By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Can a theatre festival invigorate or even sustain a larger artistic culture? That question is implicit in fests like FringeNYC and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, which demonstrate the energy in the indie theatre community or the world of composers and lyricists.
From September 14 through 30 at the Cherry Lane, the All For One Festival will try to do the same for solo theatre.
Granted, one-person shows are hardly rare: There were dozens at this year's Fringe, and companies like Stage Left Studio are entirely focused on solo work.
But the creators of All For One, which launched last year, are aware of that. They're trying to marshal those resources into one place for two intense weeks.
To that end, the festival is not only presenting new shows by ten solo performers, but also hosting a series of workshops and conversations with luminaries in the field. On September 20 and 22, for instance, Emmy Award-winner Leslie Jordan (Will & Grace, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet) will perform his latest show Fruit Fly, which asks if gay men become their mothers. In between those performances, on September 21, he'll co-host a session on how directors and solo performers collaborate.
Meanwhile, Tony Award nominee Lynne Taylor-Corbett (Swing) will direct Asking For It, Joanna Rush's look at female sexuality, and the pair will lead a panel on using movement in a solo piece. Other shows are directed by the likes of Colman Domingo and B.D. Wong, while stalwarts like Deb Margolin and Gretchen Cryer are leading sessions on everything from using music in a show to turning a personal story into theatre. Even the artistic directors of the Fringe and Stage Left are scheduled to speak.
"We're trying to create a mini-campus," says Michael Wolk, All For One's executive producer. "Our mission is not only to present solo performance, but to propagate it and make sure there's more of it. We want to give people the tools to do really good solo work and get them out of the self-therapy ghetto that solo work can sometimes descend into."
Wolk, who has co-produced Pacific Overtures on Broadway and several pieces in the Lincoln Center Festival, says he's talked to dozens of solo performers, and they've told him they don't have a steady community. The necessary isolation of their work often keeps them from meeting each other, and he hopes All For One can spark a new bond.
He also wants to support these shows after the festival is over, and he is committed to finding bookings in venues throughout the country. (Several of last year's pieces, including Jenni Wolfson's Rwanda-inspired Rash, have gone on to further productions.)
This is an ambitious slate for a festival that's barely begun, and it's been largely supported by a private endowment that funded All For One's first two years. That money runs out in just a few weeks, though, and then the team will have to fundraise like everyone else. That reality has clarified Wolk's sense of purpose. "If we don't raise enough money to do a festival of this nature next year, we might just take our festival on the road and just devote all of our resources to the bookings," he says.
Whatever happens, Wolk remains clear on why he's interested in solo theatre. "I've always been compelled by people who know what they want to share with the world, and these people are examples of that," he says. "I've had a diverse career---writer, producer, director, whatever---but I've never really just honed in on something. And so that singularity of purpose is just so compelling to me."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor