Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dramatists Guild Academy: Solo Performer round table live-stream


This should be worth checking out. The Arena Stage Blog has listed a live-stream round table discussion about solo writer/performers on Jan. 2nd. Includes Mike Daisey, Anna Deveare Smith, Sarah Jones and Lisa Kron (moderated by the delightful Gary Garrison). Sponsored by the Dramatists Guild Academy.

More info HERE.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Yoshi Oida's Interrogations

Let me be very forward with this: I heart Yoshi Oida.

He is primarily known for his over 40-year collaboration with legendary British director Peter Brook, the 'magician of European theatre' and in recent years for being one of the most sought-after opera directors worldwide, Oida has graced stages world-wide with his solo masterpiece Interrogations.



The comical play depicts a test that a Zen master gives to his student, lasting several days, with the goal to determine if the student has reached enlightenment. The test consists of a series of questions framed in koans, or riddles, that the student must answer correctly in order to "graduate." Since its premiere in 1979 at the Avignon Festival, this one-man play with live musical accompaniment has been hailed as Oida's masterwork.

Oida has said of the play, "During the performance of Interrogations, I ask the audience questions from the koans. In this case, there is no spiritual or philosophical objective, only an entertainment based on the gap between word and thought. As in the writings of Beckett or Ionesco. Obviously, there is no need for anyone to find the 'right' answer, but the questions act as a thread linking the audience with the two performers. Together we move towards a moment of shared delight, towards a living theater."

I have never seen Interrogations, but have witnessed Oida in a series of Beckett plays called Fragments directed by Mr. Brook. What stuck me about Oida as a performer was his professionalism (it was obvious in the performance he was very at home on the stage) and his sense of humor. His books Invisible Actor and An Actor Adrift are both delights, filled with useful items.

What strikes me in the video below and having seen Mr. Oida in performance is how physical he is. Now in his late 70s he is still as fit and agile as actors a third of his age.

Mr. Oida's website is here.



Read a PDF of  "20 Questions with Yoshi Oida" from American Theatre Magazine here.

Also, here's a good write up on this dynamic solo performer.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

7(x1) Samurai

I saw David Gaines solo show 7 (x1) Samurai at the Phoenix Fringe Festival in 2009 and my first impression was "... how exhausting." Mr. Gaines acts out the Kurosawa film epic of seven samurai complete with the seven individual mercenaries, the band of bad guys and an entire town full of villagers all by himself. And he plays all these characters practically without words. It is an amazing feat of cartoonish pantomime, countless sound effects and superhuman endurance.

Mr. Gaines is currently blitzing the festival circuit with his show, so keep an eye out. Go see it if you have a chance. Info at: www.7x1samurai.com

Friday, November 4, 2011

George Watsky

Solo performance is a damn versatile medium. George Watsky is a poet and rapper in his mid-twenties. Though he has appeared on television and rocks lots of new media (his YouTube channel is widely viewed) he has put together several solo theatre pieces over the last few years.

Here's a good article describing a recent show in Boston that combined audience participation (through text message surveys) and the overall format of the show. Here's some of Watsky in performance..




On a personal note, his album "A New Kind of Sexy" on his Bandcamp page is available for purchase at a wonderful name-your-price rate. Highly recommended if you are into what Watsky does.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Spending a Bit of Time with Jill Bernard


Spending a Bit of Time with Jill Bernard from FT Bonnigan on Vimeo.

I had the opportunity and privilege to talk with solo improviser Jill Bernard recently at the 3rd Annual Improv Festival of Oklahoma.

Ms. Bernard has been performing her one-person longform improv format Drum Machine since 2003. Originally a 15 minute number, she has continued to develop and expand the piece into what it is now, a 30-50 minute historical musical... completely improvised. She begins her sets with a brief interview of an audience member and then programs a beat into her Zoom-Rhythmtrak 123, takes a suggestion for a historical event or period and off she goes.

I found out about Jill Bernard in 2005 shortly after I began my own experiments in solo improvisation. "Surely," I thought, "Someone else out there must be crazy enough to attempt this sort of thing." I was led to Andy Eninger, who, in turn, led me to Jill Bernard (an early workshop student of his).

