The Solo Spectacle – The Magic of One-Person Shows

We are excited to have two one-woman shows coming to The PumpHouse Theatre this May and June!

Each production brings its own unique flavor: from the uproarious comedy of My Brilliant Divorce featuring the legendary Jackie Clarke, to the poignant depths of Prima Facie masterfully performed by Cassandra Woodhouse.

I had the privilege of interviewing Jackie & Cassandra to delve deeper into their experiences performing in a one-woman show. Let’s meet them!


Jackie Clarke is renowned for her maverick entertainment style, whether it’s treading the boards (Mamma Mia, Once), making music with her friends (The Lady Killers, When The Cat’s Been Spayed) appearing on the goggle box (judging NZ Idol) or MCing events. In 2018 Jackie was awarded an MNZM for services to the entertainment industry. She’s an all-round choice wahine who’s graced our stage & screens for over 40 years.

PumpHouse regulars will recognise her from a very popular season of the one-woman-play Shirley Valentine in 2021. Recently Jackie has toured her solo cabaret Jackie Goes Prima Diva to the nooks and crannies of rural NZ through the Arts on Tour New Zealand initiative. She also debuted Rock Follies Forever with Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Laura Daniel, performed a concert series with opera tenor Simon O’Neill and baritone Tim Beveridge, and celebrated 19 years singing in The Lady Killers with Tina Cross & Suzanne Lynch.

Jackie is a stalwart of musical theatre in this country (Anything Goes, Chess, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Porgy & Bess, and Sweet Charity). She has toured with rock ‘n’ roll royalty like Dave Dobbyn and Annie Crummer as well as performing with those legendary ‘bands’ the NZSO and the APO. Jackie has been a member of Jubilation Choir for 23 years & toured with Kids For Kids for 8 years.

TV work includes guest hosting The Project, appearances in The Jacquie Brown Diaries, core cast roles in comedy shows Skitz & The Semisis, presenting docos, hosting Saturday Live, and judging Showcase.


Cassandra has been in the entertainment industry for 20 years, having worked professionally on stage, film, and as a model. Cassandra is the founder of NZ Theatre Company which was born of the passion to create a company that supports, develops and sustains the arts. A strong advocate of mental health, Cassandra is committed to establishing an environment that promotes the wellness of artists and society through strong, conscious storytelling and providing employment opportunities that enable artists to feel supported & and sustained to further develop their craft and artistic careers.

From 2022 – 2023 Cassandra produced and performed a nationwide sell-out tour of the one-woman show HANNA by Sam Potter connecting her to thousands of people across NZ and with whom she shared an intimate, unforgettable and heartfelt experience with both on and off the stage. Her ability to hold space for audience members after sharing stories that can expose a lot of vulnerability is a gift that has her being welcomed back to venues all across NZ.

Can you tell us a bit about the solo show you’re in, and the themes or messages explored in your show?

JACKIE: The show is My Brilliant Divorce written by Irish playwright Geraldine Aron. It’s a very, very funny & moving one-woman play that’s been performed all over the world, with great success. Essentially it’s about emotional resilience I guess? Angela, a middle-aged woman gets her act together after her husband goes through a mid-life crisis and leaves her for a much younger woman. Her journey is madcap, messy, occasionally brutal and always entertaining. The play has been described as being a stand-up tragedy or a kind of mid-life Alice in Wonderful. It’s very honest, deliciously daft and I get to lean into my physical comedy bones- which so far in rehearsals has been great fun. But it also contains a lot of truths that I know will resonate hugely with the audience. I love the fact it gives a voice to an often invisible, often trivialised sector of our society; middle-aged women!!

CASSANDRA: Prima Facie explores socially impactful themes of sexual assault, the justice system, law, gender discrimination, power, patriarchy, consent, truth, survivor versus victim, and a call to action.

Have you performed in a one-woman show before? If yes, what was that experience like?

Jackie Clarke

JACKIE: I had the pleasure of doing Shirley Valentine 4 years ago, here at the Pumphouse. It was one of the most satisfying but petrifying experiences of my performing career. I’m more used to singing than acting, so even doing a non-musical was a challenge for me- let alone a one-woman show. But I find comedy pieces are very musical- once you figure out the rhythms of the various scenes and the ‘melodies’ of the themes and the ’tonal ranges’ of the characters etc, I could make sense of it. I’m always joking to my friends that I’m keeping Alzheimer’s at bay by taking on another solo show – but its kinda true. At 58, I want to keep doing work that challenges me and scares me. There is no one to catch you if you falter but I loved the experience. I could never relax a second, never take the arc of the play and Shirley for granted, BUT if you live like a monk during the season of the play and do NOTHING else, you have enough energy to give it its due. Through Shirley Valentine, I found a great team in director Janice Finn & producer Louise Wallace. We have a lot of faith/trust in each other, so I’m happy to go on another exhausting, petrifying but exhilarating journey with them for My Brilliant Divorce.

