Hedgerow Fellow Josh Portera is living proof that actors sometimes have to make sacrifices for their art. In his case, he was willing to lose his hair and his beard to portray archetypal teutonic villain Otto von Brunno in Bullshot Crummond, the hilarious spoof of 1930s’ detective movies playing at Hedgerow through October 11.
Losing his hair was just one of the challenges Portera faced after being cast as ace crime-solver Bullshot’s archnemesis. He worked with director Matt Tallman to find the best way to depict the character in a way that fit the satirical nature of the play by Ron House, Diz White, John Neville-Andrews, Alan Shearman and Derek Cunningham. “I needed to find the middle ground,” Portera explained, “between making Otto too realistic and sinister and being too over-the-top ridiculous, and still have the audience be able to laugh at him.” According the rave reviews he’s received, he seems to have been able to pull that off. “Matt was just terrific as a director,” he added, “He has an excellent eye for detail and the ability to make what he wants clear in a very specific way.”
Cutting off his hair was much more difficult than he anticipated, taking about four hours to achieve the totally bald look the role demands. “I had to look up how to do it safely,” Portera recalled, “so I didn’t damage my head and scalp. I had to take off three different layers before finishing it off, and I kept wondering if this was really necessary. When I finally saw myself in costume, though, it all made sense and I understood the impact being hairless made.”
The Fairfield, Conn., native discovered his talent for and love of acting almost by accident. “My sister and cousin had gone to a performance camp,” he laughed, “and wanted to go for a second session, but my mom said they had to take me.” He attended the same camp for the next three years, did shows in middle school, then attended a magnet high school at the Regional Center for the Arts, where they did two musicals a year. During the summers, he did shows with the Trumbull Youth Association, which produces three musicals each year. After graduating, he earned a BA in Theatre from Muhlenberg College.
Portera learned about the opening at Hedgerow from fellow Muhlenberg grad Allison Bloechl, who plays his mistress, Lenya, in Bullshot Crummond. He sent his application in on Monday, came that Friday for a weekend visit and started the week after. He was immediately cast as the butler in Post Haste, for which he also served as assistant stage manager.
In between his arrival and his current role, he was the board operator for No Sex Please, We’re British, running the lights and sound. “That was a lot of fun,” he remembered, “although there were a few times when the audience was laughing so loud that I couldn’t hear the cue lines.” He also worked on The Secret Garden and Wizard of Oz Jr. camps, played Lafayette in the Bastille Day festivities in Media, and works on the marketing team. “It’s all very busy,” he said, “but the great thing is that I’m never thrown into anything alone. I get great support from everyone here.”
He’ll also continue to be busy as he’ll be playing the attendant in the upcoming Dracula, and participating in A Christmas Carol, the staged reading of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, and Jared Reed’s world premiere adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. “I’m excited to be part of so many different productions,” he said, “and I’m learning so much all the time.” He’s not sure what the future will hold after his two years as a Fellow are over, but he’s grateful that he’ll have had an excellent start to his career
Adult ticket prices for Friday, Saturday evening and Sunday shows are $34; Thursday and Saturday twilight 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. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. It is also possible to purchase a membership, which provides half-price tickets for all shows. Prices include all fees and are subject to change.
For reservations or more info, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.HedgerowTheatre.org. Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).