Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Solo Experience by Sarah Steinberg

(Sarah pictured far left.)

When I decided to move to Seattle in early 2010, the first thing I started doing was looking for an acting school. I looked online and came across Freehold. Shortly after arriving in July, I started taking classes and was hooked on Freehold from the start. One of the things on my to-do list was to take a Solo Performance class. I’d first taken one in LA about 6 years prior and it changed my life. Not only did I find that I loved the solo performance medium, but I was encouraged to continue with it by people in the audience and by the time I got to Seattle and Freehold I was already taking notes for a new show.

Nothing bonds you with your classmates like taking a solo performance workshop. I believe you bond much faster since the material that each person is writing can be personal and you’re making yourself vulnerable. I’m still in touch with many of the classmates I met in my Freehold class in the spring of 2011.

The Solo Performance class was taught by Marya Sea Kaminski. We learned soon into the class that we’d be losing Marya halfway through and that Matt Smith, a Freehold Improv teacher, would take over. I have to admit: this was not welcome news at first. The subject of my show, mental illness, was extremely personal to me and I felt comfortable working with Marya and trusted her. She is an amazing teacher to work with. I hadn’t taken any classes with Matt and didn’t know him. Luckily, I liked him right away and it was nice to have two teachers with very different approaches teaching the class.

Our time with Marya was spent writing. And writing. And writing. She gave us lots of writing exercises and prompts and it was like writing bootcamp, which I loved. By the time Matt came along, our stories were taking form and he’d start us out doing improv games and exercises – which was completely different from what we did with Marya. I don’t know about my classmates, but I found the change in teaching style freeing and I believe the piece I performed during our last class was better for it. The writing prompts that we received from Marya helped us shape what our pieces were about. She would have us write lists, and some of the elements from the lists would wind up in our pieces. When Matt took over the class, we discovered new things during the improv process, which allowed for our pieces to grow and shift and change organically. While my piece would ultimately end up being about mental illness, I kind of talked around it at first until Marya gently nudged me in the right direction and encouraged me to take risks with the evolving piece. What culminated was a piece I never thought I’d perform in public that took place in the psych ward of a hospital and which was well received by the audience. The audience liking it was a big relief.

Marya was incredibly supportive and before she left, she encouraged me to develop what I’d written into a full-length show. It was nice to get that validation, since that was my intention. At the end of the show, a friend and classmate from another Freehold class also encouraged me to develop it. Thanks to Marya, Matt, and my classmates for their invaluable support, I felt like I was on my way to developing my piece. The last night of our solo performance workshop was one I’ll never forget. Me and my fellow classmates, all very brave souls, performed our final pieces for our invited guests. In addition to my friend Scott’s support, it turned out that my piece was my classmate George’s daughters’ favorite one. She told him that she liked the “Hospital Lady” the best. I had a fan and was grateful for it.

This past April, I previewed the next draft of my show – 10 minutes worth – at the Stone Soup XX Fest 2.0, and it was well received. When I decided to submit my show to the XX Fest, I realized I needed a director. Luckily, I didn’t have to look too far. A fellow classmate from Marya and Matt’s solo performance class, Krista Erickson, stepped forth and we worked together and she proved to be a tremendous director.

Following the XX Fest, I wasn’t sure when I’d perform the next phase of the show. While I knew I would eventually, I didn’t have any imminent plans. Recently, I applied for a Seattle City Government CityArtist grant and figured I’d put up the next version on my show sometime next year. Then practically out of the blue, I was asked by the local nonprofit Sound Mental Health to take my show to the next level. They created a special fundraising event around my show, in conjunction with two local authors who co-wrote a moving memoir called Perfect Chaos. On October 30th, I’ll be performing the next version of my show – Call Me Crazy - at The Hyatt Olive 8. The purpose of our event is to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. If this is a cause that’s important to you, please join us on October 30th. Tickets are $75. More information can be found at

Note that Marya Sea Kaminski will be teaching Solo Performance at Freehold this coming Fall Quarter. More information:

Photo above: From L-R: Sarah Steinberg, Krista Erickson, Jonathan Reis, Krista Erickson, George Shannon, George Tramountanas (wearing mask), Jon Locke, Kelly MacDicken, Ryan Sanders, Cameron Chaussee and Priscilla Umemoto.

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