If you ever get the chance to perform on your own, do it. No matter how much it scares you.
Rob Norman did his first solo set when Adam Cawley and Jason DeRosse couldn’t make it to a Cage Match competition. Their team was called Maybe. Rob opened the set by saying, “When I asked Jason and Adam if they’d like to do Cage Match with me, they said…maybe.”
When the laughter subsided, he got a suggestion and did some word association, followed by a montage inspired by those words. It was a mix of ghosting, narration and monologues.
Maybe you wanna wing it on the night, like Rob. Or maybe you’d prefer to choose a specific structure beforehand.
Some performers have a signature style, like Andy Eninger’s Sybil, David Shore’s One-Man Harold, or Mike Brown’s Solo Improv Extravaganza. Whatever form your show takes, just remember: if it’s fun and interesting to you, it will be to the audience as well.
Here are some forms to explore:
The Phone Call
Choose an audience member and invite them onstage, then ask them about the important people in their life: a significant other, a BFF, their boss, a sibling, an ex-lover… Try to get as much detail as you can, spending one to two minutes on each person and their role in the audience member’s life.
Once you’ve got info on three to five people, thank the audience member and find a spot on stage. Then answer (or dial) imaginary phone calls with those people.
The audience sees and hears only the improviser’s half of the conversation; the other characters remain unseen and unheard.
This is like a standard monoscene, except you play all the parts.
You can create a two- (or more) person scene by ghosting different characters. Changing your topography, voice, and physicality on stage will help define and differentiate characters – for you, and the audience.
Use whatever you need to build your scenario: monologues, scene painting, object work, and that most awesome of all tools: silence.
For inspiration, read about Jason Mantzoukas’s epic, silent one-person monoscene at UCBLA.
Choosing a character ahead of time and playing the set as that person is another option. By having your “deal” when you walk onstage, you can hit the ground running with a strong point of view right away.
For examples of character-based solo formats, click here.
Play People You Know
When Cameron’s team, Standards & Practices, went to Vancouver, he stayed in Toronto and performed a one-man show as S&P. Because he knows them so well, it was easy to take on the physical and verbal characteristics of teammates Matt Folliott, Isaac Kessler and Kevin Whalen. (Or at least, Cameron’s version of them.)
You can do the same, playing anyone from other performers to friends, relatives, famous authors, celebrities, or anyone living or dead.
How about a Talk Show where you’re the moderator, as well as the guests?
If you sing or play an instrument, why not utilise your talents by merging improv and music?
Josh Bowman performs an improvised musical using a loop pedal, vocal percussion, and guitar. (In his words, “Think Reggie Watts, but totally different.”)
Your Solo Is Part Of A Symphony
The only way to really do improv all by yourself is performing in an empty room. The moment you set foot onstage, you realise you’re not alone. The audience becomes your scene partner, and you share the experience together.
For more ideas, check out Chapter 11 of Mick Napier’s Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out. There are lots of fun exercises you can practice on your own; you might even find something to inspire your set.
And while nothing can quite match the magic of group mind, at least when you’re alone on stage, it’s a lot harder to talk over top of yourself.