Uther Dean strikes out on his own

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.

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