This blog series takes you behind-the-scenes of the world premiere of The Canadian at the Thousand Islands Playhouse.
Entry #4 is from Sophia Fabiilli, who plays Nessa in the show.
Double-take! Spit-take! Gasp! Farce is Harder than it Looks
Have you ever seen a phenomenal stand-up comic? It looks effortless. Spontaneous. The truth is, every punchline has been carefully crafted and rehearsed a thousand times. Stand-up comedy requires huge technical skill, but a great comic makes it look easy.
The same rehearsed yet effortless magic also needs to happen in farce. Except that you add multiple actors, multiple storylines, and physical comedy that requires split-second timing.
As an actor and a playwright who adores farce, I’ve put together my top ten reasons why farce is harder than it looks – from an acting and writing perspective. Read on for behind-the-scenes insights into how we turn tedious technical work into hilarious magical mayhem.
1. Pace! Pace! Pace!
Why do farces go so fast? Think of this: sad songs are slow and heartfelt. Happy songs are fast and zippy. Farces aren’t funeral durges, my friends. They’re pretty much the exact opposite.
2. Gotta want it bad…
I’m not talking about sex (YET – KEEP READING). Someone once told me that in farce characters have such strong objectives that getting hit in the face doesn’t slow them down. Bottom line: every character must want something. And they gotta want it bad (WAIT – maybe I am talking about sex…).
3. Red Leather, Yellow Leather
Actors use tongue-twisters as warm-ups in order to execute the quickfire dialogue and hilarious banter. Playwrights must write two hours’ worth of LOL-worthy punchlines… Easy peasy lemon squeezy? It may look that way, but it’s not.
4. Mistaken Identity
A character being mistaken as someone else is a classic gag. This is tricky for the writer (to incorporate into their script plausibly) and for the actors (to portray convincingly and hopefully hilariously). Mistaken identity appears in Jason Hall’s The Canadian in two very unexpected ways… but I’m not giving them away. Mystery! Intrigue! Do you have your tickets yet?
5. Safe Violence
Farce also traditionally features lots of physical comedy (slaps, jumping over furniture, etc.) and a set with many doors (for sharp entrances and exits). All stage violence must look realistic and be 100% safe. Remember we do eight shows a week and don’t have understudies. Our fight director Zachary Counsil spent hours with us rehearsing hijinks that take mere seconds onstage.
I used a Greek word. Are you impressed? ‘Eros’ means love and desire and that’s what comedies are about: love and sex! (SEE? Good things come to those who wait!) The writer’s challenge is to craft eros-fueled storylines that are original. The actor’s challenge is to fully realize that budding flirtation, that steamy seduction scene, that big smooch – while always respecting their scene partners and getting consent for any and all onstage intimacies.
7. Find the funny
This is the task of the entire team. Dialogue. Stage business. Props. Costumes. Lighting. Music. Even our stage manager (the outstanding Natasha Bean-Smith) perfectly timing her cues. Every element counts! Which begs the question: how do you know what’s funniest? Well, you try it. And your director (the luminous Rob Kempson) weighs in. And you try it again. And again. And again. And again until you…
8. Lose the funny
By the time the play is fully rehearsed, it doesn’t feel funny anymore. Rehearsing a comedy in front of an empty auditorium is like singing and no sound coming out. It’s impossible to know what’s working until…
9. The audience arrives (dum dum duuuum)
If a joke works and the audience erupts into laughter, actors have to pause and wait. If there’s coughing or restlessness during a particular scene every night, that’s a sign to the writer and the team that the audience is continually losing focus and something may need to be adjusted. Audience energy, laughter, and feedback are fundamental to our understanding of what’s working and what’s not. Audiences inform everything.
10. Working against sexist tropes
Buckle up, folks. A lot of recurring jokes in classic farces don’t respect women. Ladies running around in their underwear? Male characters written as smarter than their female counterparts? Innuendo where a woman, her body, or her sexuality are the punchline? The truth is we’ve all been brought up laughing at jokes like that. As we turn a corner into our post-#MeToo world a lot of people aren’t finding those jokes so funny anymore (HUZZAH!). So, I wholeheartedly commend Jason Hall who has subverted tropes and steered clear of those tired old jokes. I think he’s done a truly admirable job at writing a feminist-approved farce for 2018 audiences. I hope you’ll take in The Canadian and see for yourself!