[NoHo Arts District, CA] – This month’s Soaring Solo blog interviews Soaring Solo Social Impact Award winner Josiah Blount for his outstanding work in his one-person show FLAYED at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
For the entire month of June the Soaring Solo Community has been celebrating tremendous solo theatre art being presented in the prestigious Hollywood Fringe Festival. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this epic event, the Fringe basically takes over Hollywood every summer with hundreds of eclectic theatrical performances.
For this month’s blog, I have the honor of interviewing the winner of the Soaring Solo Social Impact Award, Josiah Blount, for his outstanding work in his one-person show FLAYED.
Every year the Soaring Solo Award Committee sees a slew of solo shows and we look for one very special solo artist who is making a social impact with their work while exemplifying excellent solo theatre technique.
FLAYED thoroughly impressed our committee and we were honored to bestow this award upon him. I could not wait to sit down with him to find out all about him, his inspiration for the show, and his creative process.
Here is what this powerhouse performer had to say.
Congrats again Josiah! So, tell our readers about your solo show FLAYED.
First off, I just want to say, thank you! I’m so honored, excited, and thrilled to receive this award. My show, Flayed, is a clown and character show about a deeply closeted pastor, named Joshua, who is attempting to deliver his first sermon to a small conservative church, but is interrupted by the obscene voices in his head. Those voices are expressed through a myriad of wild characters I have the joy of playing. It’s a story about our public and private selves, how we mold and contort ourselves to earn approval and love, and explores one man’s journey towards self actualization. Although told through a queer lens, it’s a universal story. It’s for all who have hidden their true self in order to be accepted and loved. It’s also really funny, immersive, and wild! So bring a friend to see it and stay on your toes!
As a Queer woman who grew up in fundamentalist Christianity and had to break away from the religion of my youth to find my own authentic relationship with Higher Power and embrace my pansexuality, I truly resonate with your show’s themes. I find this to be very important work. Thank you for being so bold and so brave! So, tell us what inspired you to create this show and what was your process for creating and then staging it?
Wow, well I have questions for YOU. Would love to hear more of your story. Congrats on forging a new path and discovering truth. Flayed was inspired by my own tumultuous journey with sexuality and religion. I was raised on a farm in the south, homeschooled my entire life, and my dad was a pastor. So, that was quite the upbringing. Beautiful and painful all at once. I came to Los Angeles at 18 to pursue acting and pretty quickly came out as gay and fell in love with a man for the first time. However, after that relationship ended I began to question my identity and slowly, but surely my own unresolved homophobia, confusion, and fear led me back into the closet. I renounced my queerness, surrounded myself with anti-gay christians, and began working at an anti-gay church as a children’s pastor. Which culminated in extreme mental darkness and suicidal ideation. Not a good time.
It wasn’t until 2020 that I started to wake up to my truth and to love honestly. I realized my whole life was built on fear. I was scared of God, of my community, and of eternal torture in hell. I couldn’t accept that anyone loved me at my core. I believed the source of love, my christian God rejected a core part of me, my sexuality and all that stems from that. When I pulled on that thread of fear my whole worldview crumbled, and so began the process of my religious deconstruction. I now don’t identify as christian, but I joyfully embrace my queerness. I’m so much healthier, happier, more honest, peaceful, and vibrant. It’s been a wild ride. And now I have a LOT to say about religion, sexuality, and identity. Which is why Flayed exists.
The journey of creating the show started with a television pilot I wrote about a closeted christian man in the church world. That pilot, Abomination, was a quarterfinalist in the 2023 Screencraft TV Pilot script competition. I love that script and so believe in it, so decided I should do a solo stage version of the story. Flayed turned out to be a pretty different expression of similar themes, but Abomination was seed.
I believe it was the Spring of 2022 that the seed began to grow. I had a long road trip and found myself daydreaming about a stage version of the story. I imagined a pastor giving a sermon and what it would be like to explore the inner world of someone who is held up as a spiritual, religious, cultural ideal. What if all my human intricacy and complexity was interwoven with the sterile and perfectionist christian ideal of a pastor. What could the juxtaposition expose? In that one seven hour road trip I fleshed out the whole structure for the show. Then I just had to write it… I sat down before a blank page and was utterly lost. Then I called David Bridel, founder of The Clown School, who I’d been studying clown with and asked for help. That really got the ball rolling. We started meeting weekly in October 2022 and doing improvisation. He’d think of a prompt, let me improv and we’d record it in my voice memos. Then I’d go home, listen through my hours of rambling, and pull out what worked. So the writing began.
That process took several months, but eventually we had the story and world starting to really flesh out and then I started to look for more hands to come on deck. That’s when Taubert Nadalini joined the team as associate director and sound designer. We began rehearsals in April 2023 in different dance studios, my gym, and the park. And Flayed took flight!!
