Month: May 2015

Blog: Brian McCann Returns!

Former Hedgerow Fellow Brian McCann Returns to Play Don Quixote

For Philadelphia-based actor Brian McCann, playing the title role in Hedgerow Theatre’s production of Don Quixote, which runs through June 7, is the fulfillment of a long-held ambition to portray that character. The fact that he gets to live out that wish at the place where he started his career makes it even more special.

McCann, who grew up in Dover, Del., first aspired to play Don Quixote while he was a student at Dover High School. He had read the book, which he found “quite enlightening, moving, heart-wrenching and funny, and as much about the art of writing the book as it was in telling the story,” and then auditioned for the lead when the school put on The Man of La Mancha. “It came down between me and another student,” he recalled, “who got the role because he was a better singer, and I was Dr. Carrasco. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to play that lead character. Even though others see him as insane, Don Quixote is the creation of a man whose real life is mundane, so he creates a wonderful world, seeing everything with a sense of joy wonder and excitement. He imagines how much better the world would be if everyone kept to the higher standards of the age of chivalry.”  

He’s wanted to make his living as an actor since he played a squirrel in an elementary school play. “I remember my line was ‘What a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky,’” he recalled. “For some reason it got a laugh, and from then on I was hooked. I wanted to get reactions from an audience.”

After studying theatre at the University of Delaware, McCann lived in Aspen, Colorado, for a while, and then returned to the Philadelphia area. He learned about the Fellowship program at Hedgerow and thought it was a perfect match since he wanted to act, but he also needed to make some money. Hedgerow’s program is all-expenses paid, so he became a company member in 1994. Then, as now, training was not just in acting, but in all elements of theatre. McCann learned scenic painting, which he still does today, and was introduced to performing Shakespeare and the classics.

One of his teachers then was Jared Reed, the director of Don Quixote. “Jared was one of the first people I had informed discussions with about text and how to perform it,” McCann remembered. “I had always loved Shakespeare and the poetry of his language, but Jared, as a Juilliard-trained actor who really understood it, gave me the introduction to it.” He has a lot of fond memories of his time there and credits his experience there with providing the foundation for doing classical work.

After leaving Hedgerow, he moved to Philadelphia and started acting professionally, working at a number of theatres, including The Philadelphia Artist Collective,The Arden Theater Company, Walnut Street Theater, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and 1812 Productions. He added to his training in the classics with private instruction with David Howey. Howey, now an associate professor at the University of the Arts, acted in England for 30 years, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company with such esteemed actors as Judi Dench and Ian McKellen.

For the past 16 years, McCann has also nurtured his comedic talents, performing improv with ComedySportz Philadelphia, addition to performing the classics. “I love both equally,” he said, “and find joy in both. improv was a necessary skill in Shakespeare’s day, when companies had two and a half weeks to prepare a play, including memorizing the lines, and actors weren’t given the whole script, just their parts and cues. Combine that with audiences that talked back. Classical actors still do use improv all the time, especially if they go up a line and have to find a way to continue the scene.”

He’s returned to Hedgerow several times, teaching improv and playing MacDuff in Macbeth in 2013. He jumped at the chance to play his dream role in Don Quixote, completing the trio of characters he’s aspired to play, Cyrano de Bergerac and Iago. “I am really thrilled that Jared found Keith Dewhurst’s adaptation, which I didn’t know existed,” McCann said. “It really captures the flavor of the book and tells the story in a beautiful way.”

Adult ticket prices for Friday, Saturday and Sunday shows are $34; Thursday shows are $29. There is a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under are $20 and $15 for students with valid ID. Tickets for the previews on May 7 and 8 are $20 for adults and $15 for students. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change. For reservations or more info, call 610-565-4211 or visit Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).

Blog: What a Wonderful World It Could Be

Blog by 
Brock D. Vickers

This is fun: this ridiculous world we have created with Cervantes’ work. Don Quixote has become  one of my favorite characters in all of literature. It’s not just the amazing performance delivered by Brian McCann, it’s not just the madness of clown directed by Jared Reed, and it’s not just the ensemble work from a terrific cast, but the soul of the piece that sings to me.

