All it took was a bookstore and an anthology

The 13-year old girl begging her mother to let her go to a Broadway play, in case you hadn’t guessed, was me. Rather than take the time to describe the decades of growing up that I had to do, not to mention the plays I had to see, let’s jump forward to the present day. Imagine me sitting at an artist’s drawing table acting as a desk, staring at the screen of my computer. Here I am in a New York City apartment, listening to all of the post-urban noises that the city makes (beeping front loaders digging up asphalt roads, jackhammers and other high-powered and noisy tools battering away at various construction sites that have just popped up in the neighborhood, idling trucks, loud and aggressive honking, convivial voices intermixed with screaming, skateboarders endlessly repeating a particularly harrowing trick), trying to write a monologue about my experiences tracking down solo performances in the city that I love, interrupting that writing by staring out the window at the continual stream of traffic making its very slow way across the island to the Holland Tunnel. I love this city because it’s only here that I could possibly have tracked down so many of the performances. It’s also a city I sometimes hate because of the way its obscene gentrification is pushing too many of us out.

What am I doing at that table thinking about New York City and staring at my computer screen?

Because without New York City, I wouldn’t have a theater life at all.

Where else are there so many plays of all different kinds playing on any given night? But more o the point, I am thinking about the genre of the solo performance and when I first became aware of it. I have to admit that I came to the solo performance rather late in my playgoing life. I remember coming across Jo Bonney’s Extreme Exposure anthology of solo performances very soon after its 2000 publication. I was in Shakespeare and Company on Broadway in NYC and I remember feeling two things at the same time. Gratitude that I had access to such an extensive drama section like the one at Shakespeare and Company (since closed and replaced by a Footlocker of all places because why have a place that shelves books and plays and words when you can have a place that shelves sneakers and….sneakers and…sneakers) and horror that here was a type of performance that I knew next to nothing about and I was approaching 40 and had been an avid playgoer since I saw my first Broadway play at the age of 14 (My Fair Lady starring Ian Richardson, Christine Andreas and George Rose in “the new 20th anniversary production,” in case you’re curious).

Well it isn’t exactly accurate that I didn’t know anything about the solo show since I had seen

Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box at the Vivian Beaumont Theater/Lincoln Center and I had at least heard of folks like Eric Bogosian, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Kaufman, and Lily Tomlin. But as for the others in that anthology, I knew next to nothing.

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