Mark Swift: A Student of Comedy

“I like to think that I have been unofficially studying comedy all my life,” says Mark Swift one of the nimble actors of Mark Brown’s tour-de-force adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.  “I am of the opinion that there’s no greater gift to give someone than laughter, and that really helps around the holidays because I have a big family.”

From a technical standpoint, Swift likes to throw himself at the wall until someone laughs, and then, he says, it sticks. As he puts it, his favorite part of the show is, “mak[ing] an absolute ass of [him]self and no one ask[ing] [him] to leave the premises.” For Around the World in 80 Days, running now until August 13, that was exactly the type of comedy Producing Artistic Director, Jared Reed (who plays Phileas Fogg) and Director Damon Bonetti were looking for in an actor.

“Damon is a dream to work with. He has a clear vision and knows the mathematics behind physical comedy to an absolute ‘T’. In my opinion, what I believe is more important in what Damon brings to a project is his willingness to let the actors invent and play with the material. Unless of course it’s terrible, then he’ll tell you it’s terrible (and that’s a great thing).”

This is the third time Bonetti and Swift have worked together, having previously explored No Sex Please, We’re British and Boeing Boeing. For Around the World in 80 Days, however, the script called for a new type of comedy.

“I think at its heart, the comedy of 80 Days comes from the sheer number of characters being played by a total of five actors. Of course, it helps that the jokes are well written, but when you add in the fact that the joke is being told by a character, played by an actor who was just wearing a totally different costume- it becomes a joke in and of itself.”

All the world’s a stage, literally, in this theatrical retelling of Verne’s classic, as Hedgerow Theatre Company’s small troupe of actors take on a global collection of carnival characters. Stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, runaway trains, and unabashed slapstick fill this farcical adventure from start to finish.

“Comedy is the best way to be open and honest. If you do comedy correctly, you can convey a potentially controversial opinion in a way that your audience will be more willing to accept it,” says Swift. “I find humor in most things, but to me, the funniest jokes are those you have to really look for. When a joke is hidden within the background to success that tells me that every aspect of joke telling has been put into play: The writers intended the joke, the director picked up on it, and the actors executed it. To me that’s the ultimate way to tell a joke.”

Swift is no stranger to this style of comedy, appearing in most of the Hedgerow comedies over the last two years as a Fellow. He has been seen in The Servant of Two Masters and Dracula, but most recently appeared in The Prisoner of Zenda and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, two shows that tested his versatility as an actor.

“Including 80 Days, all three shows had me playing several characters, and including me crossdressing in each (spoilers). It has been a challenge to keep my characters in 80 Days fresh and unique from what audiences may have seen as of recently.”

But Swift is not the only familiar face to return to Hedgerow for Around the World in 80 Days. Long time company member Zoran Kovcic (Boeing Boeing and No Sex Please, We’re British) joins Hanna Gaffney (Boeing Boeing) and Sarah Knittel (The Servant of Two Masters) to create a world of characters.

“In dramatic comedy, in most cases, you have an ensemble to back you up. Dramatic comedy is a team sport, in stand-up- most of the time- you are on your own. All of the challenges of comedy are present in both, although I am certain that audiences are less likely to heckle a group of performers rather than one individual.”

Adult ticket prices are $35, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as for students, are $20. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change.

Shows are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. There will be a Wednesday matinee on August 2, at 2 p.m., and Fogg’s adventure concludes on Sunday, August 13, at 2 p.m.

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).

Finding the Jeu of Jules Verne

When asked how you play multiple colorful characters in the upcoming Summer Farce Around the World in 80 Days actor Sarah Knittel said, “Find the jeu.”

Knittel is a graduate of the Pig Iron School of Physical and Devised Theater and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  She appeared in last summer’s The Servant of Two Masters (Smeraldina), and has worked with Automatic Arts, Hella Fresh, Untitled Eva Steinmetz Project, Pig Iron, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, and Philadelphia Shakespeare. She is the 2017 Automatic Arts Artist in Residence and is creator of  The Joseph Davenport Experience cabaret.  

