Month: April 2017

What Everybody Ought to Know About Creating a Story

photo by Wide Eyed Studios

The Prisoner of Zenda closes this weekend. With four shows left we wanted to take the time to pass along what we’ve learned through this process. Thanks to Anthony Hope’s brilliant novel, and Matt Tallman’s wonderfully clever adaptation, Hedgerow’s production of Zenda has garnered critical acclaim, Barrymore recommendations, and fan love.


  1. The Script is the Blueprint

    • Tallman focused on this from day one: the script is a starting point. Like Hope’s novel, the adaptation was meant to give everyone a place to start, a common ground to begin their work. Once in the room, the script was adapted to players strengths, not the other way around.
  2. Write to be Seen

    • Though it should go without saying, it is often forgotten by writers. Scripts, be it screenplay or play, are meant to be seen and heard. Just because it looks good on paper George Lucas doesn’t mean Harrison Ford can say it.
  3. Write Your Truth

    • One of the things that made Zenda successful was the heart of the story. Hope’s novel is filled with heart. Tallman’s adaptation is filled with heart. All wacky gags and sword fights aside, the story has heart. Both cast and crew brought their entire selves to this performance and it has shown, but remember, it begins with a script.
  4. Keep Concept in Mind

    • Concept comes first. You need an idea that’s not only marketable, but interesting and compelling. From the beginning, Zenda was to take the form of a swashbuckling adventure in the style of 39 Steps and Bullshot Crummond: big story, little cast.
  5. Keep It Light, Keep It Bright, Keep It Play

    • It is every easy in theatre to get heavy. We want catharsis. We want big drama, but sometimes we just need to laugh. Not every play needs to an Oedipus complex. Not every play has to be written for Sylvia Plath. Enjoy what you write. Remember, good stories start with heart, and if you want to send something up to Robin Williams and Errol Flynn then so be it.
  6. Use the Genius Before You

    • Much like Shakespeare, we did not invent this story, we found it. Hope’s novel has been around for decades and is as much fun today as it was then. We borrowed and built upon Hope’s amazing story in hope’s that you would enjoy ours. Great artists steal. We borrow, we listen, we tweak. Don’t be afraid to use your influences.

Speak with Distinction: 7 Tips to Help You Speak Like Morgan Freeman

Then again, sometimes a look is all you need.

Our voice is a beautiful instrument, but many of us forget to take full advantage of it. Director Emeritus Penelope Reed spent years training her voice and teaching the fundamentals of proper use. If you want an in-depth discussion on the topic just ask her and she can take you down an amazing rabbit hole!

In Zenda, the voice is put to the test with accents and a range of pitches. In the modern world, this aspect of acting is often overlooked, giving way to more mental methods, but in classical training nothing is more important than the human voice. If you want to nail your next presentation, or simply work at perfecting your pitch, try out these simple methods for speaking with distinction.

Got some more tips? Leave us a comment!

1. Breathe right.

People who don’t speak from the diaphragm also don’t breathe from the diaphragm. To breathe correctly, simply inhale and let your belly rise, and exhale and let your belly fall. Breathing is the most fundamental activity we engage in to sustain life. Proper breathing can relax us physically, sharpen us mentally, calm us emotionally, and solidify us psychologically. If we breathe right, everything else about us will begin to fall into place. It is lifeforce.

“To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

2. Slow down

Speaking too quickly is a bad habit and it can be difficult for people to keep up with you or even understand what you’re saying. This makes it easy for them to tune out and stop listening.

  • Therefore, it’s important to slow down your speech by saying your words more slowly and pausing between sentences – this helps to add emphasis to what you’re saying and gives you a chance to take a breath!
  • On the other hand, it’s a good idea not to speak too slowly. Speaking too slowly can be monotonous for your listeners, so they may become impatient and just tune out.
  • The ideal speaking rate is somewhere between 120 and 160 words per minute. However, if you’re giving a speech, it’s a good idea to alter the speed at which you speak – speaking slowly can help to emphasize a point, while speaking more quickly can give the impression of passion and enthusiasm.[1]

3. Make sounds based on diaphragmatic breathing.

Whether you’re singing, speaking, chanting, laughing, or even yawning, develop the habit of projecting from your diaphragm.

