Picture this. You’re the director. Your friend, collaborator, and former boss Angela Santillo takes you to a diner in midtown Manhattan after work one day and says “Remember that ten-minute solo show I did years ago at that theater in Chinatown?” (you do). “Do you want to help me develop it into a full-length one-act piece?”
You say yes. Maybe it’s the fond memories you have of that original performance, or the power of the metaphor of the untouched woman for the way you feel about your life at the moment. Maybe it’s the fact that Angela’s writing has a grace and poetry to it that few others playwrights can access, or the way her work is intensely personal without ever being confessional, the way you understand it through your gut rather than through your head. Maybe it’s the epic fish tank directly to your left, or the mediocre mezze plate in front of you. It doesn’t matter. You’re in.
What follows are months of conversations and rewrites. Angela sends you a script. You read it. You meet over wine in the cafe at the Signature between shows, or at Pony Bar on 10th Ave in the late evening after a long week of day jobs and interviews and rehearsals, and you chat about what works, or what doesn’t. Angela pitches ideas, and you listen, and you say “that sounds or awesome,” or “OK, but what about this instead.” You write things in your notebook and on your script. Then you talk about your lives, and then go home, only to repeat the process the following week.
The thing about directing a solo show is that it is intensely collaborative, extremely personal, and weirdly lonely at times. It’s just you and your playwright/performer, talking about a script that either does or does not exist, or exists in part. This isn’t unique to the solo show – that’s often how you develop a play with a writer – but what’s odd is that when you finally get into the rehearsal room, it’s still just the two of you. Which is incredible – I mean, the sense of ownership you have over a solo show you direct is something that I think is hard to appreciate. You’ve been there, providing your artistic eye, your sense of staging and theatricality, your editing abilities, the things that make you a director, to that script, just like the writer provides the words. A solo show is not a single person’s property. It sounds weird and sort of narcissistic to say “yeah, that’s my solo show, too,” but it’s true. It’s how you feel. If you’re me. Which right now, you are.
After about four months, you finalize the script. And then you start to film. That’s right! You thought you were a single medium kind of gal, but here you are, flip cam in hand, traipsing around the city following Angela-in-make-up-and-costume, filming scenes to be projected on the walls of the Dixon Place Lounge. Why? Because it’s awesome! Because doing a solo show in a low-stakes situation means you can try shit out that you’ve always wanted to try out (like the over-laying of video and voice to augment live performance). Because you, in a moment of directorial brilliance, suggested that the audience should experience the play the way that Wonder experiences her life – inside a single room, with only streamed media to hint at what the world outside is like – and now you have to deliver.
And frankly, being a fan of site-specificity and sort of a weird person in general, there are few things you’d rather do on a Thursday night than sit on the sidewalk outside of an underground bar and film Angela in smeared make-up, or camp out on a rainy Saturday afternoon on 54th Street near the Hudson Parkway with big signs and ignore passersby who are trying to avoid your crazy.
But in the end, with the performance approaching, you realize that this project, in its own weird and wonderful way, has set an example for how you want to continue to work. Purposefully, directly, involved in the process of creation over a long period of time. The Dixon Place performance will happen, and even after almost six months, it’s only the beginning. This is just the first iteration in what this piece could become when it ceases to be just the two of you, as you open up this incredible strange little world you’ve created together, and invite an audience in.