To Commit or Not To Commit

Progress! I gave my first two readings of the new show to trusted theatre friends and they didn’t look pained or embarrassed afterward. On the contrary, more than half were very enthusiastic, and the rest were encouraging. They all gave specific feedback, which I have been implementing into the script.

Must say I’m relieved. This new show has an element that is so quirky-weird, I was afraid that it would be off-putting to my first listeners. But that’s the element many of them liked the most!

It goes to show: as creators observing our own work, everything is in our heads until we have an audience or readership. We have to commit to sharing our work with people we trust so that the work can truly evolve.

Of course, I still have work to do. Writing and creating are mostly revision—but we knew that.

Now I’m trying to decide if I want to perform this show at a local fringe festival. The deadline to be included in their guide is at the end of the month. This fest might be the perfect debut for this particular show.

On the other hand: festivals cost money—venue rental, insurance, crew’s fees, PR, etc.

On the bright side: I envision this show having minimal production values. So I don’t have to worry about a lot of design elements and cues overwhelming our tech rehearsals, which happened with my first show. (I love that show’s design elements. The world premiere was beautifully lit and the projections and audio effects enhanced it subtly yet wonderfully—but it makes for long tech rehearsals when I go on tour. I’m ready for a minimalist approach this time.)

Most importantly: if I register with this fest, the new show will have to be ready by June. That’s right around the bend! I would need to start pre-production (hiring director and crew, renting the space, and more) right now.

I believe that I could have the script ready by June, but in order to be performance-ready, I’d have to spend all of May rehearsing the show, which means the script would need to be 90% ready by the end of April. (New solo-show scripts are tweaked and improved in rehearsal because the director also acts as a dramaturg.)

Meanwhile, I’m eyeballs-deep in post-production on the digital version of my first show. I want it to be available on DVD and streamable online by May. Could I do that and improve the new show’s script and start pre-production on that show in time for a June festival?


Well, I’m giving myself until the end of March to decide. Whether or not I register with this fest, I will make myself accountable with this promise: I will perform the new show for a paying audience in 2017. (Gah!)

Speaking of accountability, I kept the promise I made in my last post! I rearranged the box and container that hold lots of future-projects material and stuck pretty labels onto them to remind me that there’s magic inside.

It worked! Now when I look at them I feel a warm inclination to use that material in the future. No more guilt.

This blog entry is more stream-of-consciousness than usual, so I’m wary of hitting “Publish,” but I’m going to post it as an example of committing to something outside of one’s comfort zone. After all, the entry itself is about commitment and the balancing act of making the choice: do I or don’t I and why?

I hope that you will take leaps of faith to further your creative output. And if you hedge like I did above over the fest, I recommend that you commit to furthering that output by a certain deadline.

I’ll never stop saying it: deadlines are beacons. They only help us to keep our promises. May you keep yours to fulfill your creative commitment(s) this year.

BONUS: Lovely, short guided meditations—a couple of which are only three (3) minutes long (!)—can help when we’re feeling uncertain:

Free Guided Meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center

Thank you for reading my twenty-first post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.


Prompts, Time Limits, Creative Containers, and Magic

Here are five of my favorite writing prompts. They can help you to enrich your show or to find some major turning points in it. They can also simply be used as exercises to loosen you up right before you work on the script.

Have a timer handy so that you can answer each prompt within the recommended time limit. The time limits are short in order to prevent self-censorship and editing. Together, the prompts and time limits can stimulate deeply truthful answers, which are gold.

1. What’s the worst decision you ever made? (4-minute time limit.)
1b. Did anything good come of it? (2-minute time limit.)

2. What’s the best decision you ever made? (4-minute time limit.)

3. List five people who changed the course of your life in some way, for better or worse, short term or long term. Write about one of them and how they affected your life. (6-minute time limit.)

4. Write about something that’s gone. (5-minute time limit.)

5. Write about something that gives you joy. (5-minute time limit.)

Now that you’ve answered the prompts within the time limits, did you want more time for any of them because you didn’t finish giving your answer? Or did you finish but would now like to delve deeper into the nitty gritty? If so, set the same time limit that you had before, and continue answering that prompt.

If you still want more time after your second go, feel free to write for as long as you like. Take it away!

The point is to get yourself into the habit of writing truthfully on the spot without being precious about the process. If you hit the ground running (i.e., if your pen hits the page scribbling), something happens that allows truth, realization, and inspiration to flow.

