Re-Treat Yo-Self II
By Olivia Williamson
At the beginning of June, I found myself in the south of France at a workshop specializing in a niche vocal technique taught by Roy Hart voice teachers. I first learned about this particular kind of voice work when I was in undergrad at SMU in Dallas. At graduate school, I was lucky enough to work with Roy Hart teachers who flew over from France for a couple of weeks every year to work with the students in my program. I was intrigued by the freeing nature of the work and the fascinating history of the Roy Hart Theatre. I felt like Luke Skywalker going to see Yoda. (Is that the right analogy? I can’t be sure-- I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars all the way through.) I sought out the source of the technique, a guru to fan the artistic flame. I sought out a cloistered retreat to invest in my artistic growth.
After a 14-hour flight delay, a three hour train delay, and a missed bus, I was at my wit’s end when I arrived at a crumbling chateau in a tiny town outside of Nimes. Happily, I was quickly scooped up at a train station by one of my new teachers: a spiritual shaman, voice teacher, and Italian native named Emmanuela. We snaked our way around winding streets until we arrived at what was to be my home for the next 8 days…The Centre Artistique International Roy Hart. During the retreat, mornings were spent in vocal exploration with 6 fellow explorers. Our international group of retreat attendees were bold, courageous, and playful. We worked with diligence and focus for 5 hours each morning. The work was very physical and the necessary exertion in the mornings led to very lazy and restful afternoons. In the evenings we cooked together with ingredients from the local organic co-op, drank wine from neighboring vineyards, and made music together. We sang for several hours each night and finished the evenings counting stars. I left the south of France rejuvenated, invigorated, and with new skills to share with my fellow ensemble members.
This year, Hedgepig has devoted time to skill sharing during our monthly trainings. The Hedgepigs possess a diverse set of skills and have a variety of training backgrounds. Each month, a different ensemble member leads exercises based on their particular brand of expertise. In sharing our knowledge, we benefit from one another’s strengths by growing and learning from one another’s experiences. A week after I arrived back to New York from the retreat, it was time for our July ensemble training and my month to lead the skill share. I chose to share some of the exercises I learned at the Centre Artistique Institute Roy Hart with the ensemble. I felt humbled to have such eager students, and grateful to have had the opportunity to bring the ensemble something new and unique.
Last year, I wrote a blog about our annual Hedgepig retreat, about escaping the city and getting lost in the woods, about bonding with the ensemble out in the woods of upstate New York. The Hedgepigs leave for this year’s retreat next month and I am looking forward to getting out into nature, to the focused work we will do, and to chatting around the campfire. It will be a welcome escape to block out the constant drone of emails, text messages, social media notifications, and pressures of work responsibilities and go on an artistic retreat with my artistic family. To those of you out there reading this, who may be questioning an escape yourself, I would like to offer you some words of encouragement:
Nurturing your passion is not indulgent, it’s essential.
You deserve the opportunity to unplug.
Taking time to escape makes you better when you return.
Re-treat yo’ self.
On Callbacks, Remounts, and New York Summers
By Jory Murphy
Red, white, and blue decorations deck the streets, AC units are blasting at max force, and our subway rides are just a little sweatier than usual. Yep, it’s July in New York City.
I write to you this on a warm summer evening after a delightful afternoon of ensemble callbacks! Yes, it’s time again to welcome some new Pigs into the fold, and I couldn’t be more excited about the group we met this weekend.
Confession: I have yet to learn the skill of relishing in the joy of an audition process. I find it stressful and anxiety-inducing. But I must say that Hedgepig callbacks are about as un-auditiony as they come, and I commend my fellow Pigs for creating such an open and inviting environment for our auditionees. Hedgepig callbacks look less like a typical audition and more like our monthly trainings. There’s no difference between current Pigs and Pigs-to-Be in the room as we form a supersized ensemble—playing, devising, and working together to create some beautiful, goofy, ephemeral art.
What’s so magical about a Hedgepig callback like this is that it’s not a hyper-competitive atmosphere where hundreds of actors are vying for one coveted role. It’s simply a first meeting between those auditioning and those in the ensemble, where we learn about each other and see if we mutually want to continue having a relationship. Sort of like a first date, but without all the awkward tension. It’s a super relaxed space where silliness and creativity are welcome, and though I know Hedgepig won’t be the right fit for every person in the room, I’m grateful for the fun we all got to share.
