LISTENING TO THE SECRET YOU
All For One’s Artistic Director Michael Wolk recently spoke to his passion for solo theater at Stand Up for Passion at the French Consulate in New York. Featuring 7 inspiring speakers for 7 minutes each, these events feature individuals with unique, inspiring, and passionate stories – everyone from scientists to entrepreneurs, artists to travelers. Here is the transcript from Michael’s speech:
My name is Michael Wolk, and I’m a filmmaker, screenwriter. novelist, playwright, songwriter and producer – or as my Dad says, “A jack of all trades, and a master of none.”
As a “master of none” I’m most comfortable in my role as producer: the guy behind the scenes making nervous phone calls, signing checks, soothing the talent. I don’t stand up for my passion I stand behind other people and their passions. I am a ghost.
I like being where you are: in the audience, listening.. I especially like being in a theater audience and five years ago, I confess I got hooked on what is considered by some the lowest form of theater. Solo Theater. One person shows.
A lot of people have never seen a one person show. They can’t imagine how one person can even be a show. A show to many is Broadway, $150 tickets, a high-kicking chorus, an orchestra, Spiderman whizzing above your head. But one person???
I feel theater is best when it’s intimate and solo theater is the most intimate of all. It’s always one to one; no matter how many people are in the audience performer is always speaking to YOU.
A solo show can be about anything: it can be fact or fiction, a tale of personal triumph or a searing indictment of a social wrong. But if it is a great solo show it will transplant you and transform you, move you through time and space and emotion so you come away wiser and in some way reborn. And for me (a jack of all trades and master of none) there’s nothing more inspiring than watching a master solo performer on stage with every muscle and brain cell fiercely focused on delivering the story they were born and driven to tell.
Producing solo shows exposed a shocking fact: none of these remarkable stories, none of these stunning performances would exist if not for a listener. And that’s where you come in. And okay, that’s where I come in, too. Because suddenly, right here, right now, I have become a solo show. Only a seven minute solo show, hopefully, but a solo show. What brings a ghost like me to stand up for his passion?
I presented and took so many workshops on how to write a solo show that I learned this secret: while my classmates and I burned with desire to share a vital story from our human experience most of us didn’t a clue what our story was. So we’d write a short piece, get up in front of people and try it out. And people would say, “that’s not really you.” Or: “What are you NOT telling us?” Or: “You are not telling us the most important thing you know.”
And in being listened to, the stories grew braver and deeper. The responsibility of having listeners makes you at last truly listen to yourself. Perhaps you have Pulitzer Prize winning voice – but you will never hear your voice, or your story, until you share with listeners.
Observing this, I asked myself: What am I trying to express with my living and dying breath? What are the deepest, most sacred truths I have to share?
And I’ll ask you: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?And if you fall in this human forest, without sharing your most sacred truths, without passing on the fire that animates you through this life, will you make a sound?
This question scared me so much, not only am I here in front of you now, I will be on stage next month at the Cherry Lane Theatre, performing my one-person musical, Ghostlight Nine.
Taking these solo show workshops made me see how much I had pushed my creativity into the background – but once I started writing, singing, telling my story, here’s the kicker: My solo show turned out to be a ghost story, told by a ghost.
The play is titled Ghostlight Nine and it takes place in Broadway theater haunted by a tragic death. The cast meets for a séance to summon the spirit — and discovers that it is NOT a ghost, but an actual guy who has lived hidden in the theater for decades.
I tell everyone that my show is 100% autobiographical. And it is! In a metaphorical way, it is totally me.
This jack of all trades and master of none has finally found a way to use all of my skills, all of myself to tell my story.
And that’s the thing about solo work. Your story can reveal the truest you. Because you’re not selling yourself. You’re telling yourself.
Thanks to STAND UP FOR PASSION and thanks to all of you in this room for listening to me express my passion. I leave you with a wish that you will find your room, your listeners, and you will start speaking your mind, your heart, your passion.
You’ll be amazed at the story you tell. And you will be rewarded by hearing the sacred, and until now, secret, you.