Saturday, July 9, 2016

5 Tips of Personal Branding for Solo Performers


Personal brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.
~ Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.com
As the producer of a fringe-like solo performance festival and a solo performer in my own right, I am sometimes asked by solo performers just starting out what they can do to start growing their audiences. I tell them they need to put some thought and action into starting - even as they are still creating their shows - a Personal Brand.
I know personal branding is something that sounds icky. It brings to mind those overly-slick, somewhat packaged people who brag openly about themselves and are all smoozy. I think of these people as douche bags.
On the other hand, if you think of personal branding simply as an organized way to purposely tell about who you are and what you do, then personal branding can be really beneficial for solo performers. It doesn't have to be scummy. In fact, it can really help you differentiate yourself from others. It comes down to how you would like yourself to e percieved. That's step one.
Once you understand how you wish yourself to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic about your personal brand. This doesn’t mean you can’t be human. On the contrary, as Michael Simmons writes on Forbes.com, authenticity is key in the digital age.

1. Start a Blog

People who are good at what they do have usually racked up plenty of experiences and eventually a bunch of achievements. And there are all sorts of ways to share your knowledge, and demonstrate your expertise and your skills. Having a central location for all your work, history and information is actually important). But the biggest reason to blog is because you want to be found during Google searches.
Blogging will boost your search engine efforts and make it easier for directors and producers to find out about you. This goes for traditional actors as well. Plus, if you talk about parts you’ve played, venues you’ve played in, and shows you’ve been in or want to be in, your name will be associated with those shows, parts, and theatres, thanks to co-citation. In other words, talk about your one-person adaptation of Carlos Arniches The Lady from Trévelez at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival, and if someone searches for those two things, your name could pop up.
Speaking personally, when I narrow down performers for the Dallas Solo Fest as a member of the selection committee, I only take performers seriously if they have websites, either for their show or for themselves.

2. Create a YouTube Channel

Not only can you do a demo reel for your  show on your YouTube channel (and you should), but YouTube greatly boosts your search engine juice. If you want to win Google searches, don’t spend a lot of your energy optimizing for Google. Try to win YouTube searches instead. Since Google owns YouTube, and they put the top-ranked YouTube videos on Google search pages, your video could easily show up in a search for “Desdemona actress Portland” or whatever a director/ venue programmer/ festival organizer may be looking for.

3. Get Your Own Name as Your Web Address

Pick a domain name registrar — some people like GoDaddy because it’s inexpensive, some people hate them because of their business practices — and buy your name as a domain name. Either buy it for many years, or be sure to renew it year after year. For one thing, if you become famous, you want to own it now before it gets squatted. For another, it will tell people how to easily find you. You can use your stage name, not your real name, if that's what you wanna do. Oh, and list it on your headshots, résumés, and business cards.
TIP: Get Business Cards. Headshot on the back, contact info on the front. Way easier to have on you all the time that 8 x 10s. Even easier than carrying around postcards.

4. Get Comfortable With Google+

This tip is the out-of-left-field one. If you use Facebook, you understand how to use Google+. But the biggest reason to use it is not so you can interact with your fellow theatre people (although that certainly helps). The biggest reason is because Google assumes that if you’re connected to people on Google+, and they search for something you’ve shared, written about, or have videos and photos for, that stuff should show it in your connection’s search results. For example, if we’re connected on Google+, and you do a Google search for, for instance, “Trévelez Indianapolis,” Google may display you a recent review for the show. But if we’re not connected, you won’t see it at all. Google+ might be the most underrated social media site out there that can help people find you.

