Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Malcolm Gladwell and the Imperfect Puzzle

Writer Malcolm Gladwell [credit:]

I am making my way through the Masterclass series, where filmmakers, dramatists, actors, architects, cooks and writers share their stories and techniques.

I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell discuss writing in one "Masterclass" and he said something that may be beneficial to creating solo shows.

He was discussing this idea of "the imperfect puzzle" and illustrating that sometimes a narrative is intersting if the pieces "don't all fit together perfectly." He used as an example an article he was reading written by a British researcher in the 1970s. 

The researcher was tasked with investigating juvenile delinquents around the United Kingdom. What the researcher found was that there were schools where students always ran away, and schools where no students ran away. The researcher hypothesized that deliquency had something to do with the schools themselves not the students. The article, however, ends with no conclusions. The researcher states he was called to research some other subject and never found out what exactly was causing juvenile delinquecy around England.

Gladwell cites this as an example of an open-ended puzzle. The reader doesn't get a perfect argument with an obvious conclusive answer. Instead the article is memorable and caused Gladwell to ruminate, not jut with a kind of WTF? mentality, but to reflect, himself, on what could have been causing the juvenile delinquency.

This may be something to bear in mind when creating a solo show. Does your character need to answer every question that arises? Solve every dilemma? Could it be more dynamic, more memorable, more intriguing by leaving certain summations out?

Anyway, food for thought.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dallas Actor Justin Lemieux Wins 'Best Emerging Actor' for WARM SODA at United Solo

Awards were announced at the Gala held on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at Theatre Row in New York, following the festival's conclusion. Many artists were recognized with awards for their achievements in the art of solo performance. Details and the full list of award recipients can be found here

During its ten-week run, the festival offered 120 stage productions representing six continents. This past season, the festival presented productions created by new talents and show business veterans.

Justin Lemieux presented Warm Soda during a sold-out, one-night-only performance at Dallas' Theatre Three Theatre Too space on September 10, 2017, and again on September 20, 2017 at Theatre Row in New York. Lemieux received news of the award on November 20, 2017, following the close of the festival. 

"I'm just so happy people came to the show. I'm honored to receive any sort of recognition and thank the United Solo Academy and panel for giving me this honor," says Lemieux. 

Justin Lemieux is currently developing two new monologues. He is a Dallas-based actor, writer, and monologist. Warm Soda is a memory piece, which Lemieux calls, " A cross between The Wonder Years and Annie Hall," and encapsulates the thrill of new friendship all the way through the grief and confusion that comes when those deep connections are severed, or rather, frayed. A love story about coming of age, Warm Soda wants to know, "Were you the kid with the good snacks in your house, or did you gaze longingly into the bounty of your best friend's overflowing pantry?" 

This production, a nostalgic examination of friendship, is an original work by Lemieux; a thoughtful reflection on a childhood friendship. Bonded by a shared love of video games and junk food, Justin and his best friend Joey grow together, and apart, in the niche, technological boom of the 1990s. 

Warm Soda was created during Lemieux's time at Southern Methodist University as a graduate student in the MFA Acting Program, under the guidance of Rhonda Blair, where director Jake Nice first saw the performance. The production was revived as part of House Party Theatre's 2016 evening of solo shows, HP3. Though Jake and Justin grew up in different generations, and different parts of the country, Jake immediately felt connected to the story. This re-worked version of the performance is a true collaboration of writer and director, each bringing valuable insight to the performance. Justin was accepted into the 2017 United Solo Festival in New York City and performed the piece there in September. Justin continues to tighten and develop this work under the mentorship of celebrated playwright and actor Tom Dugan, whose original solo piece Wiesenthal is currently on a national tour.

Original post on

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Solo Performer Press Kits

A press kit is one of the important things that I don't see enough solo performers utilizing. A good press kit can be of great use to the performer as well as the press. It can be a great introduction for a solo performer of what he or she does. It can be a great way to sum up who you are, what you are about and what your show is about. And it does so in a tidy little press-friendly package.

In this post, I want to explore what is in a standard press kit, how press kits have changed over the last several years and how a press kit can be utilized.

