Zen and the Art of Not Corpsing

A NOTE FROM PETER SCHUYLER

Corpsingverb – British theatrical slang. When an actor breaks character during a scene — by laughing or forgetting their lines, or by causing another cast member to do so. The origin of the term is unknown; it refers to almost literally murdering the scene. 
Up until this point, all of my cast-mates have submitted, thoughtful, humorous blogs about their discoveries during rehearsals, “the process”, and what working with the company means to them. One would expect from me, then, a similar paean to the greatness of Scott Palmer and the joy of working with the good people of Bag & Baggage.


Yeah, not so much.
 
I’m trying too hard to keep a straight face during rehearsals.
 
The thing one has to know about doing Tom Stoppard’s plays, be they comedy, romance, or drama, is that they are funny. I mean that in the most superhuman sense of the word. This is a writer who can load 15 jokes — from the scatological to the esoteric — into one line; all of them are equal in hilarity. 
When that kind of ammunition is in the hands of a cast as talented as ours, it will come as little surprise that we have not stopped corpsing since the first read-through of the script. In fact, for the first two weeks of rehearsal, all it would take was one was a well delivered read and a small twitch of eyebrow and BANG! — everyone was in hysterics. Seriously, if someone walked in on a rehearsal with no context of what was happening, we’d all be in an asylum right now. We’re laughing that hard. 
 
But that had to stop. Corpsing is a direct result of an actor not being committed to what’s happening on-stage. Acting is, in a nutshell, all about listening actively and reacting honestly from your character’s perspective to the information you’re receiving, no matter how ridiculous. So while my instinct as a person is to laugh until I cry at something my castmate is doing, my character’s perspective must supersede that, which is about as easy as it sounds when a castmate bugs out their eyes and makes a sound like a wounded moose.
So the real challenge we’ve all been facing is getting committed to the action on stage, to these hilarious and haughty characters we’re portraying, and to telling their positively Byzantine story — because those characters have tell the story of the play The Cruise of the Dodo, which, were it an actual play would require a Ping-Pong table, stolen earrings, and about 15 dance numbers..
 
How does one do that you ask? I do it thru deep breathing and remembering three things: 
  1. The story we’re telling is more interesting than us giggling like an idiots.
  2. I have given myself permission to not laugh at funny things.
  3. Theatres don’t re-hire you if you treat their shows like a sketch on the Carol Burnett show.
There will be a great many things for audience members to enjoy in our production of Rough Crossing — ludicrous accents, music, a play-within-in-a-play that has a Ping-Pong champion jewel thief — but my hope is that those of you who read this will take a second to appreciate how hard the six of us onstage are working to keep focused and committed, and let that appreciation fuel your enjoyment of the show. Because as our director Scott Palmer would say: “Theatre is hard y’all.” 
 
Peter Schuyler
“Ivor Fish”

ROUGH CROSSING

by Tom Stoppard
May 9 – 26, 2013
The Venetian Theatre
253 E Main Street
Hillsboro, OR 97123
Tickets: www.bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590