So to recap, Part 1 of "So You Want to Write a One Person Show", I spoke about discovering the Central Moment on which your show pivots.
Part 2 of "So You Want to Write a One Person Show" we looked at the moments that lead up to the Central Moment of your revelation in your solo show. We explored possible turning points and after effects of the Central Moment, and we looked at possible through lines, the threads that sew your stories together into one cohesive piece.
Part 3, Write write write. We threw out all we "knew" and explored all possible avenues. This is where the rubber meets the road–we took creative risks and pushed past our normal habits and ideas about who we are and what we can create.
Part 4, Take a break, play, and contact your muses. We contacted our "muses"–that something greater that guides us and shows its genius.
Part 5, Bringing it all together, editing, refining through performance.
I recently spoke with Paul Stein, who is a really perceptive theater and comedy director in LA, about my new show. We talked about the difference between solo performance and standup monology, and which art form this piece will fall under. It seems to be a perennial question for me. He said something I won't forget: (paraphrasing)
"The difference between a standup show and a solo show is that in standup, the character knows exactly what they're talking about and exactly what they think. And they're going to tell you. In a solo show, the character doesn't know. They're looking for something, they want something, and they're figuring it all out with you, on this ride, together. The hero has a conflict."
It's looking like my new show is taking the form of a standup show, but that it will have an arc, a through-line, through the jokes. He asked me to describe what is the one thing I most want to communicate in this show. And with that answer, he said, "Find a way to relate and further that communication in each moment, in each piece of your show. Ask yourself, bit by bit, if each segment fulfills that purpose. If not, you know what to cut."
So I'm now looking at each segment, with that central communication, that central "conflict" for my character (the fictionalized version of me that I'm presenting through my standup persona, which is sort of an exaggerated, fun-house version of me). I'm not going to cut anything yet. I put everything in chronological order for this show (at this point). And now I'm editing and strengthening each segment so that it's succinct, clear, pithy, and funny or highly poignant. It's going to take some time. I have noticed that I need my writing to be colloquial–I'm not writing a book here–and cut as many words as possible before even going on stage. When the work reaches the point where I'm happy with what I'm saying, (after many edits), I'll take it to the stage, piece by piece. I didn't do this with my last two shows, which leaned much closer to solo show than to standup.
Comedy that's already well-written and memorized benefits and grows greatly from reaching an audience. From working the material out in front of an audience, magic arises… nuanced moments, new tags, different perspectives, and an understanding of what bits are not well-communicated or just don't click. Plus, it's fun! Standup tip: Memorizing your material allows for greater confidence on stage and if you feel like riffing or deviating, you've always got a route back "home". It's a lot like jazz–learn the standards, and then you can do anything. But sit down at a keyboard with no musical knowledge, expecting to play like Miles Davis, it's just not going to happen.)
If you're not doing standup, there are many open mics that allow performers to showcase various art-forms. Storytelling nights, solo performance nights, alternative comedy shows, small gatherings at friends' houses. You can even gather a friend or two you trust to enjoy a piece from your show. Some people are really happy to hear what you're working on. They might feel honored that you'd like to read for them. In this case, you might even be able to convince them to sit for 10-20 minutes while you read from your script, drink some tea or wine, and give you their impressions.
Tips for friend-readings: don't ask "Did you like it?", but instead, ask "What did you feel I was communicating? Was it clear? How might I improve my clarity? Which parts were most engaging?" These questions guide people away from "good/bad" and toward what you really want, which is honest feedback about whether you're fulfilling the obligations you've set out for yourself. Take this as information and not judgment. And let it sit with you before you make more edits. Other people make great mirrors for us.
Continue with this refining process until you have worked through your whole piece at least twice. And stay tuned for part 6 of 7 on writing a one man show or a one woman show or a one human show…