Three Things That Give Solo Shows a Bad Rap

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – This month’s Soaring Solo blog focuses on “Three Things That Give Solo Shows a Bad Rap.”

“The way to repair a bad reputation is to keep doing actions that prove otherwise.” -Shon Mehta

As a director and performer of solo theatre for over 20 years, I am well aware of some common misconceptions about this genre that I’d like to clear up today. As a solo artist, it’s important for you to know what stereotypes or misunderstandings about this realm of theatre might be out there so that you can be proactive about avoiding those traps.

While there are many misrepresentations about one-person plays out in the universe, in this month’s blog I am going to identify three things that I find to be the most harmful to our reputation as solo artists. I will also shed light on how to work against these accusations and assumptions.

Let’s unpack the things that sometimes give our beloved solo theatre a bad reputation.

  1. Solo theatre is therapy on stage.

If you’ve seen a fair amount of solo theatre, then it is likely that you have seen a show that falls under this category of “therapy on stage.” This is when it is clear that the solo artist is coming undone in front of the audience due to their own wounds that they have not yet healed and have not begun to properly process. In this case, the performer is using the audience as their dumping ground for their very messy feelings. 

Solo theatre should absolutely be therapeutic, but not therapy. In fact, I advise going to actual therapy while you are creating and performing your solo show. Often the things we tap into as solo artists are the most impactful moments from our lives, for better or worse, and that is inevitably going to bring up big emotions. With that in mind, we need to ensure that we have a wonderful support system to help us deal with all of the things that surface. 

Yes, you can have real tears on stage. You can have real rage, real frustration, and all of the other very real feelings that accompany being human. However, you don’t want to feel unsafe and totally out of control of your emotions on stage because that will make your audience also feel unsafe and worried about you, and as a result, they become your involuntary caretaker and have to pay the price of admission to do so.

Essentially, the difference between therapeutic solo theatre and therapy on stage is that you are safe. Being safe means that you are doing the work on yourself behind the scenes to process your grief, your trauma, and your feelings. By allowing your audience to be your audience and your therapist to be your therapist, you can step on stage and share your story of resilience, your lessons learned, and your real human experience, warts and all. 

  1. Creating a one-person play is self indulgent and selfish.

Again, if you are an avid solo theatre-goer, then you have probably also seen Solo Shows that feel entirely self-centered, bordering on narcissistic. Of course, an autiobiograpical solo show will be centered around the solo artist, but there can still be a generous and empathetic spirit running through the fabric of the piece. 

Yes, there are moments within the solo theatre journey when it is appropriate to be self-indulgent and selfish, but there are also many moments along this journey that are meant to be selfless and focused on paying it forward.

 For instance, in the beginning stages of creating your solo show, I actually encourage you to forget about the audience. Write for yourself. Express freely and be uncensored. Get it all out. Do not codependently write to people please. Be as raw and honest as you can.

After you have given yourself a season of self indulgence, you will enter the next phase of writing. This is the time when you can start to bring others into the experience. This is when you start to ask yourself if the stories you are writing harm your interpersonal relationships by what you are revealing. Are you telling a story that is not yours to tell? In that case, you may decide to change some identifying features, swap out names, or you might even leave out entire storylines to protect the innocent and the guilty. In this phase, you will also start to share your writing with other people and ask for them to let you know if they are confused, offended, or have ideas to improve your script. That doesn’t mean you have to obediently change your play to suit their suggestions, but you at least take a moment to consider the feedback and constructive criticism you are receiving and decide if it feels right to adjust anything. This is also the phase where you will ask yourself how you can give your audience a gift. Maybe it’s sharing a vulnerable truth about yourself that will help them to feel less alone in the world because they can relate. Perhaps it’s giving statistics and facts that you’ve gleaned from your research to enhance their lives with knowledge on an important subject. Maybe it is delivering an impactful final message that sends them home thinking critically and feeling alive. It could also be as simple as rehearsing your butt off, so that your show is polished, professional, entertaining as hell and totally inspiring.

  1. A solo show is not a real play.

Yes, some solo shows give the rest of us a bad rap. The individual gets up on stage with no real structure to their story, no character arcs of any kind, no blocking, clearly no director or outside feedback, and they merely fill the time with unrelated anecdotes, jokes, songs, or stories as they meander around the stage grasping for lines. By the end of it, you are scratching your head and asking yourself what the point was. You felt like you listened to them talk to themselves aimlessly for an hour, and you certainly did not feel like you just had a theatrical experience.

Here is how to avoid this pitfall.

Be sure you study playwriting structure. Study the elements that go into telling a compelling story. Even if the show is based on your personal life, you are still the protagonist of a play, and therefore you should be going on some journey of transformation.

Next, brainstorm ways to make your show as entertaining as possible. Consider all of the traditional and nontraditional modalities for this. For example, think about your lighting design, your sound design, and projections of images and videos that could really enhance the story you are telling. Are you a gifted character actor who can bring a “cast” to life on stage through your voice and body? Ask yourself what talents you possess that you could highlight throughout your show. Whether it’s dancing, singing, reciting poetry, or even juggling, the point is you want your audience to feel like they have entered a theatrical experience.

Finally, you want to be sure to collaborate with a Creative Team that you trust. Hiring a dramaturg, a director, a stage manager, and a graphic designer will allow you to consistently get feedback on your work and take it to the next level.

In closing, there are many harsh words that get said about one-person plays, but solo theatre is truly a powerful and professional genre and so long as you give it the respect it deserves and ponder these points I’ve made today, I trust you will create a compelling and captivating solo show.

I truly hope that today’s informative blog really sets you up to understand what it really takes to avoid the negative solo stereotypes and instead learn to navigate your solo show successfully.

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!

Tune in and support the Soaring Solo Community as we share our stories from stage!

Award-winning sirector and developer, Jessica Lynn Johnson, hosts a slew of powerful solo show script readings and full staged productions addressing various impactful and inspiring topics.

This enticing lineup can be found by CLICKING HERE FOR MORE INFO.

Start writing your own solo show one Freewrite at a time with “FREEWrite Friday”!

Join BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST WINNER Jessica Lynn Johnson for FREEWrite Friday!

Utilizing thought-provoking writing prompts, Jessica will lead you in writing exercises that are sure to assist you in the development of your solo show.

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.

All that is required to attend this inspiring event is a willingness to explore, having a pen, paper, or some other means of capturing your thoughts, the ability to access Zoom, and signing up on this page as your official RSVP.

We look forward to having you join the Soaring Solo Community in this event because your story matters!

CLICK HERE TO RSVP and obtain the Zoom link and password.

Attend the Soaring Solo FREE One-Person Play Development class ONLINE!

No matter where you are in the creation of your solo show, idea phase, curiosity phase, full draft written, touring the festival and college market, BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST and founder of Soaring Solo, Jessica Lynn Johnson, will meet you where you are at and take you to the next level! All that is required to attend is a willingness to explore, a pen, and some paper. No previous writing or performance experience necessary, and no need to have written anything to bring to class. Each week Jessica will guide you in exercises to help generate and stage NEW material! So come and meet other creatives in a supportive space for expression and exploration! The class is ongoing and so you may pop in and out as you please as long as you RSVP by clicking here for this FREE ONE-PERSON PLAY CLASS.

Schedule an Online Coaching Consultation with Jessica Lynn Johnson to discuss the possibilities for your solo show!

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 for more information.