Editor's Note: The 2019 Dallas Solo Fest runs June 6-16 at Theatre Too, the downstairs space of Theatre Three in Dallas' The Quadrangle. Our coverage of the event will include interviews with all eight artists, and we'll also review each show as well. To see more info about the performers and their shows, as well as info on tickets, go here. All of our DSF coverage appears in a special section on TheaterJones. You can click the Dallas Solo Fest 2019 section title at the top of this page to see more articles. A full schedule of the festival appears at the bottom of this interview.
In this one: Brad McEntire, who founded the festival and is performing in it for the first time, with his work Cyrano A-Go-Go. His first performance is 7 p.m. on Friday, June 7.
Brad McEntire’s name is almost synonymous with solo performance in the Dallas theatre community, and this year’s festival exemplifies it. As Artistic Director for Audacity Theatre Lab, McEntire already hosts year-round Solo Salon workshop opportunities for local performers, then kicks into high-gear by producing the Dallas Solo Fest in summer, organizing performers from across the country to come to Dallas and share their work. This year, he’s taken on an additional challenge by performing in the festival as well, and, if that weren’t enough, it’s his first ever performance where he plays himself. In an email interview, TheaterJones asked McEntire about his show Cyrano A-Go-Go, his passion for solo performance, and his vision for Solo Fest’s future.
TheaterJones: You say Cyrano A-Go-Go is "semi-autobiographical" — how much is fact, how much is fiction, and how did you decide on that balance?
Brad McEntire: The show traces my development in the theatre over the last 20 *cough* years, starting with the first play I ever picked up and read all the way through: Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. I also tie in a lot about the themes of that play, a behind-the-scenes look at its history and touch on the real-life historical figure of Cyrano de Bergerac.
My hope is that my show is jam-packed with just as much action, poetry and tragic romance as the play at the center of my exploration.
I have been an armchair scholar obsessed with Rostand’s play for years. It also struck me that a lot of my perception of what theatre is all about comes from that play, such was the impression it made. You know how your first encounter with something affects your views of that thing. Remember the first book you read in a certain genre? The first song from a certain band?
This is the only work I have created, solo or otherwise, where I play myself on stage. I usually don’t go in so much for autobiographical shows. I am a sucker for narrative and not so much a fan of “confessional” one-person shows. So, this show is me trying to bridge that divide, to make an autobiographical show that has the pacing and structure of a good old-fashioned yarn.
Cyrano de Bergerac is a play that is more than 120 years old — why does it feel important to revisit it in our current moment?
Ever since Cyrano de Bergerac debuted in 1897, we have lived in a Cyrano age. Rostand's play has never really gone out of theatrical style or popularity. It is part of the canon. It is produced just as often as any Shakespeare play. Every decade or so an actor, or production, has come along to redefine Cyrano for a new generation.
In fact, the Cyrano story is one of the truly durable theatrical myths, ever-recurrent on our stages, and ever-changeable. This evergreen quality is one of the things I explore in the show.
The play speaks to current audiences just as it spoke to those that witnessed it when it premiered. In fact, the opening night of Cyrano de Bergerac was a lightning rod in French theatre history. Here’s a quick bit of context…
France was not yet a really cohesive society in the 1890s.
The sting of defeat from the Franco-Prussian war still lingered. There was a failed military coup by a rouge general to overthrow the government followed by a foreign policy scandal that was embarrassing on a world-wide scale. After this, there was a series of explosions all over Paris by homegrown terrorists. Then, in 1894, the President of France was stabbed to death in the streets by an anarchist.
To top it all off, the Dreyfus Affair was in full swing. In the mid-1890s Captain Alfred Dreyfus was found guilty of spying for the Germans and sentenced to exile. New evidence subsequently invalidated the court martial verdict, but the army, supported by the government, sought to suppress it. Just before Cyrano opened this evidence became publicly known and the whole thing blew up across France.
Families were split between those backing Dreyfus, demanding a retrial, and those —against all evidence — still backing the government and the army, and the original verdict.
Dreyfus became the dividing issue and brought to a head tensions between the left and the right, church and state, monarchists and republicans and so on.
A country under the strain of tension and division. That doesn’t sound familiar at all, right?
That is one of the reasons Cyrano made such an impact. The very duality of the play appealed to audiences across the aisle from one another.
On one hand, the piece offered a comforting image of a brave and fearless soldier who hails from a golden age of French military might. On the other hand, Cyrano is anti-establishment, fiercely independent, and relishes challenging authority at every turn.
Cyrano had a massive unifying effect. It is not an understatement to say that the play, and its ripple effect, helped in bringing a nation together at just the time and place in history when it was needed most.
You're pulling double-duty at Solo Fest this year as both performer and producer, in addition to serving as artistic director for Audacity Theatre Lab. You've been so committed to building and growing the solo performance community in Dallas. Where does your passion for solo performance come from and what has kept you so invested in that work?
I am all for traditional ensemble plays. I think collaboration, especially with fellow artists who are equally driven and enthusiastic, can be a wonderful thing. Solo performance offers a nice alternative to this (not replacement, but alternative).
Due to the personal nature of the work, a solo performer is someone who takes full responsibility for his or her work, both onstage and off. Solo performers not only create the work and perform it, but market it and often design it themselves. They wear all the hats. I guess I like the challenge of that.
Also, a solo performer should have something idiosyncratic to say. He or she is not interpreting someone else’s lines, someone else’s story, but striving to express something original. The goal is uncompromised and uninhibited personal expression.
