Gone Solo

Tucson’s first Solo Theatre Festival brings new works to life

Playwright/actress Monica Bauer has only been a resident of Tucson about six months, but she's already making a mark on Tucson's theater scene.

There's nothing much going on theater-wise for the week between Christmas and New Year's, she says, and that seemed just the right time for introducing the first annual Solo Theater Festival.

From Dec. 29 to Jan. 3, she has scheduled five plays, each with a solo performer, which will be presented at various times each day. The shows will be performed at the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music.

"Solo theater is really a new trend," she explains. "It's an inexpensive way to get new plays out there. Producing a show is so expensive that it's hard to get them produced. So, many playwrights are specifically writing shows for a solo performer. It's simple to produce, and it can travel easily."

Bauer, who moved to Tucson with her husband from New Haven, has performed many roles in her professional life, including running for Congress in her home state of Nebraska. "The party made me the nominee. Obviously they were really desperate." She didn't win.

The trajectory of her professional pursuits have been so varied that "I really need a power point to explain it," she says.

Years ago, while studying at Yale, she was encouraged to pursue playwriting, but she had a small child and felt she needed a more stable life than theater would provide. She told herself she would get back to it someday, and when her daughter left for college, she did.

After getting a graduate degree in theater at Boston University, she "spent nine years clawing my way to the center of off-off Broadway." Several of her theater friends had moved to Tucson, and they encouraged her "to come here and take a look."

She was looking for a vibrant arts community where the cost of living was reasonable. There aren't that many places like that, she says. She and her husband looked at Asheville (North Carolina) and Austin (Texas), but "the wonderful, quirky qualities of Tucson" appealed to her. They visited last May and bought a house two weeks later.

"I wanted to say hello to my new hometown as a theater artist and wondered what I could bring to the table that was different." Thus was born the idea for the Tucson Solo Theater Festival. She invited folks from L.A. and New York, whose work she knows and respects, to come perform. "I couldn't do this in New York or L.A. To get a venue like the Cabaret would be too expensive. I would have to mortgage my house."

Bauer says some shows in place for the Tucson festival have been well received at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland and have toured extensively in the both U.K. and the U.S. Bauer, who produced her own solo shows at the 2012 and 2013 Edinburgh Fringe says she and her co-producer, Cheryl King  "are eager to share our love for solo theater with theatergoers in Tucson who are looking for something new and fresh." King is formerly the artistic director of New York's Stage Left Studio.

Bauer says the five shows cover a variety of subjects and styles. Some are comedies, some are dramas, and subjects range from LGBT issues to a new play about gun violence in the U.S.

In A British Christmas, international actor Dikran Tulaine, who can be seen in the NBC series, "The Blacklist," puts his own spin, in modern dress, on Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol.

Grapefruit, by co-producer King, tells her true story of a cancer patient's tragicomic struggles with an insurance company and Big Pharma.

The Gun Show, a provocative piece about gun violence, has been a hit in Chicago, Philadelphia and Berkeley this last year. This is the only piece to be performed by a Tucson actor—Clark Andreas Ray. A conversation with the audience will take place after this show.

Bauer's own Made for Each Other, a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, is a boy-meets-boy love story performed by New York actor John Fico.

Bauer will perform her own coming-of-age play, The Year I was Gifted, about her year as a scholarship kid trying to survive in a fancy prep school with the help of her first gay friend.

Interestingly, that friend turned out to be a very talented man. Bill Sherwood wrote the 1986 film Parting Glances, which has turned out to be a landmark film of gay cinema, being the first feature film about gay men with AIDS. It was Sherword's first film. He died of AIDS in 1990. Bauer say she likes to try to have the film screened wherever she performs The Year I was Gifted. So in conjunction with the festival, the Loft Cinema is screening it on Sunday, Dec. 27 at noon. The money from that screening will go to the Southern Arizona Aids Foundation. 

Tickets, which can be bought through their website, are $25 for each show, but on the first day, you can see two shows for that price. For people who self-identify as low-income, the price is $15 for each show. 

Bauer says that these solo pieces, each running about an hour, "don't feel like small plays. Each leaves you feeling like you've had a whole evening at the theater. It's a whole complete story. It's not a scene. It's not a monologue. It's not a little tidbit. It's a full meal."

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