Dramatic Form in Solo Performance

In this blog post I explore dramatic form in solo performance. I then use this to make decisions about my own work.

What Can I Learn From Other Solo Shows I have seen in relation to voice and genre?

One person shows I have seen in the recent past, Lemon Anderson ‘ County of Kings’ , Benji Reid ‘The Devil Has Quentin’s Heart’ , Bryony Kimmings ‘Sex Idiot’ , Inua Ellams ‘14th Tale’,  Zena Edwards ‘Security’, Lemn Sissay ‘Something Dark’ Maxwell Golden ‘Country Boy Struggle’.

I would group the one person shows I have seen into autobiographical and non-autobiographical .

Sissay, Ellams, Anderson, Kimmings and Golden’s solo shows are all autobiographical.  However, I would further subdivide them. I would say that Sissay and Anderson’s solo shows are incredibly powerful because they actually bare their souls on stage exposing a vulnerability that is  very rare in life, let alone theatre. I would say that Ellams and Golden monodrama’s are both coming of age stories, incredibly beautifully written,  performed and directed, and worthy of great praise; however, they didn’t rip my heart out. Kimmings ‘Sex Idiot’ is an autobiographical monodrama in a subgroup of its own. It’s humorous, contains sexual language and sexualised movement, but all in a comical and no arousing way. So hilarious it’s positively delightful and leaves your stomach aching from laughter. One might argue that her show is better than sex, and less messy.

In the other group: non autobiographical, is Benji Reid’s ‘The Devil Has Quentin’s Heart’ and Zena Edwards ‘Security’. They personify other characters in order to make a type of philosophical look at society.  This type of show makes you think and is highly intellectually stimulating, which is a pleasure in and of itself, but also produces a shift in your perceptions. A mind expanded to new ideas, can never return to its original dimensions. This is the type of theatre is more Brechtian in it’s purpose. Brecht  thought audiences should be made not to feel, but to think. He was convinced that theatre must be an agent of  social and political change.  Autobiographic shows can be agents of political change as well, however, identification with the character appears foremost, and political and social elements seem secondary in our perception.

So Where Does ‘Amsterdam’  Fit in to this Solo Performance Landscape?

My piece Amsterdam is autobiographical. I do bear my soul on stage and be utterly  vulnerable. I create intimacy with the audience, and also it has erotic content, in the form of poetry, as a way of looking at the existential questions that are caught up with sensuality. The personal content will therefore also speak of the universal.

Exploring the Use of Voice in The Solo Dramatic Performance

I decided to study Lemn Sissay’s  monodrama ‘Something Dark ‘ and it’s critique. He speaks throughout in his own voice, but the voice of society and the words of other people are directly referred to.

In exploring voice, the use of voice, the playing  of more than one character in the monodrama,  Hidden Gems edited by Deirdre Osborne. P324  states:

‘Plato’s and Aristotle’s early modes and multiples of voice addressed in ‘The Dictionary of World Literature’ summarises thus:

[a] speaker (poet) may

1) Speak in his own person

2) Assume the voice of another person, or set of persons and speak throughout in a voice not his own or

3) produce a mixed speech in which the basic voice is his own, but other personalities are at times assumed and their voices introduced i.e. directly quoted

(Shipley 1943)

How Does the Use of Voice Manifest in ‘Amsterdam’?

At the end of my initial Research and development period, I did a very simple sharing. In this sharing, I played multiple characters in the solo show ‘Amsterdam’ .  However, in the edited book version of Amsterdam, the other voices have been cut, except the African voice which is the voice of my African Mother in my head.

The question I have to ask myself is this? Do I perform the book version, with other characters cut? Or stage the version that contains other characters?

Through this process of study, I come to the conclusion that I will use option 3 in my monodrama. I will refer to the other personalities, or quote them, but remain in my own voice as the basic voice throughout, thus sticking to the text of the book ‘Amsterdam’

What is the Difference Between Monodrama or a Dramatic Monologue?

In distinguishing between monodrama and dramatic monologue, A Dwight Culler argues that the former explores universal and abstract passions while the latter focuses upon the individual and particular (Culler 1975)

However, in contrast, Elizabeth A Howe’s definition demonstrates:

The dramatic monologue is spoken by a persona who is not the poet; and the setting up of distance between the author and speaker on the one hand, the reader and the speaker, on the other, prevents the reader from identifying with the speaker… or from assuming that the author and the speaker are one. (Howe 1990)

Howe’s definition implies that if the piece is performed by a persona, who is not the author, it is a dramatic monolgue. By using this definition, my Piece is a Monodrama,  not a dramatic monologue, because I am writing myself.

What is ‘Amsterdam’ Adding to the Cultural Landscape?

My form of drama is innovative because it is actually a series of poems that tell a narrative. Ntazake Shange choreopoem ‘For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf’ used a series of poems to create a play, however, she used multiple characters and told multiple stories and it didn’t have one plot throughout. I reinvent the form by using a series of poems, but with one character telling one narrative.  Also the use of dance within the piece will make it different from straight drama. I believe I am creating something new and unique.

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