“Jeu,” the French word for game, is a derivative of the Jacques Lecoq method of acting and is a core principal of Pig Iron’s training program. The idea is to always search for the play in a moment, to make the most of whatever material is available, theatrically, and bringing it to life in the moment, and in Jules Verne’s epic adventure, play is certainly a key component.

I’m drawn to these comedies because they are so technical. If your timing is off or  you’re not present, you might not get the laugh. That sweet sweet laughter. I love the challenge. Physical comedy transcends language and age…. But mostly for that sweet laughter,” said Knittel.

Stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, runaway trains, and unabashed slapstick fill Around the World in 80 Days from start to finish. Hedgerow Theatre tackles the challenge of Jules Verne’s epic adventure with its talented cast in its beautiful rustic setting and brings the joy and humour of Mark Brown’s adaptation to life.

Every role is different. Passepartout is such a clown it made the most sense to start with his physical rhythms and posture.”

Around the World in 80 Days returns familiar funny faces and puts them in an exciting, and incredibly silly, rollercoaster spectacle.  Danger, romance and comic surprises abound as five actors – portraying 42 characters – traverse four continents in this race against the clock. Zoran Kovcic (Boeing Boeing and No Sex Please, We’re British), Mark Swift (Boeing Beoing and No Sex Please, We’re British), Hanna Gaffney (Boeing Boeing), and Knittel take on the mountainous task of creating a world of characters.

“Hanna Gaffney is bringing so much heart and elegance to her performance of Aioda. Mark Swift is so funny that I want to kill him and wear his skin.  Jared Reed and Zoren are class acts…. especially Jared’s baby blues. Damon Bonetti is fine.”

Opening night is Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. There will be a Wednesday matinee on August 2, at 2 p.m., and Fogg’s balloon lands for a final time on Sunday, August 13, at 2 p.m.

Adult ticket prices are $35, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as for students, are $20. 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).

Hanna Gaffney Could Use a Good Laugh

“Traveling and sewing are good sources of meditation,” says actor Hanna Gaffney, who returns to Hedgerow Theatre Company this summer for Around the World in 80 Days. “I love to travel when I can. I am also a seamstress, so finding sewing projects is a good source of meditation. I also can hardly sleep at night because I’m so excited to decorate my room. That’s sort of lame, but you want answers, you got ‘em.”

Gaffney, who made her first appearance at Hedgerow last summer as Gabriella in Boeing Boeing,  plays Aouda and many others in the upcoming comedy. She is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and her most recent Philadelphia credits include Witness for the Prosecution (Dr. Wyatt) at Bristol Riverside Theatre and Spamalot (The Lady of the Lake) at Resident Theatre Company.

This summer, Mark Brown’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic adventure Around the World in 80 Days pits the intrepid adventurer Phileas Fogg, played by Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed, with his loyal valet, Passepartout, against time as they embark on a grand journey from Victorian London through Asia and across the Pacific in precisely 80 days.

“I love to play in the clowning world, and though not all of my characters live there, I’m excited to work to give specific life to each of them. I also really enjoy doing research on the productions I’m involved in, and learning more about each culture we fly through in 80 Days is going to be so fascinating,” said Gaffney.

Around the World in 80 Days returns familiar funny faces and puts them in an exciting, and incredibly silly, rollercoaster spectacle.  Danger, romance and comic surprises abound as five actors—portraying 42 characters—traverse four continents in this race against the clock.

“I love how much this show encompasses,” said Gaffney. “Besides, for all of the many countries and cultures, it also blends a fantastic and bombastic world with a still and heartfelt one. Plus I rarely get to play a romantic lead, and I’m very excited for the challenge.”

All the world’s a stage, literally, in this theatrical tour-de-force as Gaffney and company turn adventure and romance into a fun-filled evening of farce and slapstick.

We live in a world where any bit of comedy and heart we can sit and ruminate on for a while is something worth watching. We need to escape the current climate so we don’t fall into normality. Our bodies will adjust to that normality, and we may forget we can fight for what is right. We need these breaks of hilarity and entertainment.”