  • Your breath should come from your diaphragm, not from your chest. To figure out if you’re breathing correctly, place your fist on your abdomen, just below your last rib – you should feel your stomach expand and see your shoulders rise and fall as you breathe.
  • Practice your breathing by inhaling deeply, allowing the air to fill your belly. Breathe in for a count of 5 seconds, then exhale for another 5. Get used to this method of breathing, then try to work it into your everyday speech.
  • Remember that sitting or standing up straight, with your chin up and your shoulders back, will help you to breathe deeper and project your voice more easily. It will also give you an air of confidence as you speak.
  • Try to breathe at the end of every sentence – if you use the deep breathing method, you should have enough air to get through the next sentence without having to pause for breath. This will also give your listeners a chance to absorb what you’re saying.

4. Take a singing or acting class.

Many of these courses begin with vocal warm ups from the diaphragm. These classes can be a lot of fun!

5. Work with a private voice coach.

In my voice coaching sessions, most clients are able to access their best (most powerful and attractive) voice in about one hour. The rest is simply practicing vocal exercises until the “new” voice is progressively internalized. (Psst we offer these too)

6. Enunciate

Speaking clearly is possibly the most important aspect of developing a good speaking voice. You need to pay close attention to each and every word you say – pronouncing it fully and correctly.

Make sure to open your mouth, loosen your lips and keep your tongue and teeth in the correct position as you speak. This may also help eliminate or disguise a lisp, if you have one. It might feel odd at first, but if you consistently make the effort to pronounce your words correctly, it will soon come naturally to you.[1]

7.  Vary your pitch

The pitch of your voice can have a real impact on the quality of your speech and the impact it makes on your listeners. In general, speaking in a shaky or unsteady pitch gives the impression of nervousness, while an even voice is more calming and persuasive.[2]

Although you shouldn’t try to change the natural pitch of your voice (no Darth Vader impressions, please), you should make an effort to control it. Don’t let your nerves get the better of you and aim to achieve a fuller, smoother pitch.

You can practice controlling your pitch by humming a tune, or simply by reading a piece of text aloud to yourself. Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to maintain a steady pitch at all times – some words should be voiced in a higher pitch in order to add emphasis.

7 Tips for Writin’ Real Good

Since The Prisoner of Zenda is being considered for best new play in Philadelphia, we figured we would cook up some tips for writing; however, upon further investigation we found that other authors had beat us to the punch. Most of these are from authors, we’ll cover playwrights and writers of dialogue at a later date. In the meantime, here are 7 tips for writing your story from “Real Good” authors:

1) Don’t Explain

From John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday

“I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t liek to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure ouw what he looks like from the way he talks…figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says.”

2) Don’t Waste the Reader’s (or Viewer’s) Time

Also from John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday 

“Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle…Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3) Never Use a Verb other than “Said” to Carry Dialogue

From Leonard Elmore

“The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.”

3b) Never Use an Adverb to Modify the Word Said

Also from Leonard Elmore

“…he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

4) Don’t Wait for Inspiration

from jack london

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

5) Is It Your First Draft? It’s bad.

from ernest hemmingway

“The first draft of everything is shit.”

6) Keep Descriptions to a Minimum

From Ernest Hemmingway’s “Hills Like WHite Elephants”

“She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.”

That’s it. That’s all you get as a description of the characters, and yet, you learn everything about them through their dialogue.

7) If it Sounds Like Writing, re-Write it.

From Leonard Elmore’s 10 Rules of Writing

“…[we] can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”


7 Secrets to Laughing More

We love stories that make us feel adventurous and bring a smile to our face. The modern equivalent to a classic like The Prisoner of Zenda is Marvel’s The Guardians of the Galaxy, a humorous adventure through a bold new world. Though Zenda may not have special effects budget of Marvel, it does have the dry wit and deep characters. So what’s the secret to laughing more? Well, come see Zenda, but if you need some ideas more at hand then here you go:


1. Laugh at Yourself.
A golden rule of comedy is that we are all fools. No matter who the character is, everybody plays the fool. In fact, in farce it’s always the character who takes himself the most serious who ends up the butt of the joke. We all know that person who thinks they are Batman, and they are no fun to be around 24/7. The remedy? Look at a cat video or two and remember you are not trapped in a morality play.

2. Spend time with funny people.
Simple fact: laughter is infectious. Therefore, spend time with friends and colleagues who make you smile and who make you feel good about being yourself. Is there really any need to explain more?

