My interest in working on a production of Black Comedy came from a desire to work on a very well choreographed and timed physical comedy. Broad stock characters, a fun time period and a call to laugh out loud was extremely attractive to me and the opportunity to teach and study clowning with a new generation of students was central to that attraction. I was also interested in exploring the virtuosity of each performer, their ability to physically and creatively manifest ‘eccentric people in bizarre circumstances.’ In the rehearsal process I was interested in using Chekhov techniques to find and exaggerate characters. I was also interested in working with clowning and methods of clowning including pratfalls, blaming, recovery, timing – all less ‘exploratory’ but more learned and practiced skill based techniques. I decided to work with Athene Syalers’ ‘Craft of Comedy’ as a text. In addition I wanted to work with vocal technique and dialect.
My spine for the production was The more you try to hide, the more you reveal. This spine was deeply connected to the play, it’s premise but also the opportunity to show off the virtuosity of my charismatic performers. The ability to try to remain in control when control was not possible or to look dignified when dignity had lost its meaning was the main idea I was after, with the long comedic fall down the stairs being the central physical metaphor for the show. Audience delight, through skilled performance and timing made to look easy, was my ultimate goal.
In terms of design, I was most interested in the main premise of the play: the blackout – the idea that we see when the characters don’t see and when they can see, we can’t. Through the use of “lights on lights off” we would get to see the characters behaving as if they were unobservable. That was exciting to me and also allowed for the idea of surprises along the way. In terms of set design the collaboration with my designers yielded some great ideas including the aesthetic of the character of the “Artist” in residence (eccentric) and the playfulness we could bring to the actor physicality through a ‘fun’ found object set of art compositions within the room. Art that took itself too seriously, and the artist’s desire to create art that ‘looks meaningful’ but actually perhaps seems more silly or sexual than anything else allowed for some great opportunities. We were also interested in ways for the actors to connect with set and art props in the light of the dark. Is the featured sculpture overtly phallic? Does someone want to touch it, but only in the dark? Is one of Brindley’s lamps ridiculous in some way? Something meant to look romantic that was ultimately terrifying or uncomfortable was a fun prompt. I asked for, and received from my wonderful design faculty, a light fun production and the costumes played a big part of that as well. A tongue in cheek approach to the 60’s time period offered many revelations about character within and wonderful sight gags/inconsistencies that made the characterizations even more fun. Prompts included :A military man with pink socks. A spinster with lacy underthings. A debutant trying to ‘slum it’ with an artist but afraid to get her white clothes dirty – etc. These examples began the conversation which manifested into a wonderful interpretations of costume, set, lighting and sound.
This show was received very well and watching it nightly was a joy. We brought in a clown workshop early in the rehearsal process which manifested in excellent physical comedy through-out the show. I also had excellent fight choreography and dialect work (through my cherished collaboration with vocal, dialect and fight choreographer Samantha Norton.) I was thrilled that the physicality and dialect blended so well into the body of the play and the time spent in deep conversation with Ms. Norton was a big part of that. The set was a perfect match for the intentions of the concept with the light and airy ground plan that supported the comedy so well and matched with the wonderful silliness of the ‘found art object’ props perfectly. The costumes were also deeply satisfying with a wonderful groovy feel that allowed the actors to be both attractive when necessary and ridiculous when called for. The lighting was bright and joyous and just perfect for all the characters bumbling in the dark (as rehearsed in the actual dark during many rehearsals.) The only thought I have now, five years later, was the way I approached the intimacy. Although highly choreographed and safely practiced with stage management present at every rehearsal, it was before consent language had been crafted, or before I had become aware of it in it’s recent iteration. If I were to do it again, I would approach that section differently, despite it being a comedy, I think I would have invested more time there making sure everyone was always completely comfortable in a way that we early generation performing artists were not afforded when we were in our undergraduate programs.