As to why I keep after it, I genuinely love creating and touring my one-person shows. I enjoy the travel, the networking with other artists and sharing my work with far-flung audiences. I enjoy the intimate nature of it. You don’t need a huge audience for a one-person show (I’m not against that, by the way. Huge audiences are A-OK with me). Really, you just need a cozy room full of folks who listen, and you can engage with.
Despite how difficult the work itself is, the whole thing still has a veneer of romance to it.
The making of the work is always difficult and challenging, but when I complete a piece enough to show to people, I feel an immense sense of achievement. I had to work for it. A lot of things these days offer only shallow instant gratification. Making a one-person theatre project is not one of those things.
In a TheaterJones interview last year, you said you originally set out to do just five years of the Dallas Solo Fest. As this is the festival's fifth year, what do you now see on the horizon?
When I started it, I kind of inwardly vowed to run this experiment for five years. That would give me time and experience to see if the whole thing had traction.
Despite challenges, the festival has improved each year. Audience attendance has grown, though only incrementally. Personally, I have enjoyed getting to know new solo performers and introducing them to Dallas audiences. And the audiences themselves have been very enthusiastic.
Whether the DSF continues is kind of up in the air. It depends on the demand. Demand comes across as ticket sales and audience response, but also press coverage and general reception in the arts community. I am very sensitive to how things are received in the cultural landscape. If it doesn’t seem like this sort of festival is needed, then I’m not going to try to hell-or-high-water it onto the community.
If I feel it is needed, great. I’d love to produce it for another five or 10 years, making it better and better. So, as for the Dallas Solo Fest itself and future fests, I’m kinda playing that by ear.
As for what else could be on the horizon, I do not have a shortage of big ideas I want to try out. So, we’ll see…
What is your hope for solo performance artists here in Dallas? Nationally?
One of the motivations I had when the Dallas Solo Fest began was to import some of the best, most content-diverse solo shows from performers around the country. The flip side of this would be to “export” local solo performers with their shows to the wider world.
This import/export exchange could eventually be an anytime thing, not just during the DSF. I could envision Dallas becoming a sort of hub for self-initiating theatre artists, creating original one-person shows. Dallas could be like a southwestern version of San Francisco with its Marsh Theatre or The Moth Storytellers community in New York. I mean, Fred Curchack lives and teaches here. This city already has a bit of a pedigree.
The DFW area has turned out a slew of great one-person productions in just the last few seasons not even connected to the DSF. Look at Sherry Jo Ward’s excellent Stiff, look at Jason O’Connell’s The Dork Knight at Amphibian Stage Productions.
Over the last couple of years, Audacity Theatre Lab has hosted Solo Salons for DFW-area performers to workshop works-in-progress and to foster a growing solo performance community in the north Texas area. Some of the shows in this year’s DSF have been developed at the Solo Salons, actually.
As for solo performance on a wider scale, I am not exactly sure. Though it has been a thing for ages, I feel solo performance has only in the last decade been perceived as a real legitimate format. Unfortunately, it is still sometimes viewed as a narcissistic showcase kind of thing. Or it is mixed up with other one-person formats like stand-up comedy or TED Talks.
Since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, theatres around the country were more and more willing to give solo performance a chance since the production costs are comparatively low for one-person productions. Arts Centers around the country continue to “round out” their subscriber packages with solo performers… if those performers have a bit of a name.
I used to think maybe solo performance is nothing better than a stepping stone to another career. Past soloists like John Leguizamo, Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Bogosian and Anna Deveare Smith leveraged their solo performance fame into film and television roles. And more or less stopped there.
I do hope solo performance catches on more in mainstream theatre — or hell, just the mainstream in general. It would be great to see a solo performer someday playing to large theatres or even stadiums the way some comedians have done. Or maybe we’ll someday see Netflix specials of one-person shows. Maybe. If those things happen, I think that it is still a ways off.
DALLAS SOLO FEST 2019 SCHEDULE
Thursday, June 6
7:00 pm... Sexology: The Musical! by Melanie Moseley
8:30 pm... Girl Dad by Justin Lemieux
Friday, June 7
7:00 pm... Cyrano A-Go-Go by Brad McEntire
8:30 pm... Sexology: The Musical! by Melanie Moseley
10:00 pm... Based on Actual Events by Jaye Lee Vocque
Saturday, June 8
5:30 pm... Cyrano A-Go-Go by Brad McEntire
7:00 pm... Based on Actual Events by Jaye Lee Vocque
8:30 pm... Critical, Darling! by Brigham Mosley
10:00 pm... Sexology: The Musical! by Melanie Moseley
Sunday, June 9
3:00 pm... Based on Actual Events by Jaye Lee Vocque
5:30 pm... Critical, Darling! by Brigham Mosley
7:00 pm... Cyrano A-Go-Go by Brad McEntire
Thursday, June 13
7:00 pm... The Marvelous Mechanical Musical Maiden by Carmel Clavin
8:30 pm... Who You Calling a Bitch?!? By Sacha Elie
Friday, June 14
7:00 pm... Girl Dad by Justin Lemieux
8:30 pm... Keeping Up with the Jorgensons by Jeremy Julian Greco
10:00 pm... The Marvelous Mechanical Musical Maiden by Carmel Clavin
Saturday, June 15
5:30 pm... The Marvelous Mechanical Musical Maiden by Carmel Clavin
7:00 pm... Who You Calling a Bitch?!? By Sacha Elie
8:30 pm... Critical, Darling! by Brigham Mosley
10:00 pm... Keeping Up with the Jorgensons by Jeremy Julian Greco
Sunday, June 16
3:00 pm... Keeping Up with the Jorgensons by Jeremy Julian Greco
5:30 pm... Who You Calling a Bitch?!? By Sacha Elie
7:00 pm... Girl Dad by Justin Lemieux