This is preferable to writing gingerly around a topic until you finally get comfortable-ish. If you start with resistance, the entire job will be harder, and might not get done at all. You might end up writing about everything except the heart of the story.

Don’t get me wrong: I assume that you’re in a comfortable position with your favorite juice/coffee/tea/cocoa/etc. within arm’s reach, and that you’ve done some deep breathing to help yourself to “settle.” Any rituals you have that remind your psyche that it’s time to write/create are welcome.

But once you’ve sat down to write (or once you’ve stood up to improvise while recording it), the prompts and time limits are meant to jumpstart your creative process, regardless of your mood.

They’re simple questions (wink) and you only have to work on each one for four to six minutes. You can do one per creative session, or all of them in less than half an hour.


I recommend answering a writing prompt whenever you get stuck while creating your show. You can find prompts in umpticatillion books and online. Always give yourself a short time limit just to get the stuff out of your head and onto the page or into the recorder.

It is never a waste of time. It may spark something that manifests magnificently in your show or in some other way down the line. You never know.

Hold onto your answers! Even if they don’t make their way into the show that you’re working on, they are the proof of your truest self in the moment that you created them, and they will be good to refer to for future projects. They can also be very grounding. I’ve looked at my answers to prompts from years ago and thought “Yes. That’s exactly how that felt. There’s a recurring theme that I’d like to explore more in another show.”

Keep all of your creating-a-show papers and recordings in one place. Twyla Tharp talks about putting it all in a box. Wherever you choose to put it, make it something that gives you comfort and perhaps even pride to look at. Something that reminds you, “I’m someone who creates. And in that box/bag/binder/tupperware/etc. is magic that only I could make.”

Full disclosure: I have a bag for my new show, and it does make me feel good when I look at it. But there are also a nice box and plain storage container in my office that hold a lot more stuff that I intend to use for…something…someday. I tend to feel guilty when I look at them.

So here’s my promise: before I publish next month’s blog post, I will rearrange the box and container in an attractive fashion and stick pretty labels onto them that remind me that there’s magic inside. I think that’ll go a long way toward changing my feelings about them.

I hope the prompts and time limits and containers will all help you in the creation of your show. Regardless, I hope you always remember that no matter how unglamorous, confusing, frustrating, or slow-going this creative work can be, you are nonetheless making magic.

Now, in a time when bigotry is on an even greater upswing than usual, one might begin to fear that there’s a dark magic afoot. There’s not. It’s just people who can—and in my opinion must—be stopped.

However, people have achieved great and terrible things via the stories they’ve told, and that may be a kind of magic, figuratively speaking. Of course that’s what I’m talking about.

I’m going to assume that your story is truthful. Here’s a tip: the more you’re willing to be vulnerable and make yourself the most flawed person in the play alongside your more likable traits, and thus make a connection with your audience’s vulnerability (and humanity), the more likely it is that you’re not telling a self-indulgent, narcissistic, I Wanna Be Popular story. In other words, it’s more likely that yours is a good magic.

Thank you for sharing it.

BONUS: John Steinbeck’s brief and superb advice on writing and how there’s magic in it:

Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck compiled by Maria Popova on

[Edited 02/02/17.-EL]

Thank you for reading my twentieth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

The Why Is Everything

It’s the new year and for the last few weeks we’ve been reminded to look back on 2016 to determine how we succeeded, how we failed, and most of all what we learned, blahblahblah, etc., etc.

I’m not against doing the above—it can be eye-opening and galvanizing. It can also remind us to express gratitude. It can even inspire us to pat ourselves on the back for accomplishments we had previously neglected to honor.

Nonetheless, as a creative person, I think this is actually a good time to reflect on why we create what we create.

Have you been performing your show so often that you’ve lost some of the spark?

Or are you in the middle of creating a show and getting discouraged?

As always, the why is everything. Why did you create it? Or why are you creating it?

The answer is the engine to your creative pursuit. Sometimes, when you need inspiration or guidance, all you need to do is to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and on the exhale say “I am performing/creating this show because _____.” (Remember the business card I mentioned in my first post?)