First, what is a press kit? Traditionally, a press kit was a packet of photos and information given out to press and media folks that offered all kinds of stuff about your show. Up until about two decades ago, a press kit literaly had large format, clear photos (with accompanying rights to further print these photos), a biographical write-up about the performer, a summation about the project/show and a listing of contact information to for follow-ups. It came in a well-organized folder.

Eventually, theis gave way to placing all the information on a CD, then eventually a flashdrive, and now almost all "press kits" are done online, via a website or the like.

Next, what would you need in a press kit? If you are doing good and interesting work at some point you are going to be featured on someone's blog, podcast, YouTube channel or maybe in some form of traditional media (alt weekly, newspaper, radio). Interviewers, bloggers and podcasters - in fact, all press/media people - are pretty busy folks. Why not make their lives a little easier? An organized, professional press kit will make them look good by keeping them on dealine and keeping them accurate and it will help them make you look good. It will also help promote your show to their readers/listeners. Best of all, it will help you control your own personal branding.

Here are the elements that make up a good press kit...

Press kit Checklist:

1. At least four (4) hi-res photos*
  • 2, at minimum, "in performance" photos. ( At least one horizontal and one vertical. These should be taken close enough to see your face, should show you in action and should be clear and engaging. It can also help to have different ones if you are looking in different direction in the photos.)
  • Your show poster
  • A good headshot
All these photos should have proper accreditation in the name of the photo. Customarily, you credit the photographer who took the photo. If you own the photo full out, you are welcome to put your own name/company if you want. The caption should appear like this...
Brad McEntire
The actual title of this photo in the metadata is:
Brad McEntire in CHOP - credit-Audacity Theatre Lab

Why send in hi-res digital photos? Because, you want good art to be put with the stories people write about you and because you don't want them using some pixalated photo of you they found somewhere on the internet (podcasters, bloggers and other newer media, in particular, unfortunately sometimes do this. They will sometimes raid your Facebook for a simple photo).

Ideally, you want a whole smattering of photos because press outlets love recieving and then using different images than their competitors. So, a good variety of images can only help you. It might be worth hiring a professional photographer to get some really good pics as well (hat tip to Andrew Wade for this one).

ProTip: Don't have Adobe Photshop or Illustrator? Not a web-savvy designer? You can get great posters/flyer designed for around $5 a pop on fiverr. Or you can create one using Microsoft Word. Or you can can make a press kit or show flyer in Canva. Just some ideas I have utilized myself over the years.

* Hi-Res means High Resolution. Hi-Res is a photo at least 6" x 4" (or 1260 x 960 pixel dimensions image size). This is the minimum. Don't make any pic lower than this.

2. Biography
Ideally, you should prepare three (3) different bios, of varying length, and save them in a file on your computer.
  • Full one (one page max) - summarizes who you are and what you are about
  • short one (one paragraph) - just the big stuff
  • one sentence (you'd be surprised how much this can be used)

3. Videos (or links to them)
I'll do a separate post on promo videos someday, but you should have two (2) in your arsenal for each show.

  • A short one, like a teaser. Maybe 45 second to a minute in length. The first 15-20 seconds is a great place to put a really engaging moment from your piece or quick montage of the show set to music. The goal is to hook the viewer's attention.
  • A longer one of a few minutes. It should hook attention, too, but give a bit more context to your show. Maybe in the middle have a quick Q-and-A where you talk about your show. You can describe what your aim is or the origins of your ideas behind the show. Follow this with a solid snippet or two from your show and end on either audience reactions or overlayed pull quotes.

4. Links to big/ representative online interviews (web and podcast)
This shows you have been newsworthy in some way already. No need to put pull quotes from other sources in your press kit, since journalists and so on will not be able to use them for thier own pieces.

5. Contact information 
Include phone, email, your website URL as well as social media links. You want the press to be able to contact you quickly and easily.

These last two are optional...

6. List of Awards You've Won
Won a few Best of Fest Awards? Belonged to some notable residencies? Won a well-known grant? Performed at a prestigious theatre? If you have racked up too many awards or they didn't fit in your bio, you might dedicate a full page to list them.

