First ‘Go Solo!’ Workshop Report

Go Solo is now officially launched with the inaugural class today at Hilldrop Community Centre. Thanks to the unfortunate unavoidable rescheduling, only two of the original eight intake was able to be present – but they were choice! Alison and Sara both came brimming with ideas of their own for work they are developing and were lively and receptive students.

Sara and Alison talked honestly and with passion about their respective projects and I have no doubt they will produce superb results, not because of anything I taught them but because they have clear visions and performance deadlines. Sara is working on her comedy act Sara With An ‘L’ for the Camden Head in September, while Alison is working with her partner Rosie on an exploration of the loves and songs of the Drag Kings of the British Music Hall, for the Salisbury Fringe in October.

I should add that were joined by an nice, talkative lady from the centre, who had come in to load up the dishwasher and decided to drop her bags and sit in for a while. Though an unexpected addition, she proved a worthy and informative contributor to the afternoon.

I talked of course about myself, in detail. There is no right way to create your own work, only intuition, honesty and the determination to say what you want to say, in your own way. As Quentin Crisp said to me, when I told him over one the several three-hour cups of coffee I shared with him in New York, and which he professed never to remember from one to the next, that I was planning my first solo show but had no script nor director: “You don’t need a director, you don’t need a script, you only need to know what it is you want to say and go there and say it.”

The main part of the class was devoted to my theatrical herione Ruth Draper (1884-1956) the great American monologuist, ruth20swho has influenced so much of my own technique, from Think No Evil of Us – My Life With Kenneth Williams to Lockerbie: Unfinished Business. I am always delighted to introduce new listeners to the rare recordings of this extraordinary woman’s work and this afternoon concentrated on her signature ‘mono-drama’ A Scottish Immigrant At Ellis Island, in which she portrays a 21-year old lass from Crianlarich arriving after a long steamer trip, saying endless goodbye’s the many friends she has made and searching the vast, heaving crowds for sight of her long-separated fiance Sandy whom she has come out to marry. All this portrayed in eight minutes of urgent, focused and naturalistic acting by a seventy year old actress, who had performed it countless times to enthralled worldwide audiences for over forty years, along with sixty-odd other dramas she created for her invisible ensemble.

drapercriterionflyer – this flyer for a mid-1950s six-week season at the Criterion Theatre in London, one of her annual London seasons, shows how Ruth Draper planned a week of performances of virtuosic variety, so that one could go to the theatre almost every day and see a different programme of brilliant, varied, funny and ruth54moving solo theatre. This was a programming device she maintained during decades of worldwide touring, always to packed houses and rave reviews, even in non-English speaking countries. To my knowledge this is an unparalleled achievement for a solo performer. It is a sadness to me that her work has been so quickly forgotten but in the absence of film of her at work and only rare recordings to rely on, it is up to me and others who revere her to keep spreading the Word of Ruth!

More about Ruth Draper and CDs of her 1954-55 RCA Studio recordings

Dropbox downloadable files of Draper recordings (including my 2002 BBC R2 programme on Draper, produced by the late, much-missed Jonathan James Moore and containing extremely rare BBC recordings of Draper) and documents (including a PDF fascimile of the book The Art of Ruth Draper, containing her transcribed performance texts; and David Mamet’s 2003 essay in which he pays tribute to her monodrama A Scottish Immigrant)

I finished by demonstrating Draper’s influence on my own work, with an extract from the Italian Restaurant scene from Think No Evil of Us, always a pleasure to perform.

Many thanks to all participants, I found it most invigorating and interesting first session.

For those that were unable to make today’s class, there will be another FREE class next Saturday 2-5pm at the Hilldrop Community Centre.