Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bogosian/ Daisey Conversation

Eric Bogosian and Mike Daisey
Monologuists Mike Daisey and Eric Bogosian sit down for a sort of mutual interview for the American Theatre Magazine podcast Off Script.

There are some real nuggets of wisdom as the two discuss why they do solo performance and why they dislike seeing solo performance sometimes.

They touch on two things I have been thinking about lately... 

First, what is solo performance, as a career, for? Bogosian seems to express that it is its own thing and both he and Daisey bemoan the concept of it being a "vehicle" for an actor to move onto something else. But, Bogosian is practically retired from solo work, having performed the last of his solos a decade and half ago (outside his one-shot performances to promote his recent 100 Monologues book, thus why he is being covered in the press right now). He admits to having done as much television and film work as he ever performed in the theatre by this point in his career. Daisey admits to continually growing restless and striving to push the limits of the specific solo form he does (i.e. guy at a desk telling interconnected narratives).

I had a discussion with a programmer of a major U.S. performing arts center a few month ago and he flat out asked me what the end goal of my adventures of solo performance would be. I did not have an answer. I have been performing solo works for the last five years as just another way to express myself as a theatre artist. Until recently, I never really thought about solo performance as a "career." But why not? 

Solo performance is still a sub-arcana of an already barely-in-the-mainstream art form (Theatre). So what does the mountaintop look like for that? What does a successful solo performance career look like? Is there even such a thing as a successful "solo performance career?" Who would we look to as an example of someone who has made it?

Is it TJ Dawe... who conquered the fringe circuit for a decade, perfoming to sell-out audiences across Canada, but is otherwise unknown outside fringe circles? Is it Mike Daisey... moving beyond fringe fests, playing at the Public, getting interviewed by mainstream press (and experiencing NPR-level public scandals), pushing the barriers of duration, and touring to performing arts centers and regional theatres to be the subscriber add-on show? Though that is well beyond the fringe-level I currently operate at (even Dawe's level recognition is higher than my current status), that is still a pretty low level of notoriety and impact. Or is it Bogosian, or Goldberg, or Tomlin, or Leguizamo... all of whom used their solo shows as springboards into other media, most prominently television and motion pictures. In this latter example, solo performance is just a bridge to other pursuits, not the end run.

My theory is, until we see solo performances being performed in stadiums (like some mega-successful comedians) or perhaps a return to the Ruth Draper days when very large fees could be had for very exclusive limited engagements at places like the Royal Albert Hall, I don't think solo performance is, as it is, the ultimate culmination of a performer's career. Maybe it is a stepping stone to other kinds of performance. 

The other thing the conversation between the two makes me wonder about is the small, but noticeable fact that Daisey keeps referring to "solo performance" and to "theatre." The implication is that they are separate.

I consider solo performance to actually be a form of theatre. It fulfills whatever definition of theatre one wants to apply to it, whether it is Aristotle's six elements (even if some, like Daisey's works, for instance, almost completely dispense with Spectacle altogether) or Peter Brook taking an empty space and having someone watch someone else walk across it. 

In the conversation, this is touched on indirectly when they riff on how critics respond to solo shows... initially loathe to go, but sometimes begrudgingly admitting it was surprisingly engaging. Why should a reviewer be any more wary of a show with one person than a show with fifteen? Is the risk for the audience different? Is there a difference in percieved quality? 'Cause I have seen multi-actor theatre productions that have been shitty and I have seen some that were great... just as much as I have seen some solo works that are shitty and some that are great. Either way, both are theatre.

Anyway, the conversation is well worth a listen or two. It gets going around the 18:40 minute mark. Feel free to leave a comment below for any bits and pieces you might pick up from it.

Here's the link...

ALSO: Bogosian will be performing a selection of his monologues in Dallas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Feb 11-13, 2016... Click here for TIX.

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