Beautiful and maddening
Iowa Central theater program to perform ‘Solos’ via video-on-demand
For Iowa Central Director of Theater Teresa Jackson, the stars had aligned perfectly when she was in the throes of trying to find a suitable theater production to put on for the college’s annual fall play last year.
For starters, Iowa — and the rest of the world — was in the middle of a global pandemic, so having a large cast rehearse and perform in close, confined spaces wasn’t going to work. And then there was the ever-present worry that COVID cases would spike and the college would shut down.
That’s when Jackson remembered a script a former student in the 1990s had given her from the play “Solos” by Samuel Hazo. The play, a drama, had 36 characters who have their own monologues that are performed individually, but that are interconnected in many ways. The monologues feature themes like the value of hard work, racism, family, loneliness and more.
“It felt like to me, it was destiny,” Jackson said.
She had worried that the play would be too “dated,” given that it was written nearly three decades ago. But Jackson found that many of themes and topics are ones that are still very much relevant in 2021 America.
“I felt this script was a perfect fit for this moment in time,” she said.
Hazo, the playwright from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and the original director of the stage production “Solos” allowed Iowa Central to use his play for a reduced royalty fee and to play the show for a limited time through a protected streaming service.
“I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason and this piece was meant to happen during this time,” Jackson said.
Throughout the process — which started in October — Jackson and her technical theater coordinator Ashely Garst, worked one-on-one with the 36 actors.
“That’s the beauty and the madness of it,” Jackson said.
She said she loves working with individual actors.
“That was the beautiful thing, that I got to do one-on-one — all my attention was right to them and they just blossomed,” Jackson said.
So Jackson and Garst would work with a small handful of actors, meeting them individually for intense rehearsals, for a few weeks and then they would record their video.
Video recording and streaming are not Jackson’s preferred way to do theater.
“We are out of our comfort zone,” she said.
Jackson and Garst had to come up with video transitions to put in between monologues, which all appear independent, but are in fact all connected.
“You don’t get all of the connection until near the end,” she said. “It’s one of those really cool ‘AHA moments.'”
The maddening part of the process, Jackson said, was that by having to work with all the actors individually to film their parts, none of the actors really know how their piece fits in with the rest of the show.
It was also difficult for the actors — about a quarter of whom have never had a speaking role in a theater performance before — to adjust to stage performance for streaming. In a typical theater production, actors would have other actors on the stage to bounce their energy off from, or they’d have people in the audience whose energy they’d feed off of. During rehearsals and taping for “Solos,” it was just the actor by themselves with Jackson and sometimes Garst.
“I’m pretty demanding about how much energy I want,” Jackson said. “I get my cast ready to perform to the level they’re supposed to even when it’s just me.”
Kimberly Garcia, a sophomore from Nevada, Iowa, plays the role of “Eva.”
“You lose an aspect of energy,” Garcia said of performing alone and without an audience. “And you have to make it up on your own to bring that character to life.”
She said it was harder, but more intense as an actor.
“I’ve never done a solo performance or performed a monologue on my own,” Garcia said.
LaDonya Chaney, a sophomore from Fort Dodge, is new to acting and plays the character of “Paula Bear.”
“It’s been fun,” she said.
Chaney also performed in the spring 2020 musical “Newsies,” and noted that it was a completely different experience getting to rehearse and be on stage with the other actors.
Jackson said this time around, she was able to build a diverse cast, partially because the unorthodox methods of producing the show made it easier for more actors to be involved.
“Being in the show was accessible this time because I worked around their schedule,” Jackson said.
Having the show available for streaming widens the potential audience for Iowa Central’s production. However, Jackson said, the content of the show and the topics discussed may not be appropriate for younger viewers. She recommends only high school-aged and older viewers watch the show.
Tickets to stream the “Solos” performance will be available at www.iowacentralmusicandtheatre.com. Tickets are $10 and give the purchaser a link to view the show. The show will be available for 24 hours after the link is activated.