ED2016 Columns ED2016 Theatre ED2016 Week2 Edition

Guy Masterson: The dos and the don’ts of going solo

By | Published on Tuesday 16 August 2016

Guy Masterson

Every year the Edinburgh Fringe’s theatre programme offers a plethora of one-person shows. As a performer, taking to the stage alone is a daunting task, though if it works, a particularly rewarding one too. For any actor considering that challenge, we asked the Fringe’s very own expert of the format – Guy Masterson – for some top tips.

There are so many aspects to a good solo work that it is hard to identify all the key things to avoid, and there are no guarantees that – even if you get right everything that is controllable – the show will succeed. The x-factor plays the biggest part of all. But here are a few basic rules.

1. Subject matters: Pick a subject that matters to you. You are going to live with this piece at a level of intimacy beyond normal human relationships. It will force you to plumb the depths of your psyche, push the boundaries of your will-power and force the extremes of your stamina. For a performer, there will be no greater test than taking on a solo show.

2. Reason d’etre: Make sure your ambitions are well targeted. Don’t assume that because you find a subject interesting that your audience will. A solo work requires so much commitment that you must be certain that the result will repay your commitment, and not just in terms of audience satisfaction. There needs to be a financial pay-off too. You need to think commercially. Who is going to buy a ticket for your show? If you don’t know the answer to that question, STOP and shelve it until you do.

3. Ego non grata: This must not be about you. It must be about the audience. What are they getting in exchange for their ticket money? You can mount the most basic 60 minute, black-box, single-spot show so long as the audience are engrossed. Likewise, you can spend a fortune on set and costumes and bore the pants off them. Do a good performance job and the rewards will come both critically and financially.

4. Platitudes not welcome: Find a director that shares your vision but with bells on. Make sure they have experience in dealing with a very daunted actor. Ensure their focus is on the story and not on the look. Accept no platitudes. Force the truth, because if they don’t give you it, you will be surprised when the audience do and you might not want to hear it.

5. Dramaturgy vitalis: Get the writing right. Before you invest your heart and soul, make sure it’s tight. Eliminate repetition. Maximise lyricism. Minimise exposition. And then, bloody learn it.

6. Fiscalis vulgaris: Find the money. Don’t wing and prayer it. Design it, budget it, raise it, market it, deliver it. Don’t under-fund it. If you can’t afford it, it will eat at you on stage. You’ll always be worried about audience numbers. Get the numbers right, and it will repay you. Get them wrong and you’ll remain behind the eight ball.

7. Immerse yourself: Once you have conceived and manifested the project well, are fully vested in and on top of your work, give yourself to it entirely on stage. Hold nowt back. There must be no perceivable join between performer and the work. The performer IS the work. Give THAT to the audience.

8. Celebrate: If you get that far, enjoy! You deserve it.

Guy Masterson presented three solo shows – ‘Shylock’, ‘Love And Canine Integration’ and ‘Chopping Chillies’ – at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2016.