There is a long history of solo shows in this country. From the early iconic works of Bruce Mason — shows he would perform himself up and down the country, like End of the Golden Weather — through to Indian Ink, a company at times not defined by how universally people love their solo shows as much as by how mixed the responses are to their occasional full-cast productions, works with only one performer are a lifeblood of this nation’s theatre. It is interesting, however, that no one has really talked about why this is.
There is an obvious thematic discussion to be had around the profound, oblique loneliness that permeates how we narrativise ourself as a nation — if we have a ‘cinema of unease’, then we have a theatre of being trapped on a tiny, insignificant group of islands — and how that is best expressed on stage. Alone.
There is a sense and meaning that can only be wrought from a lone figure. The focus it brings, how much it forces the audience to imagine, to buy in, make it a deeply meaningful dramatic choice to make. But as wonderful as that is, and as true as it is, I do not really think that’s what’s behind the dominance of solo performance over our theatrical landscape. We do it because it’s cheap.
The talk of the theatre community recently has turned towards ‘sustainability’, which, depending on who is saying it, either means “How do we keep this bloated, undead corpse we call an industry from rotting too visibly?” or “How do we develop work and a sector that can actually survive in the modern world?” The answer, sadly, to both of those questions is productions involving smaller casts and more solo shows.
This is an industry that needs to work more efficiently, and shows that are at a financial loss without a $65,000 arts grant to pay their eight actors simply, and sadly, don’t fall into that. We need to build something strong before we can build something big.
So, really, I guess that what I’m saying is that you should come to my solo show. It’s called Everything is Surrounded by Water and it’s on at BATS from 30 September to 4 October. Find out more at everythingissurroundedbywater.com.
Ugh. Sorry. That felt gross.
What I’m really saying is that the long and continuing trend towards smaller and solo works in this country really speaks to the near constant financial peril that the theatre industry is in. With BATS, Circa, Capital E and the Gryphon we are spoiled for choice, while they are not spoiled for audience. We have already seen what people’s support looks like when it doesn’t involve actually going. It looks like Downstage closing. We all have to do something to turn the tide. And that ‘we’ includes you…
… coming to my show.