7. List of interview topics/questions
If you want an interviewer to cover certain topics, give them a list. If you want to go further, give them the exact questions you wanna be asked. They may not do it, but they'll know it is important to your message. Or they may just incorporate a few of the questions you may suggested into their interview. Interviews don't have to be 100% surprise.

NOTE ABOUT BEING INTERVIEWED: You don't have to answer the exact same way to every similar question you are asked from interview to interview, but make sure your message is consistent. Also, be interesting. This means being personable and engaging (This is something arts journalist-turned-solo performer Elaine Liner continually emhasizes). Remember, press folks are trying to sell their own products and you are the content. Help them sell you so they can help you sell your show.

Now, put all text elements in Word DOC for easy cut and pasting. You can use PDFs for things that wouldn't normally be cut-and-pasted, such as list of awards, but you should insert working hyperlinks into any PDFs to places where basic information can be straight lifted by press people (they love cut-and-paste... saves time).

Gather all these press kit elements, make them presentable (and, yeah, spell check everything!), then put them in a single folder on your computer. Zip that folder and then put it on your website. You can also put the individual elements as separate sub-pages on your website as well. Just keep it simple.

I would recommend putting these files not just on your website, but on a CD or small flashdrive to hand out to reviewers that show up to critique your show.

Do you need a physical press kit? I would say it couldn't hurt, but most of the time these are just added expense. I used to print out full color pages and put them in a nice folder along with a digital version of the press kit on an enclosed CD. I might make one or two still in case an emergency arises (my website goes down for some reason or something happens on the press side), but it is strictly as a back up. I haven't actually handed out a physical press kit, like in a folder, since 2009.

A press kit is, admittedly, usually thought of as an old-fashioned tool of promotion, but I think it can and should be thought of in a different light for contemporary performers. The true value of a press kit nowadays is that it makes you, the performer, get all of your press materials together, fluidly and dependably, in one place. You will then have them on hand when needed.

A solid press kit will brand you as a professional. Make it easy for people to share the word about you and they just might do so.

Want a few good examples? 

  • Rebecca Perry has all her Press Kit embedded in her website (under the Press/Media tab). Take a look... HERE. [update 6/2018 - Perry has redesigner her website and got rid of her Press/Media tab. Shame.]
  • Also, take a look at Martin Dockery's excellent Press Kit for his show Wanderlust... HERE (bonus points because the links in the PDF are all clickable). He is also a fan of having clear photos of himself as a performer.
  • You can see my Press Kit page on the website I made for my solo show CHOP... HERE (the website platform Wix doesn't allow ZIP files, so the press kit elements are included on the page as separate elements)

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Grant Knutson on How to be a Successful Touring Artist

Grant Knutson
Grant Knutson of Minion Productions has spent the last half dozen years traveling around North America helping touring/fringe artists handle the logistic and networking side of things. Here he talks with the folks at the Stage Hackers Podcast. Give a listen.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Benefits for video marketing of shows

When I started in the theatre 20-someodd years back, there was very little use of video beyond archiving performances. Nowadays, a video promo of your show is not the icing on the cake, but the cake itself.

That said, here's a short little inspiring blog post by Sabioleon (circus performance promoter and producer based in Europe) about the use of video for marketing purposes... HERE.

Best take-away line for me...

video content has a longer life span than traditional editorial & advertising content
Take a look at the post... HERE

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Amy Oestreicher on Staying Authentic to Your Own Path

Two weeks before her Senior prom, actress/playwright Amy Oestreicher's life took an abrupt turn. A blood clot caused her stomach to literally explode. She narrowly survived. And then she faced the real challenge... the long, hard road of putting herself back together.

She went through nearly 30 surgeries, a six-month long coma, organ failure, and long-lasting medical trauma in which she couldn't eat or speak for years. She eventually put together a solo show based on her journal entries of this period of her life called Gutless & Grateful. Here, she tells how her early influences in the arts, particularly music and theatre helped her turn her personal journey into an inspiring and personal one-person show.

Amy Oestreicher in Gutless & Grateful

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Staying Authentic to Your Own Path
By Guest Contributor Amy Oestreicher

I had always loved musical theatre and was always fascinated by how the art of song and story could be so seamlessly woven together to share a universal message and to inspire others.   

