Solo performance class 479

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Syllabus and Outline

Theatre 479 – 4 Units Instructor ~ Debra De Liso

Section – 63105R Mon./Wed. 10:00-11:50

Location – PED 205 Fall 2012 Office Hours – By Appt.

Contact – 323 972-9665 e-mail

COURSE DESCRIPTION- Welcome Playwright/Actors to be!

Students will be required to create their own performance piece through developing and rehearsing a script within fifteen weeks of an intensive self-discovery process. They will begin with reading and examining one-character plays. Then as a class we will discuss autobiographical subject matter and themes. Students will create first drafts, next re-writes, then rehearsals, and culminating with a final performance of their own work. This playwriting into performance unit will first focus on the actor finding a subject matter that motivates and sustains them. We will discuss the actor’s strengths and weaknesses throughout the process. Finding the actor’s unique voice through self-observance and self-discipline are key.


Students will be required to complete the writing and rehearsal of a solo performance script and perform their work by the end of the semester in front of an audience.

Each student is expected to attend each class prepared with new drafts and performance choices. The final exam will be the performance of the student’s original one-person play.

II.Recommended READING

Each student will be required to read one solo play of your choice, write a fact sheet about it, and be prepared to discuss it in class. Some ideas follow:

Athayde, Miss Margarida’s Way

Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape

Bogosian, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Drinking in America, Pounding Nails in Floor with my Forehead, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, Suburbia

Catron, The Power of One

Cho, Margaret I’m the One That I Want

Cook, Barbara A Concert for Theatre

Cosby, Bill Cosby, Himself - DVD

Crystal, Billy 700 Sundays

Feldshuh, Tovah, Golda’s Balcony

Fishburne, Lawrence Thurgood

Gien, Pamela The Syringa Tree

Goldberg, Whoopie Back To Broadway

Hal Holbrook, Mark Twain Tonight

Hare, David Via Dolorosa

Hoch, Danny Some People, Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop

Hughs, Holly, World Without End

Izzard, Eddie, Dressed To Kill

Kling, 21A

Leary, No Cure for Cancer

Leguizamo, John Mambo Mouth, Freaks, Sexaholic, Ghetto Klown

Luce, William, The Belle of Amhurst

McKellen, Ian Acting Shakespeare

Noonan, All She Cares About Is the Yankies

Palminteri, Chazz A Bronx Tale

Redgrave, Conversations with My Father, The Year of Magical Thinking

Reebek, Teresa Bad Dates

Russell, Willy, Shirley Russell

Shearer, Claudia Blown Sideways Through Life

Smith, Anna Deavere, Fires in the Mirror, Twilight Los Angeles

Stritch, Elaine Elaine Stritch at Liberty

Wagner, In Search of Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Wilson, A Poster of the Cosmos

Woodard, Charlayne Pretty Fire, Neat, In Real life, The Night Watcher

Wright, Doug I Am My Own Wife

Suggested Reading: Mel Shapiro’s “An Actor Performs” Chapt. On Solo Performance


Students should view as many live solo performances as possible during this unit. There are usually several playing in the Los Angeles area at any given time.

As a group we will go to the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood and see Elizabeth Huffman’s solo play directed by Debra De Liso.


1. To develop an individual product that addresses the actor’s personal strengths and weaknesses.

2. To establish a clear point of view, an important element to any artist, by creating an original piece of theatre.

3. To work through the process of writing through acting explorations. Beginning with improvisation from a skeletal structure, to character development, to the demands of focus, concentration, and relaxation during performance.

4. To understand dramatic structure, dramatic action, and the character’s place in it.


15% In Class Participation

20% Written Assignments

25% Rehearsal Preparation

30% Preparation of 3 Drafts – deadlines will be determined on the 3rd week of class

10% Final Presentation - mandatory

Please inform the instructor immediately if you have any injuries or conditions, which might prevent you from participating fully in class.
The Office of Civil Rights has directed that each course syllabus is to include this statement. Students requesting academic accommodations based on a disability are required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP when adequate documentation is filed. Please be sure the letter is delivered to the instructor as early in the semester as possible. DSP is open M-F 8:30-5:00. The office is in the Student Union.


Discussion of subject matter.

Ideas offered:

1. A significant person(s) in your life. (i.e. Amy Hill chose her mother. Lynn Redgrave, “Conversations with my Father,” Danny Hoch’s show “Some People” from his N.Y. neighborhood.)

2. A person from history or literature that you will research, a biography. (Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight,” Christopher Plummer’s “Barrymore,” Ian McKellan “Acting Shakespeare,” Julie Harris in “The Belle of Amherst.)

3. Fictitious character (s) that represent human nature. (Lily Tomlin’s “In Search of Signs of Intelligent Life In the Universe,” Willy Russell’s “Shirley Valentine,” John Leguizamo’s “Mambo Mouth ... six monologues illustrating Latin Species.”

4. A personal monologue from a subjective point of view. (Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia” and “Gray’s Anatomy.”)

