The Perils Of Going Alone

January 12, 2012

It seems as if the one man show is the new black. At least to theatre folk who have embraced the style as this seasons must try format. There are 19 such shows in the Absolut Fringe where the next generation of theatre makers sink their fangs into a vein more used to nourishing artists in the later throws of their career. With seemingly goading and irreverent titles like The Year of Magical Wanking and Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You, scratch away at the artifice and you discover that still waters don’t just run deep. They run over. And their aim is to sweep you up in their flow.


“Nobody wants bullshit anymore” says Amy Conroy, the writer/star of Eternal Rising of the Sun, a dark tender and moving story of transformation, where to err is human, to dance devine. “There is a desire for honest, driven theatre where we expose part of ourselves to the audience and cut out all the crap and pretension.”


Eternal Rising of the Sun continues her desire to make theatre about invisible people. “The people you don’t see in societey. And if you do, you make a snap desicion about them and move on.” Just like the elderly Lesbians she wrote of in I Heart Alice Heart I, were dismissed as “cute” or “sexless”, Gina, who uses dance classes as a catalyst to seing a world of possibility, could be dismissed as a tracksuit wearing buggy pusher. “So it had to be Gina’s voice centre stage” says Conroy, “because she’s never had a voice before.”


It’s directed by Veronica Coubourn, a long time friend and collaborator, a relationship Conroy says is integral to her undertaking the project. “It would be really hard to go into a room with a stranger” she says. “You don’t want it to be just another job for them. A one person show, it’s all consuming and incredibly intense. You’re vulnerable and you need to know that you are in safe hands.”


So why put yourself in the spotlight and the firing line? Is there a certain amount of ego involved/needed?

“I think it is the exact opposite of ego” says Maeve Fitzgerald. “It’s a terrible mistake to do a show just because you think it will do something for you. It should be because you believe that you can add something to it.”  She undertook The Yellow Wallpaper, a groundbreaking short story about a woman with post partum psychosis, so she could put her voice on it.  “I wanted to put my own experiences in life to work to make it something real” she says.


A demanding and disturbing show, Aoife Spillane-Hinks directs, tailoring the rehearsal process to Fitzgerald in a way that just isn’t possible with an ensemble. “We have spent a lot of time working through this extraordinary text, working-out what this and that is, and if Maeve said, ‘this moment I don’t get, lets go back to the table and figure it out’ we can do that. Where as with a larger cast one person might get it, another person might want to go back to the table and another might want to walk it through. “

For Neil Watkins, writing and starring in The Year of Magical Wanking was a form of exorcism. “One of the things I really enjoyed doing was being private in public. There was something really cathartic about that.”


With its punning title and blasphemous imagery you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in for an evening of cheap shots and tasteless humor. However it is an astonishing intrusion on ones private self, where Watkins’s confessional monologues, detailing the ugly facts of his sexual history, ricochet around your psyche no matter how far you may be removed from his reality.


“I believe that that show is a healing for me,” Watkins says. “Being honest in public about my sexual shame and my reengagement with spirituality, it’s healthy for people to see. There are a lot of people who are trapped by notions and who are confused.  For someone to stand up and say what I am saying will, hopefully, help them deal with that.”


The show is a monologue because it is about solitude. The framework and style reflect Watkins’s state of mind. Nyree Yergainharsian aims for a similar effect with Where Do I Start? A sort of group therapy for those with an identity crisis.


“The nature of the subject and what I am trying to communicate meant I had to speak directly to the people. It’s a matter of connecting genuinely with them. There’s no way to manufacture that energy. You need to absorb the situation as it happens. I can nod or agree. But the energy comes from having that conversation. “


Given the confessional nature of their shows, Watkins and Yergainharsian, have a defined relationship with the audience. But what of the others who have a more traditional, storytelling role. Who are they speaking to? “That is the crucial question,” says Conroy, “If you don’t know why they are there and the character doesn’t know why they are there than it doesn’t ring true.


“Gina is there to testify, to put something down.  This show is her version of an autobiography. So she is speaking to a camera, editing it and uploading it to YouTube. The audience are the people on the receiving end of that message.”


“My character has been locked away in this room,” says Fitzgerald. “She is talking out loud in an imagined conversation in order to remind herself that she is part of society. Explaining her situation to her peers and making it all right to them. But loosing track of that because they are not actually there.”


Money makes the world go round but companies bereft of it are finding ways to insure that it keeps turning on its axis. For Corn Exchange the decision to do a one-man show (Man of Valor) was largely motivated by a cut in funding. “We can’t ask people to come and explore with us without paying them,” says director Annie Ryan. “Our work is relatively expensive. So we had to ask how many people can we afford to have in the room and for how long? “


The solution presented itself in the shape of Paul Reid, an actor with a gift for telling stories through his body. “We do workshops with members of our company and invited players and most people, when they are improvising, they just get up and they talk. But Paul would sprout wings, fly over the city, catch bullets in his teeth, come back to life in slow motion. It dawned on me that there was a one-man show in him.”


While some actors thrive on flying solo, Reid felt like a lonely only.

“If something goes well you have no one to bounce off and no one to have a good old little bitch, which is as important as the compliments.”


“It’s the loneliest moment in the world before I go on.”


Actors pay an incredible mental tax when they undertake a one-man show and the right kind of preparation is crucial. Conroy and Reid both mention the difficulty they face when warming up prior to the Fringe thanks to the cattle market that each venue becomes at fringe time.

Fitzgerald and Watkins have both picked up hot yoga, part of their over all plan of living well, which also includes a healthy diet, abstention from alcohol and generally trying to eliminate any stress from their lives. “I did a show before where I had to go to a really bad place” says Fitzgerald “and I got into a really bad place myself after it. And somebody pointed to me that if you really go for it each night on stage your body doesn’t know your acting and it will get sick. So you learn from those experiences to be a little bit more careful with yourself.”


“It’s a challenge,” concludes Conroy. “If you love what you do you want to push yourself as far as you can within your chosen field. It’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time but if it works out I will feel triumphant. I’ll feel like I really achieved something. For me as an actor this will be my Everest.”























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