Tag Archives: monologue

So You Want to Write a One Person Show, Part 5 of 7

So You Want to Write a One Person Show, Part 5 of 7

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…

So You Want to Write a One Person Show, Part 4 of 7

So You Want to Write a One Person Show, Part 4 of 7

So to recap, Part 1 of "So You Want to Write a One Person Show", I spoke about discovering the Central Moment that your show pivots on.  You did free-writing about this pivotal moment and you held it close to your heart, a secret for yourself.  

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.  It can be tempting in this phase to feel as if it's time to choose a topic and stick with it.  It may feel like you're taking a new direction or things are "falling apart".  Good.  Stay committed.  Create quantity now and worry about quality later.  "It's all good in the end.  If it's not good, it's not over." 

Part 4, Take a break, play, and contact your muses.  Whether it's closer to standup comedy or closer to melodramatic tragedy (not that I think you're being melodramatic), if you're following the process diligently, you'll find you may have become a little overwhlemed by looking at your life, or this fictional version of your life so intensely.  Of course your show might not be about your life..  it's still going to be intense to sit with all the work that's come through you over the recent past.  

This is a good time to take a little space from your project.  At least three days if not a week.  A good time to nap and write down your dreams, to spend time with friends who both relax and inspire you, who you tell the truth with, to read books that have nothing to do with your project.  A good time to draw or paint something, to make an offering or gift to your muses and ask for their guidance.  Make up a ritual or a ceremony!  Light some candles!  Invite that special puzzle piece, that something more into your work that you could not possibly have come up with on your own.

See a piece of theater or hear a piece of music that is truly brilliant, truly transportive.  Unfocus your eyes, soften your ears.  Understand how this art is specific and universal at the same time.  Grok how  some part of the person who created it bowed their small self to the something greater to come through them.  Perhaps it was a deeper intelligence in their brain or perhaps it was divinity..  It was most certainly something that spoke softer and felt truer than their personality, their habitual way of being, their social conditioning.  In Hindi, the word namastasay means to bow.  Find a way to bow your small self and make way for something greater. 

Ok, now.  Keep a notepad (and pen!!) by your bed, keep one by the shower, keep one in the car.  Before you go to sleep at night, ponder your show for at least ten minutes, as the last thing you do.  When you wake up, first thing, write down your dreams or any ideas relating to your show.  Do this for at least seven days in a row.  Any moment you feel something coming through you, say yes to it.  Write it down.  Write everything down that comes, no matter how silly, how insignificant it seems. 

Alternatively, you may find it helpful to create a time each day to allow this "transmission" to come through.  In that case, chose a time and a place to write for one half hour or one hour each day.  Light a candle or some incense at the start–whatever you need to do to mark this time and space as holy and invite that extra something in.  When you complete your writing for the day, always thank your muses and "close the circle". 

If it feels like things are backwards and confusing right now, this is good.  Anyone can write from A to B.  It's called a diary.  What's happening with you now is that you are breaking some holes in the fabric of your normal understanding so the light can come in and illuminate it.  

Ok, now take each incident or character or vignette in your show and put it on a 3 x 5 card.  Mix them up.  The sequence of your life is now like Dada poetry.  Play around with it for a while.  Scramble it up.  Notice themes and threads you may not have noticed before.  You may start to find an order you like.  Make a note of it but keep scrambling.

Part 5 will be forthcoming.  BTW, I am a real human and this is really being written now, so if you have questions or comments, please write to me and I'll do my best to answer them in future blogs.  I am also a solo show coach and can help you work through blocks and bring what wants to be expressed into being.  Keep up the good work!

Alicia Dattner

Want to write a one-person-show? Do it now!

Want to write a one-person-show? Do it now!

I've been working on my one-woman-show for the last year, and I'm
really excited to let you know it's going to be featured in the 2008 San Francisco Fringe Festival in September!  It's called The Punchline,
and it's all about my dream of being a famous comedian and the things
that get in my way…  I've had lots of help from some really talented
and generous people, and I'd like to share with you some simple ways to
get started.

So, here are five easy steps to get started now on your one-man-show, a one-woman-show, a solo-transgender show, or a
very long monologue from someone of unspecified gender… 

Step one:  Decide
to tell your life story.  (This is what all first works are
about–first albums, first books, first drinks…  You can write about
politics and stuff when you've gotten yourself out of the way.)

Step two:  Write your truth, and tell it from the point of view of all the characters in your life (or all the characters in your head.)

Step three: Book
a show two months from now, and tell everyone you know to come see
you.  Publicize!  (This ensures that you'll really do it.)

Step four:  Get
some studio time and a director to give you feedback and incorporate
it.  Then, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  (Don't ask your wife or your
boyfriend or your dog what they think of your work.  They won't be able
to give you helpful criticism until they see the show on opening night.)

Step five:  Perform! 
Take your due on stage, strut your stuff, and tell your story for
real–be the most you-est you you've ever been, share your story in a
way that lets the audience fully see who you really are.  (Hint: the
less you care how good you are, the better you'll be.)

In another blog, I'll let you know about some good teachers, directors, and other resources for solo shows.


So, do it now!  "Yesterday is rarely too early but tomorrow is frequently too late."