August 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
July 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
Comedy is hard. That’s a truism that’s been stated by actors since Shakespeare tugged on his first pair of tights. The Greeks probably said it first, but nobody understood it. After all, it was all Greek to them. See? I told you comedy is hard.
Everyone says it, but very few people actually believe it. Everybody thinks they can tell a joke, or be a clown, or just flat out be funny. And usually, they fail. But people still believe that funny is easy. Why? Because when people who are good at it do it, it LOOKS easy. It seems as if everything just flows from them with no effort. But that’s not the case. Comedy takes effort. A LOT of effort. I should know. I’ve been working at it for over 30 years, ever since I discovered that if I made kids laugh, they were less likely to hit me. But seriously, folks, I have been a student of comedy since a very young age, and what I love most about comedy is its structure and fragility.
Why, Andrew, what do you mean? I’m assuming you’re asking that, otherwise I have no impetus to write the rest of this blog. Comedy obviously has structure, regardless of what some bad late night sketch shows may try to make you believe. There’s a rhythm, a melody, a tempo to comedy, just like there is to music. It’s all in the timing, as the saying goes. You watch a great comedian, a Robin Williams, for example, and his act seems to be a concert. You can groove to the comedy as if you were listening to really great jazz. Knowledge of that structure is paramount to understanding, and succeeding at, comedy. Without it, you’re a kid with no breath support spitting into a trumpet. The cat may think it’s found a new girlfriend, but nobody else is going to want to hear it.
But that structure is fragile. Ever hear someone tell a joke badly? Not a bad joke, but a good joke in a way that makes you not laugh? It’s so easy to go from killer joke to dying onstage. That sense of timing, the intuitive understanding of how to deliver comedy, it is like the barest of breaths. Breathe at the wrong moment, and you go from being Jonathan Winters to being Pauly Shore.
So obviously, since comedy is so hard, so fragile, so easy to screw up, I decided to write a show about it. Because hey, taking one’s own advice is so silly. Mostly because I wanted to get these ideas across to people, I wanted to remind them of the acts that came before us, the ones that underpinned what we laugh at today, and I wanted to hear a bunch of people sitting in a theatre laugh at me. Firstly, because I like having my ego stroked. But also because laughter, and comedy, has an amazing ability to soften hard truths and make things easier to take. And while “The History of Comedy” might not change the world, it will make your sides hurt. And if you’re not careful, you might just learn something.
July 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
February 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
Often, when thinking about what makes a great actor, the word “versatility” gets bandied about. The ability to convincingly play several different types of characters is highly lauded in the theatre. It’s an attribute that most actors strive to develop, and as a theatre teacher, it’s an attribute that I try to instill in my students. Fortunately, it also appears to be an attribute, as far as Metropolis is concerned, that I possess, since they have cast me now in several shows where I am required to play multiple roles within the same show.
It’s a unique situation that brings with it some interesting, and unexpected challenges. “But Andrew,” you may ask, “what are those challenges? I mean, if you play different characters, you just come out in different costumes, right?” The simple answer is yes. But The 39 Steps is anything but simple. Firstly, as I tell my students, every person has a different physicality–the way they walk, stand, hold themselves, gesture, etc. Each character you play onstage needs a different physicality. This is not only for the truth of the person you’re portraying, but also because it helps the audience instantly recognize the fact you are someone different. And that is necessary because unlike some other shows, where people playing multiple roles have plenty of offstage time to change not only their costumes, but in some cases, style their hair differently or add makeup effects, the actors playing multiple roles in The 39 Steps are often required to change characters within the span of seconds. Sometimes we change characters onstage in full view of the audience, switching back and forth at breakneck speed. This makes being able to develop and remember different physical traits for each character essential so the audience doesn’t get confused.
Speaking of breakneck speed, the actors playing the two Clowns (who play all but four roles in the show) are also responsible for the lion’s share of the set changes. Because this show is based on a movie, there are A LOT of scene changes. So, not only do we, as actors, have to change our physicality and costumes in the blink of an eye, we must also, at the same time, manipulate large wheeled platforms and even larger wheeled set pieces rolling on and offstage, very often trying to change clothes or grab a prop at the same time, while also avoiding the other large wheeled set pieces sitting backstage. It is chaos. But, thanks to the incredible help of the two-person set crew backstage (yes, you read that right–two people) the chaos is controlled and is reduced to merely mayhem.
Because there are only four actors in the show, all of us spend a lot of our time running (sometimes literally–at one point in the show I am sprinting full speed from an exit on one side of the stage to reach an entrance on the other side within about four lines) from one side of the stage to the other. The 39 Steps is an incredibly physical show. I liken it to a two hour sprint. It is both physically and technically demanding. Your mind, as an actor, has to constantly be working along two parallel lines–what you are doing onstage as an actor, creating believable characters for the audience, and where the next platform full of furniture has to be set before you run offstage, grab a coat and a wig, sprint to the other side of the stage and come on as a completely DIFFERENT believable character for the audience. It’s taxing, it’s exhausting, and when you’re in your 40’s, like I am, you wake up a lot of mornings with your body wondering why you hate it so much. But when it all comes together, when the costume change fits perfectly in the space right after you set the door flat and you somehow manage to worm your way through the rest of the set pieces backstage to make your entrance on the exact line necessary to get a huge laugh from the audience, it is also exhilarating. And the beautiful thing is, this production, even before an audience has seen it, has reached that exhilaration point. It is fast-paced, well-timed, and hilarious. It’s a joy to work on, and the challenge of creating more characters than should be allowed in such a short span of time is a challenge I relish. Come see it. You never know–you might just catch my full out sprint if you watch closely enough.
