Going Solo

August 10, 2015 / by Sarah Elizabeth Wansley, Fall Fellow


This Friday is Opening Night of the Fringe show I directed, THE BAD GERMAN by/starring Tessa Kim. I’m very excited that my compatriots, the Drama League Fall Fellows will be coming to see my show as part of our Re-Gathering Weekend.

But before they do, I have a confession to make….I don’t really like solo shows. Whenever a friend asks me to come see their solo show, I secretly cringe, imagining 90 pain staking minutes of self-indulgent narrative about the actor’s unhappy childhood / quirky immigrant family / overcoming of some obstacle that turns out to be far less interesting to the audience than to the performer. We’ve all seen those shows. Of course there are exceptions. I first started to change my mind about solo performances after seeing my friend Charlotte Bydwell’s WOMAN OF LEISURE AND PANIC in the Fringe two years ago. Charlotte’s story sounded banal – the hijinks and stresses of life as an aspiring actress / temporary waitress living in a tiny studio – but the form of the piece was something very new. The performance relied heavily on movement instead of text (Charlotte comes from a dance background) and the juxtaposition between Charlotte’s inner monologue (voice over) and her outer actions (live text) turned out to be a quite funny and moving portrayal of the layers of the self. 

So when I was approached about directing THE BAD GERMAN, I thought it was at least worth giving the text a read, despite my hesitations about solo performances. Also, I have a weakness for stories about Holocaust survivors and - the underbelly of the story - post-WWII aftermath in Germany. I studied abroad in Vienna and became completely hooked on the question of how a country (a family, a person) rebuilds after descending into the depths of one of humanity’s darkest moments. When I lived in Vienna I (perhaps stereotypically) was fascinated by this conversation with my Austrian and German friends. Were your grandparents Nazi’s? If not, what did they do in the war? How do you talk about the war today? What is it like to live with the knowledge that this happened in your country? How do you interact with Jewish people today?

Tessa’s piece takes all of these questions head on. It’s a perspective we don’t often hear in the States. The question I always ask of solo shows is – why is this a play? Why not an essay or a memoir? Seeing an actor play many different characters is always technically exciting but is not always thematically meaningful. In Tessa’s piece, however, the question of identity was front and center. Watching her portray her complicated German family, the new American friends that made her confront the stereotypes of Germans, and finally the old Jewish man who gave her a sense of peace is not only entertaining and impressive, but also creates a formal metaphor for her journey. As we watch Tessa grow and change in front of our eyes, we think of all the parts of our own identity we have ever wanted to hide.

Tessa works primarily in TV and film so this process of creating a solo show has been an experiment for both of us. We hope to develop the show further beyond the Fringe, so we are very excited to put our first draft in front of an audience and see what feedback we receive. Come check it out if you can: http://thebadgerman.com/