This second entry is a post-mortem of Big Strong Boy. What made me feel strong during and before opening, what I changed when approaching and performing my next show and generally what I learnt. I’m keen to jump into the instructional part of the series, but digesting these previous meals is a big part of how I work.
Big Strong Boy
Big Strong Boy was revelatory and personally fulfilling to write, I know my family and myself better for writing it. Limiting myself to storytelling brought new challenges, and helped me develop my stage presence beyond the scenic/sketch context I was used to. Like a good personal trainer, this show was finding new muscles I hadn’t exercised before. I felt stretched and occasionally sore, but never torn.
But it wasn’t all rose water and body chocolate. The opening show had left me dissatisfied. It wasn’t a bad show, just not quite what I wanted.
Let’s talk about that:
I performed in two other shows during the Fringe; Improv Against Humanity and Three Mad Rituals. Before the opening show of Three Mad Rituals – and shortly after the opening of Big Strong Boy – Mario Hannah asked about the structure the 90 minute improv marathon we were about to engage in, I responded to his question with an honest “I’m just going to do some scenes, and have fun. We can’t expect more than that.”
Three Mad Rituals had a great opening night (and run, for that matter), but I realised there was a freedom I granted myself in that show, that I was withholding in Big Strong Boy. So I made some changes to the show. I cut some content – so I had more time to play – added an audience interaction bit, and told myself “I’m going to tell some stories, and have fun. We can’t expect more than that.”
The difference between night-one and night-two was minor on the page, but huge on the stage. I had a lot of fun.
What made me feel strong?
- “You are not entitled to the fruits of your labour. Just the labour.” – I’m obsessed with this quote, it kept me motivated, and reminded me that the process of writing has to be enjoyable. Writing was enjoyable because I was more willing to follow my own delight, and that the theme of the show was so personal..
- Rehearsal Schedule – I had a good ramp up of full rehearsals. And then having a private preview was hugely helpful. The first time I did my show, it was in front of a group of people I trust. It gave me a lot of strength as I opened the show.
- Doing It! – Again! I realise that doing things is always a success. This was something I learnt in Please Stay, and keeping this in mind helped me divorce my expectations from external success and instead focus on the work.
- Feedback – I received positive reviews from critics, and from audiences. Again, we are not entitled to the fruits of your labour, but I don’t think anyone would blame me for eating some fruit if its handed to me.
- Follow Your Delight – Making those changes after night-one. Early in development, I had talked to people about the fact I didn’t want the show to be all storytelling, I wanted something to break it up. And then I completely ignored myself.
- Allies – I recruited people to private readings of my show, and to help me with development, shaping my performance and so on. Marcus was a great help, and kept me honest to what I was trying to achieve, but there were many others who helped. Lauren Hayward, Andrew Watt, Bri Williams, Tim Quabba, Joseph Green and many others kept me sane before and after the run (whether they realised it or not).
- My Story – Getting up every night and talking about my life and those moments that have made me someone I’m proud of was invigorating.
- Experimentation – Exploring new ways of writing and structuring my work was really exciting. Knowing that my show played from different sources, and with a variety of structure, kept me engaged in the writing and the performance.
- Storytelling – Focusing on one type of performance, made me feel great. I have some intuitive ability to tell stories, but getting up every night for a week not only made me feel strong, but helped me see where I might develop myself further.
- Self Produced – I produced my own show, and it was a great learning experience. There is a powerful relationship from the creative side through to the marketing and promotion of your show; I ignored this Please Stay and did significantly better in Fringe.
What would I do differently?
- Paid Promotion – I paid for advertising, and I got some good press out of it. I did not make my money back in ticket sales, however, it did give me more opportunities to talk about the show and increased my exposure.
- Personal Promotion – I promoted actively to performance groups I’m involved in, and to friends and family, but not as heavily in other communities I’m a part of. I wish I had. I had a decent group come from work, and I did broader promotion through the run, but I should’ve done it sooner.
- Word Docs vs. Scripts – I wrote some, but not all of my stories in Word, this felt better. But it meant that some of my stories lacked theatricality. There’s one story in particular which is lovely and funny to read, but just isn’t written for Performance. After noticing that, I changed my approach.
- Listen To Yourself – I ignored some of my own internal creative thoughts early on. I then corrected them after night-one.
- Stage Presence/Strength – I have always been told I am a confident performer. But I can tell the difference between myself on stage as a solo performer, and watching others with more solo (and stand-up) experience.
- Recording – I never organised for a recording of the show. I wish I had recorded all of them.
What am I taking into my next show?
- Pick a single style of performance that I am confident with, but I would love to grow in.
- Pick a concept for the show that is simple, and compelling to me.
- Listen to my inner Director. If my gut is telling me something, it’s worth doing.
- Develop an even more aggressive schedule for putting up an end-to-end rehearsal of the show.
Write some jokes.Create space for play and exploration in the work, and yeah…. write some more jokes.
- It’s good to challenge yourself, but do not feel bad about writing to your strengths. Why would you write things you’re bad at?
- Follow your delight. Write things that sound fun to do.
- Write in a script writing program no matter what the type of content, and make sure there’s stage and character direction/thought through-out. Otherwise it’s too easy to just ignore it when you’re writing in word.
- Talk to everyone about the show. (Make sure you’ve written something you’re excited for people to see.)
- Prepare a variety of visual content and all at hi-res – this will make it easier to give different media and festivals whatever they require.
- Come up with a bio, and log lines for your show. For Big Strong Boy I had 500 words, 100 words and a one sentence bio for the show. This made my life easy!
- Approach reviewers/media earlier and follow-up.
- Come up with a plan to generate interesting content to promote the show throughout and leading up to the run.
- Your reason for doing the show.
- Do some performances through-out the year that build the skills and maybe tests some material you’re considering for your show. In my case, do some stand-up.
- You’re always better than the last thing you’ve done. Just make sure you are learning what you can.
- Even scripted shows owe a lot to the audience in the room each night, remember to craft performances that bring them on the journey.
- Record as many performances as possible – even if its just audio.
Other articles in this series:
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 1) – Post-mortem of Please Stay.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 2) – Post-mortem of Big Strong Boy.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 3) – Getting Started.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 4) – Creating As A Process.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 5) – Writing True Stories.