Comic potential behind the scenes

Hanna Hornfeld, Staff Writer

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At the start of Tuesday’s rehearsal, the air was filled with excitement and laughter as actors hurriedly dressed in shining, futuristic costumes, had their hair done, and prepared to run through Act Two for the second-to-last time before their performances on November 7, 8, and 9. Since mid-September, the cast and crew have been working to perfect every detail in the HMTC’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential.
The production hit a small road bump a few days in when it was changed from the Good Person of Szechwan to the sci-fi romantic comedy due to concerns over cultural appropriation. Most of the students who had already made a commitment to the play decided to remain a part of it despite the change, the play’s director Joseph Timkó said.
Like most of the productions Timkó has directed, Comic Potential didn’t have cuts, Dylan Chin (12) said. After reading through the script together during the first two days of rehearsal, Timkó assigned them parts based on his knowledge of each person. “I have worked with most of the actors in the past, and many of them have worked together before, so they’re already a company,” Timkó said.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the cast began with warm ups involving vocal work, stretches, and games, said theater teacher Haila VanHentenryck, the production’s associate director.
VanHentenryck then rehearsed with cast members one-on-one or in small groups and worked with them on fight and romance choreography, or simply with understanding their characters better. “She made rehearsals more efficient; it was like we were having two rehearsals at once,” Timkó said.
Because Comic Potential is a comedy, it came with unique additional obstacles. Timkó, VanHentenryck, and the cast had to work to make sure that all of the jokes—both physical and verbal—were timed and delivered properly to keep them funny. Frommer says he has the opposite problem: he sometimes struggles to avoid laughing while onstage.
For Chin, conveying deep issues and themes through comedy was a challenge, he said. “In a comedy, you have to ask yourself ‘Why am I laughing?’ and when you think about it, it’s actually troubling.”
Many actors contributed other talents to the production as well. Actress Yana Gitelman (11) worked with Theatre, Dance, and Film Studies Department Chair Alison Kolinski to choreograph an original dance for the play, Gitelman said. The choreography did not require a lot of work, since they primarily used pre-existing dance moves such as the robot and the wave, but was a lot of fun, Gitelman said.
Another example is actress Kyra Mo (12), who plays a character whose part she conceived of and wrote completely from scratch. Figuring out how to add an entire part while keeping everything organic and harmonious with the original written text required hard work and research. “It’s my first time writing for a play, which I have always acted for, so I’m really excited to see how it will come to life,” she said.
While the actors rehearse, members of stage crew have built the sets, which were designed by Ashley Dai (12). Dai drew inspiration from circuitry, computer motherboards, and Louise Nevelson’s artwork in her designs. Although the lost time from the play change limited the amount of thought she was able to put into certain aspects of the set, it also forced Dai to trust her creative instincts and go with her gut, she said.
The stage crew, which includes Dai, then followed her design to create the sets. “The first day it was kind of awful because nobody knew what they were doing but after a while everyone got the hang of it,” said Lian Aydemir (10).
Matthew Aponte (10) is a member of both the stage crew and running crew. The running crew is responsible for helping the production to run smoothly, and each of its members has a different job, from working the light board to operating sound; Aponte will move set pieces on stage during the performance objects on stage, he said.
Aydemir is the properties manager, meaning that she keeps track of the actors’ props and ensures that the actors have access to them when they are needed.
Timkó said he loved shopping for quirky objects to serve as props. Because Comic Potential is set in a futuristic world filled with robots, he could stretch his creativity with them. For example, a glowing, color-changing baby rattle with red and yellow polka dots and black and white stripes will serve as a scientific device.
This week, the cast and the crew came together for a six and a half hour technical rehearsal on Saturday and four hour dress rehearsals Monday through Wednesday, in which they have been fine-tuning details to make sure that everything runs seamlessly. Before this week, rehearsals were only one and a half to two hours long.
For stage manager Spencer Kahn (12), the managing process started out slow, he said. However, Kahn is now calling light and sound cues, and making sure that all of the cast and crew are doing the right thing at the right time. “He is running the rehearsals at this point,” Timkó said.
“For a play to happen is the same as keeping a person alive: a zillion things have to be working correctly at the same time,” Timkó said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing that happen and to the audience enjoying it. I hope everyone laughs!”