Solo performance is, as it must be, a very individual form of expression, and Jill Bernard has chiseled out for herself a wonderful, original format with Drum Machine. For more information on the enthusiastic and super-busy Ms. Bernard, visit her website at: www.JillBernard.com

Here's an example of Drum Machine filmed at FuseBox Theatre in 2008.


Jill Bernard: Drum Machine - Sea Food Spirit Quest (Full Performance) from FuseBox Theatre on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Q & A with Andy Eninger

 Photo: Sybilization.com

Andy Eninger is a funny individual. I meet him years ago when I directed his brilliant one-man script The Last Castrato for the New York Fringe Festival. He has worked in traditional theatre as well as a bunch of improv. Here's his semi-official bio:

Andy Eninger studied film direction at the Hungarian Academy of Film and Drama, and earned his MA in Playwriting from Miami University (of Ohio.) Currently, he performs and teaches improvisation around the country with the Chicago Comedy Company. Andy is a founding member of GayCo Productions, a two-time winner of the After Dark Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. He also performs at The Playground Theater, where he created the RECESS improv outreach program for Chicago area schools and performs a one-man improvised show called Sybil.


Andy performing a Sybil Solo Improv

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

A: At Miami University (in Ohio, not Florida), I fell in love with Improv
Comedy, and flirted with theater. I loved it so much that I stayed to get
my Masters in Playwriting, and then took off for a year of film school in
Budapest, Hungary. Back in the States, I found myself drawn to Chicago, the
improv Mecca, where I studied at The Second City, started my own improv
comedy company, and helped found GayCo, a GLBT sketch group. In the
experimental late 90's, I created "Sybil," a solo improv format that I have
toured to festivals all over. Currently, I am the Head of the Writing
Program at Second City, where I have taught Sketch and improv for nearly 10
years.

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo
performance?
A: When I first got to Chicago, I had to wait for a few months before I could
start classes at Second City, so I studied with a solo performer named Donna
Blue Lachman who had a tiny theater on the South Side. I was immediately
hooked: She was an incredible performer and an inspiring teacher. I
developed a piece called "The Last Castrato" in her class.

Q: Could you tell us about some of your work?
A: Sybil is a loose collection of gimmicks that the improviser strings together
into a cohesive improvised whole: monologues, multi-character scenes (where
they play every character), and audience interactive bits. In my own
exploration of the form, I have created several variations on the form - a
musical version, and even a narrative format called "One Man Scene," wherein
I 'improvise' a set and then create the show that fits on that set. That
one was terrifying!

Q: How would you describe your particular kind of solo performance?
A: Because it's completely improvised, it is a huge challenge; The highs are
exhilarating and the lows are torturous. I have discovered that the key is
to always surprise yourself. Recently, I switched up the format and started
shirtless and asked the audience to draw & write on my body, then used those
scribbles to inspire the scenes in the show. As soon as it feels
comfortable, I have to switch things up again.

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?
A: I love the moments when it all comes together, when a scene magically works.
The best feeling is to return to a character you introduced early in the
show, in a moment of inspiration, and connect them thematically to what has
happened since. The audience loves those connections - and so do I.

Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
A: Honestly, I have been performing the Sybil more infrequently each year. I
get restless, and there are so many things to do and try. Recently I've
gotten into music and trying my hand at writing for television. When I do
return to Sybil, it's like sitting down with an old friend.

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: Whenever I prepare for a run of shows or a festival performance, I work with
a coach. I have to have somebody in the room to give notes, otherwise I
won't do the work. I run short scenes for them, then move to multi-scene
pieces, improvising my way through. I have worked with many different
coaches over the years, each one bringing a different eye to the work. When
I prepared for a longer run a couple years ago, I worked with a sketch
director, a musical coach, and a movement specialist! I have been recording
my shows over the years, and will someday gather some of my favorite scenes
into a written show. Late last year, I assembled a series of monologues
drawn from elderly GLBT men in the Chicago area - it was my first written
solo piece in a long time. I am looking forward to doing more writing.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire/embolden you?
A: I have always loved solo performers with strong characters that they treat
with great compassion like Lily Tomlin. I also have been inspired by Tim
Miller (author of 'Body Blows') and had the great honor to study with him
last year. His level of confessional and political work blows me away.