Whenever I’m asked why I created Alien Citizen, I say it’s because I had never seen a story like mine told in any medium, and I wanted to tell it for all the Third Culture Kids and multiracial folk and multilingual people and intercultural persons and girls/women who never see our multifaceted, prismatic stories on stage or screen. I don’t pretend to speak for any of the above people, but I do believe that something in my show will resonate for them, or that it will motivate them to tell their own very different and unique stories. I hope that watching me will give them courage to express themselves more often.

(I also created the show because I wanted people to stop asking me if I was from the midwestern USA. That question made me feel like my life had never happened. I’ve never lived in the Midwest.)

When I perform the show now, I do it for one person. Every time, as the nerves creep up on me at ten minutes to “Places,” I remind myself that there is one person in the audience who needs to see the show very badly. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. I decide that it is true, and I perform the show as a reaching out, a connection, a service to that person who feels like an incurable outsider who stifles themselves in order to avoid being seen as an incomprehensible misfit.

My belief usually turns out to be true. That person is in the audience and they thank me after the show. There are frequently quite a few of them and they all “look normal.” Yet internally they have yearned to see/hear a perspective that they rarely see/hear in any medium.

But even if no one cared for the performance afterward, I would still have given my all for that one person I imagined. That’s my job.

What I don’t say when I’m asked why I created Alien Citizen is that I needed to express myself in a direct, honest way, without hiding behind a fictional character. That may be obvious for any autobiographical solo show, but the need was manifesting in curious ways before I ever performed it.

I started writing it in 2009 in bits and pieces, but a funny thing started happening between that time and the world premiere in 2013. I was getting cast in roles I understood to the bone—even when they were nothing like me on the surface. That’s a gift for which actors yearn. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as we would like.

During that period, I was cast as a Brazilian standup comic who is hired as a maid in a homogeneously WASPy town in Connecticut or New York. She is described as having “a refined sense of deadpan.” The show opens with her telling a long-form sex joke in Portuguese with a Brazilian accent.

Now, on the outside, one might think I’m not good casting for that role as I’m not a standup or Brazilian and didn’t speak Portuguese. But I am Guatemalan and my family moved from Central America to Fairfield County, Connecticut, twice in my childhood. Thus I understand to my marrow what it’s like to be a Latina who moves from Latin America to a WASPy town in the Northeastern USA. I also have some facility with language and a good ear for dialects, in part because I had to speak four languages when I was in the 8th grade in Morocco. Thus I was able to learn and understand all of the Portuguese in the show during the rehearsal period. (Shoutout to the internet and language-learning podcasts.)

Furthermore, I’ve been told countless times that I’m deadpan in my everyday life, so that character description wasn’t a stretch for me.

Most importantly, I found that I needed to play the character. We understood one another. On top of all of the above, she has experienced traumatic loss, while I had experienced a steady accumulation of less traumatic losses that became overwhelming over time. Playing that character allowed me to express so much from my life without tipping my hand to the audience—it was “safe” because I was disguised in her character.

Directly after that show I was cast as a quirky woman in Kansas who believes that aliens abducted and raped her as a child. She and I literally had nothing in common. Right after playing her, I was cast as a Southern, dutiful big sister. Again, I was not an obvious choice. Yet I understood both roles in essential, emotional ways that I was able to express on stage.

I also learned from the roles, which is another thing that every actor hopes for. The Southern big sister is in almost every scene in a long play, so I learned how to build and maintain my stamina onstage. This is vital for anyone planning to do a solo show.

In their final scenes, both roles have to master fear, and one learns to fight for herself. Directly after that show closed, I began working on Alien Citizen in earnest, writing and revising the script about my life. It was scary, but I was mastering my fear and fighting for myself.

I played my next role right before I went into rehearsals for Alien Citizen’s premiere. In that last ensemble piece, I played a multiracial, born and raised in the USA, conservative control freak who travels to her deceased mother’s homeland of Vietnam and reconciles her emotions over her troubled relationship with her mom. She is very closed off to her Vietnamese heritage until the end of the play.

She’s the opposite of me—I grew up in six countries, I’m not conservative, and neither of my parents was born or raised in Asia…and yet. I knew I was going to open my solo show in a couple of months and I was afraid that my parents might be hurt or offended by it. I had to push through my own fear, defensiveness, and self-righteousness and just accept that my folks had the right to react however they would react. I sent them the parts of the script that they were in and told them that if they didn’t want one or any of those sections to be in the play, I would remove those scenes. They didn’t object to the scenes, which was both brave and generous of them.