Why did you decide to do this show as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival?
I wanted to have a structure and community. Both of those things make me thrive. I also thought the framework of a theater festival would help encourage audience members to attend.
My co-producer, Michael Lyons, had done a solo show called Dickin’Around in Hollywood Fringe Festival 2022 and he was an inspiration to land at this year’s festival. I am SO grateful I did. I have found wonderful community, support, and guidance through the Fringe world. I never thought of awards, but have been so grateful and encouraged that Flayed has been nominated and won several accolades through the festival. HFF is truly a wonderful world!!
What did you learn as a result of doing this solo show and sharing this story with an audience?
Oh goodness. I’ll try to synthesize it all, but I’m definitely still soaking it all in… I’ve been really impacted by the power of community. We need people. So many wonderful humans showed up for this run of Flayed. We sold out all 7 shows! The support I experienced through the fringe community and audience has encouraged and emboldened me. I see that leaning into my truth, personality, and unique humor actually is what makes me stand out. I definitely didn’t try to be commercial with this show, I created characters that made me laugh and made points I believe wholeheartedly and it worked. It transferred to hundreds of other humans. So I think I’ve learned how powerful it is to not create for anyone else, but for the sake of your own truth and fun.
One of the things I really respect about you as a solo artist is that you are NOT afraid to delegate. I noticed you have quite a robust team of people to support you. Can you tell me more about your team and how you made the decision to not do your solo show alone?
FLAYED would literally not exist without the support, vision, and hard work of the creative team who agreed to build this thing with me. I am SO grateful for them. I think the FLAYED team is less a reflection of my ability to delegate and more a reflection of my awareness of limitations. I wanted to create a piece of theater that was excellent and knew I only have so much capacity and skill. I do not enjoy asking for help, I have a voice in my head that tries to tell me I should be able to do it all and no one wants to or should help me anyway. However, I choose not to listen to that voice and have become quite good at leaning on others for support. Art is so much better when it’s collaborative and an amalgamation of creative minds coming together. The journey of creating FLAYED solidified this belief in me so deeply. So let me tell you about the glorious people who helped make FLAYED!
David Bridel is my amazing director who also helped me devise the whole piece. I knew he was brilliant, wise, and kind from taking clown classes with him at The Clown School and I just had a gut feeling to pursue him for this project. I am forever grateful he said yes. He was finishing the manuscript for his second book, Send In The Clowns: Humanitarian Clowning in Crisis Zones (which is due in 2023) during the creation of FLAYED. David is an artist, scholar, author and educator whose creative work has been seen in theatres and opera houses, and who has taught in conservatories, programs, and at festivals, all over the world. However, he’s also a big goofball. He makes me cackle with dumb bits and having someone at the helm who has a strong sense of play and fun was so important to me. He brought levity, passion, and depth to FLAYED.
My second gut feeling was to ask Taubert Nadalini, my associate director and sound designer, to join the project. Which was partly because David originally was going to miss most of the run of FLAYED and we wanted another pair of eyes. But I also had seen Taubert’s incredible design and direction in his critically acclaimed production of Cock by Mike Bartlett during Hollywood Fringe 2022. I knew he was a visionary and I wanted to invite his brilliance to my show. He originally agreed to associate directing, but then his brilliant sound design became an integral part of the show. He created beautiful, haunting, gory, and hysterical soundscapes for all of our fantasy sequences in FLAYED. And he was the mastermind behind the final moments of the show, which are incredibly moving and personal to me. He is brilliant and I can’t speak highly enough of him.
Michael Lyons, my co-producer, is a dear friend and prior producing partner. We’re in a clown troupe together and have performed around LA for the last year. We produce a variety show called FROOTCAKE and have found a really wonderful symmetry in our partnership. I was originally going to put up a clown show with our troupe at the Fringe as well as FLAYED, but that didn’t pan out and Michael offered to step in as co-producer for FLAYED instead. I could not have done this show without him. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, be logical when I’m illogical, share the load and celebrate the wins along the way has been amazing.
I had the pleasure of meeting my choreographer, Taylor Sieve, in an acting class and was so impressed with her talent and charisma, she is magic. I learned more about her dancing background later, she was named second runner up on FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance and went on to tour with Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound Dance Company as well as dancing with some of the biggest stars in music. Taylor kept coming to mind to choreograph a dance number I was envisioning in FLAYED. I reached out and she graciously agreed to work on FLAYED. She is brilliant. She helped me take all my muddled ideas and scattered vision and translate it into a dance that is so fun, sexy, and specific!
