When planning a season, many theaters turn to large ensemble shows, but there are special benefits in choosing two-person shows.
The Story of My Life, the newest addition to MTI’s canon of two-person musicals, features two equally strong roles for male actors. The set is simple, the evening is intimate, and the story is compelling, pulling the audience into the world of Thomas Weaver, an award-winning author, and his relationship with his best friend of 30 years, Alvin Kelby.
Unable to rely on 30-person dance numbers or full-blast choral numbers to keep the audience on the edge of its seat, a two-person show must find other ways of engrossing the audience and capturing their attention. Remarkably, when the glitz and glitter of a large Broadway-style show is stripped away, what is left are the essential elements of musical theater: craft, storytelling, melody, character, and connections. Without the bells and whistles to distract us, the performers have a chance to shine in the most elemental way. The audience feels closer to them, somehow, and leaves knowing the characters in a way that is almost impossible with large ensemble casts.
When initially thinking of selecting a two-person show for a community or school theater season, it can be difficult to give up the “spots” usually available or to explain why you’ve chosen to do a show that only gives two actors an opportunity to perform. However, two-person shows seem to share a common thread: simple staging. Because of the minimal staging and lower start-up costs involved, there is an opportunity to see a two-person show as a way to add to your season, rather than take away from it.
Ideas for High School
Many high school theater programs have a class for advanced students and could license a two-person show as a special project, giving students who usually act the opportunity to direct, stage manage, and design the set and costumes. An advanced class could produce the show as an addition to the typical school season. If the class was also involved in producing, they would also learn essential skills for starting their own theater company including fundraising, house management, and marketing.
Ideas for Community Theaters
For community theaters, a two-person show can be a fresh new experience for their audience members. There is something elemental about gathering to hear a story told in such an intimate setting, the storytellers enter our psyches in a personal way and we become part of the story ourselves. Placing a two-person show in a season filled with larger ensemble casts provides a way of thoughtfully shaping the year and offers theater-goers a unique look at musical theater as a storytelling craft. With only two people on stage, every breath, every motion, every moment is felt, heard and seen.
- john & jen by Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald, set in the changing America of the 50′s and 60′s, explores the relationships between a brother and sister as well as between parents and children.
- The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown tells the story of a five-year marriage as two people move from opposite ends of first meeting to break-up.
- I Do! I Do!, by The Fantasticks’ Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt follows a couple from their wedding night until they leave their home to newlyweds 50 years later.
- Breaking from the male/female two-actor tradition, The Story of My Life examines the relationship between two men and explores the far reaches of what it means to be a friend.
Each show, in its own way, fills the human need to know the details – the crucial moments, the secrets, the slights and the rewards of what it means to be tied to another human being. Exceptional and exciting, tender and intimate, two-person shows reach your audience in a meaningful way and stay with them forever.