5. Network in Person

The world of theatre is like many other things... it is about relationships. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where people want to work with you because they know you and like you. They hope you will be at the same festival they will be at. They'll start to follow your work. And the best way to get to know and like people is to spend time with them outside the theatre. 
Talk about your show. Be nice. Be engaging. Make others look good. Make yourself worthy of being talked about.
Oh sure, you need to be good, be professional, and not be a punk-ass jerk. But, just like everywhere else in the working world, people want to work with and watch people they like. And if directors/ fellow peformers/ audience members can get to know a bit and like you outside of the times when you’re onstage (i.e. in the lobby or at the bar after the show), you increase the possibility of them coming to see you the next time you are on stage.
Some theatre artists I speak to — playwrights, designers, directors and performers — don’t like all this marketing. They think it’s beneath them, or too difficult, that their art should speak for itself, and they should be judged on their own merit.
Branding, networking PR and marketing are part of it. And for solo performers who are the creators as well as the production teams behind their shows, it is part of the endeavor. No one is going to automatically do it for you. Sometimes, we want part of it without the other parts. Solo performers should just get used to personal branding as part of it all. 
It would be awesome if we could live in a world where people are truly judged and rewarded based on the quality of work they do (assuming you are doing awesome work). But that’s not the world we live in. The world we live in runs on relationships and self-promotion. So, you need to do this for a while... until you can get rich and famous and get someone to do it for you. Might as well do it well and in an organized way.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Elaine Liner's 107 Publicity Boosters That Work


You need good publicity to promote your production (or product, project or company). You can't afford a publicist. Where do you start? Author, veteran arts journalist and solo performer in her own right, Elaine Liner lays out 107(+) tips, strategies and insider secrets that tell you exactly who media are, what they want from you right now and how they want it.

The book is targeted to performers heading off to the big Edinburgh Fringe, but apply to promoting yourself at venues and festivals pretty much anywhere.

Worth the small pice tag with a lot of good take aways, such as...

"Since email is your first line of attack in reachng media, address each one personally and personably. Do not gang-blast the same story pitch/release to everyone on your media list."

and

"If you have an idea for a story pitch while you are out and about, email it to yourself."

and 

"Do NOT send the same photo to everyone."

Get a copy... HERE


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rebecca Perry on the Stageworthy Podcast



Rebecca Perry [credit: http://redheadedcsg.com/]

This podcast about Canadian indie and fringe theatre, Stageworthy, hosted by solo performer Phil Rickaby, is great. This first episode is chock-a-block full of little tidbits of marketing and PR wisdom about taking a solo show to the Edinburgh Fringe. So good to hear about how Rebecca Perry went about producing and promoting her show in an international market. Also, especially nice to hear how professional she approaches her production, fringe or not.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Q-and-A with Erin Singleton

Erin Singleton in SUPER MORTAL
Erin Singleton is making her solo performing debut at the 2016 Dallas Solo Fest with her show SUPER MORTAL

TSP gets a chance to talk with the cheeky soloist. Here we go...

Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in theatre/ performance?

A: I am native to Dallas and interested in telling stories that express Dallas! The show that first made me want to be involved in theatre was a Shakespeare play at Dallas Theatre Center - I walked away with bits of Ophelia's flowers the way someone would walk away with drumsticks from a rock concert. I majored in acting with a minor in directing at Oklahoma City University. For theatre, I've taken the advice of my composer/sound engineer/musical performing Dad and tried to have as many skills in my wheelhouse as I could. Well, really what he said was "anything for a buck," but that makes my mom roll her eyes.


Q: You're fairly new to performing one-person shows yourself. What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: I'd like to thank John Michael and Brad McEntire for that! I directed John Michael two years ago in Crossing Your I's at the Dallas Solo Fest. I took over from the late Matt Tomlanovich after he was first hospitalized. 

I have loved watching and being involved in the DSF, and I was feeling inspired by the people behind the DSF to become a part.

DSF, naturally stands for the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Or Dallas Solo Fest. I'm not sure which. Google it.

Q: Could you tell us about some of your current show SUPER MORTAL?