3. Use Technology
We have more information at our fingertips than any generation before us. Have we built this network of information on the secrets of the Pyramids? Well, yes actually, but the other thing we have dedicated this massive internet to is laughter. College Humor, Key and Peele, and a quick search of YouTube will put a smile on your face. Our suggestion? Search “That hurts Charlie.”

4. See A Show
Seriously. Philly is brimming with comedy. Hedgerow is producing an action adventure, but if you want to see stand-up then go see it live. Remember, laughter is infectious and if a comedian can make you laugh sitting alone at your computer imagine what a show can do with a room full of people. Be part of an experience.

5. Laugh all the way to the office.
We’re betting you have a smartphone, and if you do then you can listen to podcasts. Therefore, download one of the many podcasts that dedicate themselves to humor. Want something weird and funny? Try Last Podcast on the Left. Want something sporty and funny? Try Pardon My Take. Want something satirical? Try Welcome to Nightvale. 

6. Listen.
We all want to be funny, but as any improv comedian will tell you the secret to being creative is listening. At all moments in life odd things happen. Knowledge is limited. Stupidity is boundless. We all make fools of ourselves. We all say silly things. If we tune in to the world around us, it’s amazing what we will find.

7. Get to know the greats.
When time permits, watching a classic, funny movie is a sure-fire, fast-acting stress-buster. Though all of us have our own idea of what strikes us funny, with the help of On Demand, Netflix, Hulu and the old fashioned video store, most of us are never more than a few moments away from a funny, mood-lifting movie. For inspiration and hours of giggle-inducing ideas, take a look at Bravo’s Top 100 Funniest movies list

Enemies 20 Years in the Making

Actors David Bardeen and Brian McCann, both former Acting Apprentices at Hedgerow Theatre, return to play together for the first time in twenty years as political rivals in Lantern Theatre Companies Coriolanus, which closes April 16. 

David Bardeen, Brock D. Vickers, Brian McCann, and Adam Hammet in Lantern Theater Company’s production of CORIOLANUS. Photo by Mark Garvin.

“Everyone does a little of everything at Hedgerow,” says former Hedgerow Acting Resident David Bardeen. The tradition has continued two decades later as America’s oldest operating repertory theatre fills the stage with three acting apprentices in The Prisoner of Zenda.


Yet as one production begins, another one ends. Lantern Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed Coriolanus pulls into the bus stop, and with it are two former fellows who began their careers over two decades ago.


Actors Bardeen and Brian McCann met each other at the Hedgerow Farmhouse in Rose Valley, PA as Resident Acting Apprentices. This week, these two Philadelphia actors are closing their first show together, Coriolanus at Lantern Theatre Company, since their time at Hedgerow.


In Corioalnus, a war hero from a powerful family, Coriolanus seems destined to be elected consul under the guidance of his mentor Menenius, played by McCann  – but the people find his pride an unforgivable insult, and behind the newly elected Sicinius, played by Bardeen, tensions explode fracturing state’s governing elite and deprived masses.


Bardeen and McCann often go out for the same roles, so it has taken more than twenty years in Philadelphia to work together again. Between 1993 and 1995, however, Bardeen and McCann worked alongside  each other and people such as current Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed, Rosemary Fox, Annemette Anderson, Heather Cunningham, Paul and Gay Kuhn, Susan Wefel, Cory Solar, Charles Lear, Sean and Kristin Walker, Jason Flannery, Kim Senior, and Elise Miller.


David Bardeen and Mary Lee Bednarek in Lantern Theater Company’s production of CORIOLANUS. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Though the years are a blur at this point for the duo, the two share distinctive memories of learning on the job, be it painting the house to shaving their head to play “Satan.”  From Agatha Christie to Moliere to Shakespeare to Aristophanes and everything in between the two actors performed in a gamut of material, which has benefited them greatly in their respective careers.


“We were all actors  but had to study some other discipline in theatre. I chose Scenic Design and painting,” said McCann. “They brought in specialists in their field to train us and it is a skill I am still using to this day. Hedgerow is where I really cut my teeth on the classics. I did my first Moliere there, we did Greek tragedy and comedy. Jared Reed was the first person I had informed discussions with about The Bard and that has remained and interest throughout my career.”


