We just completed the second week of rehearsals for Cinnamon and Cigarettes. Jenny premiered the show at The Fertile Ground Festival this past January and Cassie Greer directed. Helping Jenny revive the piece for a second run in Portland and a run at the San Francisco Fringe Festival is an incredible gift. Cinnamon and Cigarettes is an intensely personal story – it is based on real life events and quotes actual people – and Jenny has fitted those events and quotes to the theatrical form with integrity and artistry. For inspiration, I read Jenny a quote from one of my favorite memoirs at the start of our last rehearsal.
A little background, when Mary Karr was writing her first memoir, The Liar’s Club, about times in her childhood when her family fell apart, author Tobias Wolf wrote her these words of encouragement:
“Don’t approach your history as something to be shaken for cautionary fruit. Tell your stories, and your story will be revealed. Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity. Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth.”
Karr offers them to us in her third memoir, Lit, about her alcoholism, her recovery, and her emergence as a poet and memoirist. It strikes me that all of Wolf’s advice, save the first sentence, can be boiled down to a common piece of advice given to actors: don’t worry over the audience liking your character. It’s simple and therefore difficult. And of course the maddening paradox is that once actors give up wanting the audience to like them and get on with it, with the story-telling, with the being who they are and where they are, we love them for it.
While it's a truism that no show is complete without an audience, that is even more the case in solo shows.
Solo shows are all about that actor-audience dynamic and some of our best rehearsals have been spent exploring who the relationship the narrator of Cinnamon and Cigarettes imagines having with the audience in each moment. Who are they to her? What does she want from them? What are the consequences of getting or not getting it?