It never fails.....
They aren't bad or wrong questions - they are simply inappropriately timed.
Every time I work with a fellow writer on their solo play, I am constantly inundated with questions of "Who", When", "Where" and "How"...
"Where do I find a theater?"
"How do you know your show is ready?"
"When should I let people know?"
"Where is the best place to put this show up?"
"HOW? WHO? WHERE? WHEN?" are not good starting questions.
"How do you know your show is ready?"
If you are working on a solo play right now or even considering the actor's most terrifying (and gratifying) performance feat, the only two questions you should ask yourself before you start are the following:
1. WHY am I writing this?
2. WHAT do I want to leave the audience with when I'm finished?
Why and What are the two most important questions to ask yourself before you ever start putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. Better yet - put pen to paper or finger to keyboard for the answers to these questions. Don't skimp. Don't rush through like it's a 12th grade last period history test that you haven't studied for and your friends are waiting outside with Imagine Dragon tickets to tonight's show.
The most helpful practical keys to writing your show way before picking out your performance outfit or crafting that amazingly funny, touching and YET humble autobiography that gets to be a full page long because your'e the only actor in the show is to answer those questions.
WHY am I writing this? There could many reasons. There could be only one. There is no right answer but whatever it is will certainly shape the answers of your how, when, where and who questions.
If you want to write a story about your family summer vacation last year just to share some laughs with friends and whomever else may be interested: great. That will inform your process and finished product.
If you want to write a vehicle for your personal stardom and network sitcom: that's great, too and that will also inform your process and finished product as well.
Vocational, avocational, or personal challenge - there is no one reason why someone does this thing called, "Solo Play". Whatever the reasons, they should be clearly defined for yourself - maybe shared with only yourself (or not) but clear to you as you start this journey. There are many road bumps along the way and the higher you want to climb the more treacherous and challenging the terrain so be prepared and know why you're doing it.
The second question of WHAT can be phrased in a lot of ways. What am I writing? What is my theme? What is my story about? What are the relationships? What is the journey my character goes on? All fine questions to be asked at some point during this process HOWEVER before you start writing ask yourself "What do I want to leave the audience with when I'm done?"
I phrase it this way for a reason: Any reward/acknowledgement/career-advance you hope to receive from this show will not come freely. You have to give something away before you get anything back. More truthfully, what you get back will almost exactly mirror what you give. They may not be the same thing - it may not feel the same but the Universe is an excellent bookkeeper and It will keep the tally of your Dharmic gifts very accurately.
If you plan on leaving an audience feeling enthralled about a challenging summer on an Alaskan fishing boat or reeling in laughter from a pitifully funny childhood or wiping their eyes at a heart-breaking story of loss - whatever you chose to give, make it specific and superlative in nature. If you are planning on, "Just doing my show" be prepared to paper your theatre often and heavy as you will find it quite difficult to fill seats.
We live in an age (and city) where it is not beneficial, convenient or at times even possible for people to step out of their lives, get in a car and get to wherever you are performing. What makes that trek even harder is knowing that the venture is one-sided. Most of your friends will support you and come to whatever black-box theatre you have rented for your show but you will enlarge your audience and the chances of a successful show exponentially if you are very clear on what you plan to give to the audience for spending their time (and money) on you.
Make it a fair trade - or better yet, give more than you get and you are on a journey to something big.
WHEN, HOW, WHO and WHERE it will be big are all questions for another time. For now, just focus on the What and Why.
Alan Aymie is a critically acclaimed writer, performer and educational activist, living in LA with his wife and three children. He is currently performing his critically-acclaimed, "A CHILD LEFT BEHIND' in Los Angeles and New York. For more information on Alan, his work, and his classes and you can visit www.alanaymie.com