Refer a Friend to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the, if not the, most produced classical productions of all time, and it’s easy to see why. The escapist nature of play parallels our current lust for space adventures and superhero melodramas. Why watch a tyrant take over the kingdom when you can watch a fairy foil fools?

Midsummer, enchanting Hedgerow Theatre now from May 25 to June 11, taps into something ethereal in our subconscious, something eerily similar to the very art of creating a story.

Like a fairy, stories float around our heads popping up in everyday life and vanishing just as quickly. They have always been a link to the mystical aurora we feel around us, but can never quite capture.

Part of being human is to give meaning to the meaningless, to name the unnamed.

We live by metaphors. The stories we tell ourselves about life and the lessons we learn from it become our reality.

Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, Midsummer centers around a the marriage: Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. In a parallel plot line, Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, his queen, have come to the forest outside Athens.

Amongst the central marriage plot is a love quadrant that Ray Cooney would be proud of and a group of six amateur actors (the mechanicals) that read like something Luigi Pirandello would claim. These mortals are manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest and one wild ride ensues as Puck’s Love Potion Number 9 is used and misused again and again.

We have the classic clown, Nick Bottom the Weaver, performing in a play within a play, asking: what is real? He begs the audience to remember that they are watching a play, going so far as to ask Peter Quince to write a prologue explaining that Pyramus is not really dead, but is merely an actor, named Bottom.  Then after his journey, Bottom believes in the power of art to transform as he cannot find the words to express his “dream.” He is moved, rather, to ask Quince to write a ballad, believing verse can capture what prose cannot.

Yet what is the stuff that dreams are made on? Like many great creators, Shakespeare used multiple sources to create this fantasy, remixing his was to an original story. Although Midsummer is one of the few Shakespeare originals, as Shakespeare borrowed many of his plots from histories and preexisting stories, the story is a remix of many different myths, legends, and stories. Much in the way George Lucas took many different sources to create Star Wars, it appears Shakespeare allowed the stories of his time to simmer in a melting pot and cook.

From the first, we are introduced to the Greek and Roman mythologies, being transported to a different time and place through reference. There are characters alluded to in the play such as Hercules (1.2, 4.1, 5.1), Diana (1.1; 1.1); as Phoebe (4.1), Cupid (1.1, 1.1, 2.1, 3.2, 3.2, 4.1), Venus (1.1, 3.2, 3.2) and Robin Goodfellow Puck who is sometimes called the “Hobgoblin.”

Puck, a navish elf from Celtic mythology who may or may not also represent the Devil, arrives to fuse old and new. He moves us from a time of Roman and Grecian gods, to a time of European mythology.

Puck usher’s in the world of Faerie, which is something Susanna Clarke explores in detail in her book “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” creating a world similar to something Tolkien would write, “between the age of Faerie and the dominion of men.”

Puck is a clever and mischievous elf and personifies the trickster or the wise knave, similar to Loki or Anansi. In the play, Shakespeare introduces Puck as the “shrewd and knavish sprite” and “that merry wanderer of the night,” a jester to Oberon, the fairy king.

Oberon, king of the fairies, stems from French legend, and Titania, the fairy queen, was invented by Shakespeare in allusion to Ovid’s Metamorphosis (also, the Fairy Queen was a title given to Queen Elizabeth).

Also present in the play are allusions to Ovid’s, Metamorphoses, the source of the characters Pyramus and Thisbe. Chaucer’s, The Knight’s Tale: Hippolyta and Theseus are characters in this tale. Likewise, Lysander and Demetrius’s quest for Helena echoes Palamon and Arcite’s fight over Emily in The Knight’s Tale.

Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans and “Life of Theseus” informs Shakespeare’s portrayal of this character of Theseus, and Apuleius’s Golden Ass could potentially be Bottom’s transformation into a human with the head of a donkey.

Furthermore, the play borrows language from the play such as Corinthians 1: 2-9 where Bottom’s language in is a parody of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians. Once again, we have the Bard blending myths and legends, combing language from different times to build a different world.

