By Abbey Hester and Theresa Miller
At the age of 11, Daisy Eagan became the youngest actress to ever receive a Tony. Since then, she has been lighting up New York and LA stages on Broadway (Les Mis, The Dead), regional theater (Stoneface, The Wild Party), national tours, and three wildly successful one-person shows. On top of her Tony, she’s received an LA Weekly award for best supporting actress in a musical and a Garland award honorable mention. She’s been seen off the stage in such shows as The Mentalist, Ghost Whisperer, Without a Trace, Numbers, and many others.
Daisy’s joining us for a 5 week class where she’ll share her secrets for creating an excellent one-person show. Through in-class exercises, workshopping, and craft talks, you’ll learn how to make your show a hit. And at the end of the class, you’ll even get the chance to perform a section of your show at a real theater in front of a real audience! What more could you ask for?
Daisy took time to answer some of our burning questions about life, acting, writing, and one-person shows:
1. You’ve appeared on TV and the stage. Which do you think is best for really honing your acting skills?
Any acting at all is great for honing your skills. It doesn’t matter what the medium is. There are big differences between the mediums, of course, but it all comes down to honesty. Doing theater teaches you how to stay present with a story you have to tell over and over again which can be a huge challenge. You also need to know how to convey emotion to the back row without over doing it. Film and TV require a subtler approach which is its own skill. TV is great because you get to develop a character over years (if you’re lucky). That’s a unique experience.
2. Why did you become an actress? What does acting do for you?
I became an actress after seeing my father in a play when I was 8. I was bullied in school and I saw acting as a kind of escape from that. It quickly became my passion. I suppose, like any artist pursuing their art, acting makes me feel creatively fulfilled. I like the challenge of getting into a character’s mind.
3. You were only 11 when you won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden (adorable acceptance speech, by the way). What do you think is an essential component of good acting?
Aside from having talent, which is key, one of the most important components of good acting is simply listening and being present. You can always tell when someone on stage isn’t listening. If you listen and respond honestly, that’s half the battle. I’m probably making it sound easier than it is. But that’s a really good place to start.
4. You’ve written and performed three one-person shows to sold out audiences in New York and LA. In a one-person show, how do you make sure that the audience stays engaged?
Well, hopefully the content and subject matter keeps the audience engaged, but I also interact with the audience quite a bit. I suppose that goes back to staying present. My shows allow for me to ad lib and go off track. A more scripted show would be different, though. If you’re doing a show in which you can’t break the fourth wall and therefore can’t interact directly with the audience, hopefully you’ve created a show that is compelling and will keep the audience engaged. Pacing is important. You want to be sure to move along in the story and not linger too long in one place. You also want to pick a theme that is relatable and fairly universal. Even a show about an extremely unique experience can be relatable, as long as you make it honest.
5. How do you prepare for a role?
It depends on what the role is and for what medium. If it’s something like a guest star role on a TV show, the main thing you want to do is watch the show (if you can) to understand the tone, and then read the script for the episode so you know how you fit into the story and why you’re there. What information do you need to convey. A lot of TV work is about serving the story and is less about character development.
If I’m playing a character that existed in life then I try to find out everything I can about the real person to help inform my character. If the story takes place in another era, I try to learn about that era.
The most preparation I do is during the rehearsal process with the director and my scene partners. Acting is a communal process.
If you don’t live in Los Angeles or NYC already, I highly recommend staying local for a while and working in local theaters and TV in order to gain experience. That way, when you’re ready to move, you’ve learned a lot about working professionally and you already have credits for your resume.
6. What advice would you give actors who are just starting out?
It’s a good thing to be relatively certain that acting is what you want to do as your profession. It takes a tremendous amount of time and perseverance. If you’re heart isn’t really in it, it won’t be worth pursuing. There is a lot of down time. There are major peaks and valleys in an acting career. Even extremely successful actors can go through long dry spells. It’s important to be as prepared as you can for these periods (both financially and emotionally). Fill your life with other interests and pursuits so that you can always keep yourself occupied.
Also, be prepared to create your own work. These days that’s extremely important. It’s relatively cheap to produce content for the internet. It’s a great way to keep your creative juices flowing. And you never know who might see it!
7. What are some of the challenges moving from musicals to one person-shows? What skills cross over?
I think the biggest challenge is going from sharing the stage with others to being alone (aside from a band, if you have music in your show). In a typical musical you have a whole cast of people to rely on. There are so many variables which gives it its own challenge but also makes getting on stage very exciting. You never really know what can happen. When you’re doing a one-person show, you can’t rely on anyone else. You only have yourself up there. If you lose your place, you need to figure out how to get back on your own. It can be very scary but very rewarding. Also, with a one-person show, especially if you’ve written it yourself, if it stinks, it’s all on you!
The skills that cross over are the same with any medium. Being present and honest. Telling your story in the moment.
8. How did you evolve your writing skills and what is your process for writing a one-person show?
I’ve been writing since I was very young. I started keeping a regular journal when I was about 12. Before that I wrote short stories. As I read more humorous essays (by the likes of David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Shalom Auslander, Julia Sweeny, etc.), I began experimenting with that style. Those essays informed my shows. My latest show was taken largely from my blog.
My process usually involves listening to a ton of music, finding what speaks to me and then figuring out if I can make it work in my story. Sometimes I either have a story written already, or I know what I want to say and I try to find a song to go along with the story.
But my “process” involves a lot of procrastinating, crying, eating and then some writing.
9. What do you hope students will learn in your one-person show course?
I hope students come away with an understanding of developing an arc or a structure for the stories they want to tell. I’d like my students to learn how to find the story they want to tell and how to tell it in a relatable, honest way.
Thanks for your time, Daisy. We’ll see you in class!