I have known about Peter Michael Marino for some time now. First when his show Desperately Seeking Susan debuted in London and with his production company's presentation of David Carl's Celebrity One-Man Hamlet, but it was really with his direction of Amy Marcs' Nice T!ts that I got to know Peter.
I was thrilled when Peter let me know about his newest project Show Up where Peter uses his decades of solo performance expertise to turn the often vilified tropes of the genre on their head. Peter exploits an arsenal of Post-it® notes to compile and transform the challenging and enlightening real-life experiences of the audience into a single vibrant life-story that is familiar, completely fresh, and unique each time. Chance elements are increased as audience members are engaged to cue lights, design the set, and direct. Show Up provides a wild, unpredictable ride for the audience as Peter navigates this high wire, simultaneously commenting on social anxiety and performance challenges. Ultimately, Show Up demonstrates that the value of truth in autobiographical performance is totally subjective.
Show Up will play the PIT Loft (154 West 29th Street) Thursdays, 2/2, 2/9, 2/16, 2/23 at 8pm and Saturday 2/12 at 5pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Your new show Show Up, just started performances at The PIT Loft. Show Up celebrates and spoofs the genre of solo shows. The show itself is created on the spot. Audience members are engaged to cue lights, design the set, and direct. What made you want to create this kind of show as opposed to a scripted solo production? Honestly, I just got tired of writing and memorizing shows! My last show, Late with Lance! was partially scripted and partially interviews with audience members. I find myself getting more attracted to involving the audience in my work to enhance the shared experience. There are parts of the show that are scripted (I even carry the script around with me during the majority of the show), but I really wanted to see what could happen if I just showed up to the theater. Somewhere in the development process with my director Michole Biancosino, the narrative of the setup became about social anxiety, aging and depression. Yet, somehow it’s still a comedy and still a solo show about the audience. The process is always a surprise.
2. What aspects of the solo show genre do you love and what parts could you do without? I love the rawness of solo shows. I love the creativity used in the telling of the story. I like that they are short! And I love any solo show that seems to be about one person, but is actually about all of us. I could do without the therapy part. I mean, many solo shows come from a place of pain or change; mine certainly have. But I think it’s always best if the therapy is in the writing process and not in the performance. Solo show creators often need some distance from the experience. The best solo shows are the ones that work for every audience and not just friends and family. It takes doing the show in far away places to really see what is universal.
3. What do you like about performing by yourself as opposed to being part of a larger cast? I was recently in a show with a cast of nine. It was so different to share the rehearsals and stage with others! I felt a little rusty and a bit like the trouble-maker because I was so used to marching to my own drum. I broke character way too often in rehearsals. But, of course I became a team player and I really enjoyed it. What else? I mean, when you’re part of a cast, you don’t make your own schedule. You’re responsible for the whole machine and not just your part in the machine. I guess I really just enjoy creating my own work that I feel comfortable doing and that I think will effect others…whether it’s to make the audience laugh, think, feel, or see the world from another lens. I also like to tour and do festivals - and the easiest way for me to accomplish that is to create my own solo shows. The sets and props have gotten smaller over the years, that’s for sure.
4. How do you think audiences will respond to the duties they are asked to perform? It can be scary when the audience is expected to be part of a show. I get it. I always want to make the audience feel comfortable, respected and taken care of. I’ve even had to let people know beforehand (because they asked) that they will not be pressured to be a part of the show. The solo show that I am improvising is based on eight real-life experiences that I get from the audience, like a life changing moment, crazy family or love life story, or a realization. The first one is always the hardest to get and then after that, the hands fly up. People WANT to talk about their lives. They want to share. And as soon as they see how responsive others are to the first question, they can’t wait to add to the mix. I literally cannot do the show without the audience.
Yeah, I was nervous about a creating a show that would be advertised as a solo show with audience interaction. That could be the kiss of death. Especially in the marketing. But the show has proven otherwise and folks have come back numerous times because at least half of the show is completely different every time. I even have an opening/closing night party on stage every night and the audience all shows up for it with very little prodding. The imaginary champagne helps, I suppose.
5. What are looking forward to about interacting with the audience in this manner and what makes you nervous? These days, my nervousness makes me excited. I like not knowing what each show will be about. I like not knowing what suggestions I will get. I like knowing each show will have new challenges, stories, twists and characters. So, I truly look forward to doing the show every time…which is kind of how it should be!
6. Show Up makes commentary on social anxiety and performance challenges. You have been a performer for years. Did you always have social anxiety/performance challenges or did that come about after you started performing? How did you get over it enough to go on stage? I never really had social anxiety or performance anxiety. It all started to creep up on me in 2007 after my first big flop, which was a West End show that I wrote and conceived called Desperately Seeking Susan. The failure of that show was so huge. It totally opened the floodgates of depression and social anxiety. I’ve always felt uncomfortable right after my shows. Torn between "talk to me" and "don’t talk to me." It’s complicated!
Show Up has taught me that I’m one of many performers with social anxiety. Especially in the comedy world. And I hope that the message in the show lets others know they’re not alone, and that it enlightens those who don’t know what social anxiety is, so they can better understand it.
7. Have you thought about what other solo performers will think about this style of show you are executing? I have. I suppose they may see some of the tropes that I’m turning on their heads are tropes that could be overused in solo shows. Maybe we need new tropes? It’s such a different kind of solo show in that it IS a solo show about my issues, but it’s also about issues that we all have. And those issues are brought to life with improvisation and interviews. But for me, it’s more important to think about how the average guy or gal reacts to the show, since that’s who I hope the majority of my audience will be down the line. I can’t wait to take it to Orlando Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe so I can see how it works with total strangers.
8. If you could have anyone Show Up to this show, what celebrities would be included on your list? Oh, dear. At this point, I just want people to show up! They don’t have to be a celebrity, but they might feel like one after I bring their interesting job story or childhood story to life. If I had to pick celebrities…I can’t! I don’t want to offend any celebrities that I leave off the list. I guess it would be cool if Hillary Clinton came to the show. Does that count as a celebrity? I bet she has some juicy life experiences to share.
9. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? To be more empathetic. Period.
Peter Michael Marino is the creator/co-producer of SOLOCOM, which has launched over 400 world-premiere comedies at The People’s Improv Theater. His internationally acclaimed solo comedy Desperately Seeking the Exit chronicled the unmaking of his West End musical flop Desperately Seeking Susan - receiving 5-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and Adelaide Fringe, and a London transfer. His 2015 solo chat show spoof Late with Lance! played everywhere from NYC to London. Directing credits include: Amy Marcs’ Nice T*ts, Mark Demayo’s 20 & Out, and Mark Giordano’s Mad Man. His production company credits include David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet, David Mills: Shame!, Charles’ Moby Alpha, and Joe’s NYC Bar.