Following solo performance from the page to the stage

Once I discovered that there were all of these performers creating solo work on the stage, I immediately resolved to use Extreme Exposure in a performance course I was teaching so that I would be forced to read the texts. Then I immediately started to look for as many live performances by the performers in the anthology as I could. Thus began a 17-year initiative and how I came across so many of the folks who were included in the anthology like Danny Hoch. He was one of the first I tracked down in a tiny Puerto Rican bookstore on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side (a bookstore that has since closed and an occurrence that almost never happens anymore since I only found out about it because it was when Time Out New York was actually posting events happening in NYC no matter how small or out of the mainstream-way—good luck finding such things anywhere today). I remember feeling so immensely fortunate that I was able to see this performer, up close and personal since the bookstore space was teeny tiny, and to watch as Danny Hoch mesmerized his very young audience while he embodied a few of his characters from Some People. I got to see him refine his craft as a solo performer when I saw him again and again in venues like P.S. 122 where he performed Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop and the Public where he performed Taking Over.

The Under the Radar festival (UTR) curated by Mark Russell first at P.S. 122, a venue co-founded by Tim Miller, and then at the Public turned out to be a treasure trove. It was through the auspices of the UTR festival that I saw Ann Magnuson do her Rave Mom (the performance where I learned that there was such an event as the Burning Man and that thousands of people actually spent days and nights on end camping out in the desert seeking out of mind/body experiences in the desert).

Thanks to UTR I saw Tim Miller perform US in which he describes his achingly poignant attempts to stay with his partner Alastair who was not a U.S. citizen (a story and struggle Miller updates in the recent, October 2017 Rooted at Dixon Place). It was there that I saw John O’Keefe perform Two Selves, including the self of Walt Whitman reciting Song of Myself. It was there that I saw Deb Margolin not in one of her solo performances but in her play Three Seconds in the Key (a play that started out as a solo performance). It was there that I saw Mike Albo perform several of his solo pieces each one playing with language. It was there that I saw Roger Guenveur Smith, whose performances I never entirely understood but which always blew me away.

P.S. 122 wasn’t the only place where solo performers performed, however. I tracked down Dael Orlandersmith (first in her play Yellow and then in her solo performance Forever), and Reno whose Rebel Without a Pause was the only sane response to 9/11, and eventually John Fleck thanks to Dixon Place and even though by the time got to John Fleck I had seen many, many, many different takes on the solo performance, I walked out of John Fleck’s Blacktop Highway thoroughly convinced that I had been to one of the most original pieces of theater ever. I also managed to track down John Leguizamo at the Public and on Broadway several times, starting with Ghetto Klown and ending with his most recent Latin History for Morons.

Thanks to the  Extreme Exposure  antholology, I began to get a sense of who the key figures in shaping the solo performance form were. Though no longer creating solo performances today, I now understood that the early work of Eric Bogosian, Whoopi Goldberg, Spalding Gray, Andy Kauffmann and Lily Tomlin was extremely influential and that their legacy lives on in the performers they have influenced. I also learned that other performers, coming of age performance-wise in the late twentieth century, continued to shape the form in the 21st century. Performers like Mike Albo, Laurie Anderson, David Cale, Anna Deavere Smith, John Fleck, Guillermo Gomez Pena, Roger Guenveur Smith, Danny Hoch, Holly Hughes, John Leguizamo, Deb Margolin, Tim Miller, Dael Orlandersmith, Reno, and Heather Woodbury continue to be extremely influential.

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