Mark Swift is apparently aptly named, at least in terms of the many rapid life changes he’s made this year. He graduated in May from Rider University with a B.A. in theatre performance, landed a job as an Acting Fellow at Hedgerow Theatre, and won critical acclaim in his role in No Sex Please, We’re British, which ends its run on August 23.
In Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s hit British comedy, Swift plays Brian Runnicle, the chief cashier at the London branch of a bank managed by newlywed Peter Hunter. Peter’s wife Frances orders what she thinks is Swedish glassware, but insteads starts receiving shipments of pornography, and Brian is charged with helping them dispose of the illegal materials. Playing Brian involves physical comedy and lots of slapstick, at which Swift excels, as one critic called him a “comic gem.”
It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind for the Hamilton, N.J., native, but he’s enjoying the challenge. “It was great to just dive right into it. I feel very grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I didn’t imagine I would be doing something this much fun so soon. I had never read the play before, after I did, I thought this is perfect, just a dream role for me.”
It seemed like a perfect fit, too, to Executive Director Penelope Reed and Artistic Director Jared Reed when Swift auditioned for the Fellowship. “Jared and I looked at each other after we saw Mark,” Penelope recalled, “and said ‘We’ve found our Brian.’ He’s a great addition to the company.” Swift learned he had been hired and cast in the play at the same time, and he thought it would be a smaller part. “I was happy just to be in the show,” he admitted, “then Jared told me I would be Brian, and I was pleased to have a named character. Then I read the script and was ecstatic to have such a major role.”
Working on his first professional show and with director Damon Bonetti, co-founder of the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, has been “incredible.” “Damon is fantastic,” Swift enthused. “One of my favorite things about working with Damon was that it was like snap, snap, working so quickly. The whole show was blocked in a couple of rehearsals and then it was just fine tuning. I hope to work with him again.”
Since being at Hedgerow, Swift has also worked with the summer camps, been assigned to the marketing team, is a stage manager for the next show, Bullshot Crummond, and is appearing in Storytime! Beauty and the Beast with fellow Rider alum Colleen Marker. He also learned how to do pratfalls safely from Fellow Allison Bloechl, a registered Actor-Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors. “Even though we aren’t actually fighting,” he laughed, “ Allie helped me learn how to fall properly without hurting myself. My skill set has increased ten fold in the two months I’ve been here. It’s more than I could have hoped for.”
Interestingly enough, acting wasn’t the first choice for Swift, who changed majors five times, jumping from pre-med to communications to undecided to criminal justice before finally deciding on theatre performance. He had done some theatre in high school in ensemble parts and taken acting lessons as a child, but made the switch after appearing in the classic farce A Flea in Her Ear at Kelsey Theatre in Hamilton and then in several plays at Rider, including a modern version of Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself. He played the lead, Geronte, a rich old man, and it’s still his favorite role to date. “Brian is way, way up there,” he admitted, “but this play was all about how insane you can make something. I got to rap and break dance on stage.”
Up next on stage for Swift is another role he’s wanted to play, Renfield in Dracula, which runs October 22 to November 22. “When I originally read the story of Dracula,” he remembered, “Renfield was the part I thought would be right for me.” He’s looking forward to working with director Dan Hodge, the other co-founder of the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective.
He’s not sure yet what he plans to do in two years when his Fellowship ends other than to try to continue acting, but in the meantime, he’s quite content where he is. “Other than one day I was sick,” he said, “I haven’t had a bad day here. It’s crazy busy, but it’s good busy. I’m so grateful for this chance and thrilled to be doing something I love.”
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. 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).