Coming out of a coma just as I was supposed to be entering my freshman year of college was confusing to say the least.  Suddenly, the career path that had seemed to apparent to me my entire life was pushed to the wayside while I took on the more pressing task of fighting for my life.  It was easy to wonder “why me” or question how my life would ever maintain a steady course again.  

With no clear road map on how to get my life back on “track”, I just stayed true to what had always felt like home – expressing myself through the arts.  Although I had lost my ability to speak for a while, I committed myself to arts that I could express – I lost myself in the world of painting and mixed media and ended up putting on three professional art shows.  

The Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda ended up hearing about my story and my art, and had me on for a segment they do called “Everyone Has A Story.”  It was there where I met David Friedman – a kind soul and a very talented composer.  I went right over to him and told him I admired his work and would love to put together a cabaret act with him.  Two years later, using excerpts from my thousands of journal entries, and songs that effectively expressed my journal – some songs being original – Gutless & Grateful had its New York premiere.  

Theatre was what I always felt like I was born to do.  It felt like a natural medium to tell my story.  Through all the years of obstacles, triumphs and setbacks, I had essentially experienced the frustrations and trying circumstances in isolation.  I didn’t appreciate the full scope of what I had undergone, and more significantly, the impact it might have on others, once I got my story out there.  

As a performer, my main desire was and is to connect with my community and share a message that will inspire others – for me, that is the true beauty and power of theatre.

This was really the first time I was telling my story in my own words – not through whispers from neighbors, or from news stories or documentaries.  It was my way of reclaiming my identity as a performer, and also coming back to the world of the stage with an even stronger message.  Helping yourself is a reward in one respect, but to know that your own struggles might serve to heal others is truly transformative and uplifting.  It is the most alive feeling in the world.

"Except that now I was telling my own story rather than playing an ingénue in Guys & Dolls. Now I was a solo performer."

I have always trained proficiently in singing, dancing and acting and grew up seriously interested in the study of theatre.  I was accepted into the University of Michigan. I thought my life would be very straightforward and well planned.  However, life has taught me that you can have all the intentions, planning and even training in the world, but sometimes life goes another way. Then you have to examine what new lesson you are being taught – and then learn and grow from it.  

For example, as a dancer all of my life, upon waking from a coma, it was alarming to me that suddenly I could not even sit up in a chair, let alone stand.  It was hard for me to believe I would ever dance again.  But every day I did little things – whatever made me feel like I was doing something – flexing my toes in bed, rotating my wrists. I relearned. I started from square one after each of my 27 surgeries.  

It was certainly frustrating, but my determination and passion for what made me feel vital kept an unnatural energy burning through me.  As soon as I was able to, I was diligent about training, and even though it was easy to look back at old tapes and envy the ease with which I would complete everything as a pre-comatose teen, I kept looking forward and envisioned myself as a mosaic – broken apart, but putting myself back together. Maybe the reassembly would be different, but somehow also beautiful (unexpectedly so).

Along the way, I faced people who discouraged me. I nicknamed one of my favorite doctors Dr. Doom because he never had a single positive thing to say until I was discharged. I will never forget an innocent occupational therapist that told me to never give up, because one day I might even be able to walk on my own without a wheelchair. 

There was no way I would settle for walking as my greatest strength!  And even as I became healthier, it was hard for others to not see me as “sick” even though I felt my determination and passion could conquer an entire army.  If I did listen to one person that told me “not yet”, “too soon”, or “when you get healthier” I would have never put up my art shows, taught yoga and I definitely would not have performed my autobiographical solo show Gutless & Grateful several times in several different states over a three year period.  

"But I think the most important (and difficult) thing for me was patience."

Beating the odds and defying expectations is one thing, but I believe for the psyche it is detrimental to ever let yourself believe you can’t do something, even when the odds are against you.  It’s that spark of “well maybe there’s a tiny chance” that lights a little fire in your soul, it’s that something that keeps you going, that wakes you up in the morning, that put the little smirk on your face that warms whatever you do with heart and an unbeatable spirit.

It’s natural when someone tells you you can’t do something to think about it a bit.  And many times, I admit, it was hard not to believe them. I went to auditions with bags attached to me. I attended hot yoga daily while connected to an IV pump. I have gotten many funny looks over the years and some awkward situations made me feel very embarrassed and upset.

I would occasionally pity myself for a bit.  In the process of putting together Gutless & Grateful, it was easy to compare myself to colleagues that were doing theatre, but “bigger” and “better” than I was – on Broadway, on tours, seemingly “breezing through” their career.  But I think the most important (and difficult) thing for me was patience.  Telling myself that I will get there – this is my own unique path, and as long as I am still doing what I love, in whatever shape or form, I am staying authentic to my own path. 

"Suddenly, I was telling my story in my own words."

When Gutless & Grateful premiered in New York at the Triad in October 2012, I felt like everything had really come to fruition.  I stopped comparing myself to others and realized that I had stayed true to myself and in doing so, I was still the same performer I had always aspired to be.  Except that now I was telling my own story rather than playing an ingénue in Guys & Dolls. Now I was a solo performer. It took a bit more work, and the path was a bit rockier, but I now had the privilege of performing theatre that was connecting with audiences on an even more personal level – inspiring others with a journey of my own that I had never anticipated.  

After the run, I would get hugs from total strangers who told me “I didn’t know anything about this show – my wife dragged me – but I’m so glad I came!”  I had messages in my guest book from audience members who disclosed that I had helped them through a very traumatic time in their own lives.  Suddenly, I was telling my story in my own words. It was now no longer Amy Oestreicher the woman who’s stomach exploded, but Amy Oestreicher the actress, telling her inspiring story on stage. I was so grateful for this experience, and it felt like  springboard for even more opportunity.  

After years of isolation, it was not just difficult getting back out into the world again, but more specifically figuring out how to get back into the professional world of networking and managing a career in the creative arts.  I wasn’t sure how to get out there. Honestly, I was intimidated by the wide world of theatre and felt as though I didn’t know how to form connections.  

So I did it the old-fashioned way.  

I posted flyers everywhere humanly possible, researched the contact information of every news source I could get my hands on, and spread my name - relentlessly and shamelessly - wherever I could (I mean, I'm writing here on The site, aren't I?).  There were no shortcuts and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.  The hard work taught me valuable lessons about publicity and business, and I have gradually created connections that are truly invaluable.

The single skill has proven to be most useful is straightforward, raw persistence. In every respect I've learned to just keep going and never give up. Even when I was exhausted or overwhelmed by the idea of what I wanted to accomplish, I just kept at it. One opportunity at a time, one contact at a time, day in day out.  I literally was a girl waking up from a coma trying to find her place in a big world. 

Persistence gradually transformed into a faith that with determination, I would get there. I could get anywhere.

Now, I’ve toured Gutless and Grateful across the country for over five years – not only to theatre venues, but to conferences, colleges, support groups, hospitals, organizations – you name it.

Want to know what accomplishment I am most proud of?

Finding myself and feeling happy for the first time since I came to.  It was scary to be in a high school class getting ready for my senior prom one minute, and then suddenly being thrown into an alternate universe, where my body was plugged into machines and my own existence felt very alien to me.  It was difficult (such an understatement!) grappling with the reality that I would never be able to even consume a drop of water again.  

I could have given up millions of times.  But I didn’t and I am appreciative of my own insanity to keep believing. I got depressed, but I never threw in the towel.  But more than that, I refused to simply survive.  Now I can truly say I am thriving.  I’m doing what I love on a larger scale than I ever could have imagined.  I’m reaching others in unforeseen ways. I am on stage, performing my one-woman show.  And I love what I do.

So here’s my advice to anyone dying to put a solo show together:

You have to really want it.  REALLY want it.  That's the only way anyone else will want it.  Then, start from anywhere.  Don’t compare yourself and your work with what you currently have.  Don’t accept what you start with.  Visualize what you’d like to be, where you'd like to go and manifest it – will it.  The most important thing is to really tune into your passion and work from there – wherever it may lead you – no matter how crazy.  If it is authentic, it’s worthwhile.  And with a bit of dedication - and raw persistence - it will happen.

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Amy Oestreicher is a visual and performing artist, author and PTSD peer-to-peer specialist. You can watch her discuss her journey via her TEDx talk (here) or visit her website at: