Armstrong has performed his own solo show, Shylock, over 600 times in over 30 countries; it is performed this month at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe by Guy Masterson at Assembly Hall, and here gives us his rundown of some essential dos and don’ts for solo performers at the Fringe…
DO get the title of your show right. If the title of your show switches people off, they won’t come. You’ll want a title that is catchy, memorable and pertinent, but that doesn’t frighten the horses. So before you commit the words to print on your publicity, step back and put yourself in the punter’s shoes. What is that show about? Why would I spend time and money going to see it?
Unless you’re deliberately targeting a coterie audience, don’t make your title an in-joke or obscure literary reference. It will be lost on most of us, and more will feel excluded by not getting it than flattered by being in the know. You want to intrigue, but not to baffle.
DO remember your lines. Drying in a solo show is not an option. There’s nobody else on stage to help you, the technician with your script is in a soundproof box and the mutual embarrassment felt by player and playgoer alike is excruciating. Have a strategy to get yourself out of trouble – maybe a script secreted or disguised on stage somewhere and a line that will justify or make light of your consulting it. The chances are you will never need to consult it, but oh the peace of mind just knowing that it’s there.
DON’T forget to check the stage rigorously with a checklist just before the audience is let in. At the first performance of a one-man show at Assembly I forgot to set a stool downstage that was meant to represent a character I referred to and held imaginary conversations with throughout the play. Focusing on and talking to an empty space confused me horribly, and the audience even more so.
DON’T let the euphoria of a great show or the dismay of a dismal one distract you. Check that you have packed all your props and costumes, and especially those items you entrusted to the show’s operator: your music, your gobos and most importantly your technical script. And as you take your leave remember to thank the theatre staff you’ve had contact with – even if they’ve been no help at all. You might want to come back.
DON’T let the critics get you down. H.L. Mencken is said to have written to someone who criticized his work : “I am sitting here in the smallest room in my house with your critique before me. Soon it will be behind me.” Isn’t that the way most of us would like to react to a bad review? But, good or bad, we all need the exposure that written criticism can bring to our work.
A five star review in The Scotsman will certainly catapult your show into the top-seller league, but when you get it is crucial. Shows are reviewed throughout the Festival so a star-studded review during the first week can make the difference between profit and loss. If the notice appears at the tail end of your run it’ll boost your ego, but you’ll still have the legacy of a patchy house.
One of the indisputable facts about getting critics to cover your solo show is that whatever they say, they can’t ignore you. If they love your work you’ll memorise the best bits and remember them for the rest of your life. You’ll do the same of course for the negative, destructive and totally unjust quotes. It’s easier said than done, but just think back to Mr Mencken in his loo and try to keep it in proportion.
So You Want To Do A Solo Show? by Gareth Armstrong is published by Nick Hern Books - to purchase your copy, click here now
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