Behind the Scenes of the Solo Show “No More Helen Keller Jokes”
I told friends for the past 2 years “I want to do a one woman show.” I had a vague idea about what I wanted the show to be about, but I wasn’t clear on how to approach it. Do I come up with a theme first? Do I cobble together the stories I’ve already done and see if there is a natural story arc? Can I use stories I’ve done before or will people get bored? I received all kinds of advice, but I have learned that for me there is only one way that works: I have to start writing. I just have to do it and see what comes out and then seek lots of feedback.
To make myself write I signed up for workshops and conferences. I joined up with some other storytellers who needed to knuckle down as well to create their Fringe Shows. I ran it past storytelling friends. I used a Storytelling Coach. And I developed a thick skin.
At first I felt very vulnerable sharing my writing because I felt so insecure about its merits. But after sharing it numerous times and getting some frank feedback, I yearned to get constructive criticism because it was so helpful. My primary supporter in all this is the incomparable Stephanie Garabaldi! She directs the show, gives me lots of feedback on my writing and holds my hand a lot! Joe Price, Kevin Boggs, Geraldine Buckley, and Derek Hills are also very kind and helpful to me, especially Derek. He is a great writer and I learned a lot from him on how to weave a story together. I began to see what worked, what was interesting, the best way to make writing interesting. It helped me really understand the difference between show and tell.
I also received conflicting feedback and then it was up to me to figure out what feels right to me. There are some things that I wrote that were accurate and true, but that I was uncomfortable with, so eventually left it out. Equally, there were things that I thought were interesting but feedback let me know I was the only one who thought so! I probably wrote a total of about 3 hours of material during this process, but the arc emerged as I edited down the size of the piece. Time and length constraints really helped me identify what was important for the show. It forced simplification.
I went to all the Second Tuesdays, listened to many storytelling podcasts and analyzed why I liked a particular story; was it the content, the style of delivery, the audience reaction? How does what I’m working on compare to what seems to be working in those stories. I found that most of the good stories I heard had moments of vulnerability.
I was amazed at how valuable writing a show is for self-reflection and understanding of my personal history. The process brought back old memories I hadn’t thought of in years and new perspectives let me see them in a new light. This leads to authenticity in the telling and the audience responds to that.
Of course the big payoff of all this hard work comes opening night. Thirty seconds from going on the stage, I’m so nervous, I’m thinking, “What is my first line???” But then I went out there and it started to flow. The audience took what I offered and gave it right back to me and this continued throughout the show creating this wonderful feeling of connection.
I have a few more shows left to perform, but I’m already looking forward to writing something new. It will go faster this time because I know what to do and how to do it. Everyone’s got a story and a process that works for them. It’s just a question of starting and discovering it.
Thanks to Amy Saidman & SpeakeasyDC for sponsoring the shows, and creating space for the community of burgeoning storytellers that is growing to expand in new ways.
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