I first met Jessica Lynn-Johnson several years ago when I began reviewing solo shows at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.
The Solofest that Bryan Rasmussen, Whitefire’s Artistic Director, and Jessica have developed at the theatre has since emerged the second largest in the US, second only the the NY Solofest. This year they had more than 80 shows in 60 days, which is pretty incredible if you think about it. Although the final week or so was sadly interrupted by the Virus, they have managed to host many of those that were unable to perform for live audiences, online, as a streaming solofest.
Jessica hosts a FREE solo workshop most Saturday mornings at The Whitefire, now also online and many of her students have created and honed their shows under her gifted and most importantly, her highly supportive and gentle guidance.
I love solo shows, and for those of you that read my reviews, you probably already know this!! At their best they can be like the most life changing and intimate conversation you have ever had with a total stranger. And even at their worst they are always a gift, a beautiful and courageously artful glimpse into another persons aching soul.
I have always been fascinated by how creative people find their way to their place in the world, their purpose. Jessica has made a particularly unique space for herself, one in which she can continue developing her own creativity, while she helps so many find theirs.
Now more than ever we need art. We need theatre and music and paintings and poetry and films and beautiful words to heal us. Supporting those amongst us who quite literally ‘do the work’ is really a no brainer.
I had a million questions for Jessica, but here are just a few.
How did you become a theatre producer and why did you focus on solo performance?
The title I like to use is Director and Developer of Solo Theatre, meaning that I direct solo shows as well as collaboratively develop the creative content and solo theatre career trajectory of the solo artists I am blessed to work with. I began my own career as a solo artist right out of college when I moved to New York City in 2004 with my first solo show OBLIVIOUS TO EVERYONE. Early on, I saw master solo artist Sarah Jones on Broadway with her one woman show “BRIDGE & TUNNEL,” produced by Meryl Streep, and fell in love with solo theatre. After moving to Los Angeles in 2009, I went on to create my second solo show “ZE,” and after touring internationally for over a decade, I began being asked to teach and direct solo theatre to other artists. I now wear the hat of full time Director and Developer of solo theatre. More information about my services and various solo projects can be found on my website www.JessicaLynnJohnson.com
What sets solo work apart from other forms of theatre and performance art?
The ability to use only your own vessel to tell a complete story featuring multiple characters, various points of view, and allow your audience to forget that they are watching just one person on stage is pure magic. Touring for over a decade as a solo artist caused me to cultivate a thick skin, a unique artistic voice, and a sense of empowerment and self love that only this genre can provide. My passion is helping others use their solo shows to find this creative power for themselves. It is a very unique genre indeed and that is why I have created well over 70 videos on my YouTube Channel jampacked with useful tips, tricks and meditation writing prompt excercises to help solo artists on their path. Check out this free content here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYMlY66LsE1B7n8mHOlLDrA/playlists
How has the solo community made a place for itself?
It seems that now, more than ever before, people recognize the healing power of telling their own story and listening to the stories of others. With all of the issues and differences we face in the world, this genre uniquely helps us heal old wounds, shift our perspective, re-educate one another, and empathize with experiences wildly different than our own. I have enjoyed the expansion of the Soaring Solo community over the years with over 850 members and still going strong! While it is a solo show, no artist should go on this journey alone. It takes a creative community to do this work with full support. That is why I have continued to teach my 100% FREE, 100% AWESOME solo theatre class for a decade. More information about my free class can be found here: https://www.jessicalynnjohnson.com/free-one-person-play-class/
What have you learned from helping create their shows?
I have learned that unfortunately most people, at their core, do not believe they have a story worth telling and even if they do believe in the worthiness of their story, they still doubt that they are worthy enough in skill and substance to tell it. Yet, they have this intuition that tells them that they are meant to create a solo show, and so they begin their solo journey with this inner conflict. That is where fear, self sabotage, perfectionism and a slew of other self-defeating things begin to step in. All to say, stepping into worthiness, empowerment, and freedom of creative expression are some of the greatest and unexpected gifts this genre provides if you can understand from the start that your inner demons will join you for this journey. The sooner you can recognize these unhelpful voices for the liars that they are and move forward in faith anyway, the sooner your solo show dreams can come true and the more healing that will become available to you during your creative process. So, it is this journey of healing this deep unworthiness and fear that I am honored to guide each solo artist through. Then together we discover the power of their story and their voice. So often, the misconception is that this work is about the final product, the solo show, but this work extends far deeper than that. In order to get solo artists out of their heads and into their hearts, I recommend meditation and visualization as a major part of the creative process. For my free videos of meditation and visualization, click here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzkygFb55JL7JqyDQWj3NoZGDnCigW0p-
What advice or recommendations do you have for anyone considering creating a solo show?
