Continuing Education

Up Close with Solo Performance Workshop

Theatre is an intimate art form whose success relies on the depth of the conversation Imagebetween audience and performer. In an ensemble production, the audience must feel drawn into each characters’ story arc while becoming a silent member of the production’s community. A one-person production is something else entirely, and as Solo Performance Workshop instructor Dan Tarker will tell you, audiences attending a one-person show are invited to be more than a silent participant; they are the solo performer’s confidant. In that light, the creation and execution of a solo performance is a unique and exhilarating process.

According to Tarker the art of solo performance has a long history dating back all the way to Shakespeare’s time, but in the past century audiences have seen the one-person production elevate into its own art form. “Artists like Anna Deveare Smith, Spalding Grey, Eric Bogosian, Laurie Anderson, and Franca Rame have expanded the genre of theatre to embrace memoir, politics, and character portraits in both dramatic and comedic forms,” says Tarker.

“Students will get to practice both their writing and acting skills in the Solo Performance Workshop,” says Tarker.  “I’m looking forward to seeing what types of stories they decide to tell and how they tell them. Will they do something autobiographical like Spalding Gray, will Imagethey develop a character like Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley, will they base their monologue on interviews they do with other people like Anna Deveare Smith? There is no one way to do a solo show, so it will be fascinating to see what different avenues students pursue.”

Tarker says his personal exploration of solo performance began while in college. “I’ve always had a love for solo shows. I interned at a small theatre in the Mission District of San Francisco called The Marsh that specialized in solo productions. I got the chance to see a number of really great pieces including Dario Fo and Franca Ramne’s Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo, performed by Francesca Fanti. I thought that show was fantastic. I also had the pleasure of seeing Spalding Gray perform in his last national tour Morning, Noon, and Night at the Carl Cherry Center in Carmel. It was truly amazing how he could fill such a huge space by just sitting behind a table, telling a story.”

Inspired by these works and more, Tarker began to explore his own solo pieces to learn why productions of this nature had such a profound impact on his imagination. “I think it is how the piece connects to the audience,” he says.  “That is true for all theatre of course, but probably uniquely so for a solo piece. It’s really about the relationship between the performer – who is alone on stage – and the audience.”

Tarker says it is wise to not confuse solo performance with stand-up. "The development of a solo show is similar to developing a stand-up set, except you’re not doing comedy. There can Imageand should be humor in a solo show, but its focus is not on one-liners. It is about telling a compelling story and presenting an intriguing character—not to mention developing an intimate relationship with your audience.”

Students joining Solo Performance Workshop can look forward to a creative workout, with a gamut of writing and improvisation exercises designed to guide students in developing and rehearsing their own unique performance piece presented to an invited audience at the end of class. “Students will leave the course with a broader understanding of solo performance techniques,” says Tarker,” in addition developing the skills to write long form monologues, and the ability to rehearse and present a short solo show. This is a perfect course for writers and actors who want to present their own work.”

Learn more about Solo Performance Workshop.

Photo credit #1:Komunitas Salihara_cc_2.0
Photo credit #2: Bates College Photography_cc_2.0
Photo credit #3: Ragan Fox_cc_2.0