How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 3)

Hey Dan, Should I Do It?

If you’ve never put on your own show, it can be hard to know if you should do it. I have prepared a separate page to help you decide whether you should do it or not (I’ll wait here while you check it out):

Click here to know if you should write and perform in your own show.

No seriously. Check it out. I’ll wait, I’ll be right here when you come back.

Did you read it? Good! It’s possible you never had any doubts, but I know that wasn’t the case for me. My concern was largely focussed on how ‘good‘ my show ‘might‘ be, which is a natural and human concern, for sure. However, it’s easily solved by actually doing work.

Let’s talk about success:


From now on, let’s redefine what success means. Success is not external validation of something in the past. Success is the alignment of your motivations to what you are actually doing. Let’s add to this.

I will remind you again of a quote that has really helped me turn my doubts into doing:

“You are not entitled to the fruits of your labour. You are only entitled to the labour itself.”

I’m talking about this now, because it will help frame a lot of the work we do, and I wont feel the need to paste the above quote frequently. You are allowed to feel however you want, you are allowed to have doubts, you are allowed to feel anything you want. But once you’ve done feeling things, then you need to boil it down to some work. What are you going to do about it?

If we bring this together, we have a model where being successful only requires us to do work that resonates with how we think and feel; and we each know that we are absolutely entitled to be doing whatever work that might be.

Now Let’s Get Started

Perhaps you already know what you want your show to be about, but for those who haven’t, here’s a tool that was given to me by Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd.  I’ve run this exercise before both of my shows, even though I had some idea of what I wanted to do already.

Make two lists:

  • Ten things you might like your show to be about.
  • Ten things you might like to do in your show.

There are no rules about this, but I will share (part of) the lists I generated before each of my shows.

This is not an attempt to call dibs on any ideas (so I’ve tried to remove anything REALLY specific).

Do write at least ten for each, even if it’s a stretch. You want a mix of ideas you already have floating around your bread box, as well as some things you hadn’t considered until you sat down.

You could use this exercise to work out the type of show you want to do, or perhaps you are already doing stand-up, storytelling, sketch or otherwise know what you want. Note that for Please Stay, I didn’t know if I wanted to do sketch, storytelling, clowning and ended up doing a mixture. And then with Big Strong Boy, I knew it would be a storytelling show.

Another note I’ll give, and we might (or might not) talk about it later. Is to make sure you add some things you are good at. My tendency is to focus on all the fun new toys I want to play with, and not focus on leveraging my existing strengths. That being said, I can imagine someone focusing entirely on what they know they can do, and not adding anything surprising. Just make sure you have a mix of things.

Lists created before I wrote what ended up being Please Stay:

Things I might like the show to be about:
  1. True stories from my life
  2. Relationships*
  3. A tale of survival*
  4. My dad
  5. Ex-Girlfriend A*
  6. Ex-Girlfriend B*
Things I might like to do in the show:
  1. Storytelling
  2. Clowning
  3. Audience Interaction
  4. scripted performance
  5. Jazz band leader*
  6. Play characters from my life
  7. Be shot*

Lists I created before writing what ended up being Big Strong Boy:

Things I might like the show to be about:
  1. Masculinity
  2. Gender Identity – men man woman women
  3. Role of men through the ages
  4. History of gender
  5. Concept of doing something great even though you didn’t know you were doing it, or didn’t do it in a nice way
  6. The loss of identity
Things I might like to do in the show:
  1. Amber
  2. Hammer and Knife Story
  3. Snow trip story from High School
  4. Start the show by dancing*
  5. Pancake bit*
  6. Bankrupt story
  7. Japan Story*
  8. Ciara Story*
  9. Have the audience put makeup on me
  10. Nonno*

Note that some of these are single words, others are phrases and I know for some I just had drawings of ideas. Also note that neither list explicitly connects to ideas from the other. As I said, no rules! Now go make your lists!

* Indicates I have edited the item down to avoid stopping you from using what might be a similar idea. But I would have no issue if you did anything similar to these. I have no doubt you would make it your own.

I have my lists. Now what?

You have at least ten things you might like to do a show about, and at least ten things you might like to do in your show. Excellente! It’s possible you had more than ten, which ain’t bad. I’d recommend you go far enough that you actually have to think of some new ideas – no doubt you’ll have a ton of things banked up, and that’s great to get on a page/word doc – but it’s always good to dig a little deeper.

Now go through each list and pick out those that really jump off the page. What’s inspiring? What raises more questions for you creatively? What is something that makes you excited to get to work. Put a mark next to these items.

You now have a few options of what your show might be about, and some things you might like to do. My experience is one of these ideas will jump off the page, or you will have this thought “You know what, none of these appeal to me. Damn… But you know what? I really want to talk about [X].” Either way, you’ll have your idea.

Don’t worry if the things you really want to do aren’t lining up with what you want your show to be about. Right now, we are just getting ideas out, and doing work. You never know what you might need, so don’t judge your ideas now.

Listing in general is a great way of brainstorming. It’s limiting enough to take the stress away from generating ideas, and enough that you’ll definitely find something that inspires you (even if it only inspires you to the 11th, but golden idea). You can use this in many ways. What should I have for lunch today? List of ten. How do I end this story I’m writing? List of ten. What possible tags can I have on this setup? List of ten. What other articles could I write in this series? List of ten. You get the idea.

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.

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