Soloists prepare ’Dialogue”

This weekend Williams will host the first Dialogue One Solo Theatre Festival, an international theatre exhibition under the direction of Omar Sangare, assistant professor of theatre. The festival will highlight professionals as well as students and begins on Dec. 6. The first two nights of performances will feature Ilya Khodosh “08, Terry Tamm “08, Andres Lopez “09 and Mandy O”Connor “10, all currently students in Sangare”s Solo Performance class. Their presentation, called Madame Tussaud, LIVE, will run at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. All day Saturday the Festival continues, featuring solo performances from visiting artists Kali Quinn, Jessica L. Johnson, Jonathan Pereira and Herbert Kaluza.

The concept behind the festival is best summed up by its motto, penned by Sangare himself: “There are no monologues. You are involved in dialogue, at least with the universe itself.” It is in this spirit that the event”s performers will deliver their solo pieces this weekend.

The students of Sangare”s Solo Performance class speak highly of its educational merits, described by Tamm as akin to an acting boot camp. O”Connor summarized the course as a whole package of theater, by giving students the opportunity to write, direct and perform in their own solo pieces. Unlike most other courses in the theatre major, the Solo Performance class culminates in a production and places focus on the process, producing a polished show after many stages of development. Lopez cited different reasons for initially being interested in the class, saying he hoped it would help him with the opening and closing statements delivered by lawyers, as they bear close similarities to the art of solo performance itself, illustrating its interdisciplinary applications.

For the subject of his original piece, English major Tamm decided to pick a tortured writer, and after reading a biography on Jack Kerouac, concluded that the agony Kerouac went through in his life would make excellent theatre. Lopez”s portrayal of Bud, a character designed after Marlon Brando, he admitted was initially inspired because many people noted his resemblance to the famed actor. O”Connor chose a lesser-known historical figure, Maréchal Lannes, after researching on Wikipedia, while Khodosh”s decision to play gangster Meyer Lanksy was derived from a desire to develop greater control in his acting and increased attention to specifics and awareness of details.

The art of solo performance certainly hones all of these qualities. For one, being the only actor in a show allows the freedom to be in the moment, according to Lopez. However, it also comes with some drawbacks, like varied degrees of success from show to show. The students also agreed that they appreciate the format”s benefits, which Tamm described as the possibility for such control over emotions and gestures, although O”Connor noted solo performances take a lot of concentration to maintain this level of focus and intensity under the scrutiny of attentive audiences.

Sangare”s motivation for creating the festival derives from his experiences traveling with his own solo performance piece. “When I came to Williams, I realized this is the perfect place to achieve this dream as I found very supportive energy in the department and the positive will to develop new ideas,” he said. According to Sangare, the festival is a dream come true, an event based on European theatre heritage and designed to foster appreciation for solo theatre internationally. Fittingly, Dialogue One is the only solo festival in the United States. The festival, which will be an annual event, is also expected to grow each year, with more international artists being represented.

This past Sunday I was able to preview a portion of Madame Tussaud, LIVE, which provided a glimpse into what the festival will bring. Because only one actor is featured in each piece, there is a greater intensity and focus on every sign gesture, facial expression, vocal inflection and other nuance that magnifies to portray their character”s emotions or thoughts. For an actor, this heightened vulnerability means they must be completely engrossed in their character at all times – existing, not just entertaining. When executed successfully, audiences forget that another human being is playing the role and that they are watching an actor, believing the voice and mannerisms to be the actor”s own.

On the CenterStage of the “62 Center for Theatre and Dance, minimalist sets enhance details such as posture, the set of the jaw, tenseness of muscles and stance to rather than marginalizing them with flashy sets, lights, or costumes that detract from natural and honest expressions of a convincing portrayal. The utterly invasive intimacy between an audience and the subject of a solo performance is thus enhanced by the festival”s location on CenterStage.

The Dialogue One Solo Theatre Festival will take place Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the “62 Center CenterStage.

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