I admit it, calling Earnestness #2 [redacted]’s first production is a little far-fetched.
Okay, it’s completely far-fetched.
Earnestness #2 is 100% me. I’m not portraying any characters, the content is my life in the present tense, and I am the only person you will interact with during the show. I have had few collaborators, all of which are outside [redacted], as this piece was shown first at Swarthmore College for a showcase of a class taught by Alex Torra of Pig Iron and Team Sunshine fame. I never thought I’d be a solo performer, but thanks to the wonderful folks at the SoLow Fest, I’m inspired to make something every year from this year onward.
In preparing for presenting the piece, I realized something pretty heavy. I’ve never performed in front of total strangers before.
Sure, I’m only 20 years old, but I’ve acted in or directed almost twice as many theater productions as my age. Earnestness #2 is my first performance in Philadelphia, but what surprises, excites, and scares me more than anything is the possibility of performing in front of an audience made entirely of people I don’t know. Every prior audience included at least my father, my mother, close friends, or at least figures I knew from around school. I find myself asking, “Why in the world do I alone deserve the attention of total strangers?”
I’m convinced this question must be in the mind of all solo performers. As Alex and my class talked about so frequently, the performer is always the subject in solo performance. This is most clear in performance art and autobiographical solo performance. Yet even in multi-character proscenium solo performance, fiction or nonfiction, the adage holds true. Anna Deveare Smith the person is inescapable in her performances despite attempting to transform completely into other people. Solo performances aren’t plays because of something found in the performer.
In the Earnestness series, I want to both use myself as a conduit for audience experience as well as engineering audience participation to achieve collective catharsis. Earnestness #1, which I subtitle “An Exorcism of Shame”, did so through live music, feet-washing, and a dangerous and scary soul-bearing on my part. When I decided to morph the original piece into a series of short performances, I realized that each one should have honesty, an element, a persistence, and a destruction in addition to focusing on the visceral and mental experiences of the audience. Earnestness #2 could perhaps be subtitled “A Connection In Spite of Judgment”.
Earnestness #2 came out of a strong, surprising desire I had to meet someone new. I had just gone through a period of deep loneliness and I was starting to become sure of myself again. It was a time when I wasn’t sure if I deserved a connection with anyone, even those I knew and loved. When I accepted that I did in fact matter as an individual, I became overwhelmed with a need to meet new people. Even if I never saw them again, I just wanted to have conversations with total strangers and maybe, just maybe, become friends with them. However, I’ve always been very bad at approaching people, no matter our relationship. Even placing a phone call to family members is incredibly difficult for me. Creating Earnestness #2 was an attempt to reconcile my need for connection and my inability to fulfill it.
Truth is one of the most important elements of a performance for me as a theatermaker. I’m deeply interested in disingenuous advertising as a way of breaking audience expectation, but I’m also interested in the opposite end of the spectrum. Earnestness #2 explores that latter side. Though the piece does not hide its meticulously constructed nature, I seek to be completely honest within that structure. It’s a really difficult goal to accomplish, and it’s terrifying. What’s more, the parts of the piece that require the most honesty are partially controlled by the audience. And to make matters more complicated, the aforementioned persistence happens as a direct result of this honesty – the performance extends beyond the bounds of the space. It’s scary as hell.
So why do I deserve your attention? Because I’m willing to risk myself for you. Because you can trust me. Because what we will experience together will be real. Because we all suffer the same fears, rushes to judgment, and trust issues at some point in our lives. Because sometimes you need a push. You are that push for me, and I am that push for you.
I’m performing Earnestness #2 at Headlong Studios (1170 S. Broad St) June 20th at 7pm and 8pm, as well as June 21st at 1pm, 2pm, 7pm, and 8pm. The performance lasts no more than 30 minutes. Space is limited so reserve tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are Pay What You Can, $5 recommended.
While you’re at it, check out the other SoLow Fest performances here.
I hope I am able to connect with all of you soon.