The first preview performance of Around the World in 80 Days is Wednesday, July 5, at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. There will be a Wednesday matinee on August 2, at 2 p.m., and Fogg’s balloon lands for a final time on Sunday, August 13, at 2 p.m.

Adult ticket prices are $35, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as for students, are $20. 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).

 

Hedgerow Theatre’s Summer Comedy: Around the World in 80 Days

Hop aboard Phileas Fogg’s hot-air balloon as Hedgerow Theatre Company’s small troupe of actors take on a global collection of carnival characters in Mark Brown’s imaginative and theatrical re-imagining of Jules Verne’s 1873 adventure, Around the World in 80 Days, running July 6 to August 13. All the world’s a stage, literally, in this theatrical tour-de-force.

It is directed by master farceur Damon Bonetti, who helmed the Hedgerow’s phenomenally popular production of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps, as well as the hit summer farces Boeing Boeing and No Sex Please, We’re British.

Around the World in 80 Days returns familiar funny faces and puts them in an exciting, and incredibly silly, rollercoaster spectacle.  Danger, romance and comic surprises abound as five actors portraying 42 characters traverse four continents in this race against the clock. Zoran Kovcic (Boeing Boeing and No Sex Please, We’re British), Mark Swift (Boeing Beoing and No Sex Please, We’re British), Hanna Gaffney (Boeing Boeing), and Sarah Knittel (The Servant of Two Masters) take on the mountainous task of creating a world of characters.

“It’s a fantastic adventure story with wonderful characters, but it’s also the story about the breaking down of barriers – both literally and figuratively – as an appreciation is gained of other cultures and Fogg learns how to care and to love others,” said Bonetti. “It’s a fun, fastpaced, exciting adventure – full of quick changes and quirky characters – a classic summertime farce – destined to become a Hedgerow favorite.”

The intrepid adventurer Phileas Fogg, played by Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed, with his loyal valet, Passepartout, agrees to an outrageous wager that puts his life and fortune at risk, as he embarks on a grand journey from Victorian London through Asia and across the Pacific in precisely 80 days.

“My first memory of this story was reading it at 10 years old. I love this adaptation. It captures that feeling from my youth. It is funny and adventurous and a great challenge for five actors….It’s humorous, romantic, and as witty as it is silly,” said Reed.

Stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, runaway trains, and unabashed slapstick fill this farcical adventure from start to finish. Hedgerow Theatre tackles the challenge of Verne’s epic adventure with its talented cast in its beautiful rustic setting and brings the joy and humour of Brown’s adaptation to life.

“How do we travel across the world on stage and keep a story moving forward, allowing the humor of the piece to be honest? That’s what we are attempting to find out,” said Reed.

The first preview performance of Around the World in 80 Days is Wednesday, July 5, at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. There will be a Wednesday matinee on August 2, at 2 p.m., and Fogg’s balloon lands for a final time on Sunday, August 13, at 2 p.m.

Adult ticket prices are $35, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as for students, are $20. 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).

Damon Bonetti Farceur Extraordinaire

Damon Bonetti is the Co-Founding Artistic Director of The Philadelphia Artist’s Collective and a Adjunct Professor at Rutgers University in Camden, Drexel University, and Rowan University.  He is excited to be back in the Hedgerows where he has directed the last three summer farces, The 39 Steps, No Sex Please, We’re British, and Boeing Boeing.  

“This play is a ton of fun, a true adventure! I’m interested in how these five actors interpret these roles and how to find the best world for them to inhabit,” says Bonetti.

Damon has directed or acted at many of the area theaters and received Barrymore nominations for True Story at Passage Theater (Director), Orange Flower Water at Luna Theater (Supporting Actor)  and The Hound of the Baskervilles at Lantern Theater (Ensemble).

He recently directed the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective production of The White Devil, with Jared Reed as Duke Brachianno, and appeared in All’s Well That Ends Well.  He holds an M.F.A. from Florida State University /Asolo Theatre and a Bachelor of Arts from DeSales University.

