Hello there, fellow theatre enthusiasts! It's Joe, a theatre director who has the privilege of working with middle and high school actors for many years.
Comedy in the world of theatre is a fascinating art, primarily because it's one of those rare forms of entertainment where you get instant feedback from the audience. Laughter tells you that you're doing something right, while silence can signal that there's room for improvement. Throughout my years in the field, I've learned quite a few lessons the hard way, and today, I'm excited to share "Joe's Tips for Comedy Success" with you.
- Pacing is the heartbeat of comedy. Think about your favorite comedies, and you'll likely recall crisp, quick exchanges that keep you engaged without feeling rushed. In rehearsals, I use a simple trick - a snap of my fingers - to push actors to maintain a brisk pace. It may irritate them, but it gets the message across. To achieve this kind of delivery, actors must know their lines inside out. I once worked with two actors who had to rattle off numerous Shakespearean death scenarios. They practiced tirelessly to achieve a crisp and quick pace. When they performed it, the audience roared with laughter. So, remember, keeping the pace is vital, but...
- Keep the laughs coming! When you're on that stage and the audience erupts into laughter, it's tempting to rush ahead to the next line. There are a few reasons for this - the anxiety to deliver lines promptly, a conditioned fear of the director's snapping fingers, or the absence of laughter during rehearsals. However, plowing ahead during laughter trains the audience not to laugh. Don't be afraid to pause, embrace the moment, and let your audience catch their breath. Use your body language and facial expressions to milk the laughter a bit. When the laughter subsides enough for the next line to be heard, that's your cue to continue. Remember, this isn't a rigid rule. Some actors possess such natural comic timing that they can keep the audience in stitches with a mere look or gesture.
- In comedy, the ensemble's collaboration is paramount. You might be the funniest person on the stage, but if the entire play doesn't connect with the audience, you've got a problem. Your goal as an actor is to work seamlessly with your fellow actors to create an experience that entertains and enlightens your audience. I once found myself thrust into a desperate situation, having to improvise an entire show due to an unexpected actor emergency. It got laughs, but my fellow actors were petrified, and the play lost its meaning. Going off-script for personal laughs at the expense of your fellow actors is a risky move that seldom ends well.
- As playwrights, we're particularly sensitive about this one - have respect for the written word - The Script. Sure, you might have a killer ad-lib that garners laughs, but it's important to respect the script. Every line, every scene, builds momentum toward a hilarious and satisfying climax. A well-timed off-script gag can derail that momentum. If your script isn't delivering the humor you desire, it might be best to consider a different one. Stay true to the script you've chosen and work your comedic magic within those boundaries.
- In the world of comedy, the straight person plays a pivotal role, though it might seem less glamorous. They set up the comedic actors, who then deliver the punchlines that elicit laughter. While every actor craves their moment in the spotlight, the straight person is the audience's anchor amidst the onstage madness. They're the character the audience can relate to. In essence, comedy cannot exist without the straight person.
In the world of theatre, comedy is a delightful art that thrives on instant audience feedback. Whether you're a budding actor, director, or just a comedy enthusiast, remember these tips to ensure your comedic performances hit all the right notes. Comedy may be challenging, but with teamwork, respect for the script, pacing mastery, consideration for the audience's laughter, and an appreciation for the straight person's role, you're well on your way to comedy success in middle and high school theatre.
Break a leg!