Prior to working on this project, my knowledge of Don Quixote existed on the same plane as most people’s: something about some windmills, a jig about a funny helmet that’s not really a hat, and a quirky side kick who cracks jokes. I remembered an episode of Looney Tunes with Porky the Pig and I watched the documentary Lost in La Mancha about Terry Gilliam’s disastrous attempts to film this beast. Yet, the more we worked on the project the more I saw the brilliance of Cervantes’s masterpiece, and the nut he was trying to crack.

Master Quijana exists in a world that, in his mind, has fallen from grace. In his books, he discovers a better time: a time when Knight’s Errant lived valiantly and men did not bow to the trials of life. He is a man of nostalgia. Therefore, after living in his books about gallantry and chivalry, Master Quijana decides to embrace the life of a Knight Errant by dawning the name Don Quixote and rides forth to re-instill those practices of old.

Slowly, I began to see similarities between Don Quixote’s world and my own. At first, it was the connection of the classic trope of hero and side kick, but then all the idiosyncrasies of the show began to pop-out. The more we worked on the piece  the less it seemed like a 500 year old novel, and more like a modern day satire of the comic book era.

Then, in the midst of rehearsals Avengers: Age of Ultron was released in movie theaters. A movie about a group of heros all living by a higher code than the common man. Each of these Marvel characters has their flaws, just as Don Quixote, and they all have the something in common: they all believe in a better world, and they are all willing to fight for, protect, or avenge that world.

What is to stop one of us from trying to be a superhero? How often have we wished we were better people? Better heroes? Tony Stark built a suit of iron and became Iron Man. Bruce Wayne adopted the cape and cowl to become a symbol for justice. Matt Murdock trained to protect Hell’s Kitchen from diving into the abyss. To us these superheros are our Knight Errants. They are our modern myths. After all, what is a knight but a superhero?

After reading comics and watching movies, what would our story be if we suddenly adopted a mask and some body armor and took to the streets? How many times would we receive a beating if we took up arms against thugs? Would people laugh at our capes? Our words? Our existence?

The brilliance of Don Quixote is that though he appears mad to all those around him, he is actually living on a higher level of existence. He sees the world the way he wants to see it, and his very act of being a Knight Errant is an invitation to all to be a part of something greater. Instead of telling people what he believed, Don Quixote showed them. Much like Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew, Don Quixote issues an offer to anyone willing to play his game, and if just one person were to play, what fun they would have.

What would the world look like if we all believed in dragons again? If we all lived by a code? If instead of condemning the world around us, we started living life the way we believed it should be lived?

We all want the world to be a better place, and we all have our very own windmills to fight. Yet, a story such as this, foils and all, reminds us that at any instance we can pick up a lance, don a cape, and be a Knight for something greater than ourselves. And though we may fail, our story will live on, and maybe — just maybe — one day it will be a story worth having some fun and clowning around with.

Blog: A Truly Theatrical Form

Blog by
Susan Wefel

As Hedgerow tackles the great literary masterpiece “Don Quixote” by Cervantes  - May 7th – June 7th,  2015 on the mainstage, I have been happy to engage in working with ensemble members under Jared Reed’s leadership. Jared, who I have known and worked with forever, has taken chances with this show and has drawn the fantastic talent from all of our ensemble members with no holding back! 

There are clowns with noses, mustaches, multiple roles, puppets, saw horses, screens, shadow play, and music.Its an evening of theatre that is sure to stick in your memory.In a show like this, big personality is required to tell the stories and fables. An actor must live in a life that is as large as a puppet. This form is truly theatrical and brings us all back to our roots of storytelling and myths on a grand scale. 

A common note for all actors is, “Go big, I’ll tell you when to pull back.” I have always been a big personality performer and in fact I have been told many times by directors to “pull-back” so this style of playing with such force for me is not hard.  There is such freedom in playing big–almost inhuman–a kind of Comedia dell’arte mixed with a children’s Punch and Judy show reminding one of outdoor or children’s theatre.  It evokes a sense of epic theatre at it’s best, living in a world of its own under the lights and sounds of the designers.  

Working on this show has been an absolute dream. To play with these actors, in this world, in this form has been a pleasure. To create characters that crack kids up and make adults laugh at themselves has been a true delight. 

Come see “Don Quixote”  at Hedgerow Theatre and you will NOT be disappointed!  It tells the story of the “Knight Errant” and his sidekick Sancho in an engaging and appealing way so that we all, young and old, may learn our life’s journey is full of surprises and never really over. 

SUSAN WEFEL (Ensemble) is a graduate of The School of Theatre at Boston University and is a 37-year veteran actress and company member of Hedgerow Theatre. She has studied under Dolores Tanner, Rose Schulman, Janet Kelsey, Louis Lippa, and Penelope Reed. Recent Hedgerow roles include her critically acclaimed Shirley Valentine (Shirley), Corpse (Mrs. McGee), Pride and Prejudice (Mrs. Bennett), and the annual A Christmas Carol in which she’s performed every year! She was recently seen in The Addams Family and Les Miserables at Media Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Blog: Playing in the Shadows

Blog by Colleen Marker

When director Jared Reed, announced Hedgerow’s production of Don Quixote would tell the story using shadow puppets, it was an exciting prospect. Cervantes novel is wide and encompassing story, so what better way to bring the larger-than-life elements to life than to make those elements themselves, literally, larger than life; however, as exciting an idea as it was, it was still, a little, daunting. Knowing the majority of the actors on stage had little to no experience puppeteering, it was exciting, and hilarious, to see the entire company rise up to the challenge.  

Now, actors are known for having an myriad of different skills, since our profession requires us to use our bodies and voices as tools, it is essential to be able to pull little tricks out of our pockets at any given time such as speaking in dialects, dancing, or unicycling. As artists we use these skills we accumulate over the years to enhance our storytelling. Along will the help of the director, lights, sound, costume, and in our case, a puppet designer, we create a world and share it with the audience. 

So as soon as rehearsals began we rehearsed with a few of the puppets. From giant horse heads, to little lambs with moveable legs, to lions who roar, the company tried, erred, and tried again to create life out of the beautiful silhouettes provided to us by designer Alisa Kleckner. It was definitely a challenge

Shadow puppets, at first, seem easy to operate, but they are, in fact, deceptively difficult. It was not until Alisa herself came to work with us that the puppets began to come alive. Within an hour of working with her, she revealed how shadow puppets work, which is to say to treat them as a live-action cartoon, using slow, deliberate movements so as not to distract the audience.

Don Quixote is a story of one of the most colorfully written characters in history, a man who had both strong convictions and strong misconceptions about the world around him. Quixote lives in a world of surrealism that he absolutely believes in, and shadow play and puppetry are one of the most creative ways to bring that world to life. Don Quixote is an fantastic and vivid tale all on its own, but when you put the story in the hands of Jared, Alisa and Hedgerow, its impossible to not have a fun creating Cervantes masterpiece.   

COLLEEN MARKER (Ensemble) is in her second year as a company member here at Hedgerow Theatre. Hedgerow audiences would have previously seen Colleen on the Hedgerow stage in Hamlet (The Player Queen), Sense and Sensibility(Lucy Steele) and A Christmas Carol (Ghost of Christmas Past), as well as being a Storyteller in numerous Theatre for Kid’s Storytime! productions. A graduate of Rider University’s Westminster College of the Arts (BA in Theatre Performance), Colleen has worked at theatre’s all over the greater Philadelphia area both on and offstage. Past favorite credits include Delaware Shakespeare Festival’sA Midsummer Night’s Dream(Titania’s Fairy) and The Crucible(Mercy Lewis) Thanks to Sarah, Jared, Penn and the Hedgerow crew for this wonderful experience, and special thanks to Mom, Dad and the whole family for the constant support, and to Joel, for everything.