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 Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).