Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kate Meehan: on Aesthetic and Being Totally Lovely

Kate Meehan has been performing with La Fenice since it's very first show as Austin Commedia Society back in 1999.  Over the years, she's played a number of the Commedia stock characters with us, and currently serves as Managing Director.  Before joining ACS, she performed on many famous Chicago improv stages, including ImprovOlympic and Second City.

How does La Fenice's approach to Commedia differ from other Commedia dell'Arte troupes?
Well, I've really only created Commedia shows with La Fenice, but for the last few years I've been in touch with a whole lot of different performers.  Apparently, we're pretty unique in the United States in that we're performing Commedia outside of Renaissance Faires, the confines of a Goldoni script, or a proscenium stage.  We perform in bars to keep things risky - usually at least half of our audience was unaware there would be a show that night, and it means we don't have the luxury of a trapped audience.  They can ignore us, talk over us, throw bottles and loose change or just leave.  Our job is not only to keep their attention, but to convince them at the end that what they saw was valuable enough to dip into their wallets.

How well does that work, with the masks and such?
Pretty well, actually.  We've morphed our aesthetic over the years to suggest a sort of vague historic past, with stock characters pulling visual references from characters our audience already knows.  Pantalone, for example, is based off the Monopoly guy.  The masks and big shiny costumes cue our (likely drunk) audience in on the kind of over the top theatricality of our shows, and sort of prepares them for some of the bullshit conventions we try and pull later.

You're playing the young Lover this time?
Yes, a bit of a stretch, huh? At least I'm paired with Aaron, who is even more elderly than I am, instead of young Tate.  Sloop [of the Damned] made me feel like total a cougar.  I began playing the Lover with Austin Commedia Society back when I was, more or less, the Lover character in real life - obnoxious, loud, and with limbs a little too long and spindly for any real grace of movement.

Not much has changed.
That's totally true, except now I've got a lot more person to cram into the corset and am sporting these grey racing stripes.  Genevieve [Kinney] usually plays our lovers, and she somehow manages to explore various permutations on the Elegant Lady every time.  This is the second time I've picked the Lover back up since La Fenice reformed, and I'm trying to keep from making her too crusty, to just allow the character and myself to be lovely without making any commentary.

What do you mean?
Well, there's this strange attitude that's apparently pervasive among female comics.  They can be attractive, but you don't run into material from Cloris Leachman or Lucille Ball or even Tina Fey and Amy Poehler about how good looking they are and some of them will go out of their way to actively remove their femininity from their acts, talking and behaving in more masculine patterns, but there's no denying that they're all a bunch of total foxes.  In part, I think it comes from tending to be one of very few ladies in a dude's world - no matter how many manicures you get or how well you walk in heels, your testosterone starts to pique and you become less comfortable playing femininity in truthful ways.

I assume you mean the Royal You.
I always do.  Unless we're talking about doing dishes or picking up squished cockroaches, in which case, I mean Actual You.  I did a show during the Great Commedia Hiatus where I played this punky angel for the first act of a show, and a rapist-tormenting succubus during the second act.  The succubus role was really hard for me.  I remember being fairly confident someone would stand up in the middle of the show and call me out for farting into my corset and bustle, or point out how wildly uncomfortable I was with the slinky vixen thing.  I've never felt so exposed and awkward in my life, and I've done some really ludicrous things on stage.

Back up.  You were farting into your bustle?  Is that what chicks do into those things?
Well, yeah.  With all those voluminous folds, it's hard to resist filling them like a hot air balloon and there's  a lot of gut squeezing with corsets.  When the review came in for that show, the reviewer said I had played the role of a succubus too narcissistically, but playing the angel like I had just been hit in the head with many hammers and was suffering from Tourettes was called "spunky," so I guess it reinforced the notion for me - stick to what you know, and cling to the fart jokes and on-stage jitterbugging and leave being ladylike to the dancers.  So, you know, the first Lover I played when we re-formed was a sexual being, but in an aggressive, hyper-masculine way. It was actually a totally cowardly move. 

So this time?
Well, first of all, I'm going to sing like a freaking Disney princess.  Then I'm going to be so damned lovely, you're going to want to paint my picture like one of your French girls, Jack.  And somewhere in there I'm going to be funny, too.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Meet Tate Green, La Fenice's new Arlecchino!

Tate Green is our sprightly young actor playing Arlecchino - the first since it was retired by Jason Fawcett back in 2002.  Tate was last seen as Ottavio in Sloop of the Damned, and is the creator and host of the wildly popular YouTube Gong Show.

How has the process of stepping into the fabled shoes of Arlecchino been?
Well, all of the tales of past La Fenice Arlecchinos – shots lined up across the stage and all – I’m feeling it’s the perfect role for me. Although I don’t think I can handle a shot thrown in my eyes.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t Arlecchino’s eyes.  Those were mine.
Yes, but you threw it in your own eyes, right?  

Yes.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Tossing liquor into your eyeballs is not a requirement for the role, unless you’re into that kind of thing.
I enjoy the experience of playing Arlecchino a lot better than playing the Lover.  I’ve been having more fun with it.  I’m not sure if it’s the character or the process that’s just a little more comfortable for me, but I’m having a lot more fun this time.

