What They Don’t Tell You, Part 2

This is my second post about solo show performance and the experiences that surround it. (See Part 1.) If you’re still in the creating stage, I recommend skipping both posts until you’re about to open your show. In fact: go to this helpful link and don’t come back to either post until right before opening night.

I can see you, person who shouldn’t be reading this yet. Go away. Click on the link above! It’s useful.

What They Don’t Tell You, Part 2

1.  Total strangers may attend and you’ll never find out who they were or why they came. You’ll wish they had stuck around after the show so you could grovel at their feet thank them. They took a chance on a show by and about someone they had never heard of—who does that?!? You’ll always be curious about and grateful to them.

2.  You may discover midway through the first run that you cannot perform it “that way” anymore because it’s killin’ you.

Tip: tweak the delivery to make it more fun or tighter or looser or more theatrical or whatever for you, whatever makes you stop dreading it look forward to it, which will likely make it a better show.

  • I fell into the “earnest” trap in the first couple of weeks of the first run and it felt like crap. It was honest but I was not enjoying myself at all. So I adjusted my delivery to make it more comedic, which made it more fun to perform and a better show. I was still telling the truth and speaking the same lines, but the painful parts were funny-painful now, so the truly serious parts hit their mark better.

3.  People may stand in line to thank you after the show. This will be mind-boggling because the only person who should be saying “Thank you” is you, the lucky performer who had this lovely audience. To further boggle your mind, your director or techie may tell you s/he overheard others saying “I loved it.” If you tour the show, the liaison who invited you may tell you that audience members thanked them fervently for bringing the show to that campus/conference/venue. Since this may happen after performances that felt like you were running a marathon uphill in two feet of snow, you will be both gratified and bewildered.

4.  After the first run—when you don’t know what, if anything, will happen next for the show—an invisible wind tunnel may open up in your torso, through which gale force winds of vulnerability will howl for one to three months.

  • On the bright side, if your brain has a tendency to stew or brood (like mine does), the Vulnerability Typhoon in your chest will obliterate that habit for a while. Good times!

Tip: Be kinder to yourself than you’ve ever been during this period. Do what brings you (harmless) comfort. Stroll in nature, reread your favorite blogs and books (smutty adventure romances can be oddly soothing), re-watch your fave movies and YouTube videos, call and write friends. Whoever responds with compassion is gold.

5.  People may find your email address and write to you, thanking you for the show, telling you how it resonated for them. People may find you on Facebook and do the same. This will feed the neediest part of you, so what the heck, just be glad of it.

Tip: Consider the possibility that you’ve created something good.

6.  On the college circuit, at almost every performance, audience may walk out. The first time it happens you will be completely shattered taken aback, but then a student may find you on campus the next day and state that s/he loved the show but had to attend a night class or finish a paper or cram for an exam, and s/he’s so sorry s/he missed the last 20 minutes of your performance. When students walk out in the future, you will realize that it tends to be near the 45-minute and one-hour marks.

Tip: Make a note to create shows that are 60 minutes max in the future.

7.  At one college, after arriving 15 minutes late and then watching for 15 minutes, students may walk out because they’re offended and they don’t know how you’re going to touch on that theme again in a way that will soothe the offense and open up the story. There is nothing you can do about this if you’ve included stories in which you’re not the good guy—which, by the way, is the right thing to do in a solo show about your life. “I’m a charming, lovable 24/7 victim” is neither brave nor honest.

Tip: This is another test. You’re revealing and accepting your younger self, vulnerabilities and flaws and all, and that’s the first step to evolution even though it may seem counterintuitive. Plus it makes for a better show.

8.  You may wish you had the show “in your pocket” at all times, so you wouldn’t have to dust it off whenever months pass between bookings. Dusting it off takes extra rehearsal.

Tip: Keep it “in your pocket” by speed-running it every two-three weeks, rain or shine. (Oh gawd.)

9.  You may have unexpected epiphanies during your umpteenth run-thru in your living room. Just when you thought it was a dead fish you couldn’t refresh it, couldn’t discover anything, could only “technique” your way through it—you’ll discover something true and full and rich in a single line that will remind you of what the show can be.

10.  You may have a love-hate relationship with your show as time passes, but the love will grow and solidify, while the hate will be about superficial things; e.g., “Heavy prop! Why prop so heavy?!” The love will be buoyed by the fact that there is virtually always someone in the audience who needs to see your show and sincerely thanks you for it afterward (possibly while trembling-smiling-weeping).

  • You are helping people while becoming a stronger actor. Who knew this could happen? You just wanted to share this story and make good theatre. Turns out it’s inspiring to others, and we need one another’s inspiration very much. We also need to feel that our stories are worthy, and a good solo show can do that for the audience, even if their stories are very different from that of the performer.

It’s all worth it, in my opinion. If my show had only had its initial run and never toured, it still would have been worth my time/energy/fear/ courage/passion to create, produce, and perform. Seriously: if I had had to cancel shows or cut the run short due to low attendance, it still would have been worth creating and performing the show, because it was mine—a creative expression of myself.

(Luckily, I was able to hire a great director, which made all the difference to the quality of the show and thus the audience’s response. Ergo: do all you can to get a good director.)

I think we were born to create in one way or another, and when we don’t follow the impulse, something essential withers inside of us—or may warp into something destructive. So by all means, let’s create our shows and make our art. I learned so much about writing and acting and audiences and myself and the invisible connective tissue of humanity with my first show. I hope you did or will, too.

BONUS: A validating, inspiring podcast episode on the necessity of honoring one’s own unique creativity:

Announcement: I’m leading new solo show and memoir workshops pretty soon! There’s still space left in both.

Thank you for reading my tenth 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.