Welcome to Part 1 in my “How To: Create A Solo Show” blog series. This series is an exploration of how I created my two solo shows (Please Stay and Big Strong Boy), and the process I am using to create my next show. I hope it will help you create your own shows!
This first entry is a post-mortem of Please Stay. 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.
My Solo Work Thus Far
Over the last 18 months I have written two one-man shows:
- Please Stay (directed by Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd; Produced by John Leung), a sketch/storytelling show which debuted the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2015. All profits were donated to BeyondBlue.
- Big Strong Boy (directed by Marcus Willis), a storytelling show which debuted in Melbourne Fringe Festival 2015, with a follow-up run in the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2016.
I am now in the process of writing my third solo show.
Please Stay was an incredible challenge to put together, my first real written work, and my first solo performance. I was tremendously nervous and then incredibly proud of the result. However, I learnt that the show had a lot of complexity in terms of it’s style (storytelling, clowning, solo-sketch, monologues, character-audience interaction etc.), which was a challenging (and therefore rewarding) for me as a performer, but did not entirely serve the piece.
What made me feel strong?
- Doing It! – The act of doing something I set out to do, felt great. No matter what was good or bad about the show, I feel empowered by the act of just having done it.
- Performance – I received positive feedback about the various types of performance in my show. I’ve been a performer for five years, and have doubts at times (like we all do), but doing this show really bolstered my confidence.
- Simplify – Through the run I made changes to simplify or remove content, so that characters and moments had more opportunity to explore what was there.
- Allies – Trust and share with people who can help and support you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Wyatt, John Leung, Marcus Willis, Justin Porter and many others played a great role in picking me up when I felt down.
- Danger Zone – There was one character that consistently did well each night, occasionally received an applause and I looked forward to every night! This character came from me talking to myself while walking home one day, I started laughing to myself and wrote it all up in one hour.
- BeyondBlue – I donated all the profits to BeyondBlue, and I felt great about that. The show was inspired by mental health issues experienced by me, and others close to me through-out my life. This really helped as a tow line that pulled me forward.
- John – John was my producer and was a real believer all the way through. This gave me confidence, and knowing his steady hand was on the production side allowed me to focus on the creative.
- Wyatt – I’m sure Wyatt would agree that we didn’t spend the time together we would have liked; part of that was my nervousness. However, Wyatt was my biggest cheerleader and helped me continue with concepts that I stated to doubt, and picked me up when I was feeling down. He was a great ally!
What would I do differently?
- Complex – The show had lots of variety. This satisfied me in some ways, but (as above) didn’t help me convey my message simply.
- Jokes – I enjoyed the fun and play that was in my show, but there wasn’t enough. The storytelling opening was very light but there were other parts of my show that deserved (and had the opportunity for) more comedic moments. Through the course of the festival I played more, and made space for more.
- NEGATIVITY! – I really struggled after the first show, I was nervous (which I know is normal) and lost a bit of confidence. My allies (see above) helped immensely, and in the second show I felt reborn!
- No Reviews – I received no reviews of this show. I put in an effort, but got no feedback. In retrospect my press release was unprofessional and I left a lot of my work too late.
- Honest Feedback – I asked friends and so on for advice during my run, but it was uncomfortable.
What changes did I make in approaching Big Strong Boy?
- Pick a single style of performance and execute a simple idea that inspired me. (It didn’t take long to find.)
- I was talking to my Father about a problem I was facing, and he talked to me about some similar issues he had dealt with. I knew right away I wanted to talk about the idea of being a man.
- I chose storytelling as it felt like a good place to start, and I had received consistently good feedback on this portion of the show. Given the personal nature of the content, it also felt like the style of performance closest to the truth.
- Pick a director who is interested in the idea, and believes in me as a performer. (Marcus Willis.)
- Schedule rehearsals and writing sessions ahead of time. Plan for a ramp up of performing the shows leading up to the show.
- Organise a private preview of the show (pretty lo-fi) for a diverse group of friendlies. This will be a safe way for those I trust to give me feedback, and it also meant that if I had big issues, I would know about them (and had time to solve them).
- Develop a clear and pointed bio/description for the show, that conveys the concept/themes core to the show.
- Write some jokes.
- Write the show you would like to see.
- Talk to people about the show.
- Do more promotion in general – more on this in later articles.
- Ask people for help, especially if they’re good at something you are not.
- Approach reviewers early and follow-up.
- You’re not writing a one-off show, you’re writing content that will be the source material for seven shows (or however long your run). It will change, some nights it’ll be different than you intended. That’s OK. That’s great. That’s live performance. That’s you learning.
- You’ll only truly find the show in the performance of it.
- To make choices that make you more confident.
- Invite people to the show. Make choices that make you want to invite people to the show.
Here’s a video that helped me immensely and continues to do so:
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.