“Sometimes the past comes up on us like a ghost. Sometimes life is like a haunted house. But there’s no way to leave. You just have to make your peace with the ghosts.” -Sara Gran
Pumpkin spice lattes, black cats, witches’ hats, fall leaves and cozy sweaters are not the only things the autumn season ushers in. Ghouls, goblins and ghosts will likely make an appearance during this time of year too.
As we enjoy all of the spooky fall festivities commencing in October, I want to take a moment to focus on ghosts, particularly the ghosts of our past.
In today’s blog, I will guide you through the process of making peace with these apparitions so that you can create a piece of solo art.
So, what exactly do I mean when I say the ghosts of our past?
Having worked with hundreds of solo artists over the past 20 years, I cannot tell you how often I hear things like, “I thought I healed that childhood wound. I was certain that I was over that toxic relationship. I could have sworn that I was past that painful memory, but now that I am writing my solo show, it feels like it is all coming back to haunt me.”
If this sounds familiar to you, please do not let this scare you away from telling your powerful story from stage. Yes, the process of creating a one-person play, especially of an autobiographical nature, can be very evocative and triggering. However, the solo journey can also be a profound healing opportunity. It often brings up things that still need to be healed on a deeper level than ever before. solo theatre offers a unique creative catharsis if we are brave enough to stay the course.
Here are 5 steps that will help you face, release and make peace with the ghosts of your past as they haunt the solo journey.
- Acknowledge the ghost is still haunting you.
Denial will do you no good here. When a ghost from your past reveals itself during your creative process, it is very important to acknowledge its presence. For example, you might be happily married to your 2nd spouse for many years, but as you begin to write about your divorce from your previous partner, you may discover that you have some unresolved feelings coming up. This would be an example of a ghost from your past. Trying to shove these feelings down or make yourself wrong will not help. The ghost will continue to haunt you. Instead, acknowledge the ghost and allow yourself to be with your feelings. Better yet, allow yourself to write down all of your feelings and be as uncensored as you possibly can. Remember that you never have to share what you’ve written with anyone if you choose not to. As your past shows up in your present, you will likely need support to get through it. So, don’t hesitate to call a friend or family member to vent, carve out time to share these discoveries with a member of your creative team, book an appointment with a therapist to gain professional insight, go to a 12-step meeting to be in community, or even call on a Higher Power for divine guidance. Whatever makes you feel supported when these hard feelings and memories surface, pursue a support system that makes you feel safe. Please know that this is all a very normal part of the creative process for a solo artist. There is no shame in seeking support.
- Ask what the ghost is communicating to you.
These thoughts are haunting you for a reason. Close your eyes, get still within yourself, and ask, “What is it that you are trying to communicate to me?” and then quietly listen for the answer. Perhaps the ghost of your past just wants you to feel your feelings on a deeper level and then let them pass through your body, your mind, and onto the page. Maybe the ghost has a valuable new insight to share with you about this past experience that will be important content in your solo show. Maybe the ghost is simply visiting to help you recall the details necessary to write your solo script accurately. No matter what the ghost of your past is trying to communicate to you, do your best to be receptive and to not judge the message.
- Thank the ghost for appearing.
Gratitude is the best way to disempower the past and transmute what you have been through into meaningful material for your solo show. The ghost is not showing up randomly. It has an offering for you that is needed to create the best solo show possible. It also enables you to grow as both a person and a performer. Say thank you to the Ghost and also explore the memory that is coming up for you. Is there anything you can be grateful for about that experience? For example, did it make you a stronger, more resilient person? Did it educate you about what you will and will not tolerate? Did it lead you to having a new experience that bettered your life? Did you learn important information that you can now pass on to your audience? Often, even the most painful and traumatic events of our lives have a gift within them if we look hard enough through the eyes of gratitude.
- Forgive and make peace with this ghost of the past.
