Exploring Solo Performance with Marc Kenison

Exploring Solo Performance with Marc Kenison

Article by Elizabeth Dorn

I consider myself a translator of others’ works, a person who likes to render people’s ideas. I have taken Steps I through III, Improv, Rehearsal and Performance, and even the super duper challenging Clown at Freehold.

At the now defunct “Solo Performance Festival” at the Theatre Off Jackson, I saw some of the most innovative, playful and profound theater in “Solo Performance” — and that stuck in my imagination for years. I hadn’t known theater could have such varied and unique modes of expression. 

When Freehold offered a class in Solo Performance I thought I’d try my hand, despite deeming myself a translator and not a creator. Would I generate anything work working on, let alone worth performing or watching?

Marc Kenison, a soft-spoken, secretly brilliant, talented Juilliard graduate who excelled as a professional dancer in several companies in NYC, developed an interest in incorporating words into his dances; he’s established several theatre companies here in Seattle, yet humbly shared a pared down version of his background and experience as well as the plan for the class. As per usual for a Freehold class, we were a motley crew of seasoned actors, partially-trained curious thespians like men, and those who had never stepped foot on a stage or created their own work. I can’t put my finger on what Marc does as a teacher exactly, or how he manages to do it, but he has this way of entreating every single student into jumping into their imagination and sharing their uniqueness, almost immediately. There was no wasted time: each session brought authentic, wildly disparate work from each person. 

I am a teacher of medicine and an ER doctor; my work at Freehold has helped me stay attached to the beauty of the world and our humanity. There is no question that when I take a class, I am far better at listening to and effectively connecting with my patients, students, nurses, and staff. I have never talked about my work to non-doctors and definitely not in a theater class, but somehow, in my very first class with Marc, I began to write about my experience. As I wrote, disillusionment littered the page. I hadn’t realized that what I had thought my work would be when I was younger and what it became were so different. With every exercise, more came out, and soon it inspired more accurate renditions. Passionately, I added more and more, using absurdism, dance, and poetry to tell my story, digging into what felt most true. 

Every student had their own journey and the group performance at the end of the class was some of the most interesting theater I’ve participated in. I’ve taken this class twice more and took the piece from the first on to the Studio Series. With the piece as a springboard, I am now working on a larger piece on which Marc is a consultant, “ER the Musical,” a tongue and cheek commentary of life on the frontlines in corporate America and then some. I started a narrative Medical Moth in Seattle and bring art into my teaching. 

Without Marc’s tutelage, I never would have gone through this journey. But I’m not unique. Every single student has grown with him — he allowed a woman to tell her piece in Spanish, her native language. It was beautiful, we all understood it, and cried.

As with a gardener of mysterious green thumb- if your seed falls into his garden, you have no idea what kind of vibrant plant will grow.