What even is a solo show? It used to be called a one man show, a one woman show, a one person show… and now it’s just a solo show.

How does a solo show differ from a play or storytelling or a comic monologue or standup comedy? Or even a keynote speech? I’m an experimentalist, and I’m very rebellious, and I’ve been on stage for a long time, so I just do what I want and call it what I want. But official definitions can be helpful. Standup comedy is just jokes. It may have a theme, it may have stories, but about every 30 seconds, there should be a sizable punchline. It doesn’t have a point. It doesn’t have a moral. It doesn’t ask you to change. It doesn’t lead you on a journey. If it does these things, they are incidental and not the main goal. The bar for humor is high.

Storytelling is just that. Telling a story. From any point of view. It may or may not be funny. It is generally focused on the narrator / storyteller conveying a story to you. The story is meant to be understood, to take you on a journey, and to transform you. It may be about the storyteller’s life – or anything else. Myths, fairytales, and legends are fair game in storytelling. Archetypal and indigenous stories are par for the course.

A one person show is a theatrical performance by one person. Imagine a play, with a whole cast of characters, but there’s only one person playing them. Here, the actor / performer may or may not narrate the story at all. We may only see characters. We hear and see the story through it being acted out, rather than being told to us blow by blow. It may not be so straight forward, on the nose, or clear. We may be asked to do more work of interpretation as the audience (which makes it more interesting and fun).

Most solo shows are centered around the life of the performer who wrote it, though some folks venture out and create whole shows by interviewing other people and taking on their characters. In a solo show, a question is being asked about (their) life, and the performer shouldn’t already know the answer to it. They should begin to find the answer along with their audience. The more inside the moment we are, the more compelling the show.

A keynote speech assumes the point of view that the person on stage is an expert. They take the stage to convey a series of teachings, illustrated through stories from their life or others’ lives. They intent to inspire, motivate, and teach. It may or may not be humorous.

But like with storytelling and solo shows, the bar for humor is a lot lower here. (And we love that!) That’s a simplistic way of saying something else. What I really mean is that when we bring depth and gravity to a performance, when we add the “bass note”, we ground it in reality and allow for the “high notes” of humor to be a contrast. That makes the humor shine in a different way than if it’s all one note of “funny”.

Read to create a solo show? Helping folks do that is my specialty! Click on the consult page if you’re interested in chatting.

Alicia Dattner

Comedian and Creatrix Alicia Dattner is an internationally-acclaimed, award-winning performer who loves to help others use the power of humor to transform their lives and write a new unfolding story for the world.


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