Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How To Write A One-Person Show

Are you a writer who has always wanted to write, produce, and star in your own show? Do you dream of performing your one-person show all over the country? A couple years ago, I watched Tracey Erin Smith’s one-woman show, The Burning Bush. It entertained, shocked, and inspired me. Throughout the entire show, I kept thinking, “wow, she went there.” A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine, who’s a talented actress and writer, expressed interest in creating her own one-person show, so I caught up with Tracey Erin Smith herself for some secrets that she was happy to share.

What does every writer need to know about creating a one-person show?

If you really want to do it, you can. Pick a topic you’re passionate about because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with it. And if creating a solo show sounds fun, exciting, and a bit scary/thrilling…do it!

How can writers promote their one-person show in an effort to increase ticket sales?

It’s a good idea to look at the content of your show and theme and see who would be the group most likely to be interested in your show. That is not to say they will be the only group interested, but start with the easiest sell. For example, my one-woman show The Burning Bush! had Jewish content and spiritual themes, so I reached out to the Jewish community and spiritual seekers. It’s also a comedy so I included people who love to laugh.

For Trey Anthony’s one-woman show Da Kink in My Hair, which took place in a beauty salon, she walked around town to beauty salons and invited everyone who worked there to come to the show. This was brilliant because they came to see the show because they were fascinated to see a play that was set in a beauty salon, and if they liked the show, which they did, they told all their clients about it! That’s smart promotion.

Reach out and make meaningful connections. Speak to groups that could be interested in your show and reach out to local and community papers. Have a show flyer with you at all times and give one to everyone you come in contact with. Your passion about the show will make them interested. And people love to meet someone who’s starring in something and because it’s a one-person show, YOU are the STAR!

What are some mistakes writers often make when working on a one-person show? How can they avoid these mistakes?

To avoid the common mistakes and the things that may stop you from even starting, it helps to know this:

- You have an interesting story and the audience wants to hear it.

- Everyone has learned a little secret about life, and we need to hear the secret you have earned and learned.

- Go deep when you write. Write your first draft without censoring. Tell the truth. Talk about the stuff that makes you mad, sad and that you’re really passionate about. Anything else will fall flat on stage. We want the real you. We want to think; “I can’t believe she said that. I wish I had the guts to say that. Wait a minute, maybe I do have the guts!” This is your opportunity to inspire people to be brave and to fully be themselves, by you getting up there and doing it.

- When writing a character, other than yourself, really put yourself in their shoes. Figure out why they believe what they believe and why they do and say what they do and say. If you can get inside their heart and head, then we will feel we are watching a real human being, not a two dimensional caricature. This will also give you more empathy for people and that’s a very good thing as a person and as a writer.

What’s a typical workshop class like that you facilitate for writers who want to create their own show?

Currently, I teach my soulOtheatre workshops in two formats: A weekend intensive that runs Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday (Next one is in NYC April 15-17) and a ten-week course where participants write, rehearse, and perform a 10-minute solo show on the final night for invited guests of family and friends.

Next, I am developing a one-week intensive for retreat centres where we can write and improvise together for one week, full time, and share what we’ve created on the final day.

In the workshop, we do writing exercises, improvisation, character development, plot and theme work, brainstorming, and mind mapping. I have over ten years training as an actor and I draw on my years of training and my 15 years of teaching to bring in whatever a particular student needs at that moment to take him/herself to the next level and have a breakthrough with their writing. This is my passion and life’s work.

In all versions of the course, you leave with a feeling of having accomplished something amazing and wondering, what else can I do?!

What are some performing strategies that writers should know?


- Give yourself permission to be outrageous!

- Be honest with yourself about why you want to write and perform a one-person show. Then go for it.

- Experiment. Try things out. If you’re afraid of something, do it and do it big. You will find there is a lot of comedy in exposing your fears and neurosis. And if it feels too personal to say certain things in the first person, put the words and stories in the mouth of a character instead.

- Find a group that you can create in and share your material and get support and feedback. This could be a solo show course/workshop or could involve getting some like-minded people together for a weekly writing/sharing group.

- Write dialogue for the scenes you want to put in your show. You can act both characters yourself. This is fun for the audience to watch.

- Find your story. Find the beginning, middle, and end. And know that you want the audience always wondering: “What’s going to happen next?!”

- Brainstorm titles for your show. It’s fun and will help you when writing to remember what the show is about.

- Exaggerate who you are to find the lead character’s (who is you!) main traits and learn about how they go after what they want. Ask people who know you how they see you and what they see as your main characteristics, what kind of character you would be if you were in a movie as yourself?

Tracey Erin Smith is Canada's leading instructor of Solo Show Creation. She is an award-winning writer, performer and instructor. Her hit one-woman shows; 'The Burning Bush!' and 'Two in the Bush' are two-time Winners of 'Best of the Fringe in Toronto', the 'Audience Choice Award' in New York's Frigid Festival and Critic's Pick in BackStage Magazine, NYC. Tracey is a popular instructor of Solo Show creation at Ryerson University and the author of; soulOtheatre: Creating Your One-Person Show’.

For more information about Tracey and her shows, visit


New York City

April 15-17, 2011

Create Your Own Solo Show!

Weekend Intensive at The Theaterlab

Toronto – The Second City

10 Week Course – Create a 10 minute Solo show

Weekend Workshops

DATES: TBA (spring/summer 2011)

Register: More Information:


Anonymous said...

"Everyone has learned a little secret about life, and we need to hear the secret you have earned and learned" -- that's a great way to look at things!

Lorna London said...

Totally agree!

Tameko said...

Thank you for writing this, Lorna. I'm a published writer and poet. I have been seriously contemplating writng and performing a one woman show but I was a bit intimidated. What you offered as advice here really inspires me and helps me to feel like, "Yeah, I can do this." Thanks.

Lorna London said...

You're welcome, Tameko. Very happy this post has inspired you. I know Tracey Erin Smith would be thrilled too! All the best and happy writing :)