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Seriously? No fart jokes?

Hello! Casey Freund here. I play Tim in Everything in Between, Dandelion Theater’s first devised work. For the most part, I’m a comedy guy. Give me a script and I’ll find the funny in short order. If the comedy isn’t there, I’ll figure out how to inject it. One time, I figured out how to get a laugh playing the sadistic Guard in Chekov’s Ward Number 6. Yeah. Chekov. Boom.

So, how does the “funny guy” get involved in a devised work? Well, they asked. I had just finished doing my third sketch show in a row and I was looking to do something different.

Quick aside: Doing a sketch comedy show is usually only a two month commitment. In the first month, you’ll have four rehearsals and one tech rehearsal. Hopefully, the scripts won’t change all that much and you can memorize your parts rather quickly. Then, you perform the show once a week for the next month. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a hectic, demanding process that requires you to be on your game at all times. But, if you love doing comedy, it’s a lot of fun!

When I got an email from Katherine (Artistic Director of Dandelion Theatre) asking if I wanted to take part in this, I wasn’t all that sure. I mean, yeah, I just said that I was looking to do something different, but not THAT different. I was thinking more along the lines of a nice romantic comedy or a dramatic piece where I played the comic relief, but definitely not a devised work. A friend even warned me about doing a devised work. “It’ll either be a great experience or it will never see the light of day”, is what he told me. Geesh! Oh, AND it’s a six month commitment?! I was all set to turn Katherine down.

Then, I remembered why I wanted to do a more dramatic project in the first place. Character. It had been a long time since I was developing just one character. I missed going into some depth on the part that I was playing. In a sketch or improv show, you are playing five or six different characters for five minutes at a time. You hit the comedic aspects of the character, get your yucks, and move on to the next one. You seldom find yourself asking, “But what was the motivation for that fart?” “Why this dick joke?” Obviously, you wouldn’t be reading this if I didn’t decide to do the show. Moving on.

I kinda figured the rehearsal process would be a lot of improvising, and it was. But, Kristina (Director of Everything In Between) started off our early rehearsals in a way that, I think, was pivotal to the success of this project. She had us do a bunch of exercises that were designed to let us get to know each other better. We did simple things, like make eye contact or say “Thank you so much for coming”. I know, I know. As I reread that last sentence, it sounds like we were in kindergarten and our rehearsals ended with Selerno Butter cookies on our fingers and apple juice. But, think about the phrase “Thank you so much for coming”. There are A LOT of ways you can use those words. They sound way different being said in the context of a wedding than they do at a funeral. And maintaining eye contact with another person is hard! It really is! Try it! What was happening was that we were really starting to trust one another. We were creating the rules for our process and rule number one was: Trust each other. Establishing that trust, gave everyone a lot of creative freedom. When we were improvising, we came up some amazing stuff. I watched as the other cast members brought pieces of themselves into the work and it made me want to work just as hard. When we were done improvising and just talking about things, there was a lot of honest feedback. It was a really nice environment to work in. Getting to know each other, trusting each other, THAT’S what made this process work. Also editing.

I’ve often joked “If you want to hear an actor at their most eloquent, ask them about their craft”. It’s true. We love talking about acting. But, hey, I’m sure carpenters love talking about wood or hammers or something. (Also, the irony is not lost on me that I was asked to write a simple blog post and this baby is coming in at over a thousand words) My point is, if you give an actor a platform they will take it and run with it! So, if you give a group of actors the platform to write a show, they will probably come up with enough content for three. And that’s pretty much what happened here. I can’t give Katherine and Kristina enough credit for being able to edit all of the material we threw at them into a cohesive and interesting piece. Without their efforts, we would have been mounting an epic four hour saga the likes of which would have gone down in history as, well, the cure for insomnia. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, if you are working on a devised anything, make sure there are a couple people that have the final say on what stays and what goes. You just kinda gotta.

Quick aside: My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Bagwell taught me that you should always start the last paragraph of an essay with “In conclusion,” I have followed that advice in everything I have written since. I really want to do something different here. After all, it’s a blog, not an essay. Let’s see how it goes.

In conclusion (dammit!), doing a devised work is a really wonderful experience. Well, this one was. I can’t really say what others have been like, because I wasn’t there. And that friend that I told you about earlier? Maybe he was right. Maybe we just got lucky. But, I very seriously doubt that. Personally, I think we had all of the right components to do a successful devised work. A crazy talented group of actors, leadership that knew how to balance pushing us further and reining us in, and a mutual trust that we were all going to do our best work. I am so glad I didn’t turn Katherine down. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I gotta tell ya, the view is pretty great from up here.

- Casey

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