Don’t wait for the “perfect time”, just start! Then take it one baby step at a time. It truly is a journey, so staying present to the task at hand is crucial in order to not become overwhelmed and give up along the way. For instance, when you are wearing your writer’s hat, don’t put on your actor hat prematurely and worry too much about how you will portray the character. This could psyche you out and alter your writing in a detrimental way. You can plan for the future to some degree, but if you focus too much on all of the steps ahead of you, it could creatively paralyze you. Therefore, stay in the present moment as often as you can during the process and trust that it will all come together in the end. Be sure to watch as much solo theatre as you can (even if only online!). Watching other solo artists perform is the best teacher out there. Whether you love or hate a show, you will learn more about your own aesthetic as an artist. I have an opportunity for aspiring solo artists to see a very talented solo artist Maeria Paez as part of BEST OF FEST livestreaming her award winning, rave reviewed one woman show MA’S KITCHEN from the Whitefire Theatre this Friday June 12th at 7pm (PST). More info and tix available here: https://www.jessicalynnjohnson.com/solo-events/livestream-of-mas-kitchen-in-best-of-fest-2020/
How has Covid 19 and the protest impacted your work and the work of those you guide?
While these are very different incidents, the similar result that they have both produced in the community is a deep questioning of the relevance of art during such challenging times. While I honor and respect each individual’s response to both situations, I am always an advocate of the importance and relevance of Art, especially in times like these. Therefore, I have consistently encouraged and reminded the Soaring Solo Community that every single person’s voice matters and every single person’s story is capable of creating necessary change and healing in our world. This is always the case, under every circumstance and most definitely when we are in crisis.
What’s next for you?
Well, I never really stopped. I knew as the leader of the Soaring Solo Community, I needed to step up my game during all of the chaos so that we could stay united and supported as a creative community. There is so much divisiveness right now, and I wanted to fight against that within the solo community by encouraging us to join together in meaningful ways. Every week day at 9am (PST) of Stay at Home I have hosted a 100% free meditation and writing experience called Isolate Meditate Create via Zoom. Link and more info available here: https://www.jessicalynnjohnson.com/workshops-events/isolate-meditate-create-a-100-free-daily-mediation-writing-event/
I have moved my free Saturday solo theatre class onto Zoom as well, and I have been working with Bryan Rasmussen over at the Whitefire Theatre of Sherman Oaks to livestream solo shows at top quality to keep live theatre alive during this unprecedented time. The Soaring Solo community has stepped up to support one another’s Art and continue to create their own Art throughout all of the madness and I am so proud and so moved by their efforts. As a community we are hoping to move forward into Streamfest, a livestreaming solo festival, in the summer, followed by the Hollywood Fringe Festival in the Fall.
You can find Jessica either online or at the Whitefire producing the streamfest. Hopefully we will all be able to attend live events, but until then Jessica is doing all she can to keep the light shining and the shows streaming…and I for one will be eternally grateful.
Jessica Lynn Johnson (Director and Developer) is a published playwright, recipient of BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST AWARD, Board Member of the LA Women’s Theatre Festival, Director for Whitefire Theatre’s SOLOFEST, and Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo LLC. Jessica works as a full time Director and Developer of solo theatre having aided in the development of over 100 solo shows (and still going strong)! As a performer, Jessica has “edu-tained” international audiences touring her own 25 character one person shows “ZE” and “OBLIVIOUS TO EVERYONE” for over 15 years. Over the years, Jessica’s projects have taken home awards such as TOP OF FRINGE, HFF ENCORE PRODUCER AWARDS, TVOLUTION BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE, LARRY CORNWALL AWARD FOR MUSICAL EXCELLENCE and several other accolades! Jessica was nominated Female Director of Distinction in Theatre by Girl Trip LLC at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival.