Last night I had a surprisingly delightful experience at the DC Arts Center’s presentation of “The Inaugural DC Solo Performance Showcase.” The eleven solo performers were completing a Solo Performance Lab taught by Laura Zam, a writer, solo-performer, and teacher.
As described to me by the friend who took the workshop, students work on material for a one-person show. Over a six-week period, students write, rehearse, edit and polish an original piece, which is then cut, honed and memorized for the five-minute performance before family and friends.
The eleven stories presented were not too dissimilar in subject matter from the wide variety of material offered at a DC Cabaret Network Open Mic. The performers’ choice of subjects revealed all levels of emotional, physical and intellectual experience. Some were amusing and even outright funny, while others were sad, mournful and even a bit weird. Most of the stories appeared to be autobiographical and the performers displayed an admirable degree of gusto and fortitude.
As with songs, the stories were about the mystery, wonder, frustration, and tragedy of life, and how each individual embraces, shuns or deals with problems caused by other people, work, hobbies, aging, etc. Topics included: finding ones true calling as an artist; a life-changing cross-country biking trip; an aging burlesque queen’s dilemma about what’s next; a woman’s battle with her dysfunctional family’s eating habits; saving caterpillars and diverse manifestations of life; the art of pickling as an analogy for being resilient in face of adversity; and the memory of a teenager’s effort to become a cheerleading ‘Tigerettte.’
Most of the artists presented monologues but a few included multiple characters very successfully. One poetic and moving story explored a grandmother’s response when the grandson she raised calls to ask for his mother’s death certificate. She is dumbfounded and pained because her daughter/his mother played no role in his life.
This was good theater and it appeared to be a great exercise for expanding an actor’s, singer’s or writer’s ability to reach and touch an audience. This is not a writer’s course; Zam encourages students to focus on and develop the heart of their stories.
The DC Arts Center is a tiny theater at 2438 18th Street, NW , (www.dcartscenter.org; www.theatredujour.org), which seats about 60 people and is situated behind the center’s upstairs art gallery. The event was presented in association with the Capital Fringe Festival (July 10-27), for which Zam will be teaching a ‘Training Factory” on June 21. Additional Solo Performance workshops are scheduled for June and September. Contact Zam at firstname.lastname@example.org and Laurazam.com.