CASSANDRA: Yes, I produced and performed HANNA from 2022 – 2023 all across NZ. The experience was the greatest challenge and growth opportunity as it was my first one woman show and nothing can quite prepare you for the bravery, commitment and passion it takes to carry a show on your own. What really supported me was knowing the story is always in the room and that I am holding that experience up for others who have had the lived experience, of whatever the themes are that the play explores, and I’m providing a place for their stories to feel seen and heard. And for those who don’t directly resonate with the piece, through empathy they are opened to a world they may not have known before. Art really does have a tremendous healing power.

Are there any particular benefits or challenges you experience performing a one-woman show vs an ensemble show?

JACKIE: The benefit of the one-woman show is it’s like climbing Mt Everest- so if you knock the b’…ard off, it’s immensely satisfying. In the end, though, it’s never a one-woman work – there is a team behind you helping build the performance and shape the character and the production- you’re the only one on stage, but you’ve had the benefit of a trusted inner sanctum getting you to the peak of the Mt. What you miss of course is having fellow performers to bounce off. As a harmony singer, I’m naturally someone who likes to surrender to an ensemble to make something more beautiful than the sum of its parts. And in an ensemble there are the dual satisfactions of settling into a scene and having it ‘play’ to perfection, but also playing a scene and letting something unexpected from a fellow actor take you somewhere new. In a solo show, you can still surprise yourself though – allowing the text to come out of you with different nuances.

Cassandra Woodhouse

CASSANDRA: The benefits are that you can spend a lot more time on the show perhaps than you would with an ensemble piece. You’re not reliant on others to rehearse with so you can inoculate yourself in your own creative world and build the show which is what I really love. I have beautiful rituals around my creative process so I love the sacredness of being able to enter that world whenever I want.

The challenges would be, because it is only you, there is no one else to get you on that stage! Mindset work becomes vital as you are your own team – motivating yourself, cheering yourself on, reflecting on the show. Again though, the audience becomes a vital part of the experience as they are the ones who were out there with you, in that moment of time, sharing that experience so like life, it becomes a special shared experience.

How do you prepare for the emotional demands of portraying multiple characters on stage?

CASSANDRA: Great question as I am deep in the process of this now with Prima Facie!
I think a big part of being emotionally accessible to the demands of the story is really doing the work to understand and uncover the stories behind the emotion that is being called upon. For example, we don’t feel an emotion first, we experience or tell ourselves a story which then creates the emotion. Emotions are a byproduct of the stories we tell ourselves. So doing the work to create those stories in our hearts, often dictated by the writer within the story is key to finding access to the emotional demands of the play.

Are there any techniques you use to keep the audience engaged when you’re the sole performer on stage?

CASSANDRA: Jennifer Ward Lealand, who directed HANNA, shared with me early into our rehearsals together that the responsibility of a one-person show is that you are holding the audience’s energy in the palm of your hand and therefore have to manipulate that energy to keep them engaged. The story holds a big part of this but craft plays a massive role. Vocal variation, diction, energy, fresh thoughts, being in the right here, right now, telling the story as if for the first time, earning your pauses, all these things hold an audience’s attention and the actor really must keep that ball of energy in the air for its audience to stay engaged.

How does the intimacy of a one-woman show differ from ensemble performances in terms of connection with the audience?

JACKIE: Well I love talking to an audience directly – the feeling that this is a one-on-one conversation taking place simultaneously with every individual in the room – a one-woman play allows you to do this. Fourth wall schmourth wall!!! And when it’s really working, you can feel the connection with the audience. It’s an utterly delightful and very powerful feeling.

CASSANDRA: The intimacy differs greatly as the audience of a one-person show becomes the other characters of the story. One of the big creative questions of a one-person show is who the audience is to you. Who are they in relation to the story? As a performer, this is so crucial to know as it dictates much of the storytelling.

What advice would you give to actors who are interested in performing in or creating their own one-person shows?

JACKIE: Go for it! Every actor should have a one-person play in their repertoire! But give yourself as much time as you need to get the text into your mind and body before you start fleshing out the performance. I have to start WAY before scheduled rehearsals in order to have a chance to get the words under my belt. Everything else flows from there.

CASSANDRA: My advice would be that you must do it at least once in your career! Nothing will challenge you more but as with all great challenges comes the most growth so knowing that reward lies on the other side of the experience is priceless. The empowerment you will gain from both creating your own opportunity and stretching yourself creatively will carry you strongly through your career. I also think one-person shows are a reminder of the vital importance of this art form and the stripped-back reminder of how impactful and important that connection with the audience and storytelling is. In a world where we have become so disconnected, creating art that brings people back together is vital to our well-being and to creating change.

Click on the posters to be taken to ticketing info for these shows.



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