Friday, February 23, 2018


An awesome workshop participant suggested I put up a blog post about how I came up with my "solo" show Butt Kapinski, so that in moments where somebody asks me that question and I don't have time to have a coffee with them, I can say, at least there's a blog post!

Well, it seemed like a nice idea.
But the truth is, I kinda have no idea how I made my show. Or rather, I have no idea how far back in my life story to go to start the answer to that question. Do you want to hear about the clowning and improv classes I took when I was six? Probably not, right?

I also think there usually are two sub-questions inherent in that question. There's how did you create that character? AND how did you decide to wear a light and make the show interactive/immersive? And, really, when you boil it all down, the question beneath the question is probably actually How can *I* make a show that makes ME feel the way I imagine YOU feel when you're doing your show?

Well, I can try to answer some of that, anyway.

First: Butt Kapinski the character is a very organic distillation of a whole lot of me-stuff: film noir fandom, slight gender dysphoria (misogynistic-societally-induced or organic, who can tell), childhood speech impediments. When the character came out of me, I was not expecting it, but it made absolute sense right away. It immediately felt like the most logical direction I could go in. It was the easy choice. It was obvious. It was and is utterly me.

The wearing-my-own-light concept probably came from going to Burning Man a few times in the early aughts. It blew open a lot of things for me: the artistic aesthetic was three-dimensional, inviting interaction. I saw how spaces could feel electrified, how costumes could blend function and fantasy. And I saw a lot of creative use of light, people wearing lights. Mostly to illuminate themselves, not others. But it did get me thinking.

Then when I started really getting into clown work, I felt hungry to interact with the audience and too limited by the stage lights and, frankly, other clowns. I said to my boyfriend at the time, What I really want is a light that I can wear so I can go anywhere. And he said, That's what you should have, then. And then my dad, who has a degree in electrical engineering, designed it, and my lighting designer friend built it. And so it was born. And the light's creaking sound just developed through use; none of us knew that was going to happen.

All of the material for the show was developed either in performance or in rehearsal with friends acting as audience members. For the first two or so years of doing Butt as a solo thing, I just did 10 minute bits at Variety and Burlesque nights, which gave me a lot of experience with different audiences and some confidence that what I was doing could and should be a longer piece. 

And like I've said before, being a high school English teacher was my best training for clowning, and for doing a full-length solo show. The day-after-day practice of putting together an interactive performance for the classroom, that really did it for me.

So... that's how I made my show.
How should you make your show? Uh... (shuffles feet, looks elsewhere)
Well at the very least, here are four ideas I would throw your way:

1) Slaughter the 10-minute bit first. Like, totally slaughter it. Like, have them hooting and cheering and begging for more. Maybe get your 10 minutes so good that you get paid for it sometimes, or at least, sought after. It's a strong indication, if you have an amazing 10 minutes, that you might be able to have an amazing 20, or 34, or 57. 

2) Think about the experience you want an audience to have. Beyond just sitting there, what can you give them experientially, so that they are able to put a piece of themselves into your show, and be rewarded for having been there. The world already has enough just-sit-there-and-watch-me shows, don't you think? Fourth-wall theater is dying. Make it an event, or make it for Youtube.

3) Assume that you might only have ONE character in you, ever, that anyone will ever love. Why make that assumption? Because I think that makes you realize that you better put everything you got into that character. Don't save shit for that character down the line. Everything you have now, everything you are and ever were, use it now. Make it about you, deeply—where you're from, what makes you tick, what your obsessions and loves are, what gives you pleasure, what you want most of all. And don't forget the shame—shame is probably your most powerful tool for creating a character that people can laugh at and feel catharsis through. I still feel shame every time I perform; I cultivate that shame, because keeping it around, and going forward anyway, makes me brave. But you can't be brave if you aren't sharing something that some part of you would prefer not to share, not to have others laugh at. No matter how good a performer you are, you can't pretend vulnerability. It's either there or not there, and the audience can smell it either way.

4) Consider getting into teaching, if you're not there already—especially teaching students you have to work a bit to win over. Maybe teaching will satisfy your solo-performing needs and then you won't even need to make a show!

Ha ha ha ha ha!


  1. thankyou, this is great, and exactly what i need right now!

  2. But who came up with the name Butt Kapinski? :)

    an exbf


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