This article was published in "Backstage" lastspring....by moi!
How You Can Express Essence through Writing and Performing a One Person Show
By: Tanya Taylor Rubinstein
Every actor has a secret dream……as do many non-actors who have creative souls. The secret dream is to write and perform a one person show.
Why do so many creative people have this dream yet relatively few act upon it? Perhaps because they are asking themselves these questions:
How can I get started? How can I bring out the most essential stories and characters that I want to express in an interesting and theatrical way? How will I find the courage to break the fourth wall and speak to the audience intimately and authentically? I’m not a writer; how can I turn my life stories into a viable script? I’m not a producer; how will I get people in the seats to see my show?
These are the questions that I have been exploring for the past 25 years. Trained as an actor at
Carnegie Mellon University, and HB Studios in NYC, I have devoted my professional life to the inner and outer aspects of one person shows and monologues. I have explored them from every possible angle; as an actor, director, producer, and facilitator for other performers. I have been involved in a primary role (performer, director, producer and facilitator) in over sixty solo and monologue shows in theaters in NYC, Emerson College L.A., San Diego, Dallas, and where I reside) Santa Fe, N.M.
When I was a nineteen years old acting student in
Boston, my professor took out class to see the famed monologist, Spalding Gray at the Brattle Street Playhouse in . That night, Spalding performed one of his earlier works, “Travels Through New England.” He sat behind a desk and told us a story from his life. He was honest and forthright. To this day, it makes me laugh to think of him sharing his experience of masturbating at Cambridge Walden Pond so that he could feel closer to the spirit of Thoreau!
At nineteen, after studying for five years to becoming a classical stage actor, it was a revelation. The raw intimacy and truth telling that I had been craving my whole life, was freely offered in his show. I left the theater thinking “you can get away with this on stage?”…..even perhaps “I can get away with this on stage?” “ I can claim, as an actor, my full voice, my passions, my stories…….my life?”
From the day I saw Spalding Gray perform, my own desire to be a commercial actress evaporated. However, it took me another eleven years of performing in other people’s plays before I was able to take the leap into solo performance. From the opening night of my first show, “Honeymoon in
” which was named in the “Top 10 Shows of the Year in the Santa Fe Reporter”, I never looked back. The experience was so much bigger than anything I had experienced as an actor before. I was able to offer my audience an original show that I was passionate about from my core. I have gone on to write and perform many shows as well as facilitate hundreds of others in the process I have developed. India
In the beginning it was quite a bumpy ride. That’s why it took me eleven years from the night the seed of solo performance was planted in me to the opening night of my first original show. Like every first time solo performer who I’ve worked with, I didn’t know
how to begin.
How does a non-playwright create a script? Will anyone care about my story? How
can I make it intensely personal without falling into the trap of self-indulgence?
How can I integrate characters that were part of my story into the script? How can I show up with full presence in my show? Where is the transformational arc in my script that will take my audience on a meaningful journey?
Through trial and error, I learned, through my direct experience, the components of a life-changing show for both performer and audience. In this book, the first half will reveal all of my discoveries from the last thirteen years in the process of creating a one person show….step by step.
In my experience, one has to discover what one most essentially wants to say before one can create the one person show of their dreams. I have learned to guide people through creative exercises designed to jump start and unblock their flow, move them through the obstacle of overwhelm that comes up when creating a solo script, address questions of topics, themes and break down the five basic artistic structures that the most well known performers utilize. Anna Deveare Smith, Sarah Jones, Eve Ensler, Danny Hoch, Chazz Palmeteri, Spalding Gray and others have all used these basic forms as “containers” for their stories and characters.
There are also performance qualities necessary for delivery and presentation. Some of these include authenticity, breaking the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience, making deep connection with oneself and the audience and the balance of drama and humor.
The Theater of Presence:
Solo performance has the possibility of bringing healing and transformation to the world in a way no other form of theater has can offer.
By revealing our deepest self as both writer and performer onstage, we take off the mask of ego and instead have the possibility of leading both ourselves and our audiences into an experience of timeless Soul. Ironically, when we reveal our most authentic stories, obstacles and transformations we have the possibility of moving beyond the story, into the realm of the sacred. In our courageous act of revealing the truth of ourselves, our lives and our world, we open the door to the experience of the Universal. The audience responds in kind.
Unlike traditional theater, we become the actor in our own story. Even if we include characters in our shows, they are based on people from our own experience. We drop the artifice and let go the perceived safety of the fourth wall. In other words, we have no place to hide. This can be both a terrifying and exhilarating experience for the actor. It can lead him or her past fears of deep connection and offer the audience more than a brilliant theater experience. In it’s purest incarnation, it can lead the audience member into a deeper experience of his or her own Self. By speaking the unspeakable, claiming our own voice, standing in our vulnerability, and by being willing to be completely seen, we break convention and are led deeply into the mystery of who we really are.
At it’s heart, solo performance is about awakening fully to one’s essence or soul.
Solo Performance, is the new paradigm of theater. As our culture has offered more and more artificial forms of “entertainment” the craving for this level of truth and connection is greater than ever. Our world is shifting radically. Old systems are crumbling in every sector of our society. Giant corporations are going bankrupt. Socially and environmentally sustainable businesses are growing. Farmers markets and eating local and organic has moved beyond the “fringe” into the mainstream. “Fringe festivals” on the margin of theater society used to be one of the few places to see solo performance. Now, Julia Sweeney and John Leguizamo have had HBO specials. If you pick up the New Yorker any given week, it may have twenty or thirty solo shows listed. This is for both economic reasons and artistic/spiritual reasons. We know that we are in a time paradigm shifting on every level of society. Solo performance is the emerging theater for our new world. It’s time is happening now and many, many people have the desire to create their own shows and need a guide. Both performers and audiences want to see transformational theater that breaks through old structures and limitations yet is still accessible and engaging (unlike the radical or avante garde). This book is the ultimate guide to creating high quality and transformational one person shows. It will support the trend that is already happening and take it to a new level. This book has the possibility of being the definitive guide to solo performance at this amazing time in our ever expanding collective consciousness.
I have yet to perform or produce a solo show that does not lead the audience to a standing ovation. My audiences stay for up to an hour after the productions because they feel so moved by what they have seen that they want to stay and connect with the monologist personally. I have seen people laugh and cry in recognition. When a solo performer steps out onstage, trusting that their own presence is enough, they have stepped onto the stage of the soul. They are walking through their very own Hero’s journey. The show becomes a metaphor for their life and the audiences recognize this energetically. And so they are carried along on the journey with them, all the while finding themselves in the
mirroring process that is always present when people connect in a group with their deep humanity.