On Sunday evening, November 18, 2018, United Solo commemorated the end of another successful festival with a Closing Gala held at the Acorn Theatre of Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City. The culmination of ten weeks of solo performances, the event brought together theatre artists from across United Solo’s nine‑year history to celebrate this year’s festival participants.
The top prize of the evening, the United Solo Special Award, was presented to Emmy‑winning actress and writer Renée Taylor for her solo show, “My Life on a Diet,” an autobiographical piece that played for eight weeks at the Theatre at St. Clement’s this past summer. In her acceptance speech, Ms. Taylor said: “I’m very grateful for receiving an award from United Solo — it’s a very prestigious honor,” and added, “Now I can say: I am an award‑winning show! Thank you.”
Over forty‑five other awards were presented, including prizes for Best Production, Best Director and Best Encore, presented to Janis Brenner for “Inheritance: a Litany,” Zishan Ugurlu for “American Dream, The” and Anne Torsiglieri for “A TRAIN,” respectively. Reviews of all three shows can be found elsewhere on allaboutsolo.com.
Awards for Best One‑Man Show and Best One‑Woman Show were presented to Austin Dean Ashford for “(I)sland T(rap)” and Ali Harper for “Songs for Nobodies.” Ms. Harper performed an excerpt from her show to kick off the festivities. The inaugural All About Solo Critics’ Award was presented to Jose Sonera for “PRINZE,” which received two five‑star reviews from All About Solo. The full list of winners can be found on the United Solo website, and at the bottom of this article.
The evening’s prizes were presented by special guests, including: Christopher Allen, Alison S.M. Kobayashi, and Douglas Ramirez, as well as illustrious alumni from United Solo’s storied past, and by members of the honorary United Solo Academy, including: Michael Bongar, Gretchen Cryer, Joe Gulla, Cathy Lind Hayes, Frank Ingrasciotta, Joan Kane, Nick Rafello, Omar Sangare, Glen Williamson, and Liba Vaynberg. As they congratulated the night’s winners, each presenter shared memories of their time at the festival and the positive impact it has had on them as performers.
Many of the presenters, as well as the event’s hosts, expressed their pride in United Solo for its efforts to provide a platform for female performers and voices. Most of the festival’s 130 productions were written and performed by women, and many of the shows confronted issues of discrimination, objectification, and sexual assault through incisive and powerful stories that feel especially relevant and necessary in today’s social climate.
Themes of activism, empowerment, and identity shone through the plays of this year’s festival, as many performers shared tales of personal struggle and tragedy. Regardless of genre or artform, these productions rang with not just authenticity, but also poignancy and strength. This sentiment was expressed repeatedly throughout the Closing Gala, and all the festival’s entrants deserve praise for the courage it takes to bare their souls to a hungry audience and to embrace flying solo.
The closing gala itself, hosted by S.P. Monahan and Sandy Simona, was exceptionally well attended, filling the largest theatre at Theatre Row to capacity, many attendees having performed at the festival during its ten‑week season. It was heartwarming to see a strong sense of community exuding from the audience and the presenters alike. It’s clear that despite the solitary nature of the form, United Solo has succeeded in creating a sense of comradery and solidarity among its myriad artists.
