Andrew G. Cooper
What I Learned Doing a One-Man Show and the Importance of Theatre Festivals
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
I did it.
I wrote, self-directed, and performed in a one-man show. Earlier this spring I announced that my newest show Other Deaths of the Universe would be debuting this spring (and explained why in the world I would undertake this daunting task). I wasn't sure how the project would turn out, but I survived it. It was the scariest thing I've done so far as a theatre artist and a performer but, most importantly, I learned a lot from the experience. Here's a few thoughts from the process:
Lighting Design by Tauran Wood. Photo by Aiden Nidelet.
Being yourself on stage is very, very hard. This show was deeply personal. It was challenging as a performer not only to memorize and perform a 65 minute show by myself, but to be myself on stage. Usually, as an actor I hide behind a mask of the "character" that I create . For this show I found myself doing the opposite. Instead of building layers of a performance for the audience, I was stripping things away to reveal myself. It was the scariest part and my heart was pounding like a drum backstage before I walked on for each and every show. But in the end, I believe it made for a much more rewarding and authentic experience both for myself and the audience.
When you're doing a one-person show, the audience is your scene partner. This may sound obvious, but I learned it and I learned it the hard way. Throughout the rehearsals I just felt like something was missing the entire time and then I realized... Oh, it's my scene partner. I didn't have anyone to play off of. I didn't have anyone to set my intentions on. One of the beautiful things about theatre is that it's live and happening with the audience. I'm excited to keep exploring this relationship with the audience in my future work as a playwright and director.
Forgive yourself and have fun. If something goes wrong on stage, whether it comes from you or from the booth, don't sweat it. It's just you out there with the audience so have fun with your mistakes (and there will be mistakes) and keep moving right along.
Write less, rehearse more. About two weeks before my first show I completed the seventh draft of this script. After writing for about three months I was feeling like it was finally in a good place... then I realized I needed to actually rehearse this play thing I wrote and get all these words into my head. In the end, the script turned out to be about 10,000 words (and the longest draft was about 19,000 words, so I almost cut the show in half!). A lot of people said something to me like, "Well, they're your words, it should be easy to memorize!" or "Good thing it's a one-man show because you can just make things up, right?". First, yes, maybe it's a little easier to memorize but it's still a lot to memorize. The show was me talking for 65 minutes straight! It was much more daunting a task then I realized it was going to be. Second, sort of, but my stage managers would not be pleased if I just started improvising because the show had over 100 cues in it. All told, if I were to do this again (and right now I hope that I don't) then I would start rehearsing a lot sooner and let the rewrites come in rehearsals.
Lighting Design by Tauran Wood. Photo by Aiden Nidelet.
It was so amazing to have the two festivals that hosted me there to support me and the development of this script. I'm so grateful to festival producers, organizers, technicians, volunteers, committees, the other artists, and everyone else who made it possible for me to take this journey of self-exploration and artistic risk. Did the world really need another one-man show created and performed by a white, cisgender male? No. It didn't. But having these festivals (and there are many others like them) there for me to experience and grow as an artist was extremely helpful and I'm very happy to have had the chance that I did with this show.
I've already written at length about why new works of Canadian Theatre are important, but I'll add that having a place for artists to experiment and try new things is a blessing to them and has far-reaching impacts on their communities. So thank you, again, to the Common Ground Festival and the Hydra Performing Arts Festival for existing and fostering the new work and emerging artists.
I've had the blessing to participate in three festivals so far this year (I also did a small puppet piece for the Festival of Animated Objects in February) and I'm so grateful to be doing art in the cities I love (and not have to self-produce everything that I create). And I'm not done yet! I'm excited to be taking place in Sage Theatre's IGNITE! Festival of Emerging Artists as an improviser next week! The festival runs June 12th to 15th, 2019. I'm doing a long form improv set with a group called The Rovers and we're performing in the FEAST performance series of the festival. If you'd like to come and see some improvised comedy (as well as a dance piece), you can get tickets to the festival HERE.
These festivals are all wonderful and looking back through the years, I've realized that similar festivals have shaped my career as an artist to this point. My love of these festivals started when I was still in university at Thompson Rivers University and I traveled to the University of the Fraser Valley to participate in their annual Directors' Festival as a student actor (which, sadly, is no longer happening). There was such a wonderful energy to this event. There were so many artists and so many shows to see and some of the people I met from other schools around the province are people I'm still friends with today. I returned the following year with a show that I directed for my final project during my undergraduate degree and ever since I've been hooked on festivals. In 2013, I attended the Edmonton Fringe International Fringe Festival and I was completely blown away by the grandeur of the fringe and the shows I saw there. And from there I've been participating in a fringe or fringe-like festival almost every summer. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
These festivals are not only a laboratory for artists and a fun experiment for audiences, they're like a cross-pollination ground where artists can exchange ideas and inspiration. Every time I attend one of these festivals I leave with a head full of new thoughts and a heart full of passion for theatre. And, if you've been following along with my journey you won't be surprised to hear, I'm doing a fringe tour this summer with Chimera Theatre's The Robber Bridegroom! I've got four festivals under my belt so far in 2019, but I still have four more to look forward to. So if you're in Regina, Winnipeg, Victoria, or Vancouver this summer, look out for our dark fairy tale puppet show coming your way!
In other news, my adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is having a reading and workshop tomorrow (that's June 9th, 2019) as part of the Red Deer Player's Breaking Cover Play Reading Series. Through the rehearsal process, I've fallen in love with this script again and I'm excited to tackle some rewrites after the reading tomorrow. Who knows, maybe you'll be hearing news about another production of Frankenstein soon...
From Chimera Theatre's production of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Adapted by Andrew G. Cooper. Photo by Emily May Photography. Set and Lights by Jared Raschke. Costumes by Susan Dixon.
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