Midsummer, like a dream, is an allusion to what exists and has existed, with a player’s touch. What Elizabethan Englishmen lived in every day they suddenly saw on stage, as the Bard blends everyday life with the feeling of wonder. It takes a master’s pen to bring together all these escapist elements of awe and to create the dream we all wish to touch again and again.

Find Your Funny: 3 Classical Comedy Tips

“Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” We’re surrounded by comedy today. Turn to Facebook or pop-over to YouTube and you will see millions of attempts to be funny; some are, most are not. Human beings have an innate desire to want to make others smile. We build trust by sharing a laugh, a sense of community is created when a group of people can sit and laugh together. In the theatre, we’ve harnessed that desire and attempted to make you laugh long before cat videos and viral puppies. So, how do we do it? How did Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke harness their funny bone? Here are some useful tips if you want to play like Pagliacci.

1. Identify Your Type

Long ago, Commedia dell’arte was building on the characters we naturally find funny, servants like Harlequinno and Trufaldino, misers like Pantalone, and braggarts like El Capitano. Today, we still use these troupes to build upon: Bugs Bunny, Mr. Burns, and Zapp Brannigan. We’re not saying to be a stereotype, but what we are suggesting is to build upon what you naturally have.

Is your sense of humor dry and sarcastic? Silly? Absurd? Shameless? Vulgar? Arrogant?  The Logical Smart One? The Lovable Loser? The Wild Card? Finding a niche is essential, and then exploring the character is vital.

When you walk into a room, what do people see? Do you come off a little stuck up? That can be funny. Comedy is about expectation and reality, and playing with perceptions. Key & Peele are masters at toying with reality. Check out their sketch below and watch how they play your anticipation against you:

2. Explore your Character

To be a successful comedy actor, you have to study the art form, and the best way to do that is with work, be it in a class or on stage. Find a place to perform and hammer out your reps. Stand-up comedians build their material one show at a time. Seinfeld is famous for his “one joke a day” calendar. If you want to be funny you have to practice.

Ask any comedian and they will tell you comedy is all about rhythm, timing, and pace, and it’s your job as a comedic actor to identify those things in each script. Don’t add. Don’t subtract. Discover the pace. Discover the rhythm. Play within the notes. A musician does not add to the composition, he performs and brings his talents to the music. A comedian is a storyteller, a comedic actor is a storyteller. Learn the tools of good writing and use them to your advantage.

Below, watch how Jim Gaffigan explores something we all know: McDonalds. He uses pace to build the comedy and builds off our fears and ideas. This bit seems unscripted, but it has been hammered out hundreds of times:

3. Breaking is Not Funny

What makes comedy so difficult? Commitment. As a comedy actor, you need to be 100 percent committed to the dialogue, physical actions, jokes, technique, and especially the characters. Often, we are laughing at the folly of the character.

In farce, the characters have no idea they are in a farce. Deadpool may be popular right now, but he is poplar because comedy existed before him. Deadpool would not work if he was the first character. He needs Spirderman, Wolverine, and the Captain America to exist to be who he is. Therefore, commit to the work.

Watch below as John Cleese from Fawlty Towers uses the character to his advantage. Basil is brash, conservative, and hilarious. He is fully dedicated to the reality of the character, and thus the comedy is amped up:

Bonus: Have fun.

Confidence is about understanding. By being disciplined and doing your work, you can play within the form. Great improvisers are not manic movers and people who simply fly off the rails: they are performers who have learned the craft and know how to play the game. Comedy is the exact same idea. We learn the script. We know the language. We listen to the moment. We know the lines so well we don’t have to recall them. We play.

How Do You Perform Shakespeare with Six People?

How can six people perform William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? That is exactly the question director Aaron Cromie, The Servant of Two Masters, Or, and On the Verge, set out to answer when he took on this project.

The majority of the cast from The Servant of Two Masters returns, and is excited to get back to work with this talented cast of characters.

Built for the Hedgerow Company, the show features veteran Hedgerow actors Susan Wefel, Egeus and Bottom, and Zoran Kovcic, Theseus, Oberon, and Peter Quince, at the helm of the performance.

This is not the first time Bottom has been genderbent, but there has never been an actor more prepared to play Shakespeare’s fool. Wefel is a graduate of The School of Theater at Boston University and is a 38 -year veteran actor and company member of Hedgerow Theatre.  In Delaware County she is known for her critically acclaimed performances as well as her summer farces.