A: It's about a comic book enthusiast who discovers that her dream is coming true - she's developing super powers. Honestly, I'd say it's really a story about the effects of codependency and what self-actualization is in a culture that values reboots and sequels... but this show can also just be enjoyed as an interesting story about a funny, quirky character. So sit back and enjoy it on whatever level you feel like.

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: I am so excited to develop something that is uniquely mine. It's the scariest, most exciting thing I've done in a long time, and I'm thrilled to be able to share it with others. It's also great being able to write your own material - as long as I don't accidentally cuss, I can invite my Mom to this one! (Ask me about the time I lit my hand on fire and cursed on stage in front of about 80 small children and parents.)


Q: How do you keep yourself motivated?

A: I picture my audience in my underwear. Wait, I may have misunderstood that one...
My favorite thing in the world is to be challenged. I've recently been thinking a lot about an interview with David Bowie where he talked about always staying slightly outside of your comfort zone. It's been inspirational. If I'm totally comfortable and not feeling pushed, then I'm not growing.

Also, I eat lots of fiber and stay hydrated. 

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? 
Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A: It starts with conversations and life experiences that reform themselves into images that interest me. For this show, it actually started with a day I had a conversation with Brad McEntire, but the script started forming itself while I was... this will sound cheesy, but I was meditating and had some images and scenes that I wanted to write. I wanted to write it because I wanted to see those scenes come to life. I write shows that I want to see. 
A lot of this show is based on the idea that all creation is just regurgitation. You take in images, phrases, and ideas throughout your life, and whatever you create is the result of the chemistry of those things inside of your own mind. Nothing is really original, in that sense, but just a variation on a given theme. We add our own chemistry to whatever we take inside our mind.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire you, be they solo performers or just in general as an artist?

A: I watch a lot of Netflix and YouTube. I also read cereal boxes in my spare time.
This is a really funny question for the type of show I'm performing. I'm playing a character who is an amalgamation of her favorite influences.


Q: One of the interesting things about solo performance is that one is usually a one-person operation on stage as well as off. How do you bridge the gap between the creative and the business side of solo theatre?

A: I just have to share my event pages with the same voracity most people use for cat memes.

A lot of networking and creativity! And also the ability to drop the showtimes of your upcoming show into every conversation. It's like being a proud grandparent. If I had a wallet, I would show off pictures of my scripts.


Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally as an artist?

A: I am excited to see what the most challenging thing I can do after this show is! I'm thinking anything other than sky diving. Maybe I'll get a lot of cats.

Q: Shout outs or links?

A:
Thanks to John Michael, Greg Silva, and to my director Shelby-Allison Hibbs!
I'm on the board of Dallas-based theatre group N47, so check out Facebook.com/N47Theatre to keep in touch with that.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Q-and-A with Diana Shortes

Diana Shortes in White Sauce and Diaper Babies [photo credit: Louis Maistros]
Based in New Orleans, Diana E. H. Shortes has a deep and diverse background in theatre and education. In June, she will be a part of the 2016 Dallas Solo Fest with her show White Sauce and Diaper Babies, about the life and work of poet Anne Sexton.

TSP got a chance to ask her a few questions. Here we go...



Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in theatre/performance?

A: I am a performing artist and educator, yoga instructor, tour guide and bartendress, who has been living and working in New Orleans, LA since Mardi Gras of 2000.

I was born in Austin, TX and moved a lot while growing up (Galveston, San Fransisco, Cleveland and Nashville were among the highlights). No, my family was not military. My mother is a social worker and a free spirit, and she took me wherever the wind took her.

I fell in love with Shakespeare in the fourth grade, when we were introduced to a few scenes from Romeo and Juliet, and found myself on stage for the first time in the fifth grade as a spunky girl from a children's book adapted for the stage by our librarian. After that, I was hooked.

My high school years were spent in Clarksville, TN - a military community just north of Nashville - which just happens to be home to one of the best regional theaters in the Southeast: the Roxy. It was there that I cut my teeth, theatrically. While the other kids were doing whatever "normal" kids do in high school form 7-10p, I was almost always in rehearsal, learning the discipline of the dramatic arts.

