Strange Stages and Solo Places

August 17, 2016 § 8 Comments

Film actors may find themselves working on a city street, up to their waist in a swamp or in front of a green screen on a sound stage. Stage actors can be found plying their trade in a black box theater with the audience sitting on folding chairs, in an historic music hall or even on a town plaza doing guerrilla theater. Solo performers? Well you may find them just about anywhere.

My friend Jim Cooke once brought his personation (a word invented by the late Bill Meikle who was Ben Franklin) of Calvin Coolidge to a dinner party for a group of authors who had all written books on the 30th president. His performance even ended up being the basis for an article in the Daily Caller .

In the summer of 1840 Daniel Webster addressed a crowd of 15,000 on the side of Vermont’s Stratton Mountain. He spoke in favor of presidential candidate William Henry Harrison and vice-president candidate John Tyler. It was the “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” campaign. “Log Cabins and Hard Cider!” Dan’l began his address: “I have come to meet you among the clouds!”

Around a 150 years later Jim performed his Daniel Webster: I Still Live! near where Mr. Webster spoke. The audience he met among the clouds was considerably smaller, but none-the-less – more clouds soon gathered and grew darker and darker. Lightening flashed and was followed by rolling thunder. When the first large drops of rain began to fall he collected his few props and resumed in the Stratton Town Hall.

Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti once performed in an open farm field in Vermont with a 15ft bonfire behind her. It was at night and she could not see the faces of her audiences. It was October telling scary stories. Sparks flying from the fire …it was a challenge.

Another time Gwendolyn performed in a Historical Fort (1800’s) in winter time. No heat or flushing bathroom. that was miserable! Dressed in Native gear and blanket she almost froze, well almost.

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Abigail Whitney on the Freedom Trail

 

One of Gail Hamel’s  most unique venues for Abigail Whitney is on Boston’s Freedom Trail; Abigail has personal connections to many of the sites and she often mentions these connections when at the site, thus, making the tour Unique and Personal.

Sally Matson’s  most unusual gig was appearing at Hofstra University for the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Debate events as Susan B Anthony. There were about twenty historical performers appearing in tents as in the old Chautauqua days. In one tent, a slave auction was going on. On the main stage, President Lincoln was speaking with Frederick Douglass.

Steve Wood  brought Abe Lincoln to the Springfield (MA) Expo (better known as the Big E) in the NH Building. He was on a raised platform at the far end of the building. The crowd entered at the other end, walked by all the exhibiters’ stalls, rounded the corner in front of his stage making a U-turn and continued to walk by past the exhibiters on the opposite long side. Occasionally 1 or 2 would stop, stand in front of him listen for a few minutes before continuing by, but most passed him at a slow walk, looking up in wonder! He felt like he was an animatronic Abraham Lincoln in Disney World!

John Horrigan once presented his program “The Robinson Crusoes of Wake Island” in the basement of a frat house at a university while a kegger raged upstairs.

Rob Velella  has performed as Edgar Alan Poe at a cemetery in Philadelphia standing nearly atop graves. No sound system, no lights (other than a reading lamp aimed at his face), and in near total darkness by the end. He’s actually performed at so many cemeteries that none of them seem like unusual venues to him at this point (Poe, after all).

Galileo at Headlands Dark Sky Park

Galileo at Headlands Dark Sky Park

As for me, I’ve also performed on the side of a small mountain or it may have been a big hill as Galileo at America’s Stonehenge in New Hampshire. I’ve done parlor theater in the living room of the guest house at Headlands Dark Sky Park. Galileo has even been spoken at the foot of the Apocalypse roller coaster at Six Flags America on Physics Day and at the foot of the Block Island Light.

So, to sum things up. Where might you find a solo performer. Anywhere they find an audience.

Mike Francis

ps. If you’re a solo performer or have seen a solo performer in a unique venue, please leave a comment below.

Enrichment and the solo performer

October 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

In this economy schools, libraries, museums and other organizations are having a tough time making ends meet, just like families and the government. Whether it’s trying to justify a field trip or getting more visitors into the library or museum, how are the expenses justified. This is where a solo performer can provide lots of value.

For schools, a field trip can mean contracting buses, adding out of school insurance, lining up chaperones and collecting permission slips. On the other hand, bring in a solo performer and you’ll almost certainly save money and time. A solo performer can also bring curricular enrichment. When I visit a school, the students get to meet Galileo, learn about his discoveries, ask him questions and look through his telescope. It’s almost an in house field trip to the 17th century. Other performers might bring Mark Twain to deliver his “Advice to Youth” or perhaps Harriet Tubman to tell of her life as a spy. Whatever the program it can bring history, science, literature or social themes to life in a way a book or lecture by a teacher never could. (For other possibilities visit SoloTogether, the home of many of New England’s best solo performers)

Libraries love to have authors visit to discuss their latest endeavors, but how can they bring in Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Mary Rowlandson. They can bring in a solo performer.

Museums looking for a unique way to open an exhibit or enliven a special event might have P T Barnum entertain, Charlette Cushman sing or Paul Revere’s Mother in Law let them in on the latest gossip on the revolutionaries.

A couple of pieces of advise. To ensure programs are accurate as well as informative and entertaining, check to see what organizations performers belong to. Most will let you know if they are listed with state or regional arts organizations. One good source for such information is CreativeGround.org, a public service provided by the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, in partnership with the state arts agencies of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. You’ll find performing histories there as well as many other resources.

Solo performers can be found lots of other places as well. Hal Holbrook, James Whitmore and Julie Harris are among the most famous of the genre, having brought their characters to Broadway. But in the end it all comes down to the actor on stage alone.

Acting Alone, the Life of a Solo Performer

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wikipedia defines monologue as when the character on stage may be speaking his or her thoughts aloud, directly addressing another character, or speaking to the audience, especially the former.  That may be what solo performers do, but it’s very much more.  I have been performing in one man shows for over twenty years now.

My first solo show was called “The Boston Twilight Mystery Tour”.  Written and directed by Grey Johnson and produced by Carol Schreck, it was a 90 minute, 6 character voyage through the darker history of Boston and it took place on a tourist trolley. It might sound like a rather silly venue for an actor, but it was among my all time favorite productions.  As an actor, you get used to relying on your fellow performers.  They give you your motivations, reactions and even your lines when you go up (forget your line).  When you’re on stage alone you get none of that.  It’s you, the script and the audience and it can be exhilarating.

I actually had my inaugural  experience on stage alone in my  first play, “Goodbye Charlie”.  The play started off with a long, a very long monologue by my character eulogizing his departed friend Charlie.  To my and my director’s (Jim Lannon) amazement, it went well.  In fact it was probably what got me hooked on being on stage.  Umteen plays later my friend Jim Cooke’s one man show “Calvin Coolidge: More Than Two Words” got me thinking I should try my own solo project.  Most people know me as an actor, but I have degrees in education, physics and instructional media.  Ten years as a lecturer/photographer/writer at the Charles Hayden Planetarium also gave me a perspective on edutainment. Take all of the above, shake it around for a while and the result was “Galileo Galilei, the Starry Messenger“.

My goal with this blog is to share some of my ideas, experiences and discoveries on being on stage alone.  I welcome questions, suggestions and your anecdotes on your experiences with the art of solo theater.

Galileo at the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society Astronomy Day

Galileo at the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society Astronomy Day

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