I recently had the privilege of premiering my one person sketch show, Young, Scripted & Black. It took me around two months to go from a blank page to a full fledged production. It’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I learned A LOT in the process. Here’s a list of 10 things to keep in mind while creating your own one person show.
Narrow Your Focus
We get it, you’re incredibly talented and want to do all the things. Here’s the deal – you can’t. It’s too much. People don’t go to a show to see someone throw out every idea they’ve ever had.
Is your one person show autobiographical? Don’t tell the entire story of your life, focus on a particular time that really affected you. That’s what people want to see, an in-depth look at something specific. It’s kind of like using the bumpers in bowling. It will keep your show rolling along with everything in the right lane.
Now that you know what this one person show is about, it’s time to brainstorm ideas that will get you there. There are no wrong answers in brainstorming, but there will be some ideas that really stand out to you.
SO HELPFUL: Try putting your best ideas on individual post-its and laying them out in front of you. Move them around and see if the show naturally takes shape on it’s own. Make sure to pull out any of the weeds. If it doesn’t fit the show, take it out. Don’t force it.
Time to Start Writing
Writing is the hardest part. Making something from nothing is exhausting. Luckily for you, you know what your one person show is about and where you’re headed. Write as many drafts as you want for each part of your show. Put them up on their feet and see what feels natural to you.
SO HELPFUL: Try out bits in front of a friend and see what they like best. Constructive criticism only.
A one person show is all you. You’re going to get tired. You’re going to need to drink some water. You’re going to need a second to breathe. I had four musical numbers in my show as well as a dance re-enactment. Mama was sweating like a prostitute in church.
I remedied this situation by including sketch comedy videos as my transitions. Short videos keep the audience entertained and give you a minute to get your shit together. Other suggestions would be transitional music or voiceover.
SO HELPFUL: Give yourself breaks, but figure out ways to keep your audience invested. No one wants to sit and stare at an empty stage.
Set Deadlines For Accountability
How did I made sure my one person show would happen? I booked a performance before I had even written it. I knew I would HAVE to get it done because come show time a bunch of people were going to be staring at me. I set deadlines all along the way. I had to get the script to the director by a certain date, tell my husband what props I needed him to build, and have all the videos/sound cues done by tech rehearsal.
SO HELPFUL: I’ve found that if I made myself accountable to other people- I was far more likely to get things done on time.
Get a Director
I know that this is your story, but you’re going to need an extra pair of eyes to help you shape it. A director is going to see things that you can’t while you’re performing. They’ll also have some ideas that you haven’t thought of.
My show has a monologue where I play Harriet Tubman. The script was funny, but it was boring to watch. I couldn’t figure out what to do besides just stand there looking a slave. My director gave me some fantastic suggestions, and it ended up being the stand out piece in the show. I couldn’t have gotten there on my own.
Book Your Show and Promote It
Austin has such a thriving comedy community that finding a venue for my one person show wasn’t difficult. I looked into improv theaters that were taking show submissions, filled out a form, and boom I had a date. There may be a few extra steps involved if there aren’t as many theaters lying around your city.
You might had to go venue shopping. Find contact information for the booker, write up a pitch, and submit your show until someone says yes. From there you’ll need to promote the event. If you want butts in seats, you better let them know what you’re up to. Blow up social media, make flyers, send emails…whatever you need to do. I promised free booze.
Do a Tech Rehearsal
Even if you only have a single sound, light, or video cue in your show, you need to rehearse with the your tech person. Otherwise, they will f*ck it up – I promise you. And you know what? It’ll be your fault. It’s unrealistic to throw a bunch of directions at someone the night of and expect them to come through for you. If you want to have a good one person show, it’s your responsibility to help everyone that’s helping you.
SO HELPFUL: I had a three hour tech rehearsal with my sound guy. I made a show folder, numbered all my cues, and gave him a highlighted version of the script. In other words, I set him up for success.
Do a Dress Rehearsal
Tech rehearsal is for the cues. Dress rehearsal is for YOU. You’re going to want to run your show from top to bottom as if this were opening night. It’ll help you see if you can get into that costume on time, let you know where you’ll feel winded, and tell you know how long your show runs. It’s important that your first time doing your show in front of a live audience isn’t the first time ever doing your show.
SO HELPFUL: Invite a few friends to your dress rehearsal. They’ll give you an honest opinion and you’ll get a trial run of your show in front of an audience.
Put On a Hell of a Show
My first performance got off to a rocky start. The A/C in the building went out and a room full of people were violently fanning themselves. We had to start late because the camera guy couldn’t find his memory cards. Then realized that I hadn’t packed any towels and I was going to be drip sweating for the next hour.
But you know what? That theatre was two seats shy from selling out. All those people paid their money to come see, so I made sure to put on a hell of a show. Because that’s what all the hard work was for. My show was a big hit, and I’ve already been invited to perform at other venues. Here’s a little teaser I put together for my one person show Young, Scripted & Black
I’d been wanting to do a one person show for years, but I was always afraid to pull the trigger. Now that I’ve done it, I have no idea what took me so long. There’s someone really rewarding about telling people your story, whatever that story may be. If you think a one person show is the outlet for you, then bish get it! Just make sure you put the work in…and send me a flyer to the show.