Among my many flaws, I find it difficult to practice forgiveness in my own life. So it was helpful and moving to play a woman who learns how to do it towards her loving parent and for herself.

I think all four of the roles that preceded my solo show trained me for the solo show.

Serendipity, perhaps.

And then Alien Citizen opened, and my life is entirely different now from what it was in 2013.

So in the few years leading up to the opening of my first solo show, I accidentally discovered that I needed to explore and reveal elements of myself in the roles that I played—more so than I had ever needed to before. Of course, I also needed to interpret the characters as they were envisioned by the playwrights and directors, but underneath that was a need to stake my claim to my own story. Those roles challenged me in ways I hadn’t encountered before and they made me a stronger and braver actor, and thus better able to create and perform my show.

Why did you create your show? Did you find yourself landing very different roles that were weirdly right for you before it opened? Or did other coincidences occur that now seem like serendipitous stepping stones to your show’s premiere?

If you’re creating a show now, why are you doing it? There’s no wrong answer. You do need to know the answer, though. In any case, you are heeding a call, you are doing it via the act of creation, and the world needs creativity and connection. It needs it in person, “live,” in a room with your fellow humans, breathing together, sharing the ephemeral moment.

Thank you for doing it, and Happy New Year.

BONUS: My favorite TED Talk, bar none. For creative pursuits…and…existence:

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown 

Announcement: I’m leading new solo show and memoir workshops in January and February. Give me a holler here if interested.

Thank you for reading my nineteenth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

It All Counts—Even 10 Minutes’ Worth

This month’s post is going to be short. By now you’ve likely read articles on how important it is to be creative and to tell your story, especially in frightening, divisive times.

It’s true. It is important, along with being an involved citizen.

But perhaps you’re feeling sluggish or blue or impatient or something else that’s preventing you from working on your show. Perhaps the show suddenly feels irrelevant—or too relevant and therefore risky.

If you haven’t done this yet, give it a try:

  1. Prepare your favorite tea/coffee/hot chocolate/smoothie/juice, etc. (Or order it if you’re at a coffee house.)
  2. Gather your pen/paper or laptop or recording device.
  3. Sit or stand in your favorite creative spot in your home/library/café, etc., your drink at hand.
  4. Turn on the recorder if you’re improvising rather than writing. (I assume you’re somewhere private if that’s the case.)
  5. Set a timer for four (4) minutes.
  6. Write or speak the reason(s) you’re not working on your show. Be blunt. Don’t stop until the timer goes off.
  7. Take a sip or two of your comforting drink. Now set the timer for six (6) minutes.
  8. Write or speak about a time in your character’s life when they couldn’t seem to do or say the thing they wanted to do or say. Include the words or actions you wish they had spoken or taken. Don’t stop until the timer goes off. (“They” can be you if your show is autobiographical, or they can be another character in your show.)
  9. If you want to keep creating (which is what you’re doing), continue.
  10. If you want to walk away, walk away.

Congratulations. You’ve done 10+ more minutes of creative work than you would have done otherwise. Maybe some of it will end up in your show, or maybe it will catalyze a new idea for your show, or maybe it will be clay that gets sculpted away. The point is, you reminded your brain and psyche that you are a person who creates.

And yes, it may be clichéd but it’s also true: we need you more than ever.

BONUS: A wonderful TED Talk reminding us of why actors, theatremakers, and storytellers are so necessary for humanity:

Thank you for reading my eighteenth post! I love your comments, so if you would like to leave one, 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.

The In-Between Time

Have you been going through a fallow period, bookings-wise? Perhaps you’re waiting for your first paid booking since you self-produced your show in a tiny black-box theatre a while back. Or perhaps your bookings were snowballing…and then came to an unexpected rest. Or perhaps you’ve only had bookings in fits and starts all along.

What to do during this time when it’s a matter of several months? Here are some tips for keeping your creative juices flowing and your spirits up:

1. Start every day doing something creative. It’s your calling, isn’t it? In my case, I work on my next show. If I begin the day that way, even if it’s only for 20 minutes to reread and tweak a single scene, it transforms the day. Most days I have to work on uninspiring, tedious administration and marketing and blahblahblah. But when I begin the day working on what I love, I always feel that my day was well spent no matter what else I did, because I pursued my purpose first.

