I recently read a blog post by my classmate, Ally, in response to Scott Slavin’s post about solo performance on HowlRound. In Ally’s post, she concludes that the main purpose of solo performance is telling a story worth knowing. I agree, and further ask, what constitutes a story worth knowing? Both Scott and Ally remark that a solo performance must reach beyond the daily and tell a story of substance. The audience doesn’t want to hear about your average experiences, and they won’t be affected or provoked by them, either.
These thoughts brought me to recall particularly powerful solo performances I’ve witnessed, and ask what about them was effective. The first is Monica Hunken’s Blondie of Arabia, which I saw performed as part of PIT (Porsgrunn International Theatre festival). Blondie is about Monica’s personal experiences as a tall, blonde, Caucasian, American woman, traveling alone across the Middle East on a bicycle. More importantly, it was a story about determination, adventure, being a woman alone in a foreign country, learning who to trust, and listening to your instincts. In this case, telling a story about oneself in a solo performance totally worked. As Monica unraveled her tale for the audience, she embodied different characters she met along the way, bringing snippets of real people she’d met to life for us. She fed us her personal story through a theatrical and well-crafted lens. Blondie gives us a reality check while reminding us that we can do anything.
The second performance that comes to mind is Total Verrückt!, a solo performance created by Joanna Caplan while in residence at Double Edge Theatre. In this piece, Joanna embodies several different characters, telling “the true story of Jewish cabaret performers held by the Nazis in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork from 1942-1944.” In this instance, the stories being told are not personal. These are unheard voices left out of history, and Joanna brings them to life, reminding audiences of the important role art can play amid tragedy, regardless of era.
The final solo performance I’d like to mention is not one I’ve seen yet, but have been hearing much about. It is a new piece by BU CFA alum, Antonia Lassar, called Post Traumatic Super Delightful (PTSD). PTSD explores how laughter can be a part of the healing process. In a recent article on Audostraddle, Hannah Hodson wrote, “PTSD is a one-woman show that uses humor to traverse the complex and frightening terrain of sexual violence on college campuses. Using a silent clown narrator to break the silence around personal and community trauma, playwright/performer Antonia Lassar tells the story of a campus sexual assault through the voices of a professor, Title IX coordinator, and a perpetrator.” Having seen another of Lassar’s solo performances, The God Box, I am confident in her ability as a storyteller, and applaud her for addressing these highly relevant yet sometimes taboo issues in her work.
In essence, these three solo performances while all drastically different in form and content, are stories definitely worth telling.