Not necessarily something to which I gave much thought until I was cast as Antonio in 12th Night. I like him as a character, I think I understand many of his emotions and motivations, but I don’t think he’s inherently funny.
Which is okay – a comedy in which everyone is side-splittingly funny could be an exhausting experience.
Antonio serves, at times, as a straight man for other characters. He sets up others’ jokes. In several scenes his honest assessment of the situation (as he understands it) provides a counterpoint to the antic behavior of others. As an actor, however, I want to get in on the laughter, if possible. So, what to do?
Several strategies present themselves:
First, find the comedy in the text. Shakespeare gifts most of his characters, even those in the midst of history plays, tragedies, or “romances”, with moments of humor and/or wry insight into the human condition. While Antonio is not a particularly humorous character, he does end up in unusual situations, dealing with slapstick-influenced scenarios. Close reading of his lines reveals some awareness of the topsy-turvy world in which he finds himself. As an actor, identifying these places allows me the chance to share them with the audience.
Second, movement on stage can convey humor. Shakespeare provides very little in the way of direction to the actor concerning where and how he/she should move. Physical comedy shows up in the oddest places in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and 12th Night is no exception. The rehearsal process allows me chances to experiment, to play, if you will, and my fellow actors are very open to this type of exploration, which is a blessing.
Third, if all else fails, wear a funny hat. I continue to be surprised at how effective costumes and props can be in accentuating comic situations and, at times, creating laughter where I least expect it.
The Pigeon Creek philosophy for performing Shakespeare continues to bless me with opportunities to play with Shakespeare’s words and characters, opportunities for which I remain appreciative.
Come see us play in 12th Night this month and next!