By Matt Powers
Since the inauguration of the Little Falls Cheese Festival four years ago, we have put on a series of original one-act, radio-theater style plays. We have a recurring cast of characters and actors, and are in the same venue each year.
These shows are great fun to direct. And that’s the point, right? Why have theater that isn’t fun? There is a time and a place for that kind of theater, but, for us, for the Cheese Festival in the throes of July heat, we prefer light, witty comedy. Even though we have a lot of fun, there are always things to work on.
Timing – Timing is crucial in any comedy. Getting the right preparation, delivery, and the right pacing all contribute to good timing. The best comedians excel in this areas, and know, in and out, how to make a joke funny. The same applies in theater where actors need to know what the joke is, how to prep it, and how to deliver it. With verbal and witty jokes, the burden is on the “straight man.” They need to establish a “normal” which the other character, the “foil,” can make a punch-line against. Sometimes the normal is composure, sometimes it is madcap, either way a baseline needs to be established in order for it to be upended.
So part of the rehearsal was geared toward allowing the actors to learn which role they played in the joke. Not everyone can be the punch-line person, but without the “straight man,” jokes fall flat. It takes some time, particularly getting the speed and delivery right, but once it hits – it is absolutely worth the time.
Voice Acting – These Cheese Festival shows have evolved into a hybrid. They are part radio-theater, part reader’s theater, or as our authors dubs it “theater for the air.” Since actors have script in hand, and our performance space is rather small, we don’t have much room for movement or blocking. So, like the old-time-radio personalities, we need to rely heavily on voice acting.
Voice Acting is all about being distinctive. A character’s voice needs to be iconic and convey things like: age, gender, education, geographic location, physical size, personality traits, and more. So much time is spend on character voicing, not only to capture the essence of the character, but to fit in the overall comedic design. If a particular voice, or voicing, is making a joke unclear, then it needs to be tweaked. Oftentimes I’ll say to the cast, “We need more. Really bring that out. Or don’t be afraid to be a bit over-the-top here, I’ll tell you when its too much,” just to put them at ease and perform in energetic ways.
Script Adjustments – Finally, the script. We go through a rigorous reading process. Angela sends me a draft. I read it and give feedback. She edits, has others read it, and then we get it out to the cast. During the first few read-thrus, we make alterations here and there, but it isn’t until we actually read it in our performance space that the script becomes finalized.
Several times during that rehearsal, I’d wander over to Angela, ask a question about the script or a cue, and get clarification. After we decided to cut, or add, something, I’d stop rehearsal, tell the cast what the change was, and have everyone mark it in their scripts. I know in some cases actors get very annoyed by this process, but they are good to us, and know that they too are part of the process and want to have an excellent product. It is sometimes time-consuming, but it works.
All of these things happen simultaneously, so it is a bit difficult to accurately convey how rehearsal goes, but they are vital for creating a fun, lively, comedy. And if we didn’t pay attention to these things, why are we creating theater?