With now over 1000 productions presented throughout the nine years of the United Solo festival, there is tremendous reason for excitement and celebration as the festival heads into its tenth year. Having staged so much amazing theatre in so short a time, United Solo has earned a brief respite, as the rest of us eagerly await next year’s festival season and the marvelous offerings it is sure to present. The full list of award winners at the 2018 United Solo Festival: Best Production: “Inheritance: A Litany” by Janis Brenner Best Direction: Zishan Ugurlu, “American Dream, The” Best One-Man Show: “(I)sland T(rap)” by Austin Dean Ashford, directed by Cole Wimpee Best One-Woman Show: “Songs for Nobodies” performed by Ali Harper Best Encore: “A TRAIN” by Anne Torsiglieri, directed by Risa Brainin All About Solo Critics’ Award*: “PRINZE” by Jose Sonera, directed by Melissa Linton The United Solo & Backstage Audience Award**: “Song of Seamus and the Psychedelic Squirrel” by Kassi Dougherty, directed by Marcus Bishop‑Wright, co‑produced by Brian Barnhart, musical director: Jody Shelton Best Actor: Andre de Vanny in “Swansong” Best Actress: Bellina Logan in “CONFESSIONS OF A MULATTO LOVE CHILD” Best Comedian: Yu Ling Wu in “American Dream, The” Best Storyteller: Mary Goggin in “Runaway Princess” Best International One-Man Show: “A KISS – ANTONIO LIGABUE” by Marco Michel, directed by Mario Perrotta Best International One-Woman Show: “MELINA…” by Paola Hadjilambri, directed by Paul Lambis Best One-Man Drama: “Transfiguration” written by Michael Miller, performed by Gary Hilborn Best One-Woman Drama: “I WON’T BE IN ON MONDAY” by Anne Stockton, directed by Austin Pendleton Best Comedy: “PRINZE” by Jose Sonera Best Storytelling Show: “Homeful” by Amy Mihyang Ginther Best Variety Show: “Fancifool!” by Ananda Bena‑Weber Best Musical: “Sink or Swim” by Beverley Elliott Best Physical Theatre: “The Creeps” by Catherine Waller Best Autobiographical One-Woman Show: “Lilly” by Lillian Colón Best Autobiographical One-Man Show: “Last Dance” by Aaron Cash Best Interactive Show: “Inconceivable” by Meirav Zur Best Poetry Show: “the farewell” based on Yannis Ritsos, performed by Phyto Stratis Best Biographical Show: “Frida Kahlo” by Susan Rybin, written by Humberto Robles, directed by Luis Caballero Best Improv: “Nobody’s Really Helped Me” by Lanessa Long Best Satire: “O” by Eliza Martin Best Cabaret: “The Rude Awakening. Sex, Shame & Liberation” by Amber Topaz Best Stand-Up: “Diary Of A MILF (Mom I’d Love to Follow)” by MESHELLE Best Experimental Show: “OTOSOTR” by Anatoliy Ogay, directed by Tatyana Kim Best Educational Show: “First By Faith: The Life Of Mary McLeod Bethune” by Richarda Abrams Best Documentary Show: “The Auschwitz Volunteer: Captain Witold Pilecki” performed by Marek Probosz Best Multimedia Show: “Super Awesome World” by Amy Conway Best Concert: “HOUN’ DAWG: Life & Times of Big Mama Thornton” by Azusa SHESHE Dance Best Script: “My Dead Wife” by Mike Folie Best Premiere: “The Medium…The Music…and ME!” by DonnaD Lipari Best Short Solo: “Chocoholic” by Lilly Dennis Best Emerging Actor: “MADMAN” by Jake Austin Robertson Best Emerging Actress: “Dangerous Giant Animals” by Christina Murdock Best Festival Debut: “Velvet Determination” by Cynthia Shaw Best Choreography: “Resplendent” by Oksana Horban Best Projection Design: Caroline Trewet, “L.O.V.E.R.” Best Lighting Design: Mitchell Bogard, “Inheritance: A Litany” Best Costume Design: Mindy Fradkin, “Ageless Wonders” Best Composer: Jerome Begin, “Inheritance: A Litany” First Sold-Out Show: “L.O.V.E.R.” by Lois Robbins *The winner of the 2018 All About Solo Critics’ Award was chosen by the staff writers of www.allaboutsolo.com **The winner of the Audience Award was chosen in an online poll, presented in partnership between United Solo and Backstage Magazine ***Winners are selected by an independent panel of over seventy theatre professionals, including The United Solo Academy Members
United Solo Theatre Festival Over 130 unique productions from six continents Up to 5 shows daily Sept. 13 – Nov. 18, 2018 Photo Selection: courtesy of United Solo 410 West 42nd Street New York City
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.