Gay performers often use the one-person play to express themselves, as is evident in this year’s GayFest! lineup. Six of the seven “one-night stand” shows feature solo artists performing their own material. While “they all tell the story of what it’s like to be LGBTQ, though in a variety of ways,” according to Quince Productions producing artistic director and GayFest! producer Rich Rubin, most are actually not autobiographical or confessional pieces.
Mark McCloughan plays a teenage girl; Josh Hitchens reveals not himself, but serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; Michael Medvidik sings about difficulties that men face coming out; and Shannon Agnew creates four characters, all friends of a fifth. Only Daniel Student and R. Eric Thomas tell their own first-person stories.
“I think gay performing artists do tend to use the solo show a lot,” Rubin admits. “It’s a tempting art form for a group that has some unique tales to tell.” Practicality also plays a role, he believes. “Perhaps it’s easier to put up a gay solo piece than convince a theater to do a gay or lesbian play. They generally take little in the way of sets and other design elements, and can be performed around an existing show, as is happening here.”
For Daniel Student (right) Plays & Players Theater’s producing artistic director and writer-performer of The Daniel Student Gay Porn Viewing Party (Aug. 27), a solo show “in a beautiful way, is the artist perhaps at their most naked.” His “100 percent autobiographical” production is more storytelling than play, he explains, because “the person they see on stage is 100 percent me.” His stranger-than-fiction circumstances? He’s a straight man raised by lesbians, with a gay brother.
R. Eric Thomas (left) says he loves “the total freedom one has to reframe, reuse or restructure the traditional conventions of drama” in a solo show. “This is an incredible venue for gay audiences and artists,” he adds. “As a community, we’re working simultaneously for inclusion in the mainstream and also attention for our uniqueness and our personhood. Solo performance allows us to truly be represented in all our varied forms in ways that mainstream drama doesn’t always allow.” His humorous yet profound Always the Bridesmaid (Aug. 5-6) questions the definition of marriage for the individual, the gay community and God.
Student and Thomas play themselves, but Shannon Agnew assays four fictional characters in Transient Summer (Aug. 13), a show about women connected by their relationships with someone who is embarking on a female-to-male transition. For Agnew, “one-person shows are incredibly effective in creatively telling a narrative” and are “the greatest challenge and most rewarding experience an actor can have on stage.” Transient Summer grew from interviews with transgendered friends about their struggles, “from a complete marginalization by family and friends, and the difficult question about which public restroom to use, to finding a romantic partner who understands.”
For Josh Hitchens, solo work is “the essence of what theater is: a storyteller talking directly to a group of people with no fourth wall, no barrier between the performer, the story and the people listening.” His previous solo adaptations (Stoker’s Dracula: A Solo Tale of Terror and A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas), like his new Guilty but Insane: A Confessional Monologue (Aug. 20), show Hitchens’ predilection for dark stories. “I was very drawn to the idea of a seemingly ordinary man who committed some of the most horrendous murders in recent memory,” he says of Jeffrey Dahmer, who “was always painfully aware of the things he was doing, and was very calm and articulate when talking about it all.” Dahmer’s confession, Hitchens marvels, was 167 pages long. “He wanted to and needed to talk and tell everything.”
In What? Like It’s Hard? (Aug. 12), singer Michael Medvidik uses show tunes and pop songs as text for stories about gay men coming out and finding love. Focusing on a variety of experiences through a solo performer provides, says Medvidik, “a single person that the audience can connect to.”
Mark McCloughan’s (right) The Beautiful Refrigerator Is Empty (Aug. 19) is not strictly solo, since three performers occasionally interrupt his 14-year-old girl character’s semi-improvised monologues, but more “a loving satire of one-man shows. We embrace many of the conventions of the form … but we also draw attention to the fact that these elements are both cliché and manipulative.” McCloughan doesn’t reject the form, however, finding it “really exciting.”
In gay theater, he adds, “many formal elements of one-man shows are really effective, especially because lots of gay theater involves direct appeals from performer to audience based on common experience. Monologue is a really effective way to forge an intimate connection with an audience.” Satirizing the solo form becomes, for McCloughan, another way to honor it.
GayFest! runs Aug. 3-Sept. 1, $15-$25 per show or $35-$150 for festival passes, Plays & Player’s Theater, 1714 Delancey Place, 215-627-1088, quinceproductions.com.