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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Iris Bahr: On Solo Peformance and Building a Career

By Lorinda Toledo

Iris Bahr is a woman of many talents. She's a successful actor, writer, producer and director and a master of the stage, page and screen. Variety touts her performances, saying "Bahr has more voices at her command than a symphony orchestra has strings" and the Daily News proclaims that "Bahr demonstrates that smarts, talent and dramatic focus are a potent combination . . . the lady has more identities and accents than a cloned Merryl Streep. . .wickedly funny."

This September, she'll be teaching two fantastic classes at Writing Pad! Cue the lights and roll out the red carpet, because Iris will teach you how to create an unforgettable one-person show that could launch your career into the spotlight in her one-night and five-week classes.

Iris is best known for her recurring role as Svetlana, the Russian madam and political consultant in a series of the same name that she wrote and produced for HDNet. Iris has also appeared on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Her solo show, "DAI (enough)" had an extended hit run Off-Broadway and won the prestigious Lucille Lortel Award for Best Solo Performance, (as well as 2 Drama Desk and UK Stage Award nominations for Best Performance and Sound Design).

She performed her show internationally, including at the United Nations. Her first solo show, "Planet America," received an LA Weekly nomination for Outstanding Solo Show and is currently in development as a feature film. And as if that weren't enough, this wonder woman is the author of two humorous memoirs: "Dork Whore" (Bloomsbury) and its sequel "Macchu My Picchu" (Skirt).

Iris took some time out to talk with us about her dynamic path to success.

Solo performance is such a unique crossover of writing and performance. How did you find your way into the medium?

I began doing one-person shows due to my love for theatre combined with the desire to express myself through writing and playing parts that I would never get cast in. This made solo performance the perfect medium to both write and stretch myself as a performer.

Do you have specific techniques for creating the entertaining characters that appear in your one-woman shows and your TV series "Svetlana"? How do you make sure that your characters feel three dimensional?

I always try to write from the heart and stay true to the character first. I enter the psyche of that character. If there is a real person that inspired that character, of course I implement aspects of his/her personality and physicality. I also spend entire days being the character -- whether it be driving the car, working in the backyard -- all these activities inform me about the character and inspire more writing.

Iris Bahr with Larry David on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
What inspires your shows and how do you develop that into full-length material? 

My shows are inspired by autobiographical experiences, political events, relationships -- things that I want to explore, learn more about. Through my shows, I share my perspective on these events and experiences with others.

You have written and starred in a hysterical TV series for Mark Cuban's cable network HDNet called Svetlana. How did you come up with the material for that show?

I had been improvising as Svetlana on the street for little bits on the web. I then was invited by Marc Maron to do a weekly piece as Svetlana on his radio show, and then to KCRW to do a political commentary every week. I finally decided to write a pilot and shoot it myself. Marc Cuban saw it on "Funny or Die" and the next thing I know I was writing and producing two seasons of Svetlana for his cable network.

You have published two comic memoirs, "Dork Whore" (Bloomsbury) and its sequel "Machu My Picchu" (Skirt). How does writing for print differ than writing for the stage? What do you think the qualities of a good memoir are? 

There is a lot more room to meander and play with style when writing a book. I think a good memoir has to be a combination of interesting life events, humor that at times is self-deprecating, life insights that stem from actual experiences, and vulnerability, which I think is the key to all good writing.

What advice do you have for aspiring performers who want to start writing their own material?

Don't worry about being entertaining or interesting. Stay true to the character and his emotional arc.

Though not the most obvious avenue in show business, solo performance has done fantastic things for your career. What types of opportunities have come to you through your one-woman shows? 

People just got to know what I can do as an actor and a writer. I've been hired as a writer and gotten auditions based on people seeing my show.

You are currently working on a film and you have a baby. How do you find time in your life to write and what is your writing practice?

I write in the evenings. I don't have a specific practice or method. Some days I can write for eight hours straight without getting up from my chair. Other days, I find it hard to focus and bounce in between several projects at once.

Thanks, Iris! You have inspired productivity in my muse. We can't wait for your class, It's All About You: A One-Person Show Workshop in downtown. There's a one-night class on Sept. 15 and a five-week class starting Sept. 17.  And there's only a few spots left!

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