How to Renovate your Solo Show

I’ve been spending the lazy days of summer renovating my space, following through on the ideas that I put on the back burner over the last few busy months of late spring and early summer.

It’s very freeing to get rid of things that are cluttering up my space. It helps me to re-think the way I store things, and to create new points of interest. I’ve been doing the same thing as the director/dramaturge for some of my clients, working on solo shows. These are mainly shows that have had less than 10 performances, and are still works in progress.

How do we do this? Here are a few basic steps.

1. Analyze how it felt to do the show. Now that you have had the experience of doing the entire show, see how it feels in your body. Do you feel worn out when you’re done? Exhilarated? What does your body tell you about the material itself? Is something missing? Are there redundant elements? Is the exposition clumsy? (Reading note – Eugene Gendlin wrote a book called Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. The tips he offers for analyzing your dreams work very well for analyzing your show. )
2. Pay attention to the audience’s response. Were they with you? Excited? Confused? What were they asking about after the show ended? Make notes about what they had to say, and then make a list of the things you heard repeated most often.
3. Analyze the show, based on this new information. What have you learned? What is missing? Print out your script with large margins and make notes there. Take your time with this step. No good work comes without analysis.
4. Write. The previous three steps were to get yourself into the sweet spot to do the renovation. Now let yourself free write for the areas that need work. Don’t try to edit while you’re doing it – just write. Just assemble the material. It’s like being a decorator – you want to have a free hand, a large assortment of things to work with. Don’t restrict yourself. (Another reading note – A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, by Roger van Oeck, is particularly helpful. He breaks down the creative process into four personas, the Explorer, The Artist, the Judge and the Warrior. Let your Explorer and Artist selves manage this part of the process )
5. Brainstorm with your director/dramaturge Go over the new ideas with an open mind, and see how they fit in your show. Don’t be afraid to unpin everything and re-arrange it. Get up on the stage and perform the material with book in hand, full out, and see how it lands on the two of you. You should get a feeling tone of some kind that will guide you to the next step, which is the integration of the new material.
6. Polish your script Once you get the new material pasted into your script, see if you can manage any subtractions. Be ruthless. If any part of your script is not essential, see if you can cut it. Find those over-worded phrases and trim them. Make the new version of your show shine like a diamond.
7. Rehearse the new version thoroughly. Re-learning a show is not easy. Your actor’s body will try to fall into old habits. Be rigorous. Be exploratory. This is a new show, made from elements of your old show. Don’t skimp on preparation. I often see shows that have been inadequately rehearsed. If you are still tentative about the words and the blocking, your audience will notice. Don’t make this amateur mistake. Do the work.
8. Book more performances You’ll never know whether it works until you try it. Find a small theatre, even a friend’s large living room, and perform the show.
Now do it all again, until you have the product you have been envisioning. As David Hare says, “The play is finished when I quit rewriting it.”


2 thoughts on “How to Renovate your Solo Show

  1. Cheryl, I found the article very interesting–but I have questions. As a singer, after I’ve performed sacred music, I feel emotionally drained when I finish, and the act of singing was like an out of body experience. When I perform jazz/cabaret music, I am energized for a while–and reaching the end of the show comes as a surprise–then I crash about an hour later, but sleep is impossible for several more hours. In both cases, the audience was with me all the way, and I often make people cry (it’s a side effect; I learned long ago that if I cry, the audience can’t). The audience members usually can’t agree on which songs they liked the best, and ask when I’m performing next…

    • Hi, Greta. The power of the energy moving through you, when you act or sing, is going to take at least a temporary toll on your body. It’s the price we performers pay for being a conduit to such beauty. As with any other strenuous exercise, you will experience some lassitude afterwards. My boyfriend calls it basking. And I do love to bask after a good performance, like a cat in the sun, just luxuriating in the memory and the feelings in my body. Rather than interpreting them as tiredness, see if you can revel in them. As for the inability to sleep, I have also felt that after a good performance. It’s like being a kid at Christmas. Your level of excitation gets so high it takes time to calm down. I suggest drinking valerian root tea, reading a good book, playing over the performance in your head (not for errors but for the joy of it all). You’ll find yourself slowly winding down, and then sleep will come. It’s a good phenomenon, not a bad one. Congrats on making your audience, and yourself, so happy.

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