He’s spent the past three summer’s in Rose Valley making people laugh with farces, and this summer will be no different. He loves the intimacy of the audience that Hedgerow offers and the connection to its patrons.

“There’s no prettier place outside nor funnier inside than Hedgerow Theatre,” says Bonetti, “[and] the collective shared experience that those people have – hearing the laughs, gasps and groans is why we do this.”

The first preview performance of Around the World in 80 Days is Wednesday, July 5, at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. There will be a Wednesday matinee on August 2, at 2 p.m., and Fogg’s balloon lands for a final time on Sunday, August 13, at 2 p.m.

Adult ticket prices are $35, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as for students, are $20. 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).

7 Things Fitness has Taught Me About Acting

Madalyn St. John is an actor appearing for the second time at Hedgerow. She has performed in The Servant of Two Masters and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is also a fitness instructor in the Greater Philadelphia area. Below, check out her Top 7 things fitness has taught her about acting and life.

1. How to handle long hours

I am not a morning person. Yet, I’ve been waking up at 3:45am, Monday through Friday, for the last three and a half years to teach early morning bootcamp classes. While this has certainly increased my appreciation for a good nap, it has also trained my body to get up and get moving even when it doesn’t want to.

Days on a film set can be long and exhausting. Teaching early morning classes I have learned to handle the occasional 19-hour day. Gone are the days when I would wake up long after the sun; now I try not to laugh when my actor friends complain about an “early” 7 a.m. call time.

2. Mix it up

If I do the same class or program too long, I get bored and end up falling off the fitness wagon. I mix up my routine throughout the week with running, HIIT or circuit training, weight training and kickboxing to challenge my body and keep boredom at bay.

I apply the same principal to my acting life. I’m working on Shakespeare now, but I also take a Meisner class twice a week and most of my past work has been musical theatre. Exploring different areas and styles of acting is not only really fun, but it is also a great way to challenge yourself and grow as an actor.

3. Goal setting

I am really big on goal-setting. There’s no point working out everyday if you don’t know what you’re working towards. I try to set specific goals with meal plans and workout schedules that are manageable but will help me get the results I want. Setting specific goals is vital to acting. You could float around taking whatever job comes your way for years without making any real progress.  Goals might be business-oriented (like creating a website, putting together a reel or sending submissions) or more creative (like learning a new special skill or writing a screenplay). Just like with fitness, you have to think about what you want and then map out the steps to take to get there.

4. Don’t limit yourself

“I can’t do push-ups.” I hear this time and time again from new clients; but “can’t” is the dirty four-letter word of my classes. My advice is the always the same: try, practice, try again. In acting, you absolutely CANNOT be afraid to GO FOR IT. If you hold back, you’ll be dead in the water before you even begin. I’ve surprised myself many times by trying something I didn’t think I could do, only to find that I could do it—and what a great feeling that is, in the gym or on the stage!

5. No pain no gain

How cliché, right? The thing is, clichés exist for a reason: they are usually true. If I’m not sore a day or two after my workout, I take that as a sign that I didn’t push myself enough. Soreness after a workout is literally thousands of tiny microtears in your muscles. The muscle the grows back in its place is thicker and stronger, thus you literally need to go through the pain to gain muscle.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of “pain” to be had as an actor. There’s a lot of crumby jobs and tiny roles you have to go through to get to the good ones. There’s long hours, and low pay, and unprofessional “professionals” and there’s a lot of rejection, putting yourself out there time and time again only to hear, “no thank you,” 19 times out of 20; but it’s worth it for that 1 time.

6. Make a choice, then commit to it

My biggest problem when trying to get in shape or eat healthy is—like many people—sticking to it. As a result, I usually go for plans that are pretty strict, with no grey area. If I know the rules of a meal plan or workout, I’m much more likely to adhere to them. Once I’ve decided to do it, I follow through to the end.

As an actor you have to make choices. Sometimes HUGE choices. Most of the time, there’s not one RIGHT way to do a scene or play a character, but whichever way you choose you have to choose HARD. Nothing is more uninteresting to watch than an actor who can’t commit to their choices.

