Image by Actorul at Flickr Creative Commons.
By default I’m a director, but occasionally I enjoy working the other side of the fence, on the stage. Doing both can actually be very beneficial. As an actor, you get to build on your technique and can enjoy not having to look so intensely at the production as a whole, never mind all of the meetings, drafts, finances and so on that a director puts up with. Likewise, as a director it’s easier to understand the mindset of an actor and how to make the most out of them; channeling their talents and your feedback into a cohesive and succinct direction.
You may imagine then that a One Man/Woman show is the ideal mixing pot: you get to be your own director as well as act. I’m currently enjoying this benefit in the run up to my latest solo show and; it’s so much easier to navigate rehearsal timetables around all the other actors for one. This doesn’t mean to say though that you shouldn’t ask for outside help. Script drafts are pinging around my outbox left, right and centre as I appeal for feedback from some good writers I know.
That is tip number one: Get feedback at every stage possible to breach the bubble you’re living in.
In contradiction to that however, it’s also vital to remember that this is your work. Sure, when you write a script for a large cast it’s still your work, but remember that this time the connection between text and actor i.e. the connection between you and well, you is the closest a person and a text can get in performance. Given the rather abrupt nature of my show I’m sure a lot of people may question as to whether or not it was actually me that wrote the thing and I shall be happy to proclaim that I did, provided the show is a success.
Tip number two in the bag: Make the most of the connection between actor and text.
The problem a lot of single-actor shows (I got bored of constantly saying One Man/Woman Shows) have is that they manage to get turned into one extended monologue in what feels like one scene from a larger play. I suppose in essence there is an argument to say that this can be the case, but after witnessing what can only be described as a slaughtering of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape last week, I am almost repulsive of that approach. I wanted to poke the actor in the eye with a pencil and turn it clockwise until the splurging ribbon of words drooling from his mouth was safely back inside his head and out of earshot. Being the only thing onstage (maybe the odd prop or two), the space needs to be filled with your presence and not isolating it into one corner like you’re the only marble left standing in a game of Kerplunk.
If the show is a narrative, my third tip is to really do some intense research on the character’s back-story and development so that you always have something new to give, a new dimension.
My lesson for today, or rather mini lessons for today, is to remember that you won’t face the challenges of a conventional multi-cast production until you’re under those stage lights on the opening night of your One Man/Woman show. Treat it like rolling out a carpet slowly, rather than just dumping the thing on the floor all at once. Be prepared for audience reactions and stay alert, otherwise you could be the next marble to get Kerplunked.