What’s It Like to Perform a Solo Show?

It’s exactly like this:

 

July 21st

A prestigious Toronto-based arts festival calls you up and tells you that you’ve been selected to take part in their festival this coming January.  You graciously accept, hang up the phone and think to yourself, “Well. It’s no surprise that they’d select me for such a thing. I’m the most talented person to ever walk the earth.”

July 25th

The Festival sends you an email giving you 48 hours to come up with a title and brief synopsis for your new solo show that doesn’t yet exist in any part of your brain or universe.

July 27th

You send them something vaguely promising.

July 28th – November 1st

You 100% forget about The Festival.  The only time you mention that you’re taking part in The Festival is when you’re trying to impress cardigan-clad women with large eyewear.

November 3rd

You realize how far away January 9th is and feel deeply relaxed.

November 4th

You realize that January 9th is essentially TOMORROW. You start petting strange dogs tied up outside of grocery stores for comfort.

November 6th

The Festival releases their first wave of promotional materials to the public.  You experience your first episode of paranoia, dread and doubt.

November 7th

You consider starting to write your show, but start watching Downton Abbey instead. That Maggie Smith is just too much.

December 1st

You submit your fully designed show poster, press release, program information, sign contracts, order your handbills online and do a walk-through of the theatre space with the technical director.  With just one month until your opening, today is the first day that you’ve actually done something. This realization makes you hate yourself.

Fatherly Handbill Front

December 2nd – December 4th

You spend 72 hours straight researching and writing a first draft of your show.

December 6th

You read your show aloud for the first time. It’s so completely void of cleverness or artistry, you earnestly wonder how anyone has ever loved you.

December 10th

You stop going to the gym and/or eating properly.

December 11th

You finish your second draft. You make a plan to fly to Fiji, assume a new name and learn how to make those umbrellas made of dried grass to support yourself.

December 14th

Your show is bad. You stare at it for hours, but don’t know how to fix it.

December 20th

EPIPHANY. You wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, turn on a light and write down your first legitimately good idea for a final page.  The girl in your bed says, “Turn off the light.”

She’s not to be trusted because she likes you as a person.

December 21st – December 24th

You call up your most talented writer friends and read your show to them.  They reassure you that it’s not a “literal bag of dicks”.

December 25th

You get wasted drinking Black Russians with your loved ones.

December 27th

You’re finally happy with the script. You give the “writer” part of you a pat on the back, and confidently hand the script over to the “performer” you.

December 28th

You remember how terrible of a performer you are.

January 2nd

With just one week to go, you start to hate the words that are coming out of your mouth.  You wouldn’t wish this show on your worst enemies. Even that kid who used to play for Kamloops who speared you in the balls behind the play that one time.

January 4th

You can only sleep if you get drunk and watch Mad About You on Netflix. You are not well.

January 5th

You go in for your technical rehearsal.  You hope to God that they don’t suggest you do a run of the show. You want to keep this travesty under wraps for as long as possible.

January 6th

You call your Mom and cry to her about how awful your show is. Instead of taking you seriously, she just laughs at you and says, “You do this every time.”

She knows nothing of you.

January 7th

You get called in to do an interview on the most-listened-to morning radio show in all of the Greater Toronto Area. Instead of being interesting, you explain as mundanely as humanly possible the entire plot of your show.  You say precisely zero funny things.

January 8th

The day before your opening, you notice on your box office report that the premiere of your show has seven media comps. The neighbours call 911 because it sounds like someone is dying on the other side of the wall.

Opening Day

You wake up at a reasonable hour, enjoy a nice wholesome breakfast, drink your coffee and listen to soothing music.  Then vomit.  You call the girl that you’re seeing to come over.  You make her sign a waiver that she will still make love to you even if your show goes the way of Howard the Duck II. Your roommate sees you in the living room cowering on the floor in a ball, but mistakes it for a yoga pose.

You pack up and head to the theatre.  On the way there, you are envious of everyone you walk by, and all the responsible decisions they made in life that led to them not performing solo theatre.