Yes.  You appeared to be pretty dour about playing Ottavio in the last show [Sloop of the Damned.]
Well, more than anything I was really nervous all through rehearsal for Sloop.   I don’t know if I didn’t fully understand how the process was supposed to go when we started or if it was just trying to do some fancy new kind of theatre.  I mean, Commedia’s weird.

It’s funny that I’m less nervous for this show, while I’ve got Gian Giacomo Colli breathing down my neck during rehearsals.  I suppose he’ll get a lot more terrifying when we start to layer in the larger physicality.  I’ve been practicing Arlecchino’s particular walks and my movement in my classroom just for that occasion, and my students have started calling me out on it.

So what is your most favorite thing about the way La Fenice puts its shows together?  Ha.  How’s that for a leading question?
Yes.  “What do like best about my lovely face?”  

I like that it’s all super relaxed until – see, I got half way through a sentence before I got negative – it’s all very relaxed until we get hung up on something, and then you see people get passionate about the construction of some bit of material or other.  The way people debate the nuance of a fart joke or fight for the inclusion of one of your weird history references is really awesome.  The collaborative nature of the story building process is great – the fact that rehearsal is totally interactive, and we all help each other in creating and structuring each others’ work.  You don’t just build your own character and material, it’s all a result of everyone sharing ideas.  I think the whole process has made a lot more sense this time around, and that’s made it much more fun.

It’s less onerous this time than during Sloop?
Well, I still feel like we don’t have near enough time, but I feel like when we rehearse this time around, everything has been tighter and our time has been more purposeful.  We’ve had only four rehearsals, and it feels like we have 2/3 of the show hammered down.  I mean, we just have to toss in a few extra jokes and we’re square.

Bah, who needs jokes?
Good point.  Instead, let’s just take turns reciting facts about the Holocaust?  

Oh.  That sounds experimental. 
Yeah.  We should maybe add puppets.  No, wait, let’s not do that.  It’s suddenly reminding me a terrible formative experience I had as a young theatre kid.

What’s that?
Well, I was trying to learn about puppetry, and somehow I wound up on a website called Puppetry of the Penis.  

I could have grown up a totally different person if it weren't for that website.

Fun Facts about Tate Green.
I could have been [puppeteer and Company Member at Large] Dan Raynor.  Hell, that might have been Dan Raynor.  Oh, man.  Now I have to check and see if it’s still there.  [An iPhone is retrieved, and Googling takes place.]  Sweet Jesus, it still exists.  What?  “Now in 3D?”  Don’t put any of this in the interview.  I do not endorse this scary website.  Oh my god, it has mobile apps?

You are, at this very moment, earning yourself a file at the FBI.  Children take classes in this building.  Holy wow.  They just do full on handstands and stuff all naked, don't they? Are you blushing?
Next question?

Ahem.  What sucks about making shows the way we do?
Can I say when Gian doesn’t understand American jokes?  Or English?

Also, when Aaron doesn’t understand Kate English, and Kate doesn’t understand Aaron English.  Adam always seems to understand everybody.  I think he always understands everything.  

Or it could be that Adam is not wildly interest in understanding anyone.
Actually, the hardest thing is splitting my time with my job and this.  It makes show homework really hard, especially since I feel like I’m not as funny on my own.   

Wait.  Can we strike all the puppetry of the penis stuff?

No.  We’ll be providing a link for our readers.  That stuff is better than RuPaul videos.
Crap.  So I guess my grandmother can’t come see this show, and now she can’t read this interview. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Making this look easy since 2010

- Adam W. Rodriguez    

Tonight I met with Bruce Salmon, the man behind the guitar and one of the reasons our shows are awesome. It is becoming procedure to spend a bit of time with Bruce outside of rehearsals to collaborate the opening number of the show. Usually, I find some bit of music I dig and write some lyrics loosely based on said music, show it to Bruce who then, kind of like a wizard, transforms it into a bit of awesomeness! I've worked with a few guitarists in my history of metal bands and comedy rock shows and find one thing that makes the experience totally kick ass, and that's the seamless ease with which these creations come to pass. I've definitely worked on music with dudes who weren't easy to jive with and the result is often a steaming pile of "What the hell was that?" You know the dynamic is sweet when a writing a song is more like two dudes shooting the shit instead of two dudes convincing each other they are the shit. What I'm saying is a talented and dependable musician is rare, like Hobbits, or Rhinotaurs.

 I'm totally psyched about the opening music number so far.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

International Commedia dell'Arte Day

We celebrated the rebirth of professional theatre and the international Commedia dell'Arte community with a series of lectures (Outdoor Performance Tropes of Commedia dell'Arte with Kate Meehan, Choral Movement and the Commedia dell'Arte with Aaron Johnson; and The Characters of Commedia dell'Arte with Giangiacomo Colli.)  We were joined by a group of really wonderful, gutsy students from nearby Pfugerville High School and from our host, Texas State University.