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Chicago Solo Festival Festivants

Have you ever seen a herd of hermit crabs? How about a collection of solo shows? Both of these are paradoxes, but only one will be available August 13th to the 23rd at the Solo Chicago Theater Festival.

Solo Chicago Fest Owen Kalt

One special performance will feature Owen Kalt. Owen Kalt is a member of the StoryLuck community and we could not be more excited for him to bring the house down with his show “Danny’s Friend.” He’s done dry runs but that’s not enough to whet my whistle – I cannot wait to see the show again.

Owen’s Show is part of this year’s formidable lineup. Some of these performers were kind enough to talk to StoryLuck: hopefully these brief introductions will reveal just how enjoyable the second annual Solo Chicago theater festival will be.

Mary Ruth, whose resume includes screen writing credits on Meet The Parents, will perform her show “I Could Kill Him For Dying.”

1. How did you decide upon a one person performance?  Did the story come to you as such, or did you experiment with other forms?

I did not experiment with other forms for this particular story.  This centerpiece incident in this story actually happened – to me – and I used it as a launch pad to connect it to a larger observation about the human condition.

It’s a chapter from a longer piece that I’ve been living and documenting for the past ten years.  And it’s honestly the first bit I’ve put on its feet.  And that is entirely thanks to Chicago Dramatists, where I am a Resident Playwright.  Every so often they shake things up in the Saturday Series, and one Saturday last June, instead of a reading of a new play, they invited the female RPs to submit solos and monologues and on a whim, I did, and it was chosen.  It went well, so the Three Cat call for submissions caught my eye.

Because I write plays and screenplays, I’m constantly grappling with what story is best told in what form, but this one was a no brainer.

2. How much of your story draws from real life events?

100%, since it is autobiographical.  That is definitely a first for me.  Sometimes a real life event may initiate the idea for a play or screenplay, but mainly I’ve been happy making stuff up.

I have a biographical play about an historical figure that was much more of a challenge or me than I had anticipated.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian/speaker/pastor who found himself part of the assassination plots against Hitler.  I thought it would be fairly straightforward because hey, I knew how it ended!  Boy, did I have a rude awakening.

3. I see you teach screenwriting:  where there any rules you give your students that you found yourself breaking during your own writing process?

That’s a funny question!

I give my students, “tools, not rules.”  That being said, telling a story in a play for the screen which will (hopefully) be made into a picture that moves and which is meant to appeal to a universal audience does have exacting story structure requirements.  It’s more like a verse poem or a haiku.

I do find that mindset and that disciplined way of telling a story informs my other writing, be it plays or a solo piece.  Sometimes, if I’ve been deep into a screenplay, it takes me a while to shift gears to the more freewheeling approach to telling stores in plays or solos.

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Marissa Lichwick should already win the most fiscally inventive award (assuming Chicago Solo Festival has such an honor). She will be performing her show “Yellow Dress.”

 

1. It appears that you used KickStarter to fund your show: how did you decide to use Kickstarter? 

At first I used Indiegogo because you get to keep all the money you raise even if you don’t meet your goal, they just take 9% instead of 4% like Kickstarter. I raised about $5,000 but needed more since the New York Fringe is so expensive. So I built a second campaign to raise another $1000, knowing it was doable, and went with Kickstarter hoping it would give people an (extra) incentive to support the show.

 

2. Did anyone send you a surprising story that accompanied their donation?

Yeah, there was this one woman, I had never met. She donated $500. in like the first day. I wrote to her immediately to thank her and she told me that she has two adopted girls and one of them was in LA trying to do the same thing. ie: reunite with birth family, create a show about her experience. It was pretty amazing and insanely generous.

 

3. How did this story come to you? That is, had you always wanted to write this story, or did an event spark a memory?

I was adopted and came to this country with my brother when I was seven, so we lived a life before America. We remembered everything, my grandmother, birth father, the orphanage….having these memories really differentiated me from the other adoptees I had met. Most of them who came over as babies, so I knew our story was special.

I had Yellow Dress in my head for over seven years. I saw a solo show in New York in 2005 and I thought to myself, that’s what I’m going to do because it seems impossible. At the same time I was working with an actor named Ruffy (still good friends to this day), we were doing a New York Fringe show and he told me about his solo show and how cathartic it was for him, not just to perform it but to create it/write it –  give birth to his own creation.

My idea of the play evolved as my life evolved, I didn’t write it right away. There wasn’t a specific memory that sparked the play but an opportunity to live and work in South Korea. I didn’t know how this would effect my play or the writing of it, i just knew it would give me more material. A lot more material. So I went with it.

 

4. Following that: how did you choose to do a one person performance? Was that your instinct, or did you try other forms?

I feel like so much of this play and process chose me. The graduate program I attended for my MFA in acting had a solo show writing component. We were given ten minutes our second year to create something. Anything. Just own the room for ten minutes. Most of us knew the expectation was a one person story but this is how it was introduced to us. So I did. I wrote ten minutes of a one person story. It was mostly in Korean and more movement work than anything but it was the blue print of what would eventually become Yellow Dress. In our third year we had to create a show that lasted twenty minutes so I built onto what I did my second year. The story however, the entirety of it, poured out of me a few days after graduation. I was packing to move to LA, frightened of not having an agent or a gig so I sat down and in a week YELLOW DRESS came to life.

I also should admit that I got a lot encouragement from my very first ten minute piece, which is the reason i kept writing.  People really responded to the story and the central character.

 

5. Did you have someone as an audience member in mind when writing this play?

Not an audience member per se, but someone yes.

Let me put it this way, when I was trying to write the first ten minutes and freaking out in my apartment because I had a few days left before the project was due, I looked into the mirror and took a deep breath. Then a few more, as I continued to look in the mirror and breathe, I noticed my shoulders slouch, my legs growing weak, my chest concave and I realized I was starring at my grandmother. That’s when I knew, who I was writing this play for.

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Captain Ambivalent is a nerd rock solo artist who plays the accordion!

1. You have quite an elaborate stage persona: do you find yourself hiding behind this act, or in some way, revealing more about yourself?

It’s pretty much me, simplified for effect. Almost all my songs are based on true stories or conversations. There’s also an element of poking fun at human ego and materialism.

2. Did you want to do a solo performance and then sought out a suitable idea, or did you have the idea and then figure that it would work as a solo show?

I’d been doing concerts of my songs for years in normal street clothes, but about a year and a half ago an experienced comedy promoter helped me see that they fell naturally into an “autobiographical” story arc which if presented more theatrically would be even more entertaining than the songs on their own. Back in college I wrote two original large-cast musicals for student theater, but had thought I couldn’t write a smaller show.

3. How did you get started as parody? Did you grow up loving weird al?

I did like Weird Al, Mad Magazine, and other parody, but I’d say the more direct inspiration was They Might Be Giants. Their album “Flood” blew away the usual stereotypes of subject matter and instrumentation in pop music for me. I’m not so much parody in the way Weird Al is, and maybe a little more narrative than They Might Be Giants, and definitely more accordion-driven than either, but those are the folks I get compared to most.

Solo Chicago Fest Owen Kalt

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