Forgiveness is not about the other person, experience, or entity that hurt and harmed us. Forgiveness is about setting ourselves free. If you want to avoid performing “therapy on stage”, then doing the spiritual and internal work of forgiving and making peace with the ghosts of our past is essential. Audiences can always tell when the performance is so raw and unhinged that it is no longer safe for the solo artist or the audience to be a part of. Working to forgive the ghosts of our past helps us step onto stage from a more empowered and healed place. Forgiveness does not mean what happened to us was ok. We are likely very justified in our pain, our rage, our resentment, our rebellion and any other hard feelings that may surface. All of those feelings can be very powerful fuel for our writing process. Yet, by the time we have our premiere performance, we do not want to be reliving our trauma in front of a live audience. We are not taking our anguish out on the theatre patrons. Instead, as solo artists, we are giving them a theatrical experience of something we lived through, have done processing work on, and are now sharing in a safe way for everyone involved. You are not expected to arrive at this place of forgiveness and peace alone. As I mentioned above, your creative process should be complemented by a support network that you’ve enlisted. As you learn to alchemize your past pain into a powerful play, you will be gifting your audience with an impactful message. You will also arrive at a higher level of healing than you had when you first began your Solo Journey.
- Let go of the ghosts of your past. Be present and look forward to a hopeful future.
The first four steps I listed above are an ongoing process. The healing path is not linear. I am also not saying that you have to be “100% healed” in order to step onto stage to perform your solo show. I am not even sure that “100% healed” is even possible in this life. However, creating riveting solo theatre is a result of being willing and courageous enough to look at our past honestly, search for life lessons that the past offers us, forgive the past, make peace with the past, and reframe the past to empower ourselves and others. As we do this work over and over again, we climb higher on the spiral staircase of our spiritual curriculum and the ghosts of our past no longer haunt us. Even if they do make a reappearance, we are stronger and can exorcise them from our lives much more effectively. From this deeper place of healing and transformation, we can live in the present moment and move toward a hopeful future. I encourage you to write a fantasy scene about your hopeful future. Be as specific as you can. The more you articulate an amazing future on the page, the more likely you are to manifest it in reality. As solo artists, we have the power to encourage and inspire our audiences to dream of a better tomorrow as we let go of yesterday.
I know that these 5 steps are not easy. In fact, this is some of the hardest work we can do as solo artists. However, I hope that today’s blog will illuminate some ghosts you may encounter as you create your one-person play and comfort you in understanding that you are not alone in this haunting experience. Most of us go through this deep excavation and transformation when we bravely encounter the ghosts of our past.
Please continue to persist along on your solo journey. It may not be easy, but it is so worth it!
Jessica Lynn Johnson
Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo LLC
Enjoy these Solo Theatre Resources to further guide you on your solo journey!
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A one-person play is not typically written in one fell swoop. Rather, the Soaring Solo Methodology teaches that the creation of solo art is much like that of creating a Mosaic…one beautiful piece at a time.
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Jessica brings her 15+ years of solo theatre expertise to work privately with solo artists from all over the world on an as needed basis.
A 1 on 1 Consultation is for you if…
-You are curious about creating a solo show, but you need writing prompts to help you generate material.
– You are tossing around ideas for your solo show, but you need some accountability and encouragement to commit those ideas to the page.
-You have already written some material, but you need expert feedback on editing, story structure and play formatting.
-You have a great first draft, but need guidance on how to utilize multimedia and solo theatre technique in order to make your show a dynamic piece of solo theatre.
-You already premiered your solo show and now you want some tips on how to tour colleges and festivals, and garner accolades and great reviews!
-You have heard great things about Jessica’s work and you’re curious about hiring her as a Director & Developer for your solo show, but first you want to feel her out and see if she is the right fit for you and your project.
Wherever you may find yourself on your solo journey, Jessica will help you overcome whatever immediate obstacle stands between you and your solo success.
If you resonate with many of the things on this list, then take the next step by emailing SoaringSoloArtist@gmail.com for more information.