There are so many more people who were involved, Tanner Hofmann a wonderful videographer helped shoot a rehearsal for marketing content, Hope Lauren shot stills on film at that same rehearsal. Dana Weddle, Sarah Painter, Charissa Green all helped backstage and with the box office. The genius director/writer/editor extraordinaire Joel Blacker filmed and edited content for a Seed & Spark campaign I did for the show. Which brings us back to the community. I raised support for this project, so I could compensate the creative team. I could not have done ANY of the show without the network of humans who gave and supported the project before they or I really knew how it would turn out. I’m forever grateful to each and every person who has supported me and this story.
Moral of the story. We need people. Community leads to more impactful and resonant art and expression because tendrils of every heart involved infuse a creation with life. I asked for help whenever I felt frozen or unsure of how to move forward. Other times I didn’t ask for help and that’s where more subpar work was produced. I sought out the most brilliant people in my life, pushed through discomfort and picked up the phone. I’m so grateful I did and that they said yes!
Having had so much success with this show in this year’s Fringe with various nominations and wins, what tips do you have for other aspiring solo artists?
Oh my! There are so many lessons I’m constantly learning. I think the main thing that’s helpful for me is cultivating my imagination. Our imaginations are WILD! They’re limitless, but we learn to shut them down in order to be productive/practical in the world. Allow yourself to daydream. Read good books. Play with children, they’ll teach you how to say yes and imagine. Habitualizing and making routines that feed and support my imagination helps me. Daily stream of conscious writing is wonderfully helpful. I learned in the Groundlings how wonderfully quickly you can come up with an idea, brilliance is floating around us; we just have to be free and loose enough to access it without judgement. Improvisation is a great tool.
I’ve also learned to never stop moving forward. I loved the Stutz documentary on Netflix, he talks about that. I can be tempted to procrastinate and, or freeze when it feels like “perfection” can’t be reached. Making FLAYED really helped me let go of a lot of perfectionism. I had to keep moving forward because we had deadlines and schedules. So, that’s another tip. Create goals, set deadlines, and then organize your schedule.
And everyone, no matter what they do in life should take Clown classes. I was so not into the idea of clowning, they freaked me out and I had judgments about them. I was so wrong. Clowning transformed my mental health, it has given me the best conduit for play in my adult life, and helped unlock me as a performer. The Clown School in LA is wonderful. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
I think meditation, reading, being outside, seeing great art, human connection, exercise, good food all help. All the shit people say to do… turns out it works.
A wonderful artist I was talking with today brought up how if you feel scared, uncomfortable, and unsure about the direction you’re moving creatively you’re probably going in the right direction. And I agree with that. Move towards what’s scary and let yourself grow and evolve. We’re so much more capable than we believe we are!
What is next for your solo show? I hear you have some encore performances coming up!
Yes! I have two encores of FLAYED at the Broadwater Black Box in Hollywood. One July 1st at 4:00PM and the second is July 5th at 8:00PM. You should come!! I’m truly so honored to win the “Soaring Solo Social Impact Award’ and look forward to taking FLAYED to Solofest 2024 because of this honor. Before Solofest 2024 I’m hoping to put the show up in some other venues around LA and as well as a New York run later this summer and potentially a few other cities! I’m excited to produce more FROOTCAKE variety shows in LA and begin working on a clown show with my troupe and co-producer Michael Lyons. And at some point I’m excited to return to my pilot script Abomination and figure out how to get it made!
Ultimately, I guess I have a bigger agenda for my solo show. In Christian circles, I would hear of the gay agenda. There is a gay agenda. Hollywood is full of creative queer people who entertain, inspire, and move audiences around the globe with their art. We have an agenda to be seen and heard for who we are. We want to see stories that value our identity. We want to be respected. We want to be loved.
Even in progressive Los Angeles there is hate, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. My experience in an LA church is just one snapshot of the opposition towards queer identities. The current laws being passed, banning public drag shows as well as the litany of attacks on transgender rights, highlight a much larger issue. Many people are still scared of and demonizing queer humans. I want to continue humanizing LGBTQ+ people to combat the growing hate and fear. Religious and faith-based communities are particularly dangerous for queer people and FLAYED directly speaks to that. We shouldn’t be pushed out of faith spaces because of ignorance, intolerance, and small mindedness.
My hope is that through the lens of one man’s queer experience and the “peeling back of my skin”, FLAYED will help facilitate humanity, humor, and authenticity in audiences. I hope to continue finding ways for new audiences to see FLAYED and peel back their own skin. Doesn’t that sound fun?!
Thank you so much Josiah! You are such an inspiration and I really appreciate all of your time, talent, and insights to share with the NoHo Arts community and beyond.
And as for you solo artists reading this incredible interview, I hope you have learned a tremendous amount and filled your creative cup. Please continue to persist along on your solo journey. It may not be easy, but it is so worth it!
Be sure to catch Josiah’s encore performances in the Hollywood Fringe Festival by CLICKING HERE FOR TICKETS & MORE INFO.
Jessica Lynn Johnson
Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo LLC
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