Solo performers crossing borders, igniting imaginations and humanizing storytelling

AND NOW we reach the part of my blog about monologues wherein the monologist (me) tries to recreate and memorialize some of the sights, sounds, words, actions, stories, bodies and feelings in the various solo performances because….(and now begins the everything cool I’ve learned about the world, I’ve learned through performance portion of the monologue):

We NEED performers crossing borders right before our very eyes by becoming other races, nationalities, genders, and ages. Sarah Jones becoming Mrs. Lorraine Levine, an elderly Jewish woman giving us her take on things at one moment and then Lydia Rios, a young Dominican woman whose speedy, nervous way of speaking is disarmingly endearing (Bridge and Tunnel). Mikel Murfi switching between a male and female persona all dependent upon how he walks in a pair of shoes (The Man in Woman’s Shoes). The tall, statuesque, piercing-eyed Liza Jessie Peterson assuming the persona of Betsy Laquanda Ross visiting her friend “Boo” in jail and catching her up on the news about people from the community, too many of whom have been framed and/or beaten by police prior to being incarcerated (The Peculiar Patriot).

We NEED to hear and consider how a performer can overlay the spoken word with a musical soundtrack creating a kind of contrapuntal-cultural-scape as Tim Miller does in Rooted when he talks about the kinds of things he can’t say no to (rubbing two marriage certificates together, one between a husband and wife in 1865 and one between a husband and husband the day after DOMA is overturned) as we hear the famous “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” from the musical Oklahoma.

We NEED performers to antagonize and challenge us as audiences. We need Penny Arcade to scream “COME ON PEOPLE” as she throws out her arms and walks towards the audience to try to wake us up to the horrors of double-wide strollers and cupcake lines deadening New York City streets (Longing Lasts Longer). We need Michael Moore telling us that we are complicit in Trump’s rise to power (The Terms of My Surrender). We need Mike Daisey telling us that “we already knew that” when he knows we either didn’t know or that we forgot we knew that Robert Moses—that name adorning so many buildings and streets throughout NYC– tried to kill Shakespeare in the Park (All the Faces of the Moon).

We NEED performers to take risks and to challenge and stretch the limits of the form. We need to see Diana Oh modeling consensual relations by inviting someone to make out with her on stage or to have their head shaved or by asking the entire 99-member audience to form a circle and sing a refrain of a song with her ({my lingerie play}). Even if we’re the kind of audience member that would rather not get their head shaved (that was definitely me before the performance, but now I’m not so sure), we need to see that others are ok with it.

We NEED to hear and feel how some performers can make a word, or phrase, sing as they hold onto a vowel or consonant or raise or lower their voice. For example, Mike Daisey cawing like a crow not because he was imitating a crow but because he was emphasizing something someone—usually an audience member– is saying or thinking (“oooohhhh, this shamrock shake is soooooo delicious,” for example, from Stories from the Speakeasy).

We NEED to hear and feel the hip-hop beats that often make their way in, making us aware of the intimate connection between solo performance, poetry and hip-hop. Lemon Anderson, Liza Jessie Peterson, Danny Hoch, Sarah Jones, and Staceyann Chin, among others, do that.

We NEED performers to ignite our imaginations by creating live metaphors on stage, something Mikel Murfi does when he literally walks in someone else’s shoes in order to inhabit the space of a woman, urging his audience to see and feel what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Something Liza Jessie Peterson does when she simultaneously pieces the visits to her incarcerated friends together with the pieces of the quilt she carries with her on stage, first in photo form and then at the end in quilt form, visually memorializing the absent space of her friend Boo by incorporating three stars for the three children or memorializing the absent space of another friend by putting a gigantic S over the square because he had decided to be “stupid” and continue selling drugs in jail. Something Tim Miller does when with stethoscope in hand, taking the measure of his audience’s hearts, he riffs on the various heart metaphors, including the lion heart, the heart on the sleeve, the fire in the belly heart, the ice in veins hearts, and he with his heart in hand before us – all of this while telling the story of his actual cardiogram determining the likely longevity of his heart.

We NEED performers to make us laugh inappropriately while talking about really painful memories. Chris Gethard, Mike Birbiglia, Penny Arcade, Mike Daisey, and John Leguizamo, among others, do that.

We NEED more Rants like John Leguizamo detailing all of the ways students are taught false histories in high school (Latin History for Morons).

2 thoughts on “Solo performers crossing borders, igniting imaginations and humanizing storytelling

  1. How wonderful. To remind us that we need performers to cross borders, challenge and antagonize, ignite the imagination and elicit laughter, so that we can hear and feel, and hear and consider. Perhaps it is the relationship we need the most.


    1. Yes! For me, one of the most important relationships in the world, and one that I fear too many folks neglect, is the relationship between performer and audience and thank you so much for recognizing that. Thank you, too, for recognizing that along with performers who challenge us, we also need performers who elicit laughter!


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