5. An event (s) with a universal message, a social commentary. (Anna Devere Smith’s “Twilight of Los Angeles” Danny Hoch’s “Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop”.)

6. Non-text based physical story telling. (Bill Irwin’s “In Regard of Flight.”)

7. Performance art . . . whatever you define as that. (Karen Finley’s work.)

8. An adaptation of a piece of literature.

9. Any other ideas that you are passionate about communicating to an audience.

When considering your subject matter, ask yourself what is motivating you to explore this. If you have a strong reason to choose this topic then your passion will sustain your creativity throughout the process.
Viewing of excerpts from one-person shows.

In this workshop we will rely on each other for encouragement, observation, and technical support. You will learn a great deal from your classmate’s process, pay attention to all the work that goes on.

Discussion of the essentials of traditional dramatic structure.
- the subject matter must be told by a character or characters with some form of action

defining them.

- strongly opposed forces, that are equally balanced.

- a series of obstacles and complications that further the dramatic action.

- the characters are revealed by the challenges presented in the play through dramatic


- the character or character(s) need clearly defined objectives, and they try to achieve

them through actions.

- character incentive and motivation.
Characteristics of the genre of one- person shows:
1. dramatic compression and focus.

2. limited time and space.

3. set the tone of the play in the first few minutes.

4. narrative flexibility (going from one character to another, physicalization, voice

inflection, changing places, times, and situations.)

5. economy of production and portability.

There is a certain elegance in this genre if you succeed.
Assignments and Exercises Include:
Writing exercise. “Childhood Memory” “Character Monologue” “ A Dialogue”

Reading Assignment. Each student will read a short one-person play (to get a look at a script and not have it be a mystery) and write a report to share with the class. (Due at the end of week two.) Hand out “Examine the Facts of a Play” to serve as a guide. Look at reasons the playwright selected: The title, length, time span of action and time period, place, atmosphere, conflict, obstacles, events, tone of the play, point of view, and plot.

Handout articles on developing the one-person show.


Discussion about ideas. Your idea or ideas.

This play is about . . . The conflict is . . .

Now, why do you want to write this piece? . . . find a personal reason - self-expression or you need to tell a story - or you want to achieve a level of theatrical skill and style - or to save money- or the artistic challenge of the enterprise - or to respond to the evolving contemporary aesthetic values, i.e. audience shrinking attention span.
What propels these plays? How do they succeed?

~ The originality of the material and how it is treated.

~ The abilities of the performers.

~ The style, form, and the pacing.

~ Curiosity and danger.

~ Universal themes

Various ways of structuring your play:

a monologue

a series of scenes

a piece of poetry

a text that includes singing, dancing, and acting

a stand-up comedy routine

a combination of several forms
Writing exercise. What is the skeletal structure of your play? Briefly a beginning, middle, and end.

Acting Improvisations. Improvise the skeletal structure.

Investigate the theme of your play . . . this is a play about . . . and a description of your character/characters.

Students share One Person Play Reports


Set deadlines for drafts due.

Theme - an idea, point of view, or perception embodied and expanded upon in a work of art. What your play is about . . . not the plot.
Students share themes. What is the (working) title of your play? Why? What is the setting(s)? Character names and description.
Discussion of plot or outline. Make decisions about stage areas to be used. Draw a floor plan. Walk through basic staging. Play script format handout.

WEEK FOUR First rough draft due. See play script sample.
Table read or walk-through of first drafts.

Students put play on its feet. Is your theme going to be clear? What rewrites are needed?

Discussion of the “Physicalization of a Role.” Exercises in personalizing your role/roles.

Handout of the elements that effect aspects of physicality.

Exercises in characterization. Is this character a reflection of you? Is it derived from sit-com land? Is this the best you can do? Go far, get deep. If your play is about superficial characters, go far with your theme or message by creating a style of acting or dialogue that is striking.

Second draft due. Typed. Review format. Begin memorization.


Rehearsal of the Second draft.

Begin blocking.
Discussion of design elements of your production. Set or settings, lighting, properties, costumes, sound. The simpler the better. Concentrate on telling the story, communicating to the audience with your acting ability.


Third draft due. Must be typed. Memorize script. Classmates will be assigned to technically assist each other, running sound, costumes changes, moving scenery or props, etc. Remember . . . keep it simple so you can focus on acting. Bring all costumes and props to next rehearsal.


Make final script changes and rehearse solo performance pieces. LINES MEMORIZED!! Staging of the final draft. Techniques in sensory awareness to maintain focus and concentration will be learned. Are your character’s objectives clear through the actions you are taking? Is there a definitive spine or through-line serving your character? You have no scene partners on stage with you in this workshop. What do you need at this point to propel you, in your one-person show, to totally own the stage?


Technical and dress rehearsals. Discussion of consistent presence during performance. Concentration, focus, and relaxation techniques will be re-visited.

Performances may be videotaped. Discussion to be scheduled as soon as possible following performances. The performance is the final exam and is mandatory.

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