Each day began at 9 a.m. to discuss upkeep of the house and theatre, and every Friday night the company would have dinner together. A group of fresh faces and recent grads, as well as mid-career performers and professionals, the Hedgerow Company focused on developing the talents of actors and theatre artists and running one of the oldest theatres in America.


“It was a great learning experience right out of college,” said Bardeen,  “I’ve never cleaned so many toilets. I was the box office manager, started one of the first subscription drives, company manager for a time, and acted on stage constantly.”


Under the direction of Penelope Reed, the company worked to produce material year round. Much like today, every company member had duties in the house, kitchen, theatre, and in rehearsal and performance. Each fellow was there to learn and learn they did.


“Penelope was an amazing teacher, director, and mentor during my time at Hedgerow and taught me a lot about generosity of spirit, making big bold choices, and character development and details, “ said Bardeen. “I’m grateful to her for her constant support and love. I’m not sure I would still be an actor if not for her.  I probably would have gone to law school or something. Hedgerow gave me the confidence to pursue acting as a career.”

Now, the two have returned to the Bard, and the old friends have returned to old hat to add depth to the show.

“We are like ships in the night. I have had such Joy working with David again; we are much older but it feels as if we haven’t missed more than a month. We have fallen right back into our old familiar patter,” said McCann.


McCann and Bardeen’s relationship was a intricate part to their work on stage. Menenius is a slick talking politician who represents the noble families of Rome in the Senate and Sicinius is a newly elected representative of the people. With the history of Hedgerow under their belt, the two picked up where they left off and brought their past friendship to the forefront of their performances.


“When you have a history with someone, it can make the work better.  You have a respect and trust level that can allow deeper and (more importantly) quicker connections.  When you’re trying to mount Coriolanus in three weeks while performing other shows at night, and you’re exhausted, it can be invaluable.  I’m not going to speak for him, but I hope it’s the first of many,” said Bardeen.


Bardeen and McCann are not the only familiar faces to Hedgerow making an appearance in Coriolanus, as Leonard Haas as the politician Brutus, Kirk Wendell Brown as Cominius, Mary Lee Bendarek as Virgilia, and Brock D. Vickers as part of the Ensemble fill out the Lantern cast.


“It was an extraordinary time to be at Coriolanus on opening night and see so many strong Hedgerow actors playing together. Nothing like playing in ensemble to radiate the impact of connecting deeply. Opening night at Lantern was thrilling to see such an array of talent and generations of Hedgerow players soaring together,” said Director Emeritus Penelope Reed.
Coriolanus closes this Sunday April 16 at 2 p.m., but Hedgerow’s Zenda is in full swing running until April 30.  Check out this generation of Actin Apprentices now referred to as Fellows, Mark Swift, Allison Bloechl, and Josh Portera, as they fill out the stage and become the creators of tomorrow.

The Ultimate Guide to Theatrical Comedy in 8 Steps

Hedgerow Theatre and adapter/director/actor Matt Tallman have come together to create the Barrymore Recommended comedy adventure The Prisoner of Zenda based on Anthony Hope’s classic tale and the musings of The 39 Steps and Bullshot Crummond. The show ahs been hailed as “heartfelt” and as “fun” as it is “adventurous.” Therefore, we wanted to share the top 14 things we kept in mind while creating this show:

1.Solid Source Material

  • Anthony Hope’s novel has been adapted for decades. The story gave birth to its own genre, and is a favorite of classic Hollywood. Even Futurama adapted an episode based around the story named The Prisoner of Benda. Like every theatre in America doing Hamlet and even the bard taking the story of the Prince of Denmark and putting his spin on it, you must start with a solid base.

2. Exaggeration

  • From the book “Comedy Writing Secrets,” exaggeration is a key component of comedy. “How does realism relate to exaggeration? As we accept poetic license, let’s accept a humor license that grants permission to expand on realistic themes with soaring imagination and unabashed metaphors…” Think Eddie Izzard bits or Robin Williams summing up golf. If you want to have fun with a classic tale, such as Bulldog Drummond, then roll up your sleeves and let the energy fly.

3. Emotion

  • This is straight from the horses mouth. Director and adaptor Matt Tallman was blown away by the heart of Hope’s novel. In fact, more important to him than the comedy was the story and the catharsis of the characters.  “There’s comedy, there’s fun, there’s memorable characters, but I was sold by the deeper human story that ran through the show…At the end of the day, having an emotional impact was key for me, “ said Tallman, “Zenda is different from other plays in its genre by virtue of the depth of the emotional life in it, which was inherent in the source material.  When we did a table read of my third draft and Jared Reed, Hedgerow’s  Producing  Artistic Director, was in tears at the end, I thought that was a good sign.”

