I spent five days up at the Edinburgh Festival, I delivered my thesis, drove to Exeter and flew to Scotland. I was interested to see whether the solo shows I was going to see would all be autobiographical in some way, whether autobiography is the source material for solo work. I have been chatting to solo performers for my thesis, so have been thinking about this for a while and was made aware there was not a vocabulary that we could share when we talk about the practise. Solo performers dramaturg their own work, the process and skills involved combine devising, writing, designing and performing processes. If we could define this process as a dramaturgical one then we would be on the way to sharing a vocabulary, yet people still shy away from the term.
Dramaturgy ‘is the structure built from [the performance’s] various components: words, physicality, music, lights, sound and space. It is also how those components relate to the experience of the work as a whole’ (Dramaturgs’ Network: online).
I only had four days really, if you take out the travelling, and I also watched performances that involved more than one person, so I didn’t spend my entire time focused on solo performance but, the solo shows I did see were, yes all autobiographical and even the two handers were too. Not a definitive answer at all but one that I will be mulling over for the next year and maybe, just maybe next year I will have more time to put my theory to the test.
Solo shows I saw
Rachel Mars ‘The Way You Tell Them’ at Summerhall
Danny Braverman’ Wot No Fish! ‘ at Summerhall
Daniel Bye’ The Price of Everything ‘at Hill Street
John Osborne the Beach at Pleasance Dome
You can see there that two of the shows were performed at Summerhall, what a fantastic venue! A former school of veterinary studies, the venues inside were so quirky, like the circular anatomy lecture theatre. There was a courtyard with a bar and Indian street food served by ‘spice man’ himself, Tony Singh; a wonderful pub called The Royal Dick, and a lovely cafe inside selling some extremely fat and creamy cakes. Teenage son got is hair cut in the courtyard by a tonsorial artist, who would be creating a sculpture out of the cut hair. Really you could have spent your entire festival here and experience a huge range of performance (dancing plastic bags in L’Apres-midi d’un Foehn – version 1, sublime and a rock balancing performance Freeze that was so tense some of the audience couldn’t watch). Likewise at Forest Fringe at the opposite end of the city (God help you if you were trying to get from one to the other in a short space of time), in the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith. Here again, you could spend the whole day experiencing different modes of performance, sit on the sofas with a coffee, eat a ‘healthy’ lunch (rather than lunching on the hoof) and just generally let the creativity surround you. I saw a couple of lovely two handers here, Tim Crouch and a smith in What Happens to Hope at the End of the Evening and Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker in I wish I was Lonely. Then Action Hero’s Hokes Bluff rounded off a really enjoyable day away from the main thrust of the fringe. I could have easily spent my four days within Summerhall or Forest Fringe such was the selection on offer.
Danny Braverman says on his blog that ‘the essence of the fringe doesn’t change’ and that is absolutely true, yet when I first arrived in the mid 1980s there were far more professional theatre companies trying to get their shows spotted. Now the casts are much smaller it seems and, in terms of finance, a solo show is much more adaptable for the vagaries of the Edinburgh fringe. The Hill Street Theatre ran solo shows throughout the entire festival, so I can imagine we will be seeing far more in the future.