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On the Exhale: Solo Plays

Posted on: February 24th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Marin Ireland in ON THE EXHALE. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A solo show (often also known as a “one person show”) can take many different forms, from just a comedian musing on stage to a piece of performance art. When we think of a solo show, many of us think of something biographical or a memoir. This is because the genre is dominated by this type of storytelling. Some famous examples include Elaine Stritch at Liberty, where Stritch documented her life, and actor John Leguizamo’s semi-autobiographical solo shows on Broadway, which drew on his life experiences to create explosive storytelling. With one performer, the storytelling can lend itself to being more insular, for the performer to open up to an audience in an intimate setting. On the other hand, actors such as Whoopi Goldberg have also used the opportunity of a solo show to show their versatility, playing hundreds of different characters. On the Exhale charts a slightly different course—it is a full play that happens to be performed by just one actor, who is telling an original, fictional story. But what is it that makes the solo show so enduring? In an age of big, bombastic shows, why tell a story in this format?

WISHFUL DRINKING marquee.

On a practical level, solo shows are usually simple to assemble and cost-effective. You do not have to worry about paying a large multitude of actors, and sets are often cheaper. Also, budgetary concerns of theatres have limited cast sizes over the last ten years. In an article for the New York Times in 2007, Todd Haimes, Artistic Director of Roundabout, stated that “a new playwright now, no matter how talented, would never write a play for 15 people because it wouldn’t get produced... [B]y virtue of the constrained budgets theaters have we’ve changed the style of playwriting. Arthur Miller wouldn’t write The Crucible today.” But does this mean you would opt immediately for a solo show? Not necessarily. In the same article, James Nicola, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), had a slightly different view: “if you are comparing a solo piece to something with 12 actors and three musicians there is a huge difference in budget… but a four-person play as compared to a one-person play— the savings is some, but not huge. The bulk of production expenses are for advertising, design, printing expenses; those prices are the same whether there is one person on stage or 20.” That being said, an average four-person show at NYTW costs $300,000, whereas a solo show will cost around $250,000, which is still a considerable saving. Fast forward ten years, and in terms of budgeting, it does not seem like much has changed. For On the Exhale, Roundabout estimates that the show will save $85,000- $100,000 compared to a normal Underground show. The savings made are not just on actor budgets, but also costume costs, set design (as one person shows tend to be less set heavy) and labor (teching a show with one actor will be considerably quicker).

Kevin Bacon in AN ALMOST HOLY PICTURE.

But simplicity and practicality are not the most important ingredients for doing a solo show. On the Exhale will be the first solo show at Roundabout since 2009, when Carrie Fisher performed Wishful Drinking. Before that show, the most recent solo shows at Roundabout were Beyond Glory with Stephen Lang (2007) and An Almost Holy Picture with Kevin Bacon (2002). Wishful Drinking was an autobiographical romp through Fisher’s past, while Beyond Glory looked at the courage behind servicemen who were awarded the Medal of Honor. An Almost Holy Picture had Bacon playing a priest, and On the Exhale explores gun violence. So what binds all these disparate plays together? Simply, the ability to provide intimacy and a compelling relationship with the audience, to really engage with them on a visceral level, which you often cannot get through larger casts. In almost any solo show, the performer constantly breaks the fourth wall, and many shows are completely in direct address to the audience, so there is a constant immediacy with the performer. In the words of NYTW’s Nicola, with a solo show “there is an energy in the room of authentic experience being conveyed that is not like anything else.”


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


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On the Exhale: Stay Informed, Stay Engaged

Posted on: February 19th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale draws audiences into the center of America’s most divisive—and urgent—debate. Every day, 90 people die from gun violence, and from 1966 to 2012, nearly one third of mass shootings occurred in the United States, despite the fact that America only accounts for 5% of the global population. Below, we’ve outlined articles, books and films that explore gun violence in America, as well as advocacy groups, both local and national, that provide the public with a means of voicing concern and driving for change both in their local communities and the country as a whole.

On the Exhale

STAY INFORMED

WHAT TO READ

2016 Pulitzer Prize Finalist – Editorial Board of The New York Times
The editorial board of The New York Times received recognition as a 2016 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for their effort to confront the generation-long battle for gun control in America and persuade Congress to change the laws to help curtail the human cost of gun violence. The series of editorials submitted explore studies on mental illness and suicide, personal stories of children affected by gun violence, and on December 15, 2015, a rare front-page placement for the editorial titled “End the Gun Epidemic in America.”
To read all 10 editorials, Click Here.

Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives – By Gary Younge
Another Day in the Death of America… is exactingly argued, fluidly written and extremely upsetting” (The New York Times).  Award-winning journalist Gary Younge tells the story of ten young lives lost to gun violence on November 23, 2013—an ordinary day that demonstrates the astonishing statistic that approximately seven children and teens will be shot dead daily in America. Younge’s account reaches all corners of the country and encounters victims from a variety of backgrounds.
To order online, Click Here.

WHAT TO WATCH

Newtown – A Documentary by Kim. A Snyder
Director Kim A. Snyder’s new documentary, Newtown, follows the aftermath of the deadliest school shooting in American history. Through a series of interviews with family, teachers and first responders conducted over a three year period, the documentary explores how a community felt compelled to transform grief into a drive for change. Newtown will air as part of PBS’s Independent Lens series, with a premiere scheduled for April 3 at 9pm.
For more information and additional screenings, Click Here.