You go into the space. Someone from the festival comes in to tell you that your show is sold out. You feel a profound peacefulness wash over you, as you gaze around, take in the intricacies of the room and think, “Welp. This is where I die.”

They let the house in. They shut the door. Dim the lights. Fade out the music. And you’re on.

You wander onstage.  And start talking.  You have no idea what you’re saying.  You’re just desperately trying to say the words. Get through it. And survive.

You look out and see the two main reviewers in the third row sitting across the aisle from each other.  You see their pens moving.  They need to write things so that they remember later on when they’re sitting at their computers just how silly of a face you have. At one point, you are certain that in your periphery  you saw one of them pull out a Thesaurus and flip to the page that includes the word “horrendous”.

Your mouth is dry. You hear every chair creak. You see every little glance at one’s watch. You say your final line. Then they clap for you.

You emerge from the theatre.  People tell you that they loved your show. It really struck a chord with them. That your life experiences are really close to their life experiences.

On the way home, you eat something and then don’t vomit.

Show #2

The reviews are good.  No one used the word “abhorrent”.

You’ve proven that you can say the words you’ve written onstage without dying, so you’re a little more confident that you will survive this ordeal.  The show still feels pretty rocky, but almost in an exciting way.

Show #3

You have a straight-up solid show. Everyone laughed at the funny parts and several of them were wiping away tears during your curtain call. You feel like a once in a generation talent.

Show #4

You have a bad show. Because you’re wildly untalented.

Show #5

You’re in the flow of things. You’re consistently nailing the transitions and the pacing of the piece. You stop thinking about what the next line is with your brain, and allow the words to come from a different, more vulnerable part of your being.

Show #6

Two older women fall asleep in your show. As an act of hostility.

Show #7

You’re on top of your game tonight, but where is that crinkling sound coming from? No, seriously.

Show #8

You have your best show so far. You’re grounded, confident and funny.  You stand onstage and you are your best self.  You enjoy this. You’re good at this. This comes really naturally to you. Don’t forget that.

Show #9

Perfect show. Everyone loves it.

Closing Night

Your final performance is a bit of a letdown. It usually is.

Leaving the theatre, you are overcome with deep gratitude for everyone who helped you along the way to make this project happen. This solo show of yours certainly wasn’t a solo effort. You could not have pulled this off without the hundred or so people who chipped in and dealt with you and your neuroses. You’re so lucky to have these people in your life. You’re so lucky to have been a part of such a beautiful festival. You hug everyone and thank them from the bottom of your heart.

The Next Day

There’s no other feeling quite like closing a show. It’s difficult to explain. You feel completely emotionally and physically exhausted. It feels like grieving, but with a hint of vague… embarrassment almost. But. Luckily, this strange funk only lasts a day, so you just binge-watch a season of something, eat some good food, and catch up on some sleep.

The Day After That

You start eating properly again and/or going to the gym again.

And you’re on to the next thing.

30 thoughts on “What’s It Like to Perform a Solo Show?

  1. That is nuts, and I really enjoyed reading it. You’re very funny, rest assured. However, I think those of us who do anything creative tend to be perfectionists, that’s what makes us good at what we do. If we gave up and just thought, ah well it’s great, I’m awesome, no mistakes, nothing to critique. Our work would suck, a literal bag of genitals as you put it. By the way, congrats on your show and being freshly pressed!

  2. I have worked in and around theatre since the early 90s.

    This seems to be a startlingly common pattern of practice.
    I know people in the ‘September’ part of this timescale as we speak…

    Nicely written, thanks.

      • I know, I was teasing. I don’t perform much anymore, but when I did I had similar neurosis. It is strange how you can feel fine about it one day, completely loose it the next, then be completely fine with the fact that its gonna suck. Sounds like you did great. Good luck with everything that comes next.

  3. Love this. (an ex Torontonian in NY.)

    I’m taking a choreography class with a woman whose next solo show is March 1 and she’s FREAKING out. Oh, I said, that’s weeks away. She just finished a one-woman performance and is exhausted and now has to crank it all up again. Your post makes a little clearer to me (a writer) why this is so terrifying. She described a desperate wish to run, far and fast, away from the last one.

    Good luck!

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