Scott Lange on the process of finding humor in The Taming of the Shrew.
Humor is a funny thing. Or perhaps I should say SENSE of humor. It’s a funny thing that is totally unpredictable.
The Taming of the Shrew is classified as one of Shakespeare’s comedies. There are many funny things about the play (i.e.: the characters, the language, and the situations), but it can be nearly impossible to tell what the audience is going to find funny once you actually get to performances. I feel as though this production was especially challenging in that regard. For instance, we didn’t have any outside eyes on the show until the week we opened in Grand Rapids. And even then, it was only one person at a time that would watch the show, and give us feedback.
When you perform a comedy, laughter is an essential part of the show. Both in terms of getting the timing of your performance down, and helping fuel the energy of the show. We didn’t really get to experience our first real dose of laughter until opening night. Like I said, we had some outside eyes come in during production week, but there wasn’t a great deal of laughter on those nights. That’s not to say that the people watching the show didn’t enjoy it or that it wasn’t great to have an audience, but when you are one of a few (or the only) people watching a show, the impulse to laugh heartily isn’t quite as strong. There’s something about a crowd that makes it easier to laugh.
So you may be asking yourself: “Scott, what do you do when you are rehearsing an hilarious Shakespearean comedy without an ever present audience?” Well the answer is that you try to make each other laugh.
Comedy can be very subjective. What I think is funny, you may find crude or tasteless (this happens to me often actually…hmm.) And what my friend thinks is funny might be pretty dull to a lot of other people. It takes a lot of experimenting with the play to really figure out what the largest majority of people find amusing. Even then, you can’t please everyone. Mostly what we do at Pigeon Creek, is to make each successive choice for a character more and more ridiculous. Often my goal is to find a way to make my fellow actors break character in the middle of the scene. If I can make one of my fellow professional actors lose their concentration, I’ve done my job.
Usually once we reach that point, we do need to pull it back a bit. Sometimes the things that make us laugh the most often can’t be done on stage. It could distract from what the other characters on stage are doing, or it might just be too much over the top. I personally have two moments in this show that get pretty good laughs that came from some over-the-top experimentation. They are a bit ridiculous, but I’m glad I got to keep them in the show.
But sometimes you can’t beat having an audience. Kat Hermes and I were just having a discussion the other day, about lines that we thought were funny, but that we haven’t been able to coax a laugh from our audiences yet. The conversation centered around how exactly we were attacking the lines; on what word we placed the emphasis, volume, funny faces, etc. Again, it focused on the experimentation we had done with the play, but also highlighted the fact that we really had to think about how to make things funny.
Like I said, humor is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes a lot of work.