Into a different gear

So I’m developing a solo show.

This is very different for me. I don’t consider myself an actor, although I do consider myself a writer, director, dramaturg, critic, and other sorts of theatre artist as necessary. But I haven’t been onstage in 3 years or so, and I haven’t created my own material – outside of a class in college – ever.

I just finished Marya Sea Kaminski‘s solo performance class at Freehold. Marya is one of those people who radiates intelligence and poise. She is genuine and generous with her praise, and has the rare ability to balance real praise (finding something good in each work) with truly constructive criticism. Comments for improvement land exactly as they should, without the pain criticism can normally have (even when well-intentioned). In short, while I have not seen her solo work yet, I can say for certain that she is a brilliant and creative teacher.

We were also a pretty brilliant, interesting, entertaining class, with a variety of stories to tell.

On our first day of class, we were asked why we were there. I signed up, although I feared the performance aspect, because I want to develop my writing skills, especially for stage. I have this dream, you see, that one day I will study with the Neo-Futurists and bring the incredible concept that is Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind to Seattle. I saw that show about two years ago now, in Chicago, my first night there. I saw a variety of theatre in Chicago that was amazing, but TMLMTBGB is still my favorite.

So, I signed up for this solo performance class because I was looking to beef up my writing skills, in anticipation of someday (not this year, as originally intended, but someday) going to Chicago, studying with the Neo-Futurists, and starting a theatre company that does something like Too Much Light.

But as soon as I signed up for the class in November, I started stressing out about it. I didn’t want to write anything about me, personally. I will talk about my personal life, but I didn’t want to – as one student in the class later said so pithily – cut my veins open and bleed on the audience. A friend of mine, Jenni, happened to be in the class and we discussed what we wanted and what we feared before going into the very first session. I told Jenni I really didn’t want to write something autobiographical. She said we probably didn’t have to.

About the time she said that, class was about to start, so we grabbed out belongings and moved into the blackbox space. And I am not kidding when I say this, but just as I crossed the threshold into the theatre, inspiration hit me.

See, I’m also a major science fiction nerd. Over the summer, I read two huge anthologies of scifi short stories and was deeply inspired by them. Well-done science fiction has a way of immersing my imagination in incredible worlds, which makes me think, “Yeah, I can see humans/aliens doing that/being like that.” One inspiring story featured aliens like giant centipedes, which had a ridiculously structured caste system and spoke with a sort of sign and vocal hybrid language. One story featured humans genetically modifying themselves into all sorts of bizarre creatures, one of which created a colony on the moon and tried to secede from Earth – humans were the only aliens in the solar system. One was a post-nuclear apocalypse where aliens landed but didn’t interact with humans – but they did interact with dogs, and noticed that dogs interacted well with humans. Amazing, incredible, and not unreasonable ideas for the future, distant and near. Passionate stories that need to be told because telling stories makes us feel, so deeply.

Because I read these anthologies – along with The Hunger Games series – my mind has been roiling with ideas. I’ve started writing several short scifi stories. I wrote an outline but not a first paragraph for one.

It just happened to be a near future dystopian political story, told from the point of a woman who was reflecting on her childhood.

It would be a brilliant solo show.

Maybe. If I could overcome my fear.

So, this class was only 6 weeks long and I had nothing to lose but a few hundred dollars and possibly some dignity in front of a couple of people whose opinions I value deeply, but I’ve made an ass out of myself in front of them before so really. Nothing to lose.

I wrote the show. I had so many ideas that I found I actually had too much material. I cut it down to a painful limit, I changed some things for the sake of 10 minutes or less.

It was a success. My partner and I actually talked for a long time, late one night, about the world of the show and what he’d seen, and what I’d intended, and what he wanted to see more of.

He wanted to see more.

Between that and the encouragement of Marya and my classmates, I have – GULP! – decided to try to extend the show into a little over an hour. It will still be a solo show, but will feature more than the daughter character. And hopefully, the characters will have names when I’m done. We’ll see.

Part of my difficulty is reminding myself that my stories are worthwhile too. What do I have to say that’s worthwhile? How do I justify myself?

Well. Sparks are sparks. And sparks are worth turning into fire, regardless of who you are. Here’s some artists that remind me of that, with their extreme talent, and extremely big gonads. I mean, if you think about it, these ideas are pretty ridiculous.

Anna Deavere Smith – made famous by the brilliant Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles – is an incredible solo performer, who dares to perform real people that she interviews.

Why? Why?

Because it’s fucking important to know these things that’s why! Not in a journalistic “The More You Know” sort of way, but in the way that these images sink into our imaginations and simmer there, and somehow come out later through some other form of inspiration, be it for a play, a painting, a moment of kindness between strangers, or a riot for freedom.

And then, there’s STREB:

Elizabeth Streb is a trained professional modern dancer who has, by her own account, taken a turn. She creates moving human architecture, for lack of a better word, and the above video is a particularly poignant example of the lengths these dancers go to so they can realize a vision. It is incredible, daring, painful, and awe-inspiring. It is a visual for the definition of insanity, in my opinion.

Why? Why do this?

Because clearly the human body is capable of it (when in decent shape, after hours of practice, anyway), and because it’s impressive.

So. I’m developing a solo show. Because I can, because I like the idea, other people have liked the idea, and it’s fun.

Did I mention I’m thinking of taking it on a European tour next year? I’m definitely applying for Bumbershoot this year, as that will, whether I get in or not, give me a deadline.

I’m developing a solo show.

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