Full disclosure: I’m writing this as a reminder to myself, having floundered in this area of late. For the past few weeks, I was just doing the necessary but boring uncreative stuff and wondering why I was feeling low. Today I finally looked at my next show’s latest draft, which needs a lot of work…and the day felt brighter. No matter what I do or don’t accomplish today, I’ll have begun the day right.

Now, you may have a day job or hold several part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. Perhaps your workdays start early, so the thought of waking up even earlier to work on something creative may feel oppressive, because you love and need your sleep. I feel you—I’m not a morning person myself. Thus I recommend doing the creative work whenever you can…but try to do it several times per week. Give yourself permission to only work for 10 minutes if that’s all you’ve got. You can write an entire scene in that time.

I rewrote the first draft of my first show late at night because I had several part-time jobs at the time. While I had more than 10 minutes, it could still take a while to get going—I’d sit down to write at 9:30pm but only begin at 11pm. (The void of Facebook.) It didn’t matter. I got it done and have no regrets about how or when I worked on it because I now have a show and it’s gone places.

So keep creating during this period between bookings. Even a doodle a day can lift the spirits and keep your creativity alive.

2. Set a timer for your creative work. By now we all know that boundaries/limits/ parameters increase creative output—they don’t decrease it. Your brain will find ways to transcend limits if it has to. If it doesn’t have to, it may just become distracted by social media or the laundry.

Setting a timer works like gangbusters for me. If I set a timer to work on my new show for one hour, I will accomplish more in that hour than I would if I gave myself an open-ended stretch during which to create. It’s too easy to check my email when I don’t have a time limit. I’ve used an old-fashioned kitchen timer; the Pomodoro app; and online timers that can be found via Google. (Try it: Google “20 minute timer.”)

A time limit has many emotional similarities to a deadline. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I consider deadlines to be invaluable to the creative process.

3. Take care of yourself. I know it’s obvious, but some of us can get a bit slack with this, especially when we feel like we’re in limbo. Drink enough water, move your body regularly, go appreciate someone else’s artistic output at a museum or theatre or wherever you find inspiration, eat your fruits and veggies, meditate (there are some terrific three-minute meditations out there)…you know the drill.

I must add: do the healthy things that you enjoy. If drinking water bores you then pour in a dollop of juice—it’s not Sugar City if it’s just a dollop. If there’s only one kind of exercise you like, and it involves strolling with a pet, that counts. If you’re going through a phase during which you can’t bear to look at something emotionally painful (like Picasso’s Guernica) then look for art that gives you solace (like music that soothes or cheers you up). If a Sorolla exhibit comes to your neck of the woods, I can’t recommend his paintings of people at the beach highly enough. Instant cheer-up! (They don’t “translate” on a computer screen, so if you Google him, the images likely won’t do much for you, unfortunately.)

This entire year I’ve been working hard at taking good physical care of myself due to a lower back injury. I’m not in pain—it’s mostly just irritating—but it’s a longtime problem that needs to be resolved. So I’ve been doing everything I can to heal for some time now—chiropractic, acupuncture, cupping, special exercises, icing my back, avoiding sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time, etc. I think the past six months without bookings has been a necessary respite. Performing my show always exacerbates the problem, even though I’ve completely modified the blocking to accommodate my back. So six months off has likely been the best thing for my body in terms of healing.

This period between bookings will likely end. Meanwhile, you’ll have honored your creativity and perhaps even drafted a new show…which you’ll want to workshop for theatre friends you trust…which will get the ball rolling for a whole new production!

Just keep making things. That’s the stuff of life.

BONUS: An excellent article on how persistence, patience, and continuing to create can pay off in the end.

Thank you for reading my seventeenth post! I love your comments, so if you would like to leave one, 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.

When They Don’t Know What It Takes

So let’s say you’ve started touring your show at venues that are actually covering expenses and paying you. Congratulations! If you’re in the USA, I’m guessing that most of the bookings are at colleges and universities. Sweet! I’m also guessing that the show might be getting booked at conferences or other private events. Lovely!

Now, you don’t have a booking agent yet, so you’re doing all of the work: reaching out, promoting, following up again and again, negotiating your rate when somebody finally expresses serious interest, and figuring out the logistics when the booking is confirmed. Not to mention rehearsing regularly and staying in physical and vocal shape for your show.

Or you might have a booking agent and still be doing a ton of work because the agent has numerous clients they’re promoting and you want more bookings than they can get you individually. That’s normal unless you’re a celebrity, in which case you’re probably not reading this blog.

