One may allegedly be the loneliest number, but at the Greenhouse Theater Center, Artistic Director Jacob Harvey would like to argue that it also makes for one hell of a fine show. In preparation for their upcoming 7-month Solo Celebration! honoring any and all artists who also embrace this fact, I talk to Harvey about his take on the Greenhouse’s singular sensation, from why we should be paying attention to the individual, what it means to stick to your guns as an artist in the city, to how Alan Cumming can perform a mean one-man rendition of Macbeth.
TCR: With fringe festivals and other dramatic special events popping up throughout the country, why specialize in a solo-only fest rather than, say, the more traditional group format?
Harvey: What a great question! First off, let me say that this is not a festival in the truest sense of the word. We are really focusing on the word “celebration,” because it is exactly that. A 7 month celebration of solo plays and artists. Solo works aren’t celebrated enough, and that’s why we are focusing on them this season. This year you will see a wide variety of work from Chicago artists as well as artists from around the country. I am amazed at the amount of stunning work that’s already been submitted to us and encourage more and more to come our way before our submissions close on March 1.
TCR: But is there anything you’re specifically hoping to find in the submission process? Or are you merely excited to see what can be found in the diversity of the submissions?
H: There is already been an enormous amount of diversity in the projects that have been submitted. Greenhouse is a place to nurture theater artists and help the work grow. I am looking for artists who are fearless in their work and passionate in their approach. For example, plays that explore the human experience in thoughtful and inquisitive ways. I am looking forward to partnering with other Chicago artists and artists from the world to bring a wide variety of plays to our stage.
TCR: What do you think the audience can learn from a solo performance that they perhaps cannot learn from a group production?
H: The relationship between the actor and the audience is a very unique and intimate one. It’s like being invited into someone’s home, but in this case, the home is a world that is painted for you by one person on stage. Sometimes that one actor will play multiple roles, and other times, you get to spend an intimate evening with one person and hear their story in the most heartfelt and exhilarating of ways. The rules or value of the play don’t change whether there’s one person on stage or 100 –it’s a magical escape. Although, when that transcendence is ushered by one actor instead of many, it somehow feels a bit more magical, in it’s own way.
TCR: How do you think this Solo Celebration will impact the future of the Greenhouse Theater Center?
H: This is only the beginning for this new chapter of Greenhouse Theater Center. Solo Celebration! is our first season that launches the producing arm of GTC. We are already looking forward to 2017/18 season which will continue to grow the Greenhouse. It’s possible we may feature some solo work next season, but it won’t be the primary focus. Greenhouse Theater Center will continue to expand and will produce a robust season of work in the 17/18 year.
TCR: As the Artistic Director of the Greenhouse Theater Center, do you have any advice for the artists hustling in the city? Perhaps advice for any people thinking about submitting work to the Solo Celebration?
H: Solo work can be a very powerful tool. I’ve always believed that sometimes the best way to get work is to generate your own. By developing a solo piece, you allow the opportunity to explore work you are most curious about and create something that showcases your best talents. You must be your own advocate so others will advocate for you. The hustle is a real thing; we all do it. It’s a necessary evil, but I would encourage anyone to fight the good fight and never stop chasing the dream. In fact, I’m not sure we ever stop chasing it. The work is never finished. There is always more to learn and more exciting ways to grow. Embrace that and stay true to your ideals.
TCR: Finally, what solo performance have you seen in your own lifetime that was life-changing/earth-shattering/plain ol’ stick-to-your-bones wonderful?
H: Hands down the most breathtaking solo work I have ever encountered is that of Anna Deavere Smith. Her ability to study a character and embody their voice, breath and physicality is unlike any other. Her plays do more than transcend brilliant acting; they are activist pieces. They explore subjects like the LA riots in a way that looks at all sides –she educates us and entertains us. I must also nod at Alan Cumming whose one man Macbeth was one of the most breathtaking solo performances I’ve ever seen. His exploration of the Scottish play while inhabiting all the parts through the lens of a man in an asylum was haunting and has stuck with me to this day.
Interested in being a part of the Greenhouse’s Solo Celebration? Fear not! Artists have until March 1st to submit their works to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no fee to apply, so to take a cue from Harvey and hustle forth! You can find additional details on the Greenhouse Theater Center’s website, including what specifically is needed to submit. The Solo Celebration!, hosted and located at the Greenhouse at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, begins on June 1, 2016 and will run through January 8, 2017.