It isn’t enough that Bag&Baggage produces lost classics of Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration drama…in many ways, putting on these unfamiliar shows really should be enough of a challenge for the acting and design team all by itself! But, in addition to the challenging scripts, our Artistic Director Scott Palmer also throws unique performance styles that the actors have to incorporate into the performance, layering one challenge right on top of another.
In the past, B&B has mounted a Looney-Toons inspired production of “The Comedy of Errors” complete with animated backdrops and an entirely unique “cartoon acting” physical style…Three years ago, we produced an F. Scott Fitzgerald/Great Gatsby inspired production of “Twelfth Night” which incorporated original source materials and poetry by Fitzgerald into the text. Two summers ago we performed the Dryden/Davenant version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” appropriately titled “The Tempest, or the Enchanted Isle” and used an incredibly complicated and complex Restoration-era influenced performance approach that had the cast repeating “Prep and cross and rest, prep and cross and rest, prep and cross and rest” in their sleep! Last summer, it was “Kabuki Titus” with a Japanese-inspired movement and combat style….
This year, our production of John Dennis’ “The Merry Wives of Windsor, or the Amorous Adventures of the Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff” is relying on the classic Golden Age of Television comedy styles of Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Anne Southern and Lucille Ball!
For the actors, the challenge has been how to incorporate the 1950s television acting style into a 2013 theatre performance. Scott keeps saying, “Don’t forget you are on tv…don’t forget that Method Acting hadn’t been invented…don’t forget to do a take to the audience at the end of the joke…” Watching George Burns and Gracie Allen, or episodes of The Honeymooners will give you a feeling for just exactly what style we are hoping to attain for the show. These comedy greats were masters at the long, sustained reaction; hilarious over-the-top vocalizations; physical comedy that verges on slapstick but doesn’t quite go over that line, and more.
For modern actors with modern training, using this approach can be difficult and counter-intuitive. One of the actors said, “You have to rely on your training as an actor to help you forget your training as an actor…” Very zen…
B&B fan favorite Megan Carver is doing her very first classic with B&B in Merry Wives, playing the hysterical Mistress Ford, and she talks a little about the unique challenges (and downright terror!) of working in this difficult performance style:
“I consider myself a well versed actor. However, Shakespeare will forever and always be a challenge for me in study and onstage. I was positively thrilled when Scott offered me the role of Mistress Ford; I was also terrified! Will I be able to keep up with my other cast-mates? Will I understand what I’m saying? Will I just plain do a good job??
As I continue in this journey, there are more and more layers to consider. Our adaptation (of an adaptation) is set in the 1950s as a comedic sitcom. We studied actors such as Dick Van Dyke, Lucille Ball, Imogene Coca, and Jack Benny to name a few. We observed their “takes” and style. I feel I’ll forever be swimming in a melting pot of caricatures, comedy, and charm. It’s hard work. And splendid.There is a modern web-series called “Coco & Ruby,” where two girls of the 1950s make a wish to go to Hollywood, and in their sleep, their wish is granted and awake LA… but in the wrong decade! They struggle through the terrors of 2012 with a smile and a “gosh golly!” I feel very much the same, as I attempt to leave behind my modern tendencies, and adapt to a classic style while honoring the script.
I’m still terrified. But excited.
The Merry Wives of Windsor,
or The Amorous Adventures of The Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff
March 7 – 24, 2013The Venetian Theatre253 E Main Street, HillsboroTickets: www.bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590