Blog: Holding the Madhouse Mirror Up to Nature


Blog by Allison Bloechl
Ensemble Cast Member of Don Quixote 

Theatre-making starts with an empty canvas of a stage.  It is the job of the theatre-maker to fill that stage with life.  But what kind of life?For many productions, stage life is carefully crafted to be an exact replica of our own.  Think of Shakespeare’s Hamlet line “holding the mirror up to nature”. Such shows created in the styles of realism and naturalism usually do not depart from the natural laws of our (the audience’s) world.  

Hedgerow Theatre’s upcoming production of Don Quixote, written by Keith Dewhurst and directed by Jared Reed, does not fall into a realistic style.  Our world here at Hedgerow is different.

The production (much like the novel it is based on) is whimsical, fanciful and somewhat insane.  Much like the wanderings of Don Quixote’s mind, the show veers sharply away from traditional laws of reality.  The audience is meant to see a world off-kilter through the eyes of a loveable, and notable, madman.

This is one of the huge joys, but also immense challenges, the actors face while bringing this fantastical story to life.  In initial rehearsals, we were encouraged to make the biggest, boldest and possibly most ridiculous choices imaginable as we created our many different characters; it is well known in the theatre world it is always easier to do less than to do more.  

After much experimentation, a few weeks of rehearsal and many shared laughs, the once-extreme choices began to feel right.  We were beginning to home in on just what style of un-reality we are looking for.  What originally may have felt absurd at the table or on an empty stage now becomes the norm as we begin to incorporate over-the-top costume pieces and shadow puppetry into rehearsals.  

While many actors don’t feel complete in their characters without their costumes, for me the introduction of our set has been instrumental.   Consisting of four moveable and asymmetrical screens on which our shadow puppets are played, the set defines the type of world the characters live in.  It is one of whimsy and ephemerality – here one minute and gone the next.   Like the puppets and the screens, our characters change with every scene.  

As we continue our rehearsals we look to further true-up the style of our world.  To true something up is to make it even, level and symmetrical.  It is a term frequently associated with carpentry.   In our system of reality, truing-up means making sure everyone is functioning in the same level of un-realness: ensuring each scene’s absurdity or clownishness is to the same degree.

The reality of the show fluctuates, much as Don Quixote’s lucidity does.   One scene involves complete clownery, another takes place in a normal world.  Yet another crescendos from a moderate level of fancy to absolute madness.   

We experience this world in flux through the fever-dream of Don Quixote’s mind.  Clarifying and specifying which world we are in and when has been at times challenging, but ultimately, quite rewarding.  We are holding a mirror up to nature – it just so happens to be a funhouse mirror. 

Photo by Ashley Labonde from A Murder Has Been Arranged.