Tag: shakespeare

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.

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).

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.