“I love the theatricality of Bottom. It’s a person that wants to be in the spotlight all the time,” says Wefel, “With all Shakespeare, especially with Bottom, the language is poetic and the stories are beautiful…Every generation should be exposed to Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s Romeo and Juliet but with a twist – everything ends happily. I think the comedy of Bottom being turned into an Ass’s head is hilarious…These are characters so full of themselves that their arrogance turns into stupidity.”  

Philadelphia actor Madalyn St. John, Clarice in The Servant of Two Masters, returns to play a “bucket-list role” Hermia, among others.

“Between the short jokes and dealing with men in authority telling me what’s ‘best,’” says St. John, “I get to explore a lot of circumstances that I’ve experienced in my own life. In this production in particular we get to do a lot of physical comedy, which is a ton of fun.

This will be her third time working with Cromie as this cast builds upon Company and familiarity.

“I just love working with him. He’ll never tell you that you can’t try something in rehearsals and is really conscious of giving positive feedback even when those ideas don’t pan out. He has a great sense of comedy and is really adept at communicating that to his actors.

Company members Allison Bloechl, Mark Swift, and Josh Portera tackle the rest of the roles, sharing the wily Robin Goodfellow “Puck.” With just six actors the Hedgerow Company seeks to create all the myth and magic of Midsummer. By employing the tools and tricks of commedia and theatre magic, the cast is primed to bring the illogical and sensual nature of the play to life.
All tickets are $20. Tours begin May 12 and are available for bookings, Opening Night is May 25 and the show closes June 11. 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).

What Do Boxing and Theatre Have in Common?

1. You Get Out What You Put In

Boxing is about doing the work. Sure, big guys can punch harder, but a big boxer can be beat by a fast one. A smart fighter can outlast a brawler. The game of boxing is about doing the work, there are no shortcuts. Showing up, putting in your time, and learning your craft are all part of it. There is no shortcut to memorizing a speech. There is no way to do Shakespeare without doing it. We must all keep a beginners mind. Every story starts with a blank page. As Bruce Lee put it:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

2. It’s never too late to switch stances and go southpaw.

User’s error. We all over estimate our talent and underestimate the amount of time it will take to succeed at something. Sometimes in the ring, your game plan doesn’t work. When this happens, you have to switch it up and go southpaw. Change your plan, improvise, adapt. Surprise your opponent by coming from a different angle to throw off their game plan.

“Everyone’s got a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

3.You will most certainly be knocked down, but you ALWAYS have the opportunity to get back up.

Being knocked down is a part of life as much as it is about boxing. We all fail. In fact, ask any actor and they will tell you this business is all about failure, and how you use it. Didn’t get that callback? There’s another audition tomorrow. Didn’t land that role? Back to the grind. Rest assured, the only thing that can keep you down is you. The best can get knocked down, but the greats know how to get back up.

“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” -Alfred from Batman Begins

4. It’s Okay to Suck

Give yourself the gift of sucking. In today’s culture we are surrounded by experts, experts who don’t show their scars, experts who pretend they are savants and child prodigies. Yet, the start reality is that at some point everyone sucked, even Mozart. Sucking is freedom. It is an all-access pass to trying and enjoying things without this adult notion of being “good enough” Think you can’t do something because you’re no good at it? Imagine what you could accomplish if you let yourself suck. What would you do if you were not afraid to fail? All arts are about failure. The sooner we embrace failure and the willingness to learn the sooner we can evolve.

““Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” – Robert T. Kiyosaki

5. Your Opponent

Imagine staring down your opponent, the person you’ve been training to fight for months, the crowd is roaring, and in a moment your rival is going to punch you in the face. The heart pounds. The blood boils. How do you conquer that enemy? Not the one in front of you, but the one inside you? There are tomes written about breath and body work, and anyone who has taken a body shot knows that the your breath goes you’re in trouble. Likewise, if an actor let’s the moment get to him, the crowd, the adrenaline, then his work falters. Therefore, boxing and training, just like acting, is not about conquering your opponent, but conquering yourself. The only real enemy you face is yourself. Each punch is an attempt to discipline yourself for success. Each rehearsal is showing up to put in the work to better yourself at your craft. Learn to breath. Learn to move. Learn to fight. Learn to conquer the only enemy that matters.

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”
Leonardo da Vinci

6. Finish Strong

Hear that bell? That’s 30 seconds left in the round, and as any fighter can tell you it’s not how you start but how you finish. Many fights are won and lost in the judges eyes in those final thirty seconds. A weak round can be won by executing in those final moments. Just like in distance running, you want negative splits, where your first mile is your slowest and you gradually increase speed. Your first round should be solid, but you need to consistently increase the intensity as the fight progresses so that your last round is the strongest. The saying goes, “Leave it all in the ring,” and that’s exactly what you need to do. Even if you loose, there is pride in knowing you did everything thing you could at the highest level possible. If you give your best, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting. ” –E. E. Cummings

Top 6 Shakespeare Acting Tips (from Artistic Director Jared Reed)

Performing Shakespeare generally denotes a level of acting expertise. As in the Bard’s time, an understanding of language, rhetoric, diction, and understanding of story is required by the actor to perform the roles well. Unlike Shakespeare’s time, however, many players are not equipped with the basic tools to perform the text.

Think of it this way, Shakespeare wrote in the common language of his time, in the language of the people, with a dialect directly suited to his common actors. Transpose that to 2017, in Philadelphia, where film is the predominate medium and pictures are the language of the world and we begin to understand the difficulty of Shakespeare’s verse and prose.

Performing in Shakespeare plays introduces you to new skills and allows you to play with language, sounds, and rhetoric in a way unmatched by modern plays (although the American Shakespeare Center is looking to change that).

So what are some of the rules for getting a part in a Shakespeare play? The following list is a number of guidelines our Artistic Director Jared Reed, who has played Macbeth and Hamlet at Hedgerow, uses that you can use to navigate through the Shakespeare’s silly syllables and pretty punny prose.

  1. Act on the words

    • Shakespeare is a celebration of language, he invented half of it for God’s shake. Therefore, we do not need those Pinter pauses and Chekovian glances. Use the language in front of you. The challenge is a gift. Speak the speech, I pray you!
  2. Stress the verbs

    • Again, the action is in the language. Therefore, verbs are your friend. When performing Shakespeare the characters thoughts, feelings, and turmoils are in the text. Often, they are navigating through their minds like a patient sitting in front of a psychiatrist, only it doesn’t cost you $500 an hour to see! Since we are traversing our way through verse, we need to use the action given to use. Verbs give us a sense of movement. The audience creates the action in their head, and uses the metaphors given to us by Shakespeare to see the story in their mind’s eye.
  3. [Secret Tip] Consonants express thought, vowels emotion – a speech heavy in rich consonants is more intellectual.

    • Think,  “Now is the winter of our discontent” vs heavy long  consonants “to be or not to be.” Shakespeare uses rhetoric and every classical tool of speech and language at his disposal. He plays with language and meaning the way a Hip Hop artist plays with beat and rhythm. The iambic pentameter is a tool meant to carry the flow of the language. The sounds, therefore, are the tools to carve up that turkey. Use the language to inform your decisions about character, about pace, about intent. Does your character speech in vowels or consonants? Sharp sounds? Or soft?
  4. Absolutely less is more or at least simpler is better – the language is so rich that excess movement makes it unclear

    • Our modern ears are not tuned to the musing of Bill’s tongue; even so, actor’s in Shakespeare’s time performed in a completely different fashion, allegedly, than we do today. There was no “Method,” no Stella Adler, no Marlon Brando. The important thing for the audience was the language. So, actor’s performed much in the same way opera performs, using their body as an instrument. How does this apply to us today? Well, in order to get through large chunks of text, and to keep the audition with you, less is more. If the audience is having to watch you move every beat, or gesture on every line, then you are competing against yourself for attention. Certainly, body language informs us of emotion, however, body language is more than embodying Robin Williams and running off to the races. “Suit the word to the action, the action to the word.”
  5. Breath control

    • Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three. Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination. Now that we’re there, let’s talk about breathing. There is a lot of talk today about breath. Take one quick search on youtube and you will find millions of mediation and yoga videos detailing the proper way to breath. Well, we won’t go don’t that rabbit hole here, but breath control and diaphragmatic breathing are essential to good Shakespearean acting. If you want the simplest explanation, imagine someone sucking air as Hamlet, or losing their voice as Henry V during the Saint Crispen’s Day speech. Weak right? Well, if you want to be a baller, then learn to use your breath hommie.
  6. Change pitch to make meaning clear

    • Could you sit through Ben Stein reading King Lear? What about Henry Kissinger speaking Iago’s lines? Good speakers understand how to use their instrument. We all can make more sounds than we give ourselves credit for: we have a chest voice, a throat voice, a nasal voice, a silly voice, a pithy voice, a factual voice, a matter of fact voice, a lying voice, a “I’m not lying” lying voice, a serious voice, and on and on and on. Speeches are rarely speeches in Shakespeare’s plays. More often than not they are thoughts on page, or moments interrupted by new moments. Therefore, we, as actors, must make it clear what we are saying and what we are thinking. Opinion is character. Use your voice in all its glory.
  7. Change tempo to make emotion clear

    • Remember that whole iambic pentameter thing you learned about when you read Romeo and Juliet as a 15 year-old? Yeah, there’s a purpose for that other than a test. The beat of the speech, like a song, informs us of emotion. The tempo puts us in tune with the characters feelings and emotions as he rides the wave of language. Shakespeare understood how to use the syllables of language to create the flow of voice that translates the emotion of the character in the most efficient way. Tune in to the beat of the speech and unlock its tempo to make the emotion clear.

Philly.com’s Jack of All Trades

Since 1997, John Timpane has been a “Jack of all trades” at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He recently reviewed The Prisoner of Zenda, hailing a new genre of meta-pulp as “rollicking” and “expert[ly] done.” We sat down with Timpane and asked him a few questions about what he’s seen over his 24 years at The Inquirer.

“Humility before all,” says scholar, teacher, author, journalist, editor, consultant, writer, and reporter John Timpane when asked about lessons learned. His advice to anyone who wants to pursue these lines of work: “Welcome direction and correction. Strive to do better.”

Much like theatre, the life of a journalist is one of teamwork and conversation. It is a craft predicated on nuance and dialogue, be it between the subject and the interviewer or the audience and the medium.

Since January, Timpane has been the theatre critic and arts reporter for the Inquirer, working to develop an online presence for the newspaper’s reporting on the arts in Philadelphia as well as maintaining the print coverage of the performing arts. In an ever-evolving world of media and content, Timpane notes that the only constants are change and good writing.

“Our challenge,” said Timpane, “is to penetrate and pervade the Philly media space so everyone knows what we’re doing, how much we’re doing, and what good quality it represents. That’s the huge challenge before us. We have by far the best arts Web page in town, and we need to get famous for it.”

A Renaissance scholar with a concentration in Shakespeare, Timpane taught drama and Shakespeare from 1981 to 1997. During that time, he was also a writing coach for local newspapers and businesses, which led him to the Inquirer, where Timpane was offered a job as an op-ed editor in 1997. He held that position for a decade until he was moved to Features as a media writer, reporting on the explosive growth of social media and Web-based communication and its social impact. In 2016 he was made Fine Arts Editor.

Timpane has covered the arts in Philadelphia from every angle and is still a driving force behind the arts coverage in the city today. He has seen the paper change a lot as it moves from a traditional print-based medium to a news organization that combines print with an interactive online presence.

As for the online side of things, Timpane says, “I like its immediacy, and I like the value-added stuff (video, audio, art galleries, links) you can offer readers. In my perfect future, everyone in Philly would discover how great our arts coverage is on Philly.com and become addicted. I am.”

With freelance budgets severely slashed for Inquirer arts coverage, and an accelerated move toward the fast-paced world of the Web, more staff members are getting involved in covering the arts. Timpane points out, however, that print is not dead. At the moment, far more people read a given article in print than read its digital counterpart. But the future is the future, and there’s no use sitting around and waiting.

