Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It Takes a Village to Write a Solo by Melissa Topscher, ETI 2010 Member

Okay Self, you have one week to write, stage and perform a five minute solo show that will compel, entertain, and otherwise stupify your audience: a roomful of performers preoccupied with doing the same thing and a bona-fide genius teacher. Since that week has passed and you’ve just spent three hours watching viral videos that started on someone’s Facebook page and ended with a baby monkey riding backwards on a pig to a surprisingly catchy song, you have 6 hours before you perform this. What are you doing?! Why do you do this to yourself every time Melissa, Crap!! Stupid!

This is just a taste of the panic I experience every week in Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive's (ETI) Solo Performance class with Marya Sea-Kaminski, but the truth is this class incorporates everything we are learning at Freehold. When working in a pressure cooker, you quickly figure out how to trim the fat. It’s like freestyle cooking. Throw in a little inspiration from the world around you, some acting technique, a healthy dose of structure, a strong sense of character, a purpose to tie it all together, and a full pot of coffee when the clock sneaks its way to 2 am and you find yourself just starting to roll up your sleeves to dig
into the good stuff. This is the moment you have suffered for all week. No more procrastinating, the whining voices have ceased, you have dropped into the creative realm. You dance in it because those hours of agony spent thinking, always thinking so hard, too hard, about what is going to make the piece good, have culminated forcing themselves up against the floodgates until you burst through and the creativity flows into those oh so thirsty places in your soul. Drink it up commrades!

We’ve learned to get to the heart of things quickly while working with Marya, and what I’m gaining from this class is a sense for how important a strong central character is, and how rich your performance becomes when you create a whole person on stage. At first I wondered, “Why are we studying solo performance in an ensemble training program?“ Now I see the significance. When you are creating characters from scratch all of their idiosyncrasies, their habits, their opinions stem from a place very close to you. It is a good exercise in character development because you start to see how you can take qualities you discover in a character close to your range of knowledge and continue on this path to reach characters that are written for you. Characters who you, at least initially, have great distance from.

There are many ways to get there. So far we have explored autobiography, outside sources like written publications or overheard conversation, physical mimicry, and dialogue. Through all of these projects I have started to hone in on my process and have noticed patterns in the other actors. Some actors get a feel for a certain structure and work around that, some are very physical, some are abstract storytellers. With so many creative minds in a confined space one thing is for certain; we are never bored in this class.

Every week we see sixteen original works. Performances I never could have dreamed up. The talent is phenomenal and the bar is raised higher with every assignment. The spirit of ensemble could never be more alive in this solo performance class. Every piece feeds the next, and these sixteen individuals could only be more invested in each other if they built us bunk beds in the green-room.

For more information on ETI: Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive

Photo at Top: Melissa Topscher
Photo at Bottom: Caleb Slavens performing a solo performance piece in ETI.

1 comment:

  1. You do a teacher proud, Melissa. Thanks for these insights. You guys inspire me all day long.