Solo performance and autobiography

When I finished making my performance earlier this year and wrote a thesis on the dramaturgical process, I questioned whether solo performance had an autobiographical element at its core. Of course not all solo performance is about someone’s lived experience, a lot of solo shows have performers taking on the part of someone else. But, unlike an actor who is given a part and takes that role on board creating a character from the text, a solo performer, in most cases, is instrumental in choosing the person they want to portray. Therefore there must be something attracting the performer to the subject matter in order to take it on and what is it that attracts them? This week Simon Callow brought Inside Wagner’s Head to the Theatre Royal yet he did not spend 90 minutes being Wagner, instead, he let us into the world of Wagner as Callow. He told us the story of Wagner’s life where on occasion he would embody the composer. You may say then that Inside Wagner’s Head has no sense of autobiography at its core, but I would assume that Callow wanted to make the performance because of his absolute love for the music of Wagner. He admires the man for his commitment to art, not for his somewhat unsavory antisemitic views. The very fact that he tells us the story as Callow opens himself up to show us his interest and respect for the subject. Through his research, which created his script, there was dialogue that may have been taken, verbatim, from the archive. In Autobiography and Performance (2008) Deirdre Heddon suggests that by taking words verbatim ‘from people’s reflections on events connected with their own lives’ (2008:127) those words become their autobiographies. Callow is himself (auto) recounting the biographical story of another which is, according to Heddon, one of the ‘multiplicity of ways in which the [auto/biographical] relationship is structured in performance’ (2008:126).

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