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How to Put on a One Person Show - 'Bettie Davis' shares her secrets
Written by: Kelly Calabrese
One thing is for certain, putting
on a one person show takes a triple layer of tough skin and enough hootspa to
outlast the Energizer bunny. It ain't the
right road for a vapor thin spirit and
neither is the relentless path taken by NYC actor JESSICA SHERR who stars in
her own one person show - BETTE DAVIS
AIN'T FOR SISSIES.
Jessica Sherr, Sweet, Petite, Kooky and Upbeat, grew up in El Cajon, California and has long been called a creative. At age 3, she found herself tap dancing to “Frosty the Snowman” and by age 5 she was choreographing dance pieces to Mickey Mouse’s Splash Dance and mounting shows in her pool.
BETTE DAVIS AIN'T FOR SISSIES, which Jessica has also written, was selected for the prestigious FringeNYC in 2011. Today, she continues to drive forward and dazzle audiences with ongoing performances at local New York theatres.
What makes Jessica's one woman show so successful? She stops nothing! Except, of course, to answer a couple questions from NYCastings about how-to launch a one person production...
Q: How do you take an idea from conception to stage and fringe festivals?
With my show, it was originally a project in a class I was taking called SLICES OF LIVES at the Susan Batson Studio. I got the idea because a friend said I look like Bette Davis. That turned into a mini show that was eight minutes long and from there I decided to turn it into a feature show. actually, when I turned it into the fringe festival I had no choice but to turn it into a feature show, an hour long.
Q: When is your next show?
My next show is:
Tickets are $12.00 with a 2 drink minimum:
Within the class that I took, everyone was given exercises to do and then you take that information to inform your character. If the exercise is a phone call to your mom and it is 1940, that is different phone call then you would have in 1989. We use the research to create a world. In my case, instead of talking to my mother I was talking to Jack Warner the head of Warner Brothers. At the end of the show I let that idea go. It became me on the stage talking with Jack Warner about my issues with the studio. So, the ideas evolved.
Q: How do you raise money to pull a one woman show off?
I have a day job as a personal trainer and that is where my bread and butter has come from for nine years. I also did Kickstarter, which helped. I raised finds that went solely to the Fringe Festival. Right now I'm doing the show at The Triad, and I am financing it myself. I chose a venue that only requires a certain amount of people so I don't have to worry about paying director fees or lighting fees. I rehearse in my bedroom and save so much money. You can also barter with friends. I barter a ton. In my mind, I also try to make it good for the other person who I am bartering with or else they won't work with me again.
One other way I make funds for my show is with my Always Actor Business Coaching.
Q: How much does a one woman cost to put on?
The show has cost quite a bit because not only did I produce at the Triad in January and May I also did the Fringe Festival. These aren't accurate but this is a guess:
The Fringe Festival was quite a lot because you have to pay to be in the Fringe. I spent around $8,500 for Fringe which was director, lighting designer, sound designer, advertising, costumes, set rentals, venue manager, etc.
Triad Theater: Cost about:
$800. (For director, house manager,
lighting person, taping the show, props, tech rehearsals)
Q: Can a one woman show make money?
Yes, absolutely. My show in January for Bette Davis at the Triad made money. I had 116 people come, which was shocking. They paid their $12 at the door, only a small stipend goes to Triad, and then I get to keep the rest.
To help build an audience, sometimes I give out free tickets because that means they will bring a paying friend. And they will tell their friends about the show. I have people who came last week and are coming again because they had so much fun.
Q: How did you get the press shots taken?
My mom is really good at taking pictures. No, I am teasing. But when I was a kid my mom used to take a million pictures of me so they are important to me. I like to have pictures for my events. For this show, I asked a friend to take pictures for me who has an interest in the 1940s. His name is John DeAmara. We have a good time together and I think the pictures reflect that. I always try and pick photographers who have an interest in the world that I am living in.
Q: How do you promote the show to sell tickets?
There are two parts to this.
One is that I stand on the street corner in front of Fairway and hand out postcards. I've decided that location is the epicenter of NYC. And The Triad is across the street so I get a lot of tickets sold off the street.
The other way is Facebook, obviously. I have a monthly mailer that I have for Jessica the actress. I use a ton of pictures because people like pictures. And I am good at emailing people individually. You have to take the time to reach out to people personally so they will come.
Also, the show tickets are $12 so they are not terribly expensive. The Triad lets me set my ticket price.
Q: How do you juggle the immense amount of time required to pull off a one woman show AND still keep up with other auditions/projects?
I am super structured about my time. From 10:01am to 11:01am, I know what I am doing. My one woman show is me rehearsing with me and my director, Susan Campanaro, who really brought out the comedy in the show. She is excellent and won't let me get away with anything! So, if I say I am going to do something, I do it. I don't have to worry about three other people coming over for me to start rehearsing.
And, as a personal trainer, my clients are really supportive and understanding. If I need to go to an audition, I can move things around.
I also stay up way too late.
Q: What is the most essential thing you've learned about how-to put on a successful one woman show?
I've learned that I have a niche and I can sell that niche. I love the 1940s, and dress like that anyway.
Also, this show has gotten me so many auditions. I went into one audition yesterday and the Casting Director knew about my show.
It is so much work. So, it is important to love what you do and connect it to everything else in your world. I absolutely love putting on my 1940s hats, I wear them anyway. So when I am on the street and someone says they love my hat, I can tell them about my show. I am living it.
Q: I see you have representation - Ann Wright and Eileen Haves - did that come from doing the show?
I had those guys before, but it certainly helped them because they use it to pitch me constantly.
Eileen once told me, "You are going to go on a 100 auditions and not get 100 auditions - but you will get one and I believe you."
This show gave her a leverage, a power that I had. It is good because they now have something to say to the client about how reliable I am. It lets producers know they can trust you because you have done something on your own.
The biggest success that came from the show so far is that I got the role of TEAM TOON, a regular on a cartoon show. My name is Ms. Faltine. That is not Bette Davis, but it helps.
Q: What advice can you share for those looking to follow in Bette Davis' - I mean YOUR footsteps?
Do what you can. Don't try and do a show that is currently bigger than what you have in your life. If you don't have money for wardrobe, go into your own closet and be creative. Use what you have. Use Ebay, go to garage sales. Try and keep your costs as low as possible in the beginning.
The Fringe Festival was really helpful because it gave me press. I could not stop people from coming.
Marketing is really important. Postcards are huge. And find something that represents your show that you can wear everyday so you can feel confident about what you are doing. Don't forget about it. Live it every day. Own it. Own it with your heart , instead of your head.
-WHOOT! Thanks Jessica. Great How-to advice.
For those of you looking to now put on your own one person show...
Break a leg! And “Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!” Bette Davis
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