Q: How do you bridge the gap of the business side of theatre?
A: Any more, I only take on a show when I know I have the bandwidth to do the
work to get an audience in the door. I love the marketing side of things -
drawing out the personality of a show and turning that into advertising
materials. I hate the tedious footwork of calling reviewers and flyering,
postering - all the stuff you need to do in Chicago to stand out from the
crowd.

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo
performance?
A: Discover what you are really good at, and create a piece that showcases
that. If you do great characters, make that your centerpiece. If you are
hilarious telling stories, then lean on that skill. I recently saw a solo
show of a very talented and quirky friend Abby McEnany, and it was amazing
to see somebody present a work that so perfectly fit their personality and
skills. She even did a scene that made fun of her inability to do accents. I
think half of the work is knowing what you do well.

Q: Share with us something funny that has happened to you recently.
A: Remember how I said I did a show where the audience scribbled on me? It
took two weeks for the markers to wash off completely. Somebody used a
think sharpie all up and down my back.

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

A: There will always be a market for great solo performers - and a bigger and
bigger challenge to stand out in the crowd as new performers crowd the
market. In Chicago, personal stories are very popular right now - evenings
where several individuals present true-life tales; this is also a format
that bleeds seamlessly into the internet (as in blogging.) I think that
performers are getting smarter about combining elements from different
styles of solo performance - performance art, solo sketch, storytelling -
and creating exciting new hybrids. I have a solo piece that's been rolling
around in my head - a sci-fi solo storytelling vehicle (with songs) - it's
almost formulated enough to start coming out on paper. ~ Andy E.


Andy's audition demo for Piranha 3D Pt. 2

Check out more info on Andy at his website... HERE.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Laura Weedman on PCS Blog



Great interview with Laura Weedman on the PCS Blog about her solo show BUST. Original post here.

" As she spins her tales of truths, half-truths and exaggerations, you find youself rooting for her. She can find humor in anything, and, most importantly, she finds herself funny."

Monday, March 28, 2011

DC Theatre Scene on Daisey


Peter Certo at DC Theatre Scene does a really astute and thorough interview with monologuist Mike Daisey about his show THE AGONY AND ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS. I'll pull a few questions that really resonated with me. You can read the full article here.

# # #

We’re talking here about products that can collapse space. But in a theater, people fill space. What’s the significance of giving this performance in person as opposed to, say, broadcasting it over the Internet?

It’s a live performance, so there’s an inherent depth of connection that doesn’t exist in transmission. I work extemporaneously, so the presence of the people in the room, our gestalt together, influences and directs in a very literal way the course of events throughout the evening. The things that I speak of, the way I speak of them, change in response to the people in the room and my relationship with them. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s actually the core of the theatrical experience. The reason I work in the theater is that I believe it’s possible to reach people in a very deep way.

Of course I reach less of them because they physically have to be there… But the bandwidth in the theater, in a live environment, is quantumly greater than the bandwidth available via a YouTube clip. The amount of data that can be transmitted is so much greater in a live space. Technologists today fetishize the bandwidth they’re able to provide, the video and audio they’re able to deliver over the Web. These are marvelous in their own way, but they do not substitute for actual communication. As a consequence, the kind of work that I’m interested in is only possible in person.

That’s why the monologues are built the way they are, and this monologue in particular. It’s talking about issues that most Americans are in active denialism about: our relationship with China, the labor circumstances under which our objects our made. It’s very important to actually try to compare notes in conversation about it. That’s why I work in this form. And, in fact, I think this belief in the primacy of the actual human connection is the only compelling reason to work in the theater. It’s entirely possible that there will be Web versions of parts of the story, but they can’t actually substitute for the experience of being in the room.

Personal narrative is very integral to your monologues and the messages you try to get across. How does this change as you become a sort of celebrity figure? Is it a challenge when people go into your performances thinking they know something about you already?

It’s challenging at times – there’s an intimacy gap between myself and the audiences because people who’ve seen my monologues do feel like they know me, and when I’m speaking with them, I obviously don’t feel like I know them yet. But most human beings are really good at navigating that gap. In terms of the actual work, I try not to allow my feelings of privacy or shame to prevent me from telling the stories that need to be told. At the same time, the reality is that sometimes it is difficult to tell certain stories. Like with anyone, there’s a very healthy tension between the desire for a personal life and the desire to tell the truth. In my life, because of my obligations to the theater, I try to do everything I can to tell the stories that need to be told as clearly and openly as possible.

Instead of trudging through the ranks of various theater companies, it seems like you’ve very much created your own space for yourself as a performer. Do you have any advice for other prospective monologists or otherwise ambitious performers?

I do! My largest piece of advice is to cheat. It’s very important to cheat. People are prone to not cheating, but they need to cheat. The system of the theater as it’s designed is to prevent people from rising, because there are more people, more artists, more actors, more people who want to work in the theater than there is capacity. So the theater is actually dedicated to getting rid of as many people as possible. The dominant paradigm is actually to get rid of people.

So if you follow all the rules – if you go to the right grad schools, if you do everything exactly by the letter – you’ll probably fail, because the system is built to get rid of 99.999 percent of the people… Everyone I know who’s been successful in the theater is so because they cheated in some way or another. They discovered what advantages they had that no other people could emulate, and they worked to exploit those things. They used the talent they naturally have, but they also found edges and angles other people couldn’t exploit or emulate to game the system.

I really think that people who want to be successful in the arts have to carve a space out for themselves. The only way to do that is to follow unconventional wisdom. If people truly want to be successful, they have to learn how everyone is supposed to do things, and then figure out how they’ll subvert it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daisey on Steve Jobs


Good interview with solo performer Mike Daisey about his new show THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS on KUOW.org 94.9's "Weekday."

Listen to it here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Only Try Not To Lose Them...

This post was originally posted in December of 2009 during the run of THE EIGHT, a play I was performing in. I'm reposting it here, even though it was an multi-actor play, because I think it offers some nice insights for the potential solo performer. ~BDM

I performed my monologue in THE EIGHT tonight and the audience was not into it. It wasn't that they were not into my performance, particularly, but they were not really into the whole show. They were really quiet, there was lots of shuffling, occasionally I'd see the glow of someone's phone shining up into their faces while they texted (I will politely step away from addressing this last piece of deplorable behavior here, because it needs a full ranting post of its own someday).

Here's what I observed both through my own experience of being on stage as well as watching my fellow actors handle the situation.

First off, it should be established that we are doing a monologue play. What this means is, essentially, a series of characters are paraded in, one after another, each giving a 4-9 minute speech directly to the audience. It should be noted, that in this sort of performance, with its lack of mutiple actors interacting with each other behind a fourth wall, on display for the audience, as it is in traditional theatre productions, here the audience actually is the other character the performer communicates with. In a way, it is a very direct sort of performance, in that the audience is activated. They are part of the performance: participants as well as observers of the performance.

It should also be noted we are performing comedy. Comedy is the easiest form to gauge as a performer if your performance is effective or not (i.e. it is making a genuine connection). In very stark terms, you know: they laugh if it is funny and don't if it is not. This is just a barameter, though. Sometimes it really is funny even if the audience doesn't laugh, after all, the audience is a mass, and therefore follows the laws of the masses ( which in the theatre has it's own rules: crowds laugh easier if the house is darkened and the stage is illuminated, there must be 10+ people in the audience to instigate "contagious" laughter, and a slew of other ones...).

We performed these monologues last week and people laughed and laughed, so barring some weird anomolies, we can reasonably assume that both the material (the play itself) and the presentations (the performance of the the play) are effectively funny.

So, when a performer expects one reaction (laughter) and gets another (silence) several things happen:

1.) The first response of most performers is to try a bit harder. This is similar to when a person simply speaks slower and louder if they think they are not being understood, such as when giving directions or (ironically) speaking to a foreigner who doesn't know your language. In acting, it often shows up as pumping the piece with a little more energy, or increasing volume. The thought is, fundamentally, "What's going on here? This is not what I was expecting from the audience."

2.) Next, the performer starts to question themselves and their performance. Maybe they made wrong choices? Are they doing something differently today that they did the last time they performed this piece? In essence, the thought is "It must be me. It must be something I'm doing/not doing that is preventing the connection, and therefore the reaction I expect."