February 11, 2016 § Leave a comment
Our journey towards opening night for “The 39 Steps” is coming close to the end. Last night, we worked on stage with all the set pieces for the first time, and Sunday we put all the lights, sound and costumes in place. Next week we have three dress rehearsals and 4 previews, and we are officially open. I can’t wait for audiences to see what we’ve been working on for the past two months.
“The 39 Steps” challenges us to put a movie on stage, with all its multiple locations, chase scenes, and quick fades in place. How do we handle that theatrically? Well, you start by putting most of the set pieces on wheels, and then constantly work to figure out how to move things in the most efficient manner possible. We’re also working to use lights to isolate areas of the stage so we can have one scene going on while another is being set. Our two backstage personnel are constantly moving and shifting set pieces so we have the right pieces ready to roll at the right times.
It took 28 actors to film the movie version, but we’re doing it onstage with only 4. Edward Fraim only has to play one role as he is our leading man, Richard Hannay. Ellen Cribbs plays all three of the beautiful, mysterious women he meets on his journey. Andrew Pond and Joseph Daniels play everyone else – a constant parade of costume changes, accents, and silly walks. In one scene alone, they each play three characters simultaneously.
So what are The 39 Steps? Will our hero keep top secret information from leaving the country? Who can do the biggest, baddest Scottish accent? Will all of those set and costume changes happen correctly every night? You’ll just have to join us a Metropolis to get the answers to these all important questions.
August 5, 2015 § 2 Comments
Dear Friends of Metropolis,
My name is Matthew Karl Weber and I am the set designer and technical director for Monty Python’s Spamalot. I write this note to invite you to become part of our set build and also to be part of a dramatic change in paradigm of how theater sets are constructed/deconstructed.
A brief history of me as a builder and designer:
I grew up in Montana with a family who loves to save awesome junk and eventually use it or leave it for 17 years until someone else uses it. After moving to Indiana, I entered the theater scene and received my BA in Theater at Valparaiso University. At VU I worked in the set shop and saw something that I couldn’t believe. The show, Pirates of Penzance, featured a beautifully huge rocky back drop with mountains and pathways and a budget of about $10,000. After a three weekend run, we began strike, using sledge hammers and saws, hammering the set pieces to dumpster size. This disturbed me as we had just spent untold hours and money on something that lasted three weeks.
While I was troubled, I also became inspired. This event started my career as a designer.
I devoted myself to finding more sustainable ways of set construction, creating items to be functional in and outside of the theater, using found and salvaged materials, minimizing the purchase of new materials and, of course, minimizing waste through this repurposing of existing materials.
I have spent recent years working in smaller theaters and art installations for music and art festivals designing and building materials made from scrap and salvage and then finding homes for pieces after the event is over. This method works and I am glad for this opportunity to share my inspiration with you.
Please check out some of my past work here: https://www.facebook.com/Junkmonknsun?fref=ts
How Can You Help?
For the construction of the castle and other set pieces in Spamalot, I am seeking many things that we come across every day and often throw out.
- White Styrofoam packing blocks; the kind that pack electronics and appliances
- Fake Christmas trees
- Fake vines, grasses, or shrubs
- Foam board insulation
- Larger pieces of scrap lumber; 3′ or longer all sizes and ply wood
- Blue large bed sheets, curtains.
- Weird statues; plastic, plaster, or concrete
If you have some of the materials, we hope you may be able to deliver the materials to our build space but we can also pick them up.
I will also be leading an all-ages/all-skills volunteer day on Saturday August 22 from 12 – 6 pm. If you or anyone you know might want to volunteer, please join us. If you can email me skills you have or would like to learn, we will accommodate all requests.
Thanks for all you do,
Matthew Karl Weber
June 30, 2015 § Leave a comment
One of the most exciting aspects of my work as the Artistic Director with Eclectic Full Contact Theatre has been our partnership with Metropolis over the past three seasons. We’ve had the opportunity to present three very different comedies, ranging from the slapstick of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” to the verbal sophistication of Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”. This year we are thrilled to present Ken Ludwig’s brilliant farce “Moon Over Buffalo”.
Rehearsing a farce is always a challenge. The set has 4 doors and 2 curtained entrances. The actors have to remember which of the 6 entrances to use each time they run on or off the set. The slamming of doors sets off actions and reactions, so during rehearsals, actors tend to yell SLAM when they enter or exit the room. We have the long staircase taped out on the floor so the actors can get a feel for running up and down the stairs. Props are carefully placed (and sometimes destroyed) as we figure out how thoroughly we can beat someone with a newspaper, or how far we can throw a phone. The actors don’t have to go to the gym to get in their cardio during this rehearsal period!
Speaking of actors, we have a great team of excellent comic performers on the stage. Some you will recognize from other Metropolis shows. Andrew Pond and Lisa Savegnago both starred in “Out Of Order”, and have been seen in several other shows here. Nancy Kolton is remembered from her star turns in “Nunsense” and “Damn Yankees”. Michelle Ziccarelli showed off her versatility in “The Boys Next Door”. Katie Hunter dazzled in two roles in “Half and Half” recently. Then we have some newcomers to the Metropolis stage, including Ryan Jozaitis, Jeff Irlbeck and Rob Reinalda (Rob actually understudied here, but this is the first time he gets to hit the stage in front of the Metropolis audience!).
Tomorrow we move on to the stage and get to start running the stairs and slamming the doors for real. We then have a week to get everything finished off before our first preview next Thursday, July 9. Our brilliant team of designers will be working with our cast to make sure the costumes are spectacular, the lights are brilliant, the sound is divine, and the set a work of art (and one of the characters in any farce). We hope you’ll join us this summer to laugh away a couple of hours at “Moon Over Buffalo”!