Getting Personal with Liz Kummer and Riley Billingsley
The co-founders of It’s Personal get real about what it’s like running their own theatre company.
Liz Kummer and Riley Billingsley got their first taste of solo performance while students at Columbia College in Chicago. Now in Los Angeles, for the past four years the two women have been sharing the art of solo performance with creatives and audiences alike through their theatre company, It’s Personal.
It’s Personal is a collection of solo performance pieces written and performed by our rotating cast. At our rehearsals, each performer brings pieces that reflect their feelings and point of view; whether it be their relationship with their parents, their devoted love of cheese, their struggle with their identity, or their first love. — itspersonalonstage.com
Below, Kummer and Billingsley give us the inside scoop on running a theatre company, what makes a successful solo performance piece, and their advice to anyone who wants to experience this art form.
Who are you, and how did you get to where you are today?
Kummer: We are the creators and artistic directors of It’s Personal. It’s Personal is best described as storytelling with a twist! We started as a collection of solo performances, but have grown into so much more! We have classes and workshops, a Playwright Development Series Residency, and we are currently in the works of creating a solo show development class and musical theater storytelling class.
Billingsley: Liz and I met at Columbia College Chicago, where we were both studying theater. We both fell in love with solo performance at Columbia, and when we moved out to LA (and became roommates!) we decided to do our own storytelling show, and It’s Personal was born! It’s Personal has grown beyond our wildest dreams and expanded from just us two, to an entire executive team and a huge rotating cast of performers and teachers!
Can you take us through the process of putting together an It’s Personal show?
Kummer: We begin casting the show about a month prior to rehearsals. Once we have our all-star cast, we have four rehearsals and one dress rehearsal. The first rehearsal is our favorite. The cast comes and shares their stories, whether it be an idea, or a fully polished piece. We give collaborative feedback, and they come back the following week making changes to their writing. The third rehearsal, we focus on the “acting” portion of the piece. We really dig deep into why we are sharing these stories, and what does this story mean to you now vs. when it happened. The fourth rehearsal is a run through with more direction and feedback, then we have the dress rehearsal, then it is showtime!!
Billingsley: Even though each It’s Personal show has a theme, our performers show up to the first rehearsal with a wide variety of stories; from hilarious to heartbreaking, but always truthful and heartfelt. As the rehearsal process goes on, Liz and I determine what the running order of the show should be so that it flows nicely. We work with all the performers on their pieces at rehearsal, but also work on advertising the show and the logistics of putting on the show with our stage manager, Jesse!
The Beginner’s Guide to Solo Performance
How I wrote and created my first solo performance piece.
What advice do you have someone trying solo performance for the first time?
Kummer: Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Whether your piece is dramatic or comedic, you are authentically you. Your voice deserves to be heard, so don’t be scared to go for it. This is your moment!
Billingsley: Don’t edit yourself! Just write down your story, there is always time to edit later, but the most important thing is getting your idea down on paper. Whether or not you think your story is “worthy’ or “interesting,” I can guarantee that someone in the audience will relate to your story, so don’t be afraid of sharing! One thing we have implemented in our rehearsals is not allowing the person sharing their story to bad mouth themselves before reading their piece. You’re not allowed to say “well…it’s not finished yet…” or, “it’s just a rough draft it’s not very good” at all. You must present your piece with confidence and without putting yourself down. I think it’s a really helpful tool for any performance or reading, so that you’re not giving the assumption that you believe that you, and your piece, aren’t worthy of respect.
What is something you wish you had known when you first started your theatre company?
Kummer: Starting an LLC is expensive! Ha! We were like, “yeah, let’s do this,” and we had no idea what we were doing. We have learned so much along the way, so we can’t say we regret anything, but it would have been a lot easier if we had someone who knew what they were doing.
Billingsley: Doing what you love is a lot of doing things you don’t love in the process. You have to spend a lot of money, have a lot of hard conversations, do taxes, and other not fun stuff. However, if you really love the product you’re putting out, pushing to make your dream a reality will always be worth it.
How do you approach writing a solo performance piece?
Kummer: Free writing!! I just throw everything on the page. Scratch paper and journals have been my best friends through these past four years. I type it all up, and then delete or add what is needed. By the third rehearsal I usually doubt everything I wrote, but Riley always reassures me that I am on the path to success. So grateful for her!
Billingsley: I also love free writing — I usually write three pieces that never see the light of day for every one piece I actually perform! I try not to judge myself when writing and just let it happen. Even though it’s a personal piece, the collaboration of the other performers always helps me make my piece the best it can be, so I always know that whatever I write, I will get constructive feedback during the rehearsal process to make my piece better.
What makes a piece successful?
Kummer: Attention to detail. When someone can paint the picture and you can see everything that is happening! Being able to zoom in on details and taking feedback from us and our fellow team members. Another thing that makes a piece successful is breath. It might sound crazy, but when we talk about intense or emotional moments we tend to tense up. When a human can just breathe into their piece, it’s absolutely beautiful. You find that vulnerability, that emotion, that human connection.
Billingsley: When it’s personal…which sounds obvious given our name, but truthfully, when someone is really telling their story and you can tell it’s very personal to them. If you dig deep to tell a story that is really personal, it shows. It doesn’t have to be about something overly traumatic or hilarious, if it’s simple but personal to the storyteller, the piece really shines and the audience connects.
‘Bitches Get Personal’ During a Pandemic
It’s Personal in collaboration with The Bitchery of History.
What’s next for you?
Kummer: Owning a theatre space! We have made the goal of owning a space and continuing to create content that is new, fresh, and accessible for everyone.
Billingsley: Owning a space, storytelling classes for children, a larger merch line, more shows under the It’s Personal umbrella, donating more to charities we love, the sky’s the limit!
Is there anything I should have asked, or anything you want people to know?
Billingsley: I would love people to know that we raise money for a different local or national charity every It’s Personal show. We have raised thousands of dollars for some amazing causes since our inception. Giving back to our community is a cornerstone of who we are.
Personal Fact About Liz: I own a dog named Crash! He is named after the video game Crash Bandicoot, which may be the best game ever. I played it with my sister all the time growing up.
Personal Fact About Riley: I am terrified of giraffes, which has to do with something that happened when I was a child. I haven’t told the story on stage…yet.