3.) Often, the third step is an unfortunate Fuck You to the audience. Much like a little kid lashing out in spite when they don't get their way, a performer will turn on the audience in a subtle, but apparent, way. The performer will become antagonistic when it is clear the audience is not going to give them the response the performer was expecting. The thought is "I'm working my ass off up here for you, so if you don't like it, fuck you. In fact, you aren't even worthy enough anymore for me to do my best for. Here, take this watered-down fuck-you version of my performance."

This last step is a self-defeating one. It is futile in that the audience is not going to get on the side of a performer who is openly hostile to them. At the same time, the performer is going to be hostile because the audience seemly refuses to get on his or her side.

Years of improv have taught me not to go down the road of step three. The best bet is just do your job, deliver a performance that you, the performer, can be proud of, and try again with the next audience. Audiences are like blind dates. There is always a relationship, usually brief, and sometimes it is not all that rewarding for one or both parties.

Tonight, I went through step one and then downshifted into step two. I did not resort to step three. The audience did not ge tthe most dynamic, energetic performance of my monologue that I've ever done, but they did get a clear, solid performance. And they could take from that whatever they wanted. I felt kinda Zen about it.


My fellow actors ran the gamut. Some said "fuck it" almost immediately and gave sub-par performances to their "unworthy" audience (I call this zombie-ing through or phoning it in). Some were confused and saddened when they came off stage, wondering still, what was so wrong tonight? Some thought of it as a challenge ("I will succeed where you have failed") after the performers who came off stage before them didn't hit it out of the park.

All in all, it threw into perspective that oft-talked about, but seldom experienced aspect of theatre: unexpectedness. The bottom line is: Don't take anything out on the audience. In fact, don't come in with any expectations at all. You, the performer, can not control the audience or their responses and you certainly can't demand anything from them. You can only try not to lose them...



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Faye Lane's BEAUTY SHOP STORIES



I had the pleasure of catching Faye Lane's delightful solo storytelling/cabaret show Beaty Shop Stoies at the Addison Water Tower Theatre Out of the Loop Festival earlier this month. The whole show was just delightful and Faye is a warm, easy-does-it raconteur.

I met Faye last year at the New Orleans Fringe Festival (where I was doing my solo show, Chop) and interviewed her for the Stage Directions Blog. She was part of Andy Christie's The Liar Show, in which she was a regular storyteller. You can see a bit of that interview here. Faye comes in around minute 14:30.


NO Fringe Interviews Pt. 1 from Christopher Taylor on Vimeo.
 
According to her website, her original show Beauty Shop Stories has been in development for several years. And she's working on a memoir of the same name. Faye is a big part of the thriving New York storytelling and comedy communities and has been telling individual stories from the book on the stage. In New York alone, stories and songs from this show have been presented at Caroline's on Broadway, Comix, The Pulse Theater, Stage Left, The Time Out New York Lounge, 92nd Street Y Tribeca, Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, and most recently, in an extended run at the prestigious SoHo Playhouse.

In 2007, one of Faye's Beauty Shop Stories won the celebrated Moth StorySlam, hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “New York's hottest, hippest literary ticket.” And since winning the Los Angeles Moth StorySlam in 2008, (She's the only storyteller to have won it on both coasts!) she's been performing the stories regularly in Los Angeles as well. She's told stories in LA at King King, Tangier Lounge, Tongue and Groove, Hotel Cafe, BANG, and El Cid.

Faye Lane's Beauty Shop Stories is a solo show that sneaks up on you. Sitting in the audience, from her soft opening to a triumphant ending, the whole evening of theatre just washes over you. Faye is adorable and infinitely likeable. And she sings "purty." Her show is ultimately about faith, especially faith in one's self and the impression I left the theatre with was a big ole smile.

Check out her website.  

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Solo Spotlight On: Casey Smith's VIOLATORS WILL BE VIOLATED



Violators Will Be Violated is an unconventional, virtually wordless theater piece that has, according to the website, "more destruction, mayhem, murder, ambition and special effects than an action film but it’s only one guy, with no props or set, relying solely on the physical story-telling of an elastic, adorable, frequently hostile performer."

Violators Will be Violated, Created and Performed by Casey Smith and Directed by Jennifer Skinner. Winner of the 2009 LA Weekly Award for Solo Performance and presented at the 2010 NY Fringe Festival and the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Website and info here.