Under the Gun – A Documentary by Stephanie Soechtig
A selection for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Under the Gun is a far-reaching account on guns in America, offering a historical perspective, as well as personal accounts from families who have been impacted by gun violence and mass shootings, as well as pro-gun advocates. Filmmakers Stephanie Soechtig and Katie Couric investigate the confounding inverse correlation between acts of violence and action taken by state and local politicians—as mass shootings continue to increase, progress continues to slow.
Currently available on Epix; For more information, Click Here.

STAY ENGAGED

HOW TO TAKE ACTION

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence
Founded nearly 25 years ago by a group of Brooklyn mothers, following the shooting death of a teacher in Prospect Park, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence aims to protect New York State residents by advocating for policy change at both the local and national level. By promoting education and activism, the organization is dedicated to influencing public opinion and encourages support of common-sense gun laws, including federal background checks, removing firearms from domestic abusers and child access prevention.
To learn how you can take action, Click Here.

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
For over 40 years, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has promoted research, advocacy and engagement to stop gun violence. This uniquely diverse partnership of 47 national organizations, including religious, health, and child welfare advocates is united by the common goal of promoting political advocacy and lobbying for sensible gun laws.
To learn how you can take action, Click Here.


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground


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Leigh Silverman

Ted Sod: Why did you decide to direct On the Exhale? What do you feel the play is about? Does the play have personal resonance for you, and if so, how?
Leigh Silverman: I think Marin Ireland is one of the best performers that I have ever had the joy of working with. She and I have done three shows together. Martín Zimmerman is a writer I’ve never worked with before, and I am honored to direct his first New York premiere. His intelligence and poetry radiate off the page and made it impossible to say no to this project. I do feel very personally connected to the material, and the subject matter is certainly essential right now.

TS: Would you say On the Exhale is looking into one woman’s psyche, or is it more than that?
LS: I would say it’s an exploration or meditation of one woman’s journey to discovery and understanding.

TS: I know you’re just starting rehearsals, but how do you understand Marin’s character. How would you describe her?
LS: She is an Everywoman. She’s a complicated woman who is learning and trying to reach beyond her current circumstances.

TS: What about the grief factor? Is that important?
LS: She’s experienced unimaginable tragedy, but she’s not even at the grieving stage yet. Something else happens first, and the play explores that moment before the grief.

TS: One thing I love about this character is that she seems to lead with her intelligence. Do you agree with that?
LS: Absolutely. She’s fiercely smart and amazing. She’s a very proactive character.

TS: What is the most challenging part of directing a one-person play? Will you give us a sense of your process as a director?
LS: There’s an overall emotional ride we go on with this play. The challenge of rehearsing it is if we don’t want to do the whole thing, how do you get on a ride half-way through — because it’s such a taut emotional piece. Really, the trick of rehearsing it is a technical one, which is how to explore the overall arc of the play while working out the finer points without having to do all of it all day long.

As a director, it’s rarely my job to personally experience the play the same way an actor does. Instead, my job is to stand outside and guide the process in a rigorous and hopefully artistically satisfying and challenging way for my collaborators and then the audience. It is my job to always have perspective. How the process works is mysterious and different with each project. Every process is a snowflake, and they each require slightly different ways of managing the artistic and technical requirements. That’s where the magic is. And directorial craft.

TS: You have a reputation for doing new work. How do you go about working with a playwright on a new play?
LS: Martín and I met for the first time on the first day of rehearsal, and I had never heard the play before. It’s kind of like marrying someone on the first date. I usually spend many, many years developing a play — sometimes three years, sometimes five years, sometimes more — and so the fact that I am walking into the rehearsal room never having heard the play before is very unusual and quite exciting.

Each writer is different. The way I talk to Martín is different from somebody like David Henry Hwang or Lisa Kron — writers who I’ve worked on three or more shows with, and whom I have a much longer, deeper experience with. I will usually ask a lot of questions and hear what the writer intended and sometimes I’ll say, “That’s really interesting, that’s not what I see here,” and then we talk about whether it might be performative or if it’s a writing question or if I am understanding it correctly. And usually, if the writer is engaged in the process, we find a solution. Sometimes I will have a very strong point of view and I’ll say, “Let me tell you how I experience this moment” or if I am looking for a new line or a cut I will say something like, “Might I audition something for you?” I really try to ask permission before suggesting big. That’s just respectful. Sometimes the writer is open to hearing notes and thoughts and sometimes not, and the director has to know what to say when, and when to push and when to step back.

TS: The Underground space is very intimate. Are you familiar with it?
LS: I am. What’s challenging about it is finding ways to turn the intimacy into a virtue, if you will.

TS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to direct for the theatre?
LS: See a lot of theatre, think about what interests you, what kind of work you want to do. Develop your leadership skills — and by that I mean how to manage big groups of people and get them to joyfully and enthusiastically do what you want. In the professional world, assist people and sit in rehearsal rooms where you can watch people who know what they’re doing. And then direct all the time -- direct in the privacy of your own living room or in small theatres or at school or wherever, so that you’re making your own work. No one is going to offer you that opportunity when you are first starting out. You have to be someone who can proactively make things happen.

TS: What else are you working on now?
LS: I’ve just finished directing a revival of Sweet Charity for the New Group with Sutton Foster. I’m directing a new play by Madeleine George entitled Hurricane Diane, which will be at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey and Ethan Lipton’s show called The Outer Space at the Public Theater.


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


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