and veggies; try a massage and/or steam bath. Take adrenal supports from a health food store. You’re detoxing. (See the bottom of my last post.)

  • You’ll want to do the opposite (like sugary starchy items with beer at breakfast) but that’s because you’re in withdrawal from the adrenaline spike—be super kind to yourself and try to start the day with one good, health-conscious choice. Just one. It’ll likely lead to more good choices. If it doesn’t, then at least you can pat yourself on the back for that one good healthy self-loving choice you made that day.

6.  Extreme insomnia may occur after every performance of the first run. Like, no sleep until dawn, literally.

Tip: You guessed it: it’s the adrenaline. Just know you’re not alone, sleep in as much as you can, try to avoid alcohol AND caffeine, and follow the advice in #4 and #5.

7.  Someone in the front row may fall asleep during your first run. In my case, his head lolled back and his mouth gaped, and then he jerked awake…five times during one performance. Apparently, this has also happened to well respected, perhaps even “celebrity” solo artists who’ve been doing solo shows for a long time, so you’re in good company.

Tip: I got nothin’. It’s just good to know one is not alone in the experience.

8.  People may tell you your show is important during the first run. You’ll have no idea why until about two years later, after you’ve seen time and again how it affects people from different walks of life.

  • Something completely normal to you and your life might be brand new and illuminating for someone else. Or it might be normal yet validating for someone who’s never seen/heard their own similar story told. Ya never know.

9.  Your shows may alternate between feeling great and feeling hard for you as a performer. Apparently, there is no in between, if you’re me. You may have to fight becoming jaded about the production, the story you’re telling, and the audiences, when you learn that while some shows will feel like you’re flying, many will require everything you’ve got, it won’t be easy, and you will be aware of this on that stage.

Tip: You must learn to pause, breathe, center yourself, and tell the story in a way that’s both fun and active for you…and share that with the audience. You’re more likely to give the audience and yourself a good show that way. (If an audience is unresponsive, you may discover that in most instances their silence was due to intent listening, not resistance.)

10.  No matter how many reviews you’ve received as an actor or writer, the reviews of your solo show may slam you the hardest, good or bad.

Tip: a bad review will not make a difference. Good word of mouth will make the difference. (See my Producing It post.)

11.  You may want to quit after every single weekend of the first run. I did (want to). Because nobody warned me about any of the above.

Tip: This is the test. Don’t quit. You are developing a skin so thick, stamina so hardy, and a self-honoring practice so strong that they will help you in other areas of life as well as onstage.

  • I booked two national commercials back-to-back several months after my show’s first run—this was after an eight-year commercial-less drought. I had total assurance at those auditions, enjoyed myself thoroughly, and walked away. Hm.
  • My workshops wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t developed confidence from performing my show. I love my workshop participants, who teach me about life and courage in every session.

BONUS: An amusing post on how not to create and produce a solo show:


 

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