Month: September 2015

Blog: Actor Gives up Hair for Bullshot


Blog by
Susan Tiedeck

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 Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).


Blog: Allison Bloechl, überwench


Blog by 
Allison Bloechl, Company Member

Good Bad Acting – or – How to be a crazy German überwench

Acting badly: easy for some, hard for others, extremely difficult to do on purpose.  The characters portrayed in Bullshot Crummond straddle (figuratively and literally in my case) the line between over-the-top spoof and genuine humanity. 

When we began rehearsing this unique show, our lovely director, Matt Tallman, had us venture far into the world of the caricature and cartoon.  Dramatic pauses abounded, actors faced everything directly out to the audience, and all was – more or less – ludicrous and surreal.

After a week of this, he slowly began to chisel away at the absurdities and layer in aspects of reality.  Instead of facing everything out, we began to act and, more importantly, react to our scene partners instead of relying on the tropes of the genre as we had before.

We had shifted suddenly from the Marx Brothers to Stanislavski – each character using real tactics to overcome the obstacles and reach their goals.  While Lenya’s goals may be absurd – world domination (and at least one dalliance with a certain Captain…) – the way she goes about getting them is very true and honest.  She coerces, forces, seduces and manipulates those around her to get her way.

Such is the charm of Bullshot Crummond.  The audience is titillated by the absurdities of the circumstances, but is enthralled with the realness of the characters. 

Lenya really came to life as she began to get more realistic, as least, as realistic as someone who strikingly resembles Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle can be.  As I began to stray away from the clichés and dig deeper into the human being that Lenya was, she became richer and more active in moving the storyline forward.  She became a joy to portray as her obsession with Crummond became more and more clear. 

Lenya to me is a child mesmerized by a shiny object.  Once I had discovered the playable, realistic aspects of her character, I could achieve the ludicrous without making her unlovable (even if she is the bad guy).  While her obsession is hysterical and ridiculous, it is real.  If it’s not real, if Lenya is not absolutely invested in how to get what she wants, it’s bad acting.  If it’s an absolute, genuine conviction to get what she wants, no matter how crazy the steps (1. Annoy husband with inappropriate relationship with bird so that he won’t want to deal with arch nemesis. 2. Receive permission to deal with [sexy] arch nemesis. 3. Defeat arch nemesis, but not before a little bit of fun…), hopefully, it’s ridiculous acting, done well.

Podcast: The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium

Long name, amazing results. Currently running Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium is an amazing theatre company focusing on absurdist works of theatre. Today, we sit down with Producing Artistic Director Tina Brock to talk about absurd works of theatre like our very own Bullshot Crummond, as well as the philosophy of existentialism and applying sports and athletics in the theatre. This episode is a little long, but holds amazing content. Enjoy this episode as Brock interviews Brock. 

Blog: My Best Laid Plans Always Go Awry


Blog by
Josh Portera, Hedgerow Theatre Company Member

Working on a spoof like Bullshot Crummond poses an interesting dilemma as the actor playing the villain of the piece. The source material, Bulldog Drummond, is a trope-filled set of hijinks that can easily be played upon for humor, but the integral part of what makes these theatrical devices funny is their naiveté; the simple fact that they are being played realistically and honestly as if they have any place in the real world. The conflict that arose in rehearsing the part of Otto von Brunno came out of this unique duality, where the character had to be at the same time funny and realistic, even though spoof at its core is the act of exaggerating specific tropes for comedic effect. With the already naturally trope-tastic source material, it became very easy to skip right into a foundationless caricature.

The “Evil German” character Otto represents was born from a very real place of fear in the British people following World War I. We look back on some of these roles and are capable of laughing now, nearly a century after WWI ended, but in the days of Bulldog Drummond characters like Otto were a real looming threat, exacerbated by the stories of shell-shocked soldiers and wartime propaganda. If Otto gets too far on the realistic side, his anger and schemes stop being funny and begin to feel out of place among the other characters.

On the other hand, this is an exaggerated take on an already exaggerated story.  The original Bulldog Drummond made claims such as Drummond could “kill a man with his bare hands in a second” or “move over ground without a single blade of grass rustling.” Taking such claims and pushing them to further extremes runs the risk of becoming flat out ridiculous—go too far with the potential craziness of Otto von Brunno and he becomes an idiot, and not the kind the audience will find funny. He becomes a buffoon, a type of character that could just as easily be played by a monkey in a German uniform.

In the end, the most effective Otto is somewhere between the two extremes; his frustration is real, his plans are what he conceives to be the best way to proceed against Bullshot. He also consistently messes up and chooses more and more ridiculous ways to battle his nemesis. That’s why we find him funny—these are genuinely his best laid plans that we’re watching go awry.

Blog: A Note from the Director

The authors/creators of this play, a group called The Low Moan Spectacular, wrote that “Bullshot Crummond is a parody of low-budget grade “B” detective movies…[which] derives its humor from the audacious attempt to transpose effects normally reserved for films to the stage. These effects…whilst trying to fool the audience with their authenticity will never succeed but nevertheless remain highly inventive and consequently spectacular.”

The creation of this production has been a joyous collaboration, and the inventiveness of the actors, designers, and everyone that contributed to this show has been a continuous delight through the entire process.

Thank you for coming to the theatre. I hope that you enjoy this “dastardly tale.

-Matt Tallman, Director

Matt Tallman is a Philadelphia actor and director who played Richard Hannay in last summer’s 39 Steps, a play. In fact, Tallman once played Bullshot early in his career, and recommended the play while appearing at Hedgerow as a good fit for the theatre. The critically praised 1974 play features a plane crash, a manic car chase, sword fighting, a supervillain, a femme fatale, and a damsel in distress, not to mention a large amount of slapstick, bizarre and unlikely events, rapid-fire costume changes and actors who play multiple roles.