 After a nine month internship in NYC at Dixon Place, I graduated from Antioch College with a self-designed degree in "Feminist Literary Theatre" and a burning desire to create something new, rather than put myself into the well established theatrical rat race of NY...LA...Chicago, etc.

I decided to move to New Orleans, LA and quickly became entrenched in the theatre scene there. I have worked with many of the city's production companies over the years. I served as Artist in Residence for the Dog and Pony Theatre Co., spearheading their Shakespeare in City Park series, and am the proud recipient of two Big Easy awards for Best Actress. In NOLA I have had the opportunity to write for the stage, perform, direct, design, produce and stage manage. I've also taken to teaching, and am currently a member of the Drama department faculty at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a public high school dedicated to the creative arts, where I teach yoga as part of their movement curriculum.


Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: The desire to control everything, honestly. I've had a vision for years of finding a way to literally control even the lights and sound from the stage. Complete artistic control, however, comes with complete artistic responsibility... and I have questioned the wisdom of my decision to perform solo many, many times since creating "White Sauce" as my senior thesis at Antioch.

The more time I spend in the world of solo-performance, the more I begin to recognize that quite often the best solo performers have an army of folks supporting them behind the scenes: directors, designers, producers, etc. No woman is an island.

I do think, ultimately, it is my passion for the entirety of theatrical production that drives me to perform solo. I do truly love every single element of the process of creating something for the stage.

[photo credit: Louis Maistros]
Q: Could you tell us about some of your particular kind of of solo work?

A: "White Sauce" is an exploration of the life and work of the great American poet, Anne Sexton. I created the piece by weaving together excerpts from her body of work: poems, prose, letters, interviews and journal entries. In this way, I have attempted to build a narrative which speaks to the poet's struggle to create, amidst a minefield of mental illness, chemical dependency and the social expectations of the mid-twentieth century middle-class American landscape.

With my work, I try to tell the truth about what it is to be a woman in the world. I am passionate about women's history, women's stories and women's words. The more I talk about the accomplishments of women whose lives I find inspiring, the more I recognize how vitally important it is that our stories be brought to light and kept alive. Most folks honestly don't know how powerful and productive so many women have been throughout history, against all odds. They simply haven't heard.

For instance, I have also written a piece about the Baroness Michaela Almonester de Pontalba. Some people are aware that she built Jackson Square and the Pontalba Apartments in New Orleans, as well as the Hotel Pontalba in Paris, which is now the residency for the U.S. embassy. Most everyone who has heard of her has also heard the erroneous rumor that she had an illicit affair with President Andrew Jackson, hence the statue placed in the center of the square, tipping his hat to her center apartment. Very few, however, know the truly incredible story that she did all of this AFTER surviving a brutal attack upon her life by her father-in-law, leaving her with a mangled left hand and three bullets lodged permanently in her chest.


Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: The sense of connection that comes from working so closely with the spirit of such incredibly accomplished individuals, and the appreciation I receive from folks in the audience who have been touched in some way by the performance.


Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

A: A sense of duty, at this point. I have come to view the work as my dharma - simply what it is I am meant to be doing with my life at this time. The way I see it, I've been blessed (or cursed!) with certain talents, skills and abilities, as well as a passion for performance, literature and women's history. It therefore stands to reason that it is my job in this lifetime to figure out how to use what I have been given to be of service, to share all of that energy with the rest of the world.

If and when I start making it all about me, that's when I get myself into trouble. When I begin questioning whether or not all of the hard work is worth it, if this is actually something I want to be doing, if the work is important or necessary, if people will like it or like me, that's when self-doubt comes around, makes itself comfortable, and often hangs out for weeks...eating everything in the refrigerator.

Thankfully, that voice is most often drowned out by the encouragement I receive from a wonderfully strong support system of fellow artists, colleagues, friends and family who never miss an opportunity to ask, "so what are you working on now?"


Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A: Depends on what the work calls for. I do know I create most effectively in community, which can certainly be a challenge as a solo performer. Each one of my solo shows has found its genesis alongside others working toward the same goal. I've facilitated several of them writing for performance workshops in NOLA, and in this way created an incubator for my own ideas to come light.

Feedback, for me, is essential. I generally begin performing a piece before I feel it's "ready", and allow it to alchemize in the fire of audience opinion. I'll often add elements that interest me along the way, and then scale back when and where it feels necessary. Everything for me is an experiment. I love the feeling of security that comes when something is "set", but often we need to adapt to new perimeters of space, time or energy, and I always leave room for improvisation. As a performer, I view myself as an instrument, playing with the portrayal of human existence. Life is an ever evolving act of improvisation, is it not? If so, there must always be room, in my mind, for possibility - for that moment of discovery on stage.

That being said, I have found using video taped recordings of performances absolutely invaluable as a tool toward directing myself. I will often ask trusted colleagues to sit in on rehearsals and offer feedback, but nothing has proved so helpful as literally watching myself and taking notes as I would with any other performer.


Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire you, be they solo performers or just in general as an artist?

A: Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe, Patti Smith and the Dalai Lama. Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abramovic, Diamanda Galas and Coco Fusco. Tilda Swinton, Julie Taymor, Jane Campion, Maya Deren, Shakespeare, Chekhov, David Mamet and my mom.


Q: How do you bridge the gap between the creative and the business side of solo theatre?

A: This may be the single biggest challenge of my adult life. I find it quite difficult to open myself fully to the creative process, while simultaneously remaining focused and grounded in the material world.

I have experimented with trying to block out time (hours, days, weeks...) to work on one aspect or another of production, but so far I haven't been all that successful at disentangling the two. I do my best to outsource when and where I can. While I am truly interested and invested in every element of the process, I have learned the messages I received growing up that said, "if you want it done right, do it yourself" don't always serve me - or the work.

Another interesting challenge I have found is that of self-promotion. While I have been a performer my whole life (my mom will be the first to tell you how much I have always enjoyed being the center of attention), I am actually quite shy and introverted in many ways. If I am completely honest, I would also have to admit to regularly experiencing nearly crippling bouts of insecurity and low self-esteem, which can make talking about myself and my work almost painful. Ironically, (and perhaps it is no accident) I believe Anne Sexton - and many other artists as well  - have also suffered from a similar dilemma.

A few years ago I had an awesome conversation with a successful artist in NOLA who explained she has taken a cue from Beyoncé and created an alter-ego for herself, a persona who can take over whenever fear or self-doubt begins to creep in and mess with her. I have found this method to be super helpful. Often, when Diana feels like she just can't do whatever it is that needs to get done, that's when Anne (or the Baroness) steps in, gets all dressed up, puts her game face on, and goes out into the world - to take it by storm.


Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo performance?

A: In many ways, I feel I am still a novice, and so any advice I may have is directed first at myself!

Don't be afraid to ask for help. And don't give up. The reality of solo performance is that one will find s/he must at some point take on the role of artist, director, designer, producer, stage manager, tour manager, marketing director, technical director, videographer, secretary and booking agent. Have I left anything out? Probably. Oh yes, that's right. Most of us are also likely  holding down a jobby-job (or two or three) that allows us both the freedom and stability to pursue our performative passions. So just do it. Accept it, and then figure out who you know who can help you with what and ask them for support.


Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally as an artist?

A: As far as the future of solo performance goes, I think the form is optimally suited for healing and transformation. By this I mean, as solo performers we have a unique opportunity to explore the Universal Truths of human existence through the specific lens of individual experience. When we share our stories with one another - or perform our individual interpretation of the stories of others who have inspired us - we participate and engage others in the primordial act of human connection. Traditionally, storytellers serve as shamans in society. When we listen to one another's stories, we begin to understand and identify with each other on a very deep level. Compassion is cultivated through the sharing of our stories, and the result is often an opportunity for both personal and social alchemy.

Personally, I have hopes and dreams of traveling the globe, performing and building community. I love teaching, directing and helping others to create new work. I also have had a life long love affair with both classic and contemporary theatre, period. Basically, I want to see great work world wide and be an integral part of making it happen. 


Q: Links?

A: My show is playing this June at the Dallas Solo Fest. Check it out... here.




Sunday, May 15, 2016

Q-and-A with Eileen Tull

Eileen Tull

Over the last few years, Eileen Tull has carved out a place for herself doing solo performances. In June, she will be a part of the 2016 Dallas Solo Fest with her show Bad Dates, or What Killed That Monkey In Indiana Jones Only Makes Me Stronger.

TSP sits down and asks a few questions. Here we go...


Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in theatre/performance?

A: I'm originally from Cincinnati, OH, and I've spent the last ten years in Chicago with a brief, but beautiful stint in the Bay Area. From a young age, I was always creating and performing and reenacting my favorite movie scenes or performing holiday plays with my siblings. So I was constantly making and expressing things through art. I moved to Chicago to attend Loyola University, where I focused on directing after failed attempts at being an actor. 

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: I hadn't had much success as an actor in college or beyond, and I was finding directing to be less than satisfying. I'd always been funny at parties and had lots of creative ideas, but I wasn't so good at pretending to be other people onstage. I didn't know where I fit in, and I hadn't thought so much about playing myself. On kind of a whim, I applied to the 2012 San Francisco Fringe Festival, submitting a solo piece with just a title. No script. No plot. Just the idea that I wanted to explore faith and love and I wanted to perform it all by myself. The show (Jesus, Do You Like Me? Please Mark Yes or No.) got picked in the Fringe lottery, so I had a handful of months to write it and learn how to be a solo performer! I've ended up performing Jesus in Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York City since. I fell in love with the art form, especially the opportunity to create such a singular relationship with the audience. 

Q: Could you tell us about some of your particular kind of of solo work?

A: My work is radically vulnerable. I talk about my own life and experiences, ranging from religion, body image, relationships, loneliness, movies, and alcoholism. And though I broach serious subjects, I infuse everything with humor and joy. 

I wrote Bad Dates, Or What Killed That Monkey In Indiana Jones Only Makes Me Stronger, over the course of last year. It's a show about romantic relationships and how my lifelong obsession with Harrison Ford movies has skewed my perception of human men. It's a sweet and funny piece, choc-ful of movie references. I've been touring it through Chicago and taking it to the Dallas Solo Fest in June. 

I enjoy exploring different strands of solo performance as well. I've built exhibitions of performance art that feel like theatre, storytelling that sounds like poetry, and long form shows that are reminiscent of stand-up. The wonderful thing about solo work is that the art forms blend together so well. 

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: I love working with the audience as my scene partner. The work I do is mostly autobiographical, so I am essentially having a long, one-sided conversation with the audience. I love the intimacy that this creates. It encourages the audience to be more invested in and connected to the story. And, if the occasion calls for it, it allows us to have a frank and open dialogue in a post-show setting. I've found that people are comfortable enough to share their own stories and secrets with me, because they know so much about me at that point. This kind of scenario lets people unburden themselves of whatever shame they are holding onto. If it's about faith, family, body image, addiction, love, loneliness, what have you, they are able to feel less alone in their experience.


Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

A: I'm inspired by other artists. When I see great work, especially here in Chicago, I feel a combination of pride, envy, and inspiration. There's a lot of people who push me to keep up! If I'm feeling stuck, I watch something, I go see something, I help somebody create their thing. It's revitalizing.

I'm also continuously inspired by my family. We have stood beside each other through lots of joy and sorrow. They've always supported me. I have a little baby nephew who inspires me to be the best version of myself and try to make the world a better place. I also have a great support system of friends who will let me try jokes and bits and stories on them, with lots of love and patience. 

