Solo performance is a genre that encompasses a wide array of performances -- from stand-up comedy to campy magic shows, the only guideline is one performer. But here at HuffPost Culture we want to turn our attention to solo performers that attempt to craft a plot with a full arc of a story. These performances are theatrical by nature and expand just what exactly one person is capable of.
Solo shows may be illuminating or they may cover a lot of sins -- for instance, the idea that any life experience (especially yours) is worth telling on a stage. However, if the production reaches beyond navel gazing and links the story or personal tale to a wider theme, then the resonances of a singular performance may be particularly powerful and transformative.
In anticipation of the recently announced, 2012 “All For One Theater Festival” in New York City September 14-30, we bring you a few of our favorite solo performers around. There’s Anna Deavere Smith, a sort of pioneer in the genre with her interview approach --conducting interviews around a specific topic or theme, then transcribing and performing the interviews verbatim. And then there’s performer, writer, and poet Sarah Jones, who creates fictionalized characters and performs them brilliantly; seamlessly switching back and forth between her different roles.
Browse the slideshow below for video clips of some of the most talented solo-performers and be sure to let us know who we may have missed in the comments!
This video of <a href="http://sarahjonesonline.com/" target="_hplink">Sarah Jones</a>' "Ted Talk" is nothing short of a work of genius. In this live performance at a TED2009 conference, Jones channels a nervous fast-talking Dominican woman, as well as an older Jewish woman. She completely transforms herself before the audience's eyes--channeling various characters that she thinks up--each character clearly defined from the last. Sarah Jones is truly a performer, playwright and <a href="http://sarahjonesonline.com/working/poetry/your-revolution/" target="_hplink">poet</a> to watch. She has earned both a Tony Award as well as an Obie Award for her work. Her multi-character solo-show "Bridge & Tunnel," has been described in the <em>NY Times </em>as a "<a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/2006/01/27/theater/reviews/27brid.html" target="_hplink">sweet-spirited valentine to New York City</a>." In the play, Jones portrays more than a dozen different characters who are all participating in a fictionalized open-mike performance.
Nilaja Sun's "No Child"
Like Sarah Jones, Nilaja Sun effortlessly and seamlessly switches between a wide array of different characters. In this clip from her incredible solo-show, "<a href="http://barrowstreettheatre.com/whatsOn.asp" target="_hplink">No Child...</a>" Sun portrays a classroom of students, a guest artist attempting to direct them in a play, as well as a burned out, discouraged teacher. The show won more than its fair share of awards and <a href=" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-sawyers/actress-nilaja-sun-gone-m_b_912885.html" target="_hplink">got plenty</a> of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hannah-bronfman/no-child-play_b_921166.html" target="_hplink">incredible reviews</a>. The clip barely does the show justice, but you'll get a sense of just how "superhuman" one has to be in order to switch so seamlessly between characters. Not only is the performance absolutely riveting, the political and social themes of the performance convey an urgent, powerful, and insightful message.
Danny Hoch's "Taking Over"
The corresponding clip is from <a href="http://www.dannyhoch.com/" target="_hplink">Danny Hoch</a>'s 2008 production, "<a href="http://www.dannyhoch.com/works.html" target="_hplink">Taking Over</a>," about the gentrification of his neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the show Hoch portrays an array of fictionalized composites of people he knows or has encountered in Williamsburg. He takes on gentrification head first and from many different angles--at one point he's a real estate developer building high-rises in the neighborhood, at another he's a young man whose family is being forced out of the neighborhood they've lived in for years. It's a complicated show that brings up a variety of responses from the audience. In a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/theater/16tayl.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink"><em>NY Times</em> article Hoch noted</a> that during workshop runs, "many upper-middle class audience members told him they felt excluded or alienated while watching the show," to which Hoch responded "...that is a good thing, embrace that, because that is what all of my characters who are getting displaced are feeling." Theater should be jarring, unsettling, and alienating sometimes; Hoch makes you think, cry, and just plain astounds you in his ability to carry a show by himself.
John Leguizamo's "Ghetto Klown"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/john-leguizamo-documentary_n_1577546.html" target="_hplink">John Leguizamo's solo show, "Ghetto Klown</a>," profiles his life and career. Beginning in his adolescence in Queens, Leguizamo traces his career through the 80's theatre scene and onto the various film sets he's worked on. Throw into the mix his humor and fantastic stage presence and you've got the show. Leguizamo is always a joy to watch and this production is no different.
Anna Deavere Smith
<a href="http://www.annadeaveresmithworks.org/" target="_hplink">Anna Deavere Smith</a> is a pioneer of sorts for the solo performance genre. The associated clip is from her 1991 production, "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Fires-Mirror-Anna-Deavere-Smith/dp/0385470142" target="_hplink">Fires in the Mirror</a>," which chronicles the August 1991 Crown Heights riot and is based out of dozens of interviews she conducted around the event. The three-day riots started after the child of Guyanese immigrants was accidentally killed by a car driven by an Orthodox Jewish man. The incident ignited an already tense relationship between the Crown Height's Black community and the Jewish community in the neighborhood. Smith is a master storyteller, this is truly her craft, and the sensitivity she approaches the crisis with is astounding and admirable. Smith continues to produce similar work, her most recent production, "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erika-milvy/anna-deavere-smith-human-_b_875613.html" target="_hplink">Let Me Down Easy</a>," chronicled various interviews she conducted with people about the US healthcare system and the power of the human body.
<a href="http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/" target="_hplink">Monologuist Mike Daisey</a> most recently, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-winship/mike-daisey-takes-bite-ou_b_1299962.html" target="_hplink">Daisey ignited a storm in the theater world </a>after <em>This American Life </em>retracted the episode based on his solo show, "<a href="http://www.publictheater.org/component/option,com_shows/task,view/Itemid,141/id,1043" target="_hplink">The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs</a>," after learning that a few events in the show and radio show were fabrications. In the corresponding clip from Daisey's 2007 show, "Invincible Summer," 87 members of a Christian group walked out of the show as well as poured water on the original outline of his show to protest its content. All incidents aside, Daisey is a fascinating performer.
Spalding Gray was perhaps best known for his personal monologues he would perform on a near empty stage. The corresponding clip is from his well known monologue, "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094089/" target="_hplink">Swimming To Cambodia</a>," which was made into a 1987 film. Although enveloped by depression, Gray always performed his plays at his standard wood desk and always with a glass of water in front of him. He was reflective and as<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nell-casey/the-journals-of-spalding-gray_b_1011520.html" target="_hplink"> Nell Casey (editor of his journals) wrote in The Huffington Post</a>, "most of all, he is torn between his compulsive desire to reveal himself and his fear that he may be foolishly trading his life for recognition."
The corresponding clip is a piece from <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0091899/" target="_hplink">Eric Bogosian</a>'s "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Pounding-Nails-Floor-My-Forehead/dp/1559360968" target="_hplink">Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead</a>." Best known for his plays, "Talk Radio" and "subrbia," Bogosian is a 'tell it like it is' monologuist, with a vibrant voice. In "Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead," Bogosian performs a dozen monologues in which he plays different people who all reveal the humor, pain, fear, and hypocrisy of being alive.