FST Students Make the Best of Flying Solo

Arts & Culture

SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAY 8, 2020

The Zoom conference begins like any other, with attendees sorting out the technical aspects of the program. Some are seen and not heard, others are heard and not seen, but, eventually, seven faces and their corresponding voices find themselves connected digitally. They exchange greetings and small-talk about the weather—“How’s Maine?” one person asks to another who appears to be in a cabin. Jason Cannon, Associate Artist with Florida Studio Theatre, sits at his desk with headphones, his face centered in the top row of this group of seven. The rag tag bunch on the screen are part the FST “Flying Solo” class Cannon teaches, a workshop in which the students produce a one-person show from concept all the way to performance.

Today’s workshop opens with a read-through of a monologue. The student-playwright has written a piece tentatively titled “Cozy Quarantine,” a fictional number that is part vlog and part confessional. She explores all the new friends made during the COVID-19 pandemic—a gopher, a lobster, deer ticks, wild turkeys, a porcupine and a skunk—and interspersed in her list is running commentary on each new friend, even a bit of bickering with an off-camera husband. With each member’s video and audio feed muted, the student performs completely in isolation, her face the only face on the screen. The “solo” in this performance is utter, with no corresponding laughs after well-executed punchlines. Then again, perhaps that makes it better practice.

As her solo performance comes to an end, faces return to the screen, some of them searching again for the appropriate buttons, others still smiling from the self-deprecating jokes contained in the piece. The subsequent critiques all praise the humor and execution. Where the peer input is more a collection of impressions (and still useful), Cannon, a consummate pro and encouraging instructor, provides specific ideas for the piece. He talks about tightening up the story and upping the stakes. He talks about supplementing the characterization with backstory and how to navigate the use of political humor without alienating the audience. “You’ve got to personalize the political commentary,” he says, “and you don’t have to use a name; everybody will already know who you’re talking about.” He’s done this before, and the student, though first through the gauntlet, seems to take it all in stride, jotting down notes for revision.

The whole workshop continues smoothly in this way. It’s as though the Zoom format is not, in fact, a substitute for the “real thing.” It helps that each of the students have all taken courses with FST before—performing and writing for the stage are not entirely new to them. It also helps that each student seems fully committed to making the best of their social distancing and embracing the “new normal,” the dichotomous sphere of digital interactions in which one can feel simultaneously separate from and a part of their peer groups. For Cannon, FST and the Flying Solo students, this new normal may not be ideal, but the 7 faces on the screen don’t seem to mind much.

Pictured: Jason Cannon offers notes to a student in last year’s Flying Solo class. Photo by Sarah Haley.

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