In order to coordinate the details for each booking, you’ve been corresponding with the campus/venue/organization’s liaison. Lots of back and forth, answering questions, etc. So by now you’ve realized something: not every liaison understands what theatre is, nor what it takes to present a solo show.


Watch out for these warning signs that the liaison is…er…uninformed:

1. They may not want to provide enough time for a tech rehearsal, even though they want the show with all the bells and whistles: lighting, sound, projections—and even though they won’t pay for your own techie to accompany you. They expect their techie to magically understand the timing for every cue, without having enough time to practice running every cue. Bwahaha!

  • Try not to lose it when you have to explain for the third time that this show is not a lecture delivered at a podium. (Didn’t they see the trailer? And when have they ever seen a lecture delivered with light changes and countless sound cues, and not just projections???)
  • Be prepared for the under-rehearsed techie to make several mistakes during the show that lead to a domino effect of woe.
    • At one venue, I had to stop mid-performance twice to tell the techie how to fix the cues. Fun fun fun.

2. They may hire a “professional” technical operator who reveals themselves to be less experienced during tech.

  • You’ve had one person in the booth running the lights, sound, and projections in the past and they did a great job, so you know it’s possible. Nonetheless, it may be very hard for some techies to multitask in that way if your show is cue-heavy.
  • Be prepared to ask for two booth operators if your show is cue-heavy.
  • To spare yourself these headaches, consider cutting down the cues in your touring version.

3. The liaison may request the show with all the bells and whistles, and then mere days before your arrival, ask you repeatedly if you actually need someone to run the lights. Um…what?

  • Do not be surprised if the person they finally find to run the lights has never worked in theatre.
    • Try not to panic about this. They can run your simple lighting cues at least marginally well if they’re a functioning human who can also read a script. After all, they turn lights on and off every day in their own home.
      • Even if they mess up, you’ll still do your job well, and the show will work despite the technical glitches.
  • Of course, after the liaison sees the show, they’ll understand about the lights.
    • But maybe not even then. Take that as a compliment: it means your performance was so riveting that the design elements barely penetrated the liaison’s consciousness. You rock!

4. The liaison may fail to alert you to the fact that the person learning the cues at the rehearsal is not the person who will run the cues during the performance. You may learn this in the middle of tech. Wh…wh…whaaaaaa—?

  • When this happened to me, I was fortunate to be accompanied by my husband. He had never run the cues for this or any other show, but he is a brilliant man and was my savior at that booking.
  • As obvious as it may seem, you must nonetheless stipulate in advance that the techie in rehearsal has to be the techie at performance.

5. The liaison may do everything perfectly before the show…and then botch the opening because they don’t understand that the whole thing is an intricate work of choreography between the techie and yourself, so any new element will throw off the rhythm. For example:

  • The liaison may fail to tell you that someone will deliver a speech right before your show. Perhaps you’re like me and have lovingly chosen pre-show music that is followed by a specific song that plays while the lights go down, which gives the piece a certain ambiance right from the get-go. Your techie will have to figure out how to coordinate the sound and light cues around the speech without stopping and starting them abruptly and making things seem disjointed, since the cues were built to flow from one to the next without interruption.
    • Remember to thank the techie afterward. They are the show until you say your first line.
  • The liaison may fail to instruct staff to not bother you as you’re about to make your entrance.
    • At one non-theatre venue, a random volunteer tried to to give me a handheld mic as I began my performance, even though I had never once expressed a need for a handheld mic and in fact was wearing a lavalier that worked fine. I had never even met this volunteer. I’ll let you imagine the awkwardness that ensued. Woohoo!

6. If the venue has problematic acoustics, they may give you the type of lavalier mic that flops around on your collar, causing dull thuds and loud brushing sounds at inopportune moments during the show.

  • Bring some body tape that will help to stabilize the thing somehow.
  • Good luck.

7. They may expect you to set up in 10 minutes when you normally need 30-45 minutes.

  • I assume that your cues are on your laptop. When setting up, you or the techie will need to make sure that your laptop can “speak” to the projector. This can take up to 45 minutes if the venue’s projector is testy.
    • Every other venue’s projector is a special snowflake. From hell.
  • You’ll make it work. You’ll just be harried as all getout, which is exactly how you want to feel right before you do a sprint triathlon while emoting, which is what a solo show is. Oh, wait, no, that’s now how you wanna feel. (I’ve completed a sprint tri so I know whereof I speak.)
    • Nevertheless, you’ll make it all work. As usual.