4. Surprise!

  • From “Comedy Writing Secrets” a sourcebook for screenwriting comedy, “…surprise (is) one of the primary reasons why people laugh. It’s no wonder then that it’s also one of the primary building blocks for a successful joke…comedy is mentally pulling the rug out from under each person in your audience. First, you have to get them to stand on it. You have to fool them, because if they see you preparing to tug on the rug, they’ll move.”

5. Don’t Get Stuck to Your First Idea

  • Tallman wrote the Zenda with this thought in mind, “It’s better to fix than to create.” This simple thought gave Tallman the freedom to imrpovise and adapt the story to the people in the room. Many of the jokes and bits were suited to the actors, such as Allison Bloechl and Mark Swift. The novel was a starting point and Tallman’s adaptation was a base, after the first draft it was, “Let’s throw it on the wall and see if it sticks.”

6. Keep Your Audience Guessing

  • The idea of misdirection, a concept used by all writers who make readers believe they
    are going down one path and then lead them astray. In comedy, the setup of a joke provides direction and the punch line provides misdirection, which is why it goes at the end. Look for the illogical and keep playing with your ideas.

7. Find Something Worth Repeating

  • When an audience laughs, stay in the moment. We want to feel that feeling. We want to laugh, like this, more. Therefore, when you find a joke, repeat it. Stand-up comedians use callbacks all the time. Old vaudeville and Shakespeare jokes thrive on the rule of three. Comedy comes in 3’s, but also 5’s and 7’s. If you find a joke that works, use it, use it, use it.

8. Expose Yourself

  • Theatre is about vulnerability. We want to sympathize with the character. Classic characters such as Harlequinno, the classic Commedia troupe that serves as the basis for Bugs Bunny, work because we relate to them. The character is not some untouchable wit that has irony as armor, but a human who has flaws and problems., In Zenda, the problems are epic in scale: kingdoms, villains, and yes, love. The more we relate to the characters on stage the more we sympathize with their needs and wants, and once the audience sympathizes with your hero or heroine then you can they are ready to laugh.


Meet the Cast

ANNA MARIE SELL (Flavia, Antoinette, and Others) is happy to make her professional return to the Hedgerow Stage, after spending a summer as an intern once upon a time ago.   Favorite stage credits include Chapter Two (Jennie), A Wilder Christmas (Leonora/Harriet), The Hollow (Midge), Cyrano de Bergerac (Roxane), The Credeaux Canvas (Amelia), The Merchant of Venice (Portia), and Goodnight Soldier, a solo cabaret. On-Screen work: Redrum, NY Historical Society, and an Educational Series for Northwell Health. Proud member of Actors’ Equity.
A brief Q & A with Anna:
What interests you most about this play and your role within this production? Why did you want to do this play? Why should it be done today?
I think this play raises the question, “what are you willing to do for love?”  I play two women who have very different perspectives about what love requires, and I’m both excited by and a bit scared of the challenge of bringing them both to life.
I wanted to do the show because it requires a lot – comedy, dancing, music, fighting, dialects, and emotional depth – it’s rare that one play, or one track within a play, requires so many different types of skill.  It also is a fun and complex process to turn a book into a stage production.  While the spirit of the novel and its story are intact, some characters have developed in ways that might surprise Anthony Hope.
The show is relevant because, cliché as it may be, the story of a hero learning how to be responsible and discovering his own potential never goes out of style.  Although the current political climate has changed a great deal since the first table read of this script, the questions of what kind of person should rule a kingdom and what national may cost are perhaps more relevant than ever.
What fascinates you about live theatre?
The opportunity to really live through things every single night – the risk and reward of having all of the fun, and all of the heartbreak, every show.  I love the magic that happens when a cast all agrees to jump off the cliff together.
What’s your favorite quote of from the play?

Why should an audience member come see this play?
I think, first of all, it’s going to be a fun night. We’re almost halfway through rehearsals and still amusing each other.  I also think it’s chance to really experience something richly human.  And swordfighting.  Definitely come for the swordfights.