Why Directing a One-Man Show Could Have Been a Total Disaster by Kristen Coury

I was driving in my car the other morning on the way to tech, thinking about how lovely the whole process of working on this show has been, and how blessed I felt to have Kraig Swartz playing each and every one of these 37 characters…and then it hit me.
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OH MY GOODNESS THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A DISASTER!!!  What was I thinking???
Had Kraig decided not to come in to the audition that day, had I chosen another actor, had Kraig gotten a better offer at another theatre…any of those things may have been disastrous.  I know a lot more on this side of the process than I knew going in.  And here’s what I have learned: a one-man show is HARD!!  Depending on the amount of characters, you need to have an actor who is extremely talented, dexterous, and facile.  In our case we have 37 characters to bring to life.  Had Kraig not done 300 performances of one-man shows in the past, had he not ARRIVED with the ideas of many of the characters in his back pocket ready to go, or had it been necessary for me to actually suggest nuance, characterization, and physicalization for each and every one of these characters….well, we’d still be in rehearsal.
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Just think about it: each character has to have a background, a raison d’etre, a way that he or she moves, looks, stands, talks…and that has to happen 37 times.  Kraig came into the first rehearsal equipped.  He already had ideas about how well-education this person was, if this person’s german accent was more accented with a British accent depending on who their teacher was, or if that person stood with a slump.  We, of course, discussed each one of these characters at length together.  In some cases it was the smaller characters who were the hardest.  Minna Malich, the original owner of the Mulack-Ritze, only has four lines, but she is a hearty, funny, full-of-life character…so figuring out her physicality and voice took some time.  Then there was the soldier from Terre Haute, who, no matter what we did, wanted to sound like he was from Minnesota.
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And then, keep in mind, this is a one man show.  So the music and sound effects become characters in the play: ESPECIALLY when the man character in the play collect music-making machines, clocks and other noise-making equipment.  The lighting is the third character.  Creating the right mood and shifting into each new location and character is a bit like lighting a musical…it’s important to keep the flow happening and help make it obvious that we’re in a new place and with a new character, as well as give the essence of the place we’re now in.
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Another character and one the most important is the play itself.  Have we done the playwright justice?  Have we mounted what he intended when he wrote it?  Would he be proud if he saw it?  My answer is a hopeful yes.  At least I can confirm that was my intention at all times…to make Doug Wright proud.  And of course to satisfy the Muses.  And I hope we have done that too.
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I hope to see you there.  The good news is: it wasn’t a disaster.  It’s a lovely piece of art, which I hope you, as the final characters in this production, will enjoy.

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