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Physical comedy coach works with fall play cast

Patrick Commers

Coach Epp demonstrates how to do a controlled, comedic fall.

Noor Qureishy

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Although dramatic scenes with epic sword fights and star-crossed lovers invoke heart-throbbing emotions, the only type of theater capable of invoking both happiness and sadness, tears and bouts of endless laughter, is comedy.

This year, the Upper School fall play One Man, Two Guvnors focuses on the art of comedy, perfecting each cast member’s performance with the help of a physical comedy coach.

The story features a series of mistakes committed by Francis, the main character, and the sad but humorous effects they have on his life. Adapted from the Italian comedy Servant of Two Masters, this play will be much like the original, only in Commedia dell’arte style.

Commedia dell’arte, or “comedy of craft,” is a form of theater characterized by the actor’s ability to act without reliance on facial expressions, using their bodies instead.

Steve Epp, local actor and former director of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, taught the cast of One Man, Two Guvnors the language of comedy through physical movement. They learned how to execute stunts and express emotions through movement, adding a new dimension to their performance in the process.

“[Epp is] doing a series of exercises with the cast, thinking about isolating different parts of their bodies…[teaching them] how to be completely in control of [their] bodies while making it look like they’re not in control,” US Theater Director Eric Severson said.

This requires his cast to be like what he calls “living cartoons,” appearing to be improvising despite past rehearsals. “It has to feel like it’s happening for the first time: if it’s over-rehearsed it can feel flat, if it’s under-rehearsed people can get hurt,” Severson said.

“Steve’s lots of fun… it’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to,” senior Evan Leduc said. Leduc is excited for the challenge of physical comedy that Epp presents. “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard,” he added.

“It’s going to be challenging, but I think we can pull it off… everyone has times when they make a joke and no one laughs, it’s all about finding what makes people laugh and being able to repeat it on command,” he added.

However, Leduc believes the play will amuse students. “We were laughing so hard in the read-through that we couldn’t concentrate,” he said. “I want people talking about it the week after, to get them excited about it before the show… personally, I just want to be satisfied with my performance.”

Senior Sonja Mischke feels similarly; she said the cast has their work cut out for them, though in her opinion, the performance “is going to be really worthwhile [if we do it right].” Mischke also loved working with Epp, saying “he’s so funny, and very honest: he’s not there to compliment us, he’s there to teach us, which is really helpful.”

Mischke believes this play will be enjoyable, for both the cast and the audience. “[Usually] so much focus is put upon the words and the text [in theater]…learning from Epp is opening up a whole new way of looking at acting as a whole,” she said.

Freshman Freddy Keillor said he also likes the shift to this new area of theater, but his main goal for this play is just to have a pleasurable experience. “Stage performance is most beneficial for the people involved when they’re having fun,” he said.

Junior Maggie Vlietstra said she is also new to physical comedy. “The theater I’ve done in the past relied much more on getting into the character’s head and picking apart their thoughts…[now], I have to pay a lot more attention to the way I move and hold myself as my character.”

However, Vlietstra enjoys the learning process, she wants to create an unforgettable performance, aiming to “forget about what the audience thinks of me and just go for it…a big part of comedy is being willing to look foolish, and I think that’s an important thing for the whole cast to remember,” she said.

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