How to put on a one man show

As a producer of over 80 solo shows over 25 years, director of 20 and performer of 8, I now have a wealth of experience of the genre. Some of these productions have been short lived. Many have been successful. Several have been hyper-successful and have toured for over 20 years and several thousand performances globally… So what makes a successful solo show?
1) The idea: The idea has to be so good that when you mention it to others -especially not fellow actors – they say “I would pay to see that!” If there is an immediate recognition factor that is in the public domain – like a famous person or book, then you could be on to a winner.
2) Your desire: Being a solo actor takes a huge amount of courage, technique and dedication. If you want to do a solo show just to showcase your talents, get out now. No-one is going to want to watch you show off. But if you want to succeed, you are going to need to love your project with an intensity that borders on obsession. You have to be prepared to invest your entire being into it for at least 3 months AFTER the show has been written and, if you are planning to write the show too, you can add a few months to that.
3) The Length: Nowadays, the average length of a Fringe Show is about an hour, but that is no good for touring as theatres want more bang for their buck. 75 minutes is a good target area. Anything over that will require an interval when you are touring as no-one wants to sit for longer without a break.
4) The Script: The script has to be as tight as a drum. As frugal as a prayer. There must be no indulgence, repetition, floridity and plenty of substance. It must drag the reader through and surprise them. Is the script already written or do you need to write it or commission someone to do so? If the script is written, has the show been done before? If so, where and how often? No-one really wants to see an unknown actor do a show already done successfully by someone else – unless you are certain you are going to eclipse it. If it’s a new show, written or commissioned by you, then you can bill it as a world premiere and this sometimes helps – particularly if you plan to open the show at the Edinburgh Fringe… They love their premieres!
5) The Performer: The actor must know their lines so deeply that they can do the washing up, the ironing, go for a run, drive a car, cook a meal while reciting them without hesitation. The actor must be fit enough to talk non stop for well over an hour without straining their voice. They must be able to focus regardless of any distractions that might befall them – such as audiences, walk-outs, lost props, babies crying, mobile phones going off. The actor’s technique must be up to speed and indestructible .
6) The Show: Must be more than just a showcase. It must look great, but not for the sake of it. Everything must be designed to enhance the experience and tell the story – not just impress. Will you have a set? If so, if you want the show to tour, this must be extremely adaptable and easily constructed/deconstructed. Will it need a car or a can to transport? Or can it fit in a suitcase? Can you travel by train. Do you need to travel with a stage-manager. This can be costly. If not, will you be able to construct and deconstruct your set?
Will it feature music? If so, live or recorded? Live music can be prohibitively expensive but does add a lot. Logistics can be very difficult and the cost of the show might rise too high for theatres to be able to afford to buy in. Plus, for it to remain a solo show, the musicians involvement onstage must be limited. Or if the music is recorded, this will require playback. Can this be handled by the theatre technicians or will you need to travel with a stage manager who knows the show?
Will it feature audio-visuals? If so, these (again) must enhance the experience rather than just pad out the show. They can also be expensive and take time to set up which will affect how you will eventually tour the show. And again, you might need to travel with a stage-manager who knows the show and this will be costly.
7) Production: Where will you rehearse. How long for? How soon after your rehearsal process will be your first performance? Will you work with a director? Will you hire a designer, stage manager, assistant or roadie? Who will production manage? Who will build the set? Who will get the props?
8) Budgets: Budget for EVERYTHING you can think of from wages and fees and royalties down to the parking costs when you have to pick up a prop or the cost of coffee & sugar at rehearsals. Leave nothing out because you will lose money! If you have covered everything, you can go about raising all you need.
Stick to your budget. Don’t be tempted to go above it unless you have a contingency.
9) Venue: Where will you open it? Where will it make the biggest impact? Get you the biggest bang for your buck? Edinburgh is traditionally the place to go to launch new shows but this is now extremely costly and therefore risky. But there is still a hierarchy of top venues where you are more likely to attract an audience… Or you could rely purely on word of mouth, but this could take time – all the while you are playing to a handful of punters.
10) Marketing: How will you attract your audience. Will you have posters & Leaflets ? Who will design these? What will they tell punters and how much will they cost? Will you advertise? Who will take pictures? Will you have enough money to do a campaign or will you rely on hand to hand, social-networking and word of mouth?
11) Publicity: How will you get people to write about your show? How will you attract critics and editors? Will you hire a publicist? They are expensive, but can be worth it. If a publicist looks hesitant when you pitch them, you might be in for a difficult time because they are there to predict what the public will want to read about and persuade the editors of the fact. If you are not famous, it might not be an easy sell.
12) Promotion: What’s your plan for after you finish your first run? Will the show travel? Will it tour? How will you secure touring dates? Will you secure a touring agent?
Once you have considered your answers to all these questions, you might be ready to formulate a plan of action. I can help you with this. Visit: or