SoloWeek Interview: Tim Manley

I missed the chance to see Tim Manley’s solo show, Feelings, twice this year. He’s closing out SoloWeek and I’ve been warned that I will laugh and cry. I mean CRY. As in, needing lots of tissues. This time I’ll be ready. Come cry your eyes out (and laugh your ass off) with me on Saturday, December 12th at 7pm. Get more info and tickets here.

What’s your show about?
The show is about the disaster that was my love life for the first half of my twenties. When things ended with the girl I thought I was going to marry, I accidentally fell for my best friend, Ben. Then I dated guys and girls and felt generally uncomfortable around all of them. Secretly, the show is about gender, unplaceable sadness, and learning to love and care for yourself. 

Hopefully, it’s funny!

Why did you create it?
To be honest, I was coming out of a year of creative failures. After my first book came out, I started working on a YA novel that was half comics. Then I abandoned it. I returned to a novel I’d been writing in college, a mix of weird illustrations and a narrator that came from the bottom of my soul. I abandoned that too. 

No idea what else to do, I started writing down some of the dating stories I’d been telling on stage the past few years. I’d thought for a while I could probably compile them into a book, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. On the one hand, I knew they represented a unique perspective. I’d never seen my experience of love and attraction reflected in any art form. I’d barely found it in another person in my regular life. 

As an easy explanation, I identify as bisexual. In certain circles, I prefer the vagueness and openness of the word “queer.” With myself, I don’t need a word. 

Similarly, with myself, I may not have needed a show. And I was not in a rush to other-ize myself. But I decided to try writing the stories down because it was easier than thinking about whether or not to do it.

After two months or so, I’d made some headway in a memoir, but couldn’t determine the shape. I applied to the New York International Fringe Festival on a whim, using materials from the memoir and videos of stories I’d told on stage, and was accepted. I put the memoir on pause, figuring that telling the story live would focus it. 

In putting together the show, I realized that if I told the story the way that felt correct to me, the way I would tell it to someone who completely understood — as opposed to writing a sensationalized essay titled “20 Weird Things About Being a Bi Male” — then the audience would experience it as I did and understand.

So, I created this show because my desperation was greater than my reservations, and because there was an available opportunity. But I imagine that’s how a lot of choices are made. 

Who is your show for?
A nineteen-year-old me. And anyone else who thinks it might be worth their $10.

Have you done anything like this before?
The first time I combined live storytelling with projected gifs was at StoryCollider TV, a collaboration between Ben Lillie and Erin Barker’s StoryCollider and Nisse Greenberg’s Drawn Out Storytelling.

In their show, I used the gifs intermittently, as occasional punchlines or emphasis. Here, they’re more often used to introduce characters, locations, and emotional moods. 

How are you making use of theatrical or technological elements?
An extensive slideshow of hand-drawn gifs accompanies the show. 

It’s interesting to play with. When a gif is first projected, it will pull the audience’s eyes from the storyteller. This could become a distraction, or it could be an opportunity to communicate a tone or idea that is difficult to express in words. 

This was something Peter Aguero (who directed the show) and I talked about a lot. From the start he wanted to make sure there was a purpose to including images, and a deliberateness to the way they were used. It couldn’t be a gimmick, and it couldn’t be a muddling of the audience’s focus.

There are a few other theatrical choices made in the show that are crucial to the ending. These too can be credited to Peter’s keen eye.

What else have you done in storytelling?
I’ve told stories at a bunch of shows, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever been someone who is always around. I’ve resisted allowing storytelling to become a professional endeavor — I didn’t want it to stop feeling…terrifying. I didn’t want to become a “performer.” I only wanted to get on stage if it meant something personally. But that means I haven’t gotten on stage as much as I could have, and, quite frankly, might not have gotten as “good” as I could’ve.

Where do you think storytelling is headed? As an art form? As a commercial medium?
I’m interested in this question, but I’d also be happy if storytelling remained quite similar to what it is. There is little more engaging than regular people getting on stage and telling stories from their life that feel important to them. I am somewhat skeptical of this becoming a commercial endeavor. It would change the feel of a show. There’s a big difference between a standup getting on stage to make people laugh, and getting on stage so that later she can get on a TV show. Similarly, the storyteller’s purpose matters to the process and to the final product.

That being said, if anyone has a chance to make money doing any sort of art, go for it. I wouldn’t mind seeing a storytelling version of Seinfeld or Louie. Also, I wrote before that I came to make this show not because of a clear purpose, but out of creative desperation. So, who knows what’s right. 

If anything, I’d love to see storytelling gain a larger reach. While it could be a powerful social justice tool, it could be more powerful as what it already is — an art form that makes you feel a little more alive for a few minutes — but with a more diverse set of performers and audience. More people seeing themselves reflected on stage, the radio, and on production teams, and more people being affirmed that their stories have value. 

What else should be know about you and what you’re doing?
I answered these questions on a long plane ride, while listening to Bill Callahan’s “The Breeze / My Baby Cries” on repeat and watching Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation with subtitles. Sorry if my answers are intense. 

Anything else you’d like to plug?

Nah.

Where can we find you (web, Twitter, etc.)

Lots of stuff at: timmanleytimmanley.com

Twitter: @timtimmanley

Instagram: @timmanleytimmanley

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