One of the biggest challenges in doing a solo-show, particularly one that doesn’t have multiple characters, some of whom talk to each other, is understanding why this person is talking and to whom. Acting 101 might dictate that every character needs something from someone and is willing to go to great lengths to get that something from someone, but when you’re on stage by yourself whom can you get something from?
And why are you talking out loud? Most of us talk to ourselves but it’s usually in our own minds. We go over grocery lists to make sure we’ve gotten everything before we leave the store. We check off items on our travel list before we lock up the house and drive away so that we don’t find ourselves halfway there and realize we forgot the summer cottage key. But we usually do this kind of thing internally. And if we mutter a few words aloud, we don’t go on and on for 90 minutes.
So it’s an odd experience to be standing on a stage vocalizing all our thoughts and feelings for any length of time to a roomful of strangers who just happen to be listening. But hey! That’s theatre, isn’t it? We expect suspension of disbelief. The whole situation is artificially constructed. Yet our job is to make it seem normal, real, human.
An actor faces two important choices in a solo-performance: 1) Don’t look at or engage the audience, rather, talk to an imaginary “other”. That’s the “Don’t break the fourth wall” approach. And it works for some plays, while not at all for others. 2) Look directly at the audience and engage them as if your character must talk to them. Which leads to another conundrum: a) Who are the audience members in relation to the character and what does the character want from them? b) Does the character really care who these people are and does the character want anything from them?
In Beckett’s play, “Krapp’s Last Tape”, I don’t think Krapp wants anything from the audience even though he looks straight out at them. He’s so involved in his solitary reverie about his past that the audience is just there to observe this voyeuristically.Think of a portrait in a museum, the kind where the eyes seem to follow you, and make it three-dimensional and you begin to understand Beckett’s intention.
Some will argue that there isn’t anything dynamic about a character that’s got nothing at stake. But there’s plenty at stake when a character needs to understand or gain control over their feelings or the consequences of their actions— consequences like loss and remorse and grief. Sometimes, on the verge of falling apart, a character’s only need might be to hold it together for just one more minute. And that pressure can be extremely dynamic.