What a week. On two consecutive Fridays I was blessed to witness two Sol-Mates from Albuquerque, Jim Sea and Linda Martin, bring their original one person shows to the stage in New York City. After months (and years) of discovery, development, and rehearsal with their wonderful directors (Christine McHugh, Randi Klein and Lee Kitts), we celebrated their massive accomplishment!
Why Solo shows and DIY?
In February of 2010 I received an announcement from a local theater company that they were accepting applications for their annual Summer Solo Theater Festival . I’d been sitting on an idea for 18 years so I made up a press kit for my non-existent show, sent it in and, voila, was accepted. Trouble was, I hadn’t written a word and had only some very simple thoughts on what it might be about. So with the help of an experienced writing coach and a fertile group of fellow performers, I wrote The Bark & The Tree, just in time for the July performance. For the next few years, I did workshop productions throughout New Mexico until, in 2013, I was accepted to the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City.
What a rush. It was hard work selling out the Studio Theater at Theater Row on W42nd Street from my office in Albuquerque, yet, by calling every person I had ever known in the big apple and the surrounding area, I managed to do so–twice. Those two performances showcased my work and I received an award for Best Documentary Play, with my lighting designer honored with Best Lighting Design. The combination earned me an invitation to return the following year for two encore performances. I was stunned to be recognized as a writer and a performer in the midst of 120 other shows and to be invited back.
That experienced proved something essential to me. I had found my tribe and I had to take my seat at the table. Since then I have performed The Bark & The Tree at The Barrow Group in NYC, Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s Women’s Solo Theatre Festival in Bloomsburg, PA, Headford, Ireland, and most recently, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival.
In addition to performing The Bark & The Tree in 2013, I wrote, produced and starred in my debut short film called Leverage which has received some nice recognition in my community around New Mexico. Another seat at another beautiful table.
In 2015 I took time off from performing and offered a class on creating Original Solo Performance at Sol Acting Academy. The format included two group classes and two private coaching sessions per month. Six people signed up and worked diligently for six months. Bearing witness to people discovering their voices, creating visions and developing theatrically viable pieces on stage has been tremendously rewarding.
This September I returned to United Solo, but this time not as an actor/writer. I returned as a mentor to two actors who were accepted to perform the pieces they wrote and developed as a result of their work in our class. Their persistence, tenacity and passion paid off with two beautiful break-out performances Off-Broadway in New York City. And their classmates are also performing regularly in festivals and theaters through out the Southwest. I am honored and humbled to be a part of their journeys to artist freedom.
Why Create Your Own Work:
Acting is a fiercely unpredictable business. Imagine this scenario: Sunday evening you feel as if nothing is ever going to happen, and on Monday morning you are filled with elation, crawling inside a script because you got called audition on Tuesday. Monday and Tuesday are now spent analyzing, learning the scene, making choices, and maybe a coaching session. Tuesday’s audition is either awesome or maybe not-so-awesome. Wednesday is about letting go, honoring the process and then Thursday comes, still no word, and it’s about eating the salad instead of the pint of ice cream. On Friday you learn you’re pinned (on hold) for the part, and by Saturday you’re getting emails from wardrobe and production. We’re IN! On Monday, you learn that a movie star is being brought in to play the role you booked and you get a message that your contract is cancelled. Then Tuesday another audition and away we go on another spin around the track that is acting. The roller coaster ride of emotions can be ridiculous. Combine that with the terrain we have to navigate in preparation for an audition and you have a life choice that gives you one very wild ride. It became increasingly hard to stay focused, inspired and fulfilled in a business that requires readiness, and while not always providing an outlet for the result.
Creating my own work, whether it is writing and shooting a short screen play or developing a solo performance, has given me a sense of place, belonging and stability as an actor. The process helps me stake my claim and the actions that I then take give me the opportunity to investigate my artistic point of view through all aspects of the craft. I learn how to visualize the story, how to explore the sound that will enhance it, and how to invite others to join me on the project, bringing it to life in its fullest expression. Driving the project, I am clarifying my perspective and telling a story that is meaningful to me. There are fears of course, like what if no one cares, but with over fifty years observing and loving this life, I figure if a story has impact for me, there are at least a hundred others who would be interested as well, so who am I not to bring something to the party?
In this way, creating my own work has become a practice in hospitality and my creative community at large is a giant potluck. Think about it, we all have our circle of friends and colleagues with whom we like to gather. We all have our signature hot dish that we bring to each celebration; our offering to the group, made with love and inspiration. We bring it, knowing others will be sustained by the tasty nutrients and clever presentation, and the energy we have used to put the ingredients together. We come together to share a meal and conversation, spending quality time on the essential human task of knowing and supporting each other.
This is the ultimate reason why, as actors, we must not wait to be chosen. We are gifted with an ability and the grit to be in this business. We have the ability to empathize, to be fearless in our exploration of characters, and to approach every role free of judgement, combined with the perseverance to do it with passion time and time again. That gift brings with it a responsibility. It’s what we bring to the table. We shouldn’t wait to be picked by someone else in order to express that ability and share our gift. It’s in us for a reason. So step up! Don’t be that guy who always brings the ice. Create some delicious original offering and share it with your creative community take your seat at the table filled with tantalizing soul food for our imaginations, because our feast is enhanced by your creation.