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How to… create your own one-person show

Simon Callow in Inside Wagner’s Head at the Linbury Studio Theatre, London, in 2013. Photo: Tristram Kenton Simon Callow in Inside Wagner’s Head at the Linbury Studio Theatre, London, in 2013. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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1. What is it about?

There are an awful lot of actors out there writing one-person shows simply as a showcase. While these shows have the ability to showcase your talents brilliantly, that isn’t the best starting point. What is the story you need to tell? Who are you trying to engage with? Never start simply from a desire to showcase yourself.

2. Play to your strengths

You’re going to spend an hour or so engaging an audience. If you’re a great singer, use it; if you can’t sing, then avoid it like the plague. Now isn’t the time to learn new skills. An hour alone on stage with an audience requires a huge amount of stamina, so don’t overburden yourself with even more challenges.

3. Play with form

One-person plays that are simply a character unloading their thoughts and feelings on to an audience are never going to be interesting. Explore the form of the piece, the way you want to tell the story. Alan Bennett’s classic monologues, Talking Heads, were successful partly because Bennett played with the idea of an unreliable narrator.

4. Avoid the past tense

A character simply telling you what has happened in the past is usually a fairly dull affair. You want the action to be in the present tense. Who is telling this story? Why are they telling it? To whom? The drama isn’t the story they are telling, but the action of telling it.

5. Build a great team around you

It may be a one-person play on stage, but it isn’t a one-person play in terms of the team around you. These plays can feel lonely, and you need people to bounce ideas off to take care of the production, allowing you to take care of the story. Make sure you have a great director, designer, producer, venue, marketing team and press. Don’t be all these people yourself.

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