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A: I'm still experimenting with the best process. Usually it devolved into writing furiously at the last minute. I do a lot of thinking about each show. I take walks, I run, I try to go to nature and map things out. In the early stages, I record a lot of ideas using an app on my phone. I use index cards to outline the subjects I want to talk about. I scribble down ideas on the train.

When I started doing solo work, I did everything myself, and I've found that to be very lonely and the work is lesser for it. The last few projects I've worked on, I've brought in collaborators. I do a "garbage read," which entails a few friends and colleagues watching me read all the material I've gathered into a big mess. Having this initial audience helps me cut and shape the script into something clear.

For the show I'm working on right now, I enlisted a director and an actress for a second stage of development. We had private rehearsals where the actress played 'me' and I could focus just on the writing part. It was immensely helpful to have that distance.

For me, these shows are never done. Depending on the venue or the audience, something will change and you have to be open to improvisation, unexpected audience participation, and, in one special case, a dog walking in.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire you, be they solo performers or just in general as an artist?

A: Anna Deavere Smith has made solo performance familiar to the world. Although I don't perform multiple character shows, she's heavily influenced the genre.

Gilda Radner's Broadway show was basically a one-woman show with friends. Gilda had such a sweet earnestness, and I'm inspired by the rapport she created with audiences.

Mike Birbiglia's shows changed the way I thought about how comedy and storytelling can work together. Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed have had a huge effect on my writing, poetry, and use of imagery. Steve Martin is my absolute idol, with his diverse breadth of work and his absurd comic genius. Tig Notaro is an outstanding and amazing performer and human.

I've been a huge fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda for years. I love "Hamilton," for its sincerity, precision, and its idealism. He's a generous genius and a champion for the arts.

And there are of course, so many people in Chicago that bring the noise every single night on stages all through the city. I'm so grateful to be a part of this incredible community. Some of my favorite movers and shakers in the Chicago solo world are Arlene Malinowski, Lily Be, Bea Cordeila, David Boyle, Laura Scruggs, John Michael Colgin, and Ron Keaton.

Q: How do you bridge the gap between the creative and the business side of solo theatre?

A: I still find it quite difficult. The business side of art is always a little sticky, but in solo performance, your product is yourself. So there's a whole rabbit hole of narcissism and vanity to dive into. But I think it's about being bold and asking for what you want. The power of just asking is a magical thing, and it's how a lot of my relationships with venues have started. However, you have to be prepared when the answer is no. You have to be gracious with rejection, especially on the business end. Because to business owners or potential partners, your art is not a special snowflake. You have to get tougher. You have to believe that your product is worth a certain dollar amount. I'm always learning and always reminding myself that my work has that kind of value. 

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo performance?

A: Go see things. Look at how much you can stretch this genre. Try new things, weird things. Work on your whole piece, then chop it into bits. Ask for advice. Support other solo artists. Keep writing. Your experiences are not trivial. No one gets to see the world the same way you do. 

Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally as an artist?

A: With the rise of social media and all the avenues the Internet provides, it seems solo performance output is at an all-time high. This is exciting, but also daunting. I'm looking forward to more voices and more experimentation within the genre. I'm hoping to explore more theatricality in my work, as opposed to the straight storytelling I've been pursuing. I hope to become a mentor to younger folks eventually, and I hope to find solid repeat collaborators. I'd love to take my work all over the world, while making a large impact on the Chicago community. 

Q: Shout outs or links?

A: All my upcoming shows can be found on my website www.eileentull.com. If you're in Chicago, I co-curate a monthly performance series featuring female-identifying and non-binary artists exploring gender, feminism, and sexuality in their work called Sappho's Salon. It runs the second Tuesday of every month at Women and Children First bookstore. I'm working on a new solo show about addiction and recovery, with a few other projects in the works.