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.

How To Choose

Have you amassed enough material for your show to create a nine-part miniseries?

Does it feel like every scene and character is vital because It’s Your Life And Every Bit Of It Made You Who You Are And You’ve Got To Honor All Of It So It’s Impossible To Choose?

And have you made sure that everything is thematically connected so there are no obvious scenes to cut? (If the answer is no, I highly recommend Alicia Dattner’s excellent posts on how to make sure of this: here and here.)

Meanwhile, do you know in your head and heart that you must make cuts, if for no other reason than that you don’t want to learn 15 hours’ worth of lines…but you’re stumped on how to edit the piece?

Here are my tips on how to choose which scenes to keep in your show:

1. Create an outline of it.

  • You should be able to eyeball the list of scenes on a few pages instead of having to flip through the whole script.

2. In the margin, write the theme for each scene next to the scene’s heading.

  • Examples: family dynamics, addiction, miscommunication, developing self respect, and so on. You know your themes best.
  • The themes should have a common thread, which is the overarching theme. Again, if they don’t, click on the links above to learn how to make it happen.
    • Example: my show’s overarching theme is How Displacement Can Affect Identity. (The logline is a lot catchier: Who Are You When You’re from Everywhere and Nowhere?)
  • Each scene’s theme is actually a subtheme of the show’s overarching one.

3. Count how many times a subtheme comes up.

4. If a subtheme pops up five or more times, cull those instances down to between one and three. (Four, tops.)

  • Each instance should feature a different facet of the subtheme.
    • Examples: in one scene of my show, characters think I’m adopted when they see me with my biological mom. In another scene, my classmates bully me over what they perceive to be my race. In another, I lose friends who misunderstand something I say about race. In another, a stranger denies part of my racial heritage to my face.
      • These moments are separated by many other scenes in the show. They serve as echoes rather than duplicates, and they highlight the fact that race has been a recurring personal issue throughout my life in different ways. Some moments are played for laughs and some are serious.
  • You can, of course, duplicate a moment if it was repeated in the same way throughout your life and that’s your point. But be sparing: the audience doesn’t need to witness it more than a few times if it’s exactly—or almost exactly—the same each time.
    • Duplicate moments are best kept short. A single sentence, a gesture, or a combination of the two will do.

5. If your subthemes have already been culled but the show is still way too long, here’s my tried-and-true dirty secret method for choosing what to keep: present a 60-minute version of your show to an actual audience.

  • The deadline should be non-negotiable. It can come from a class, a workshop, or your own small gathering of trusted theatre friends whom you’ve invited to watch the hourlong version in your living room. If it’s the latter: you must feed them and you may not mess with their schedules by backing out or delaying. This is real.
  • Wait until midnight-ish the night before the presentation.
  • Stand in your living room in your pajamas, cursing and sweating, holding a pen and a hard copy of the outline, and on anxious, irritable, possibly even belligerent instinct: circle the scenes you think could have the most impact on the audience. (Note: impact doesn’t have to equal fervor. A quiet moment can have great impact.)
    • If you’re convinced that all the scenes have equal impact, then choose randomly.
      • You read that right.
      • Yup. It’s how I did it.
      • It’s ok. You’re not carving this on stone tablets. You’re just trying something out for tomorrow’s (today’s! it’s past midnight!) presentation.
      • You will find out in less than 24 hours if the 60-minute version works overall, and what can stay or go.
      • You can add scenes back and delete others after this. We’re not writing in blood on sacred papyrus here.

In other words, when push comes to shove: just make choices and try them. Figuratively speaking, you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. (It’s good spaghetti, so calm down. I honor your spaghetti.)

When you’re in rehearsal for the world premiere, your director will be an excellent dramaturg if they’re worth their salt, and that will make an enormous difference. But for now, try the above.

Let me know how this works for you. I hope you come away with a shorter, performable draft of your show that you feel good about. I would love to see it.

BONUS: In this video, This American Life’s Ira Glass gives excellent advice on storytelling for radio, much of which can be applied to solo shows:

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

Thank you for reading my fourteenth 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.

Getting Unstuck: How To Go from Ideas To Script

Ready to create your show but have no idea how to begin? Or do you have written material but don’t like the way it sounds when you read/perform it aloud? (Too formal, too wordy, etc.?)

This is a tried-and-true, easy method to produce material for a solo show or to revise a scene so that it flows more naturally. I mentioned it in my From Defeat to Celebration post, but I’ll go into more detail here.

1a. If you know which parts of your life you want to include, choose any story from one of those periods. If you don’t know which parts of your life you want to include, then choose any story from your life—the first one that pops into your mind is usually just right.
1b. If the story is already written and you want to revise it, skip to the next step.

2. Tell the story out loud to a recording device–audio or video, it doesn’t matter. Smart phones usually have both kinds of apps.
2b. If the story is written, don’t read it. Just improvise (yes, you can improvise the telling of a true story) and record the improv.

3. Physically and verbally reenact the events in the story as much as possible. For instance, if your scene depicts you riding a bike to school: mime the act of riding the bike and say your age, where you are, where you’re going and why, and describe what you see/hear/smell/taste/feel. Mention as many sensory elements as you can remember.

4. Go for it. There is no wrong way to do this. It is not about trying to be “good” or “interesting” or any such thing at this point. Forget all that. You’re simply telling your story in a safe space with as much detail as possible. Include every single detail that you care about.

5. When you’re finished, walk away. 

6. The next day, watch or listen to it and transcribe it word for word.

  • How we tell our stories off the top of our heads is usually more dynamic than any essay we’ll ever write.
  • If you already had a written version of the scene, the improvised version is the edit. You can also merge the original written version with the improvised monologue to “finesse” the scene, if you like.

7. Do this for every scene in your show. Choosing what stays in the final draft comes later. I’ll write about that in another post.

The main thing you’ll learn from this process: “telling” it takes fewer words than writing it because facial expression, body language, and specific gestures are microcosms of storytelling on their own. Your body and face will encompass worlds within the story, which will both enrich it and save precious stage time.

I’m excited for you to learn and discover and hopefully be liberated by this process! Go forth, mighty solo show performer, and tell it like it was and is. Your story wants to be told by you, in your way, with your words, off the top of your magnificent head.

BONUS: Great stuff on developing characters for your solo show:

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

Thank you for reading my thirteenth 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 Agony and the Ecstasy (or: When You Think Your Show Might Kill You but It’s Worth It)

This post is about performance plus travel. It’s also about fear.

Last month I took my show to Singapore, where I performed at two international schools. As I mentioned in my Restart post last year, it takes time to recover from travel+performance+travel.

It took over two weeks for me to recover from jet lag this time, which makes sense, since there’s a 15-hour time difference between Singapore and Los Angeles. Not to mention that I:

  • performed an 80-minute solo show for audiences of mostly teenagers
    • once at the ungodly hour of 8:30am (after a 7am tech!)
    • once at 4:15pm after the audience had been at school all day (so I had to “bring the magic” even more! keep ‘em awake!)
  • was wearing a back brace for an injury that’s healing slowly
  • performed the show again only three days after our return to Southern California
  • am not a youngster


  • was convinced that I was dying on our first night in Singapore and thought my husband would have to bring my body back to the States in a coffin.


Sit back, dear reader, and learn from my mistakes.

We flew from L.A. to Taipei to Singapore. At the end of the first leg (14+ hours) my ankles, calves, and shins were so swollen that they felt tight. This has never happened before and I’ve been on hundreds and hundreds of airplanes throughout my life. (My family moved a lot while I was growing up.) So when we got to Taipei, I walked around and then propped my ankles up on our carry-on, because my lower legs were freaking us out.

After we arrived at our digs in Singapore (a day after leaving L.A.), we walked to the nearest supermarket to buy food and hopefully work out the water retention in my lower legs. (At this point we still thought it was water retention.) Back in the apartment, I asked my husband to massage my ankles, which felt good…and then red spots and bumps started appearing on my ankles and shins.

My immediate thought was: blood clots. Thus, logically: thrombosis. (Are you a worst-case-scenario predictor? Howdy, pardner.) I was determined not to panic, so I did the adult thing: I researched the swelling, spots, and bumps on the internet.

Reader, never do this. Never look up disturbing symptoms on the internet.

The more I read, the more I realized the end was nigh.

As more spots and bumps appeared further up my legs, we researched hospital locations. Luckily we were a 10-minute walk away from several medical centers and facilities. Would they accept our insurance? Unlikely, right?

I started worrying about having brought my husband across the the world only to die on him. How would he get my body back? What’s the procedure in Singapore? How much would it cost? Would I die at the hospital? How much money would medical treatments cost before I kicked the bucket?

Finally, at 8pm, I said “I think it’s going to become an embolism and we need to go to the hospital.” We were both flattened with weariness, but we got dressed, my husband used Google to figure out the walking directions…and then I was hit with a tidal wave of fatigue SO STRONG that I changed my mind on a dime and said “Let’s go to sleep, and hopefully I’ll be alive in the morning. If my legs are still freaking me out we can go to the hospital then.” My husband agreed—we were both in a stupor of exhaustion. We went to bed, I propped my ankles up on piles of clothing, and passed out.

When we awoke at dawn: my ankles and calves were back to their normal size. The spots and bumps itched in patches along my legs, like no-see-um bug bites.

False alarm.

Woohoo! Time to see Singapore!

Have I mentioned that I’m allergic to MSG? I can have it, just not a whole lot. You know how airplane food is super-salty to begin with? Perhaps I ought not to have chosen Chinese meals over Western meals on the flights over, especially when I wasn’t feeling sufficiently hydrated. MSG allergy + dehydration = swollen legs, perchance?

Beyond the swelling, maybe the red spots were indeed clots, but they must have been superficial, because I’m not dead.

Or maybe they were bug bites. (Bugs are addicted to my blood. This is a documented fact.)

It was a wonderful trip after the first 24 hours. Here are pics if you’re curious.

The show was warmly received at both schools, which have gorgeous theatres and very  professional tech support. A dear college friend of mine flew from Tokyo just to see the show, which boggled my mind. When the showbiz portion of the trip was over, my husband and I went sightseeing for a few days and got to know and love Singapore for many reasons, not the least of which was the food. I have a new favorite breakfast: kaya toast “Set A” with kopi-c. (Look it up. Glory.)

Just to be safe, I bought compression stockings for the flights back. My ankles and lower legs did swell again, but not as badly as the first time, and I was diligent about stretching and moving them regularly on both flights. I also drank an alarming amount of water. (Passengers got to know me well as I repeatedly walked down the aisles to the restrooms.)

Back to the point: it took me over two weeks to recover from the jet lag, and by jet lag I mean the entire experience—including the fear of death in an unfamiliar place. Of course, Heather Woodbury’s excellent advice re: post-performance detoxing absolutely applies here (see Tip #5 in my January post). But so does this: be mentally gentle, kind, and compassionate with yourself after you’ve taken your show out of town and while you’re traveling with it. You’re being brave every time you perform and every time you do it somewhere new. You’re not “supposed to” bounce back from long travel times in any direction, and you’re not “supposed to” bounce back like it was nothing once the trip is over.

You didn’t just travel. You disrupted your normal routine while possibly looking into the maws of death in a place where you do not live just to make your show happen—your show that you performed all alone—which as we know can make us feel like our entrails are spilling out of our bodies. Performing and traveling are each exciting (woohoo!) and tiring (gah…). But together? Oh pookie. Please take it easy afterward and don’t expect to “get back to normal” for a while. It’s okay. You’re not lazy, selfish, or weak. You’re in recovery. It’s from a good thing, but good does not equal easy.

Did I follow my own advice after Singapore? Did I at least do it after the show in Southern California that followed three days after our return from Singapore?



And I regret it. Oh reader, I so regret it. Please learn from me and give yourself any and all leeway that you can after any trip with your show. No matter how much you love to travel, as I genuinely do, and no matter how much you enjoyed the destination, as I genuinely did.

Especially if you sincerely believed you might die upon arrival in the host locale.

When you take your show on the road (or through the clouds), you might have some anxiety about it, and the anxiety might become actual fear if your health starts acting up. Even if you grew up traveling as I did, the fear might affect your rational mind because that’s what fear does. So, celebrate yourself for having been invited to share your art in a new place and for having the joy and guts to take it there, and mentally nurture yourself the whole way through and afterward.

And don’t look up weird symptoms on the internet.

BONUS: A hilarious account of what it’s really like to create and perform a solo show:

[Edited 05/30/16. Bonus added 7/28/16. -EL]

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, so please draw any and all reasonable conclusions from that fact.  

Thank you for reading my twelfth 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.