I don't often go off on a tear against a critic, especially one I'm fond of, but this piece by Alexis Soloski about the Solonova Arts Festival contains the following paragraph:
However, with the notable exception of Sarah Jones, the '00s have produced few new talents. Perhaps that owes to the continued careers of many of the artists mentioned above—even in a town with as many stages as New York, theaters only want to give so many slots to one-person shows. A rosy reading might suggest we've made sufficient social progress that the marginalized have other forms of expression—popular music, the Internet. A more jaded interpretation: Despite the title of the current Spalding Gray tribute, we've run out of one-person stories left to tell.
Let me break this down in a few parts:
First: Few new talents? Didn't Alexis' own Obie committee just shower praise on Nilaja Sun two weeks ago? The same ceremony lauded Tim Crouch, who I'd argue has become known in NYC since 2000, and counts as a solo performer in my generous book. I really could go on, but it seems to me the same number of solo artists rise above the general din as they do every decade, which is not that many. That's mainly as it should be: it is hard to get attention for one's work, and often unfair, and it has always been that way. It's a crucible that tries our souls and work.
What pisses me off is the demeaning head-patting given to the solo form, here and elsewhere--few would make such a sweeping dismissal of another theatrical form, like the straight play. What Alexis experienced was 3 shitty solo shows, followed by one not-quite-as-shitty solo show. I believe in the old adage that 90% of everything is crap, and that's certainly true in solo performance--as it is in theatre, dance, painting and every other art form that I've learned enough about to know anything. There's nothing unique or interesting about bad art--it's tremendously democratic, and happens everywhere.
I'm sensitive because I'm biased--I'm a monologuist, so it rankles me when my form gets tossed on a scrap heap. It dismisses work before it's even heard, but I'm no fainting lilly--I work against this bias every day, and that's all one can do. That doesn't make it right, however--if we dismissed forms based on the negative examples, I believe traditionally theatre would have been cancelled long ago, at least based on what I've seen. Shakespeare? Sucks. Downtown? Pffffft--I've seen at least four that sucked ass. Chuck it in the trash.
Luckily, of course, it doesn't work that way--it's the great works that ennoble us, and make slogging through all the mediocrity and bullshit worthwhile. It's the only reason we do any work, to look for greatness, and when we find that work it illuminates us, and fills us until we are larger than ourselves.
Were the Solonova Festival shows bad? I wouldn't know, but I will say that the review from Alexis is not promising. And if I wasn't a solo performer, and I'd sat through four of those shows as they're described, I might be ready to dismiss the form, too. But that doesn't make it right.
It's probably the last sentence that pushed me into writing, the snarky reference to the Spalding Gray show, used to make the point that perhaps we've run out of one-person stories left to tell. This is such a ludicrous sentiment that it goaded me into this entire post. Every human life is filled with stories, and in my work I hear fantastic stories from people every night--they tell them to me after performances, and the idea that the problem is that we have no stories left to tell is so profoundly wrong that it's almost dangerous. It's the kind of thinking that rejects the magic of human experience--how could we ever not need a single person speaking to an audience about their own experience, the most elemental form of storytelling, the most profoundly pluralist theatrical form because every single human being can tell a story.
I'm being a little ranty and rhetorical; I apologize. It's clear from Alexis' opening graphs that she isn't a dyed-in-the-wool solo show despiser, or anything silly like that, but I simply couldn't let that one paragraph pass without comment.