Print isn’t being abandoned; it’s just that the paper has to diversify what it offers, create services and products on a range of platforms to serve the community in a variety of ways. Gone are the days of the Grey Lady of monolithic newspapers; these are the days of the immediate, nimble, flexible, multi-platform news org.

“Theatergoers are still print consumers, by and large – but an increasing proportion are Web-focused. A small but very loyal contingent follows our reviews very faithfully. I have tried to reflect the impact of social media on journalistic writing in my own work, without being cheap,” said Timpane.

In a world in which people look for content on their phones every third second, people are hungry for substance. With more than 50 theaters in the immediate metropolitan area, Philadelphia has the potential to fill both tablets and cellphones, as well as the stage, with art.

Drama is Timpane’s personal favorite form of entertainment, as Timpane holds PhD’s in English and the humanities from Stanford. I like the crackle and tension of real, live, present people performing in concrete reality right before me. One of my chief joys is to attend a brand-new drama I know nothing about,” said Timpane. From classical theatre to cutting-edge experimental stagework, he thinks few cities better represent the diversity and richness of theater than Philadelphia.

It is the act of discovery that Timpane loves about Philly. Be it a world premiere from PlayPenn, an amazing production of King Lear from the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, or an experimental Life of Galileo at the Wilma, Philadelphia is good at giving you anything and everything you want, and it is always ready to surprise.

“Another big trend is toward political theater, theater on social issues,” Timpane says. “The plight of the refugee, gender identity, race relations, the nature of warfare, the male/female political divide, the ethics of drug development … so many vibrant, pressing contemporary issues have emerged from recent productions…. Of course you can always go see Hedwig and the Angry Inch or Camelot somewhere.”

All this diversity is what makes theater in Philly amazing. There is intense competition for the leisure time of the audience, from videogames to virtual reality, and the constant interchange of ideas is creating new ideas and exciting performances.

“As of about 2000, a lot of smaller companies, with lots of energy and talent, and very willing to experiment, started cropping up in Philly,” Timpane says. “That invigorated the community, and the plays were very good…. There are more theaters, and that makes for a more competitive, more diverse environment. I’m loving it.”

“Philly’s growth has begun to spur new modes of theatre,” says Timpane. He’s beginning to see an already experimental art city begin to push the envelope even more, incorporating debates, music, cabarets, and other forms of entertainment into their repertoire: “The borders are melting: lots of proto-theatrical genres, such as cabaret, monologue, storytelling, slam, and spoken word have arisen.… the U.S. arts audience showed at the turn of the millennium that they welcomed sophisticated storytelling on TV, and now TV is in a golden age … they also showed a taste for dark stories, challenging stories, controversial stories, the edgy, the ambiguous … all these things are emerging in today’s new plays.”

From the development of the Avenue for the Arts to women moving to the forefront of arts management in Philly, Timpane has seen the community evolve over the years and adapt to the changing climate. “The city is supporting the arts big time, and the arts will always be part of the Philly brand. And Philly’s reputation has skyrocketed, until now it’s a top 5 town for younger adults on their first or second jobs, and those are people looking for good value for their entertainment dollar.”

There is a dark side lurking on the horizon, however, as funding will become an issue.

“Funding is likely to take a big hit soon, and the mid-to-small venue, in which Philly abounds, is going to have to discover creative ways to prosper and persevere. Also, the elder philanthropic generation is stepping off, and you have to wonder how will the next folks, boomer and younger, behave as donors,” Timpane says. “That is a huge question that will really affect the arts.”

Whatever happens, Timpane wants to be part of the conversation. Since his early days as an editor to his current position as a writer, he has always searched for a sense of “rhythm and connection [in] human conversation.” A constant search for answers to the question, “Why?” Why is a play good? Why is a play bad? Why is this writing good? Why is this writing bad? — all the while maintaining a vivid style and precision in aesthetic discussion.

“I will always love how socially connected, how directly political, theater is: it always connects with what’s going on in the world, in the audience,” TImpane says. “That guarantees that when you attend a play, you will always be part of a dialogue, watch it played out in front of you, feel that delicious challenge to commit, to decide.”

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.”