Theater archives

Why So Many One-Person Shows Right Now?


Holland Taylor as Ann Richards. Alan Cumming as Macbeth. Bette Midler as Sue Mengers. Fiona Shaw as the Virgin Mary.

Why such an avalanche of solo outings on Broadway (though to be fair, Cumming has two medical workers watching him and occasionally murmuring something)?

Easy: The economy!

There’s no better way to save cash than putting a single person onstage (even a star) and having them just talk and talk and then take a bow. And there’s no fighting over who gets the last bow, by the way. They get the only bow.

Besides, you don’t have to deal with all those messy extra things–like other people these actors might be talking to, who generally like to get paid as well.

Instead, the star can simply talk to the audience (“Hi, welcome to my world. Let me tell you a few stories”) or even more bizarrely, to themselves. (“I’ve got some nagging thoughts that I really need to articulate right now. Sorry if it’s a bother, folks, but then again you paid to hear this.”)

This genre always struck me as the height of nerve because to me, theater should involve conversation, contact, conflict, and other factors that have long been the basis of what makes for good drama. I’d rather see something happen than watch someone sit there and tell you about it and/or talk on the phone about it to a nonexistent person! I’d rather watch 20 people try to play three roles than one person playing 45.

All that being said, some of these shows are really good. And I’m not alone in that.