7. Try, try again

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set a fitness goal for myself and failed. Yes, FAILED! Does that mean I rolled up my yoga mat and stormed out, never to return again? Of course not! If I fail to get the results I want, I reassess, taking stock of what worked and what to do differently next time. And then I get to work again.

If you want to be an actor, and I mean REALLY want it, there is no quitting. There is no time off. There is no failure. You say to yourself, “Ok, that sucked. What can I learn from it? What can I do right now to put me on a better path this time around?” My favorite thing to do after a crappy audition is look at the next audition I have coming up and start preparing for it HARD. Whether it’s sit-ups or Shakespeare, you have to keep pushing.

Seven Lessons of Stage Combat (that can apply to everything)

Allison Bloechl is an Actor-Combatant with the society of American Fight Directors trained in Broadsword, Single Sword, Rapier & Dagger, Knife and Unarmed combats as well as Company Member of Hedgerow Theatre currently appearing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  For more information visit www.safd.org

Here are some tips for the actor or the combatant or even (gasp!) the actor-combatant.  Stage combat is another branch of acting, so all of its lessons can be used in any kind of acting, just like anything you learn in acting can be used in combat.

1) Ask Questions

 In combat (as on stage) it is always important to ask questions.  Making sure everyone is on the same page is not only important for storytelling, it’s important for safety when the choreographed illusion of violence (the definition of stage combat) is being utilized.  It can be anything from “what’s my target” to “what foot am I supposed to be on” or the good old beloved “Why”.

2) Know Your Intent

A basic in both acting and combat.  What are you trying to get from your partner?  Why?  There are infinite levels of depth to be discovered.  In combat, the whys include “Why am I fighting this person?”, “Why this move?”, “Why this weapon” etc. and “What do I want to do – scare, hurt, maim, kill?”  It’s storytelling with swords (or knives, fans, rebar, whatever the play calls for) and all the same rules apply.

3) Consent, consent, consent 

Another biggie, yet often overlooked.  It’s not only important to check in with your on stage partners (acting or combat) on moments that require physical risk or intimacy.  Always check in with your partner.  Make sure they’re okay with any moves that are going on and consent to their bodies being manipulated however the choreography or staging calls for it.  Ask explicitly “Is it okay if I touch you this way?”  “Are you comfortable?”  “Was that alright for you?”  A lot of great information on this subject can be found at www.intimacydirectorsinternational.com.

4) Partnering 

In this same vein, partnering is very important.  One of the three golden rules of improv, this rule also applies to acting and combat – Make your partner look good.  You have to make the stakes real.  If someone comes on stage with deadly intent and you’re reacting like they forgot your guac at Chipotle you’re not telling a good story, fight or no fight.  This is especially important in combat when all the moves aren’t necessarily “true”.  If I cut my partner’s arm on stage, with a dulled blade using no pressure, it’s their job to react like they’ve had a very important muscle group destroyed.  I cannot put a true amount of pressure on my partner, so we together have to make each other look like we’re really fighting.

5) Cue, reaction, action 

This one may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s very important to remember.  The three steps of any combat action are the Cue (signalling to your partner what’s coming), the reaction (your partner emotionally and physically reacting accordingly with choreography) and the action (the fight move).  It’s a good technique for acting in general too, especially in intimacy choreography.  Until you know your partner knows what’s coming, you don’t go.

6) Know thyself

A big one for any performer regardless of type.  Ophelia cannot cry unless the actress portraying her is properly hydrated.  Likewise, a combatant cannot fight unless their body is warmed up.  Knowing what your instrument needs during rehearsal and performance is a must.  When in the building stages of choreography, it’s important to know how your body works.  Knowing you have a bad knee or that you won’t be able to do a certain move in the heels you’ll be wearing for the show  (story of my life) keeps everyone safe and saves a lot of injury and time.

7) Tell the truth

Hold the mirror up to nature.  Whether telling a violent story or not, if it’s not being told with honesty and conviction, it’s not being told right.  An actor is nothing without telling their character’s truth.

 

 

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.