8. They may not warn you that even though you’ll be performing in a theatre, this particular one has no dressing room, no green room, nothing. You may find yourself motionless in a two-square-foot area in the tiny wing for 20 minutes before “places” is called. If you budge, the audience will be able to see you before the show starts…thus ruining the reveal.

  • Of course, you can open your show the opposite way: idling on stage in full light as the audience enters, or taking a seat in the house and chatting with them, no fadeout, etc.
    • This wouldn’t work for my show but I understand why some solo performers keep their top of show “loose.” Smart for touring.

9. They may fail to tell you that the theatre has multiple entrances, every one of which will be locked when you arrive. You’ll learn this because you’ll make your way slowly around the building, pulling your super-heavy carry-on with all the props in it as you try every single entrance. The only way in will be through some labyrinthine tunnel shown to you by a kind stranger who does not work at the theatre.

  • Isn’t touring  your solo show a blast? Yippee!

10. They may fail to tell you that your show has been slotted in between class periods. So you will be unpleasantly surprised when, at the 50-minute mark, 90% of your audience walks out.

  • I just kept going as the mass exodus occurred over the last 30 minutes of my 80-minute performance. Good times!

11. They may only pay you enough to cover expenses. You may find out later how much they paid their previous keynote speaker. You will learn the difference between celebrities’ stipends and non-celebs’ stipends, and boy howdy, it’s a doozy. It will be particularly shocking when you know that the celeb just stood behind a podium and read an essay they wrote, while you used your entire body to play over 30 roles, covering every inch of the playing space.

  • Don’t be bitter. They had no idea what to expect from your show even if they saw some footage online. No one truly knows what you do until they see you do it “live.” And we’re not celebrities, so we’re proving ourselves with every performance, because we have to.
  • Just make a note of what to charge when you’re better known, cuz baby needs a new pair of shoes and pronto.

12. They may forget to pay you. You may not realize it yourself until you’ve parted ways because you’ve been so focused on the tech rehearsal and performance.

  • You will get paid eventually because the agreement is in writing, but if you were counting on that income to pay some big bills the very next day…
  • The first time you have a paid booking, put as much of the money into savings as you can, precisely because a future booking might pay you late.

There’s more but of course the moral is obvious: have a contract. Not a letter of agreement—a contract. The more pages with more stipulations in legalese, the better.

Now let’s say that you’re just starting out and deeply need (psychologically and/or financially) any paid bookings coming your way. You may not feel ready for a fancy contract because you’re afraid it will scare prospective customers away.

You’re right in some cases. If I had used my current contract back in 2014, I’m sure I wouldn’t have booked some of my performances that year, because the liaisons would’ve run scared. I did have a letter of agreement that helped to prevent various problems not listed above. I tweaked it over time to prevent some of the above after I had experienced the pain. However, while it was a proper document that would hold up in a court of law, it did not look like a There Are Actual Lawyers Involved contract. A very serious-looking contract shows the liaison that they’re booking a serious professional, so the liaison had better have their act together.

I don’t regret using my old letter of agreement when I toured my show in the past, and I’ll always be grateful for every paid booking. But now I understand more fully what the show offers and how much my work is worth. Plus, I’m at a different psychological place with the show itself. I love touring it and I know the toll it takes on me if the venue’s staff aren’t able to support the performance in a knowledgeable, professional manner. If a liaison wants to book my show, they will sign the new contract, which will make the above list of painful experiences unlikely because they would literally be in breach of contract, legally speaking.

Even if you want to stick with a two-page letter of agreement vs. a 10-page contract-with-rider, I urge you to add some specifications based on my warnings above. Seriously: make sure that every liaison agrees to give you directions on how to enter the venue and lets you know if there are events (like classes) scheduled 50 minutes after the show begins, and make sure they sign the agreement. (Because come on. That was some ridonkulousness I shouldn’t have had to go through.)

As for me, I’ve been touring my show for a few years now. I’ve seen how it affects people from different walks of life and I know what it takes to give them my best performance. I’m ready to take the next step. Intimidatingly Professional Performer Land, here I come, contract in hand.

