Seven playwrights will share their life experiences through one-person shows at the SoulOTheatre Festival from May 23 to 26 at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre.
The festival is the brainchild of Tracey Erin Smith, who runs a workshop program called SoulOTheatre that helps participants write a solo play that they later perform for friends and family. Most of these programs last around 10 weeks, but the festival will include single sessions.
“We use theatrical alchemy to transform that raw material into theatre,” Smith said.
The stories are all based on their own lives. Daniel Stolfi will perform his play Cancer Can’t Dance Like This, which uses comedy to portray his experience with cancer. Precious Chong, daughter of Cheech & Chong’s Tommy Chong, will recount her life growing up with a famous father in Precious, like the Adjective.
“I think they’re all amazing and that’s why we’ve chosen them,” Smith said. The festival will also showcase the work of several graduates of the program, though their connection to the program was a coincidence, she said.
“We put a call out to all of Canada and beyond to apply to the festival. It just happened that the ones who were selected, a few of them have been through the program, which makes sense because it’s not a huge community in terms of solo performers in the Toronto area,” she said.
Smith described one-person shows as one of the most powerful and accessible forms of theatre that exists.
“It’s an art form that belongs to anyone who wants it,” she said. “You don’t have to audition, you don’t have to be a professional actor or have any professional training. All you need is to the have the willingness to perform and an audience to listen.”
Getting the audience is the biggest challenge in this type of show, she said, but once someone sees this type of theatre, “they love it. It’s hilarious, it’s moving.”
She describes one-person shows as therapeutic, but not therapy. People are able to take control of their stories rather than feel controlled by it, Smith said. “They are the creator and they can decide how they want to put it into their piece.” Then, they perform it and the audience witnesses the story and are able to understand and learn from it.
Smith will be speaking about the healing aspect at a panel called “The Healing Power of Personal Storytelling.” Other panels will cover topics such as how to promote a show and how the festival’s performers conceived their own stories.
Smith added a Jewish element to her workshops when she joined City Shul as the artist-in-residence last autumn. Congregants go through the program and produce a show that incorporates their Jewish experiences. She said this program was perfect for her, as someone who once dreamed of becoming of rabbi.
“Instead I chose this path to combine my two passions – spirituality and theatre,” she said. “These shows really are a spiritual experience.”
For more information about SoulOTheatre and the festival, visit soulo.ca.