Sunday, March 16, 2014

Q-and-A with Danny O'Connor

[photo: Jarrod Fresquez] Danny O'Connor performs BOUNCING UGLY

Mr. Danny O'Connor is a Dallas-based solo performer. He is the creator of the solo show ZERO, which toured to lots of venues and locations for a number of years. He has recently created a new solo show called BOUNCING UGLY about his time as a bouncer at the Coyote Ugly Saloon in New York City. He will be performing it at the upcoming Dallas Solo Fest in May 2014.

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Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in theatre/performance?

A: I am originally from Dallas, started acting at Plano Children's Theatre when I was a child (imagine that!).  I trained at Newman Smith High School in Carrollton before receiving my BFA in Acting from Emerson College in Boston, MA.

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: There are two specific details that brought about this desire.  First, performing in competitive speech in high school, ie: Humorous Interpretation, Dramatic Interp, etc...  Then, in college, as part of a performance art class, I was assigned to write a paper on John Leguizamo's solo work.  Freak showed me what one can do with solo work beyond just stand up comedy, and I was hooked.  I am very lucky that one of my professors was Robbie McCauley, an Obie Award winner for solo work, and she taught me a tremendous amount about how to maintain an audience's attention for hours at a time while also staying true to the show.

Q: Could you tell us about some of your recent solo work?

A: Last year I had my (probably) final performance of ZERO, which ran off and on for about seven years, and I am fortunate that critics liked it as much as audiences did.  I performed it in Dallas, Chicago and NYC.  Recently I premiered Bouncing Ugly (at the YOLO Solo Festival in Dallas) and I'm very excited about it's potential.

Q: How would you describe your particular kind of solo performance?

A: They are very personal works, showing parts of my life, some light-hearted and some very dark.  As the saying goes, I write what I know.  This has actually caused friction in my personal life sometimes, because I do not hold back what stories I share and every once in a while I offend someone who happens to know the details of said story.  But I think the best solo work is the most honest, and I won't hold back to spare feelings.  Besides, I expose more about my own demons than anyone else's.  Also, I cuss a lot and tell dirty jokes.

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: This is cliche, but the hope I am changing someone's life.  My shows are funny and goofy, but there is always an underlying message.  It's never political or trying to sway people's minds on a particular subject, I leave that to other more well-informed artist's.  I just hope to inspire, and what's really cool is every once in a while I succeed.
Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

A: This is easily my biggest challenge as a performer.  The high of a good show sedates me.  If anyone has any advice, I'm all ears!

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A: When writing, my trick is to write SOMETHING, even if I know it's garbage.  For every page of script that makes the stage, there are at least two more that end up in the trash.  As an old professor once said, "It's about creating a big pile of shit, and then finding the nuggets of gold inside."  That's worked for me so far, and I don't mind getting dirty.  

As far as the acting process goes, I do most of it myself, staring at an empty wall (or in front of the mirror when I'm drunk, I just can't seem to help myself.)  When I feel like I'm about 70% of the way there, I bring in a few trusted advisers to critique and brainstorm new ideas or jokes.  I think there are quite a few people out there who are willing to show their work to anyone/everyone in the hopes of getting new ideas or just receiving attention, but I'm under the impression that there are a lot more bad ideas out there than good, so I only show my unfinished product to the people I really trust.   

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire/embolden you?

A: As I mentioned before, John Leguizamo was my first real inspiration.  After him, Lily Tomlin was huge.  

Q: How do you bridge the gap of the business side of theatre?

 A: I am TERRIBLE at this.  Someone help me!!

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo performance?

A: Don't be afraid to look stupid.  You're first time at the plate will probably be a miserable failure, and if you're lucky your parents will lie to you and say it was good.  That's okay!  Learn from those mistakes.  Be honest.  Don't be afraid of offending people.  Take risks!  In my opinion, nothing is more boring than safe theater.  That doesn't mean you need to urinate on the stage, it just means commit to whatever you're creating and don't water it down because you're afraid of hurting someone's feelings or looking stupid.  The audience is smart, they can spot a fraud when they see one, so throw yourself 100% into what you're trying to create.  But most importantly, you are never as good as you can be.  The minute you think you're just as awesome as possible, that's the minute you've become just another mediocre performer. Because everyone else is getting better while you're patting yourself on the back.

Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally as an artist?

A: I have absolutely no idea, and I find it thrilling!

Q: Fun links or plugs?

A: ZeroThePlay (my previous show's website) is all I have for now.  Bouncing Ugly will get it's own page soon enough, when I get off my butt and do it. Oh, I'll be at the Dallas Solo Fest in May. Check that out HERE.

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