By Cynthia Darling, Staff Writer, All About Solo
Actress/playwright/stand-up comedian Nancy Redman returns to the United Solo Theatre Festival with her new one‑woman show, “At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics,” on Saturday, October 19 at 2 PM at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Nancy is delighted to have as the director of her new show the multitalented Bill Cosgriff, an award‑winning playwright, actor, and director.
Nancy wrote and performed three one‑woman shows at the United Solo Theatre Festival: “The Doctor Is Not In” (A sci-fi comedy exploring the Hypocrisy of Hippocrates) and “CLUTTER: I’m Saving My Life and It’s Killing Me” (Nancy, a hoarder, attempts to break her addiction after her landlord gives her an eviction notice, with one week to get rid of her clutter), both of which earned her the Best Comedian Award at United Solo. She received the Best Stand‑Up Award for her “EMERGENCY A La Carte” (A comedian dies, and finds that death is her toughest audience). Nancy has rightfully earned a place in the top echelon of the nation’s comedians, with appearances on stage, TV, and film.
Her TV appearances include “Girls’ Night Out” (Lifetime), “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and “America’s Funniest People” (ABC), where she was a two‑time prizewinner. On film, she had a featured role as Connie in “Rescuing Desire” with Allison Janney.
Recent acting appearances on stage include roles in “Fast Food Voices,” produced by the American Renaissance Theater Company; “Mothballs, Pills, and Pie” and “She Got Off the Couch,” both at Dixon Place; Terry Gross in “Meeting Terry Gross” at WorkShop Theater’s Mainstage; “Monkey” at La MaMa; and “For Art” at HB Studio Playwrights Theatre.
Nancy worked regularly as comedian and emcee at Dangerfield’s in New York, and was an opening act for Charo, Soupy Sales, Chubby Checker, and Jackie Mason. She was the warm‑up comedian for “Golden Girls” (NBC) and “Designing Women” (CBS). Nancy entertained the troops for two months after the first Persian Gulf War. She was a member of the Comic Strip Improv Group.
Nancy studied acting at HB Studio with Austin Pendleton and Karen Ludwig; and playwriting with Donna de Matteo. She studied improvisation with Second City’s Martin Harvey Friedberg, Paul Sills, and Dick Schaal. She has also written comedy for corporate shows, internet companies, and magazines. All About Solo spoke with Nancy about her creative process—and about the comedic voices in her head.
Cynthia Darling: How do your experiences writing and performing your previous solo shows influence “At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics”?
Nancy Redman:Each play is a new baby I am giving birth to. To continue this metaphor, corny as it may sound, each baby is different with different needs: story, structure, characters, monologues, dialogues, patterns, ideas, improvisation, and whatever else is necessary to facilitate its growth. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to trust the process: writing, rewriting, rehearsing, performing, improvising. So, as I workshop the play, engaged in the process, the leap of faith needed for this new creation has become a little easier after writing and performing three previous solo plays. This is why being a part of United Solo continues to be a fantastic experience. What I have also found to be helpful is writing scenes of my current play ‑ not as a solo play ‑ but first as a multi‑actor play. This works well on many different levels. There are some different characters in both, with different events and stories; but both plays are connected. I am excited to say the multi‑actor play of “At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics” will be produced in 2020, with the solo play of the same name to be produced in United Solo. Two world premieres.
How do you go about creating the characters for this show?
I live with the characters, in my head, of course, sometimes for many years. They speak to me, and then the need to organize these “voices” starts the process.
What are some of the things you find satisfying about doing a live show?
It is extremely satisfying to hear audience members relate to what they see, experience, identify and connect with. Those responses can vary, are great to hear, and are always exciting, informative, and surprising. And of course, laughter is a constant teacher telling me what is identified with, what is connecting.
Has writing your show revealed any surprises to you, either as an artist or personally?
One way to answer that question is this: I am not alone on stage, since, in my show, I perform many characters. Sometimes those characters surprise me. My mother, the funniest woman I ever met, appears in each of my solo plays. And, at each performance, because of audience connection, and improvisation, new material is often created, which is always exciting and surprising. My mother was a natural comedian, with a gift for connecting with everyone she met. My brilliant, hysterically funny, wise mother is my greatest comedy influence, and she keeps surprising me each time I hear her “voice” coming through my work.
How has your comic writing evolved over time?
I love jokes, always have, always will. I hope to continue evolving my comedy writing from what it means to be human, from truthful situations, from the comedy in situations and characters.
What are the challenges of using comedy in a solo show?
One of the challenges is making sure all the material serves the story. Some scenes, although they work well comedically, may need to be taken out of the script because they do not advance the story. Another challenge is finding enough workshops, venues, and places to perform the material to see what works.
“At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics”
Written and Performed by Nancy Redman
Directed by Bill Cosgriff
Saturday, Oct 19th at 2PM
Photo credit: Danny Boyd
The 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City
CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.