BONUS: Here’s a fantastic post on all the jobs involved in being a touring solo performer. I swear, somebody throw us a parade!

Announcement: I’m leading new solo show and memoir workshops in October and November. Give me a holler here if interested.

Thank you for reading my sixteenth post! I love your comments, so if you would like to leave one, 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.

How To Cut Material from a Bloated Show (or How To Choose, Part 2): Guest Post by Scott Barry

I’m very pleased to announce that produced playwright, screenwriter, and solo performer Scott Barry wrote today’s entry. After I shared my last post on how to choose which scenes to keep in your overlong script, Scott made a very insightful observation on Facebook about my suggestion to keep the story “on theme”:

“If your aim is to write a theme-driven show or a character-based show with variations on a theme then I would agree. If you’re aiming at a plot-driven show then I would add to each scene this examination: does it argue for or against the theme, does it move the plot forward and take the story emotionally and psychologically deeper? Also, on the latter, is there a desire line, with direct story conflict? I have to say it’s what I don’t get nearly enough of in solo theater today: characters with desires, on quests to get something or change something or solve something, with obstacle after unsolvable obstacle, and life and death stakes (even if just in their minds). I miss causation where each scene, decision, action, reaction, leads to the next—for better or worse—as opposed to episodic tours of thematically related events. I miss story velocity and dramatic questions (as opposed to philosophical questions) that leave me wanting, or at least wondering how the hell this is all going to work out—until the very end.”

I agree wholeheartedly with the above, so I asked Scott to expand on it. He generously did, with this caveat: “I’m a big believer in people following their creative impulses and breaking all rules of convention, etc., if that’s their path. What I’ve written is what works for me.” You’ll see where his suggestions converge with my last post and then go into new territory that I wish I had thought to add myself:

Years ago I was sitting in the Geary Theatre in San Francisco watching my idol Spalding Gray perform his monologue “It’s a Slippery Slope.” To say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. And yet, somewhere towards the end of the show I looked at my watch. He was eighty minutes in. And then I happened to glance down my row and two other people had their watches out. A thought occurred: even if you’re Spalding Gray you get eighty minutes.

Cut to a few years later and I’ve proudly completed the first draft of my first solo show in a burst of creative bliss. Handwritten in a spiral notebook no less. And with a pencil!

I typed it up. It was two hundred pages, i.e. two hundred minutes long. Oh crap. And it was autobiographical. Everything in it had meaning—to me.

What began that day is a process I still use to make those dreaded cuts.

1. I write an outline (or what I like to call, “Running the gauntlet”):

  • I start with a logline and/or a brief description of the story. Honestly, I suck at these but the point isn’t to get them right. The point is to learn something about my story. I always do.
  • I write out the themes and values at stake. Love, power, truth, family, fame, loss, etc.
  • I try to write an operating question or statement (even if it sounds cliché) that can be argued from both sides. E.g.: “Love conquers all.”
  • I write detailed character descriptions.
  • I write a “beat sheet” where in one or two sentences I try to describe what happens in every scene. Often, when I struggle to articulate what is happening in a scene—nothing is happening. When I try to describe how the scene illuminates the theme—it doesn’t. Same for characters.
  • Then with my eyes on that beat sheet I ask some tough questions:
    • Does each scene move the story forward?
    • Does it provide new information?
    • Does it take the story emotionally or psychologically deeper?
    • Does it argue for or against the theme?

And if the answer is “no”: most often it goes. If for some reason in my gut it’s essential and I just can’t articulate why, or maybe it’s incredibly funny, it stays. After all, we’re artists, not accountants.

2. Once I’ve paired the material down close to its intended running time, I ask one last question:

  • Is the overall shape of my story as esthetically pleasing as the parts themselves? If not, there might be some more trimming or moving of parts.

3. Then, and only then, do I give it to trusted friends to read.

4. And then, and only then do I workshop it whole or in parts in front of audiences of people I don’t know and see what flies and what doesn’t.

Because even if you’re Spalding Gray—you get eighty minutes.

Thank you, Scott, for sharing your process with us! It’s practical and thorough; shows a deep understanding of the art of good storytelling; and leaves room for impulses and the mysterious alchemy that tend to accompany creative endeavors. Readers, for more information on Scott and his work, go to:

And thank you, dear readers, for checking out SuitcaseFactory’s fifteenth post! If you would like to leave a comment for Scott, 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.