Few things are more terrifying than facing an audience on your own. Will they get it? Will they laugh at the right spots or cringe? Will they be moved to tears or boredom? There is no one to fall blame except perhaps the lighting and sound tech. Al Lafrance and his partner in crime/fiancée, Sophie Croteau, give performers a chance to try out their solo shows at the annual Solos Theatre festival, now in its third year, run in conjunction with the Mainline Theatre. I talked to Lafrance about solo performance — he has done some himself — and the festival. He’s one of the most well-spoken and down to earth people to speak to in the Montreal theatre scene.
Lafrance explains that there’s a certain solitary mindset that goes with solo performance. “It’s an annual celebration of solo performance, theatre based performance and solitude in general,” he says. “As a solo performer myself and having known a lot of solo performers, we like to spend time alone. People like to say that they should spend more time interacting. I’m not against that, but alone time is underappreciated.”
This year the festival had more applications than ever before, which allowed Croteau and Lafrance to consider the programming of the festival. “It was great,” he says. “Some [applicants] came out of nowhere. A lot are people we know. Everyone went through formal process of filling out the application, though.”
I ask he chooses who performs. “We weigh the pros and cons of each show,” he says. “We try to do nights that make sense so people will stay for two shows. And Jon Bennett – when he says he wants to do a world premiere at your festival, you say yes.” (Australian gypsy Jon Bennett has performed in Montreal’s Fringe Festival and the world in general for many years with shows like Pretending Things are a Cock and Fire in the Meth Lab. Any chance to see him is worthwhile — read our interview with him HERE.)
Lafrance gushes about every show. I beg him to tell me about just one. “The closing night is really interesting. There was a show called Analysis of Failure at the Fringe which Sophie and I loved. It was super weird, an experimental show, and very different from everything else I’d ever seen. A guy in character talks about a failed musical project of several years ago and gives a detailed analysis why he’s a failure as a musician. It’s super introspective. The show is stumbly and almost a failure. It’s the most meta-thing in the world. So the show he’s doing at Solos is an an analysis of an analysis of failure. There’s an extra level added to it. I’m not sure of the details of the new one, but no one tears apart the artistic process like he does.”
“To partner up with that is Lar Vi who has performed at Fringe successfully. She with Total Liquidation. Lar’s character, Hamhock Velvet, a former big time rocker who is now a chill old dude. I’ve seen her do performances as Hamhock and I was like I’d watch that character for an hour, so she developed an hour of him talking about how his band came to be and fell apart, and how his career has gone since.” Lafrance and I agree that the two shows together are a perfect pairing.
But the two shows aren’t all for the closer. “It’s followed by a video dance party. It’s a dance party, except music videos are being projected as well,” Lafrance says.
One feature of the Solos festival is its focus. The first year was a mix of shows and musical acts. They have also included storytelling in the past as well as magic. “This year, we tried to go more theatrical,” Lafrance says. “We want to focus on theatre.”
I ask if Lafrance sees the festival as part of his own artistic development and if he has any personal insights into solo performance, having done it himself. “Well, yeah, I think everything I do artistically is connected in some way,” he says. “For sure, it’s fucking terrifying to do a solo performance. That’s what’s great about it. That’s why we picked an octopus as our imagery; an octopus is terrifying. We have eight tentacles, eight shows. So, it all works out. I know that it’s scary to do. My own solo show, I talked about writing for two years before I sat down and wrote it. I know that having deadline and having motivation and someone there to check in on you how the show is coming along can be helpful. Not everyone has those resources. Not everybody knows what they’re doing when they do a solo show. A festival like this can be helpful for people to do that. A lot of people are doing their first solo show and we provide help. We put it on the application: what do you want from us? Direction? Staging? Writing help? What do you need? We can do that.”
Lafrance also wants everyone to know that the festival this year will include a storytelling workshop open to everyone, not just theatre folk by Zoe Daniels. She’s an accomplished storyteller and stand up comedienne who will be teaching “how to tell your true life stories on stage without boring everyone.” The workshop, Lafrance says, will be adapted to the needs of the attendees.
The best thing about this year’s Solos show is we don’t have to wait 365 days for the next one. Lafrance and Croteau are moving the festival to April. “We’ve already received a bunch of applications and started programming,” Lafrance says.
The Solos Festival takes place from November 25-28 at the Mainline Theatre (3997 St Laurent). Tickets are $15 for one show, $25 for both. Schedule HERE. Info on Zoe Daniel’s workshop can be found HERE.