Another confession: I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of an interloper during callbacks, because I actually never auditioned for Hedgepig! At least not in the traditional sense. Just about this time last year, as I returned from a brief Fourth of July trip to the Finger Lakes, I received an email from our fearless leader Mary with the following subject line: “URGENT: Replacement Actor Needed for A Taste of Shakespeare.” Now, at this point, I was only a fan and friend of Hedgepig. I loved everything I’d seen them do, but for whatever reason, never thought my participation would go beyond that of audience member and supporter.
This seemed like such a great opportunity: A chance to play ten Shakespeare roles in an hour with a company of artists I’d come to greatly respect and admire. I immediately wrote back to Mary, and just days later found myself in my first rehearsal. In many ways, the rehearsal was entirely different from the callbacks process I just participated in: I was assigned specific characters, working with a finalized script, and preparing something I knew would actually be seen by the audience. However, just like our audionees this past weekend, I wasn’t treated like a newcomer or outsider; I immediately felt welcomed by the group and free to play and be creative. Needless to say, I instantly fell in love with the company and officially joined the ensemble a few months later.
Flash forward to today, and we’re only a couple weeks from heading back into rehearsal to remount A Taste of Shakespeare! This is my first time remounting a show, and I’m so excited to revisit these short plays in the rehearsal room and onstage at The Brick’s Shakespeare in the Theater Festival. What a luxury it is to return to rehearsals, having already had a run of the show. We know the moments that really worked, as well as the ones that never quite landed. And now we get to adjust, rework, and make this zany hour of Shakespeare even better than before. Not to mention that I now have a year of working with the ensemble under my belt. My connection to the group is greater, our trust is stronger, and our work will be that much deeper for it.
So, as the heat and humidity slow the City down a bit, Hedgepig is going faster than ever. New members, A Taste of Shakespeare remount, Waffle-palooza, and our ensemble retreat are all on the horizon, and I can’t wait to see what more fun is in store for us in 2018!
Mum’s the Word by Mary Candler
Please be advised, this blog post will be filled with heartbreak and underwhelming secrets.
Secret #1: I struggled with picking a season for Hedgepig this year.
Programming the last five seasons seemed more obvious to me--plays either fell into my lap, or I felt strongly about what to produce. But this year...oh boy...
I was trying to pick the perfect play for right now. The current landscape is fraught, and there is so much worth fighting for and so much worth fighting against. I asked myself: “What classically inspired play will not only showcase our ensemble but also empower women, fight the patriarchy, champion black lives, reduce plastic from the oceans, and appeal to our audience (...and offer soaring language, the opportunity for physical storytelling, and meaty on-stage relationships)?”
The answer is...zero plays. That would be a wildly confusing play. There is no play that meets that insane criteria nor would that play meet what I believe is the purpose of theatre. Where would I even find that play? Regardless, I was toiling in a pitch, or more accurately…existential dread.
Secret #2: I produced “Escapism: An Evening with Noel Coward” as an escape for ME.
I needed to climb out of that pitch (tar-like substance) and create from a place of whimsy and zest for storytelling. I suspected that our audience might also need a similar escape from the world. I’m so glad the ensemble was game to come along for the ride, because Escapism gave me space to breathe, and I soon stumbled upon a little-known play that I had fallen in love with years before--a play that celebrates life and love amid a crumbling world order--a verse play that gave a leading lady agency to change the trajectory of the story--a play that inspired me!
Anxiety melted away. I announced it to the ensemble. I boldly said, “This is the play.”
Secret #3: This was, apparently, not “the play.”
Here comes the heartbreak: After much back and forth, Hedgepig was not granted performance rights to the play. I am Devastated (with a capital D). And now I’m back to searching, seeking, scratching for the right play.
Secret #4: I have been living in NYC for 7 years and only recently mustered the courage to enter the special collections of the Performing Arts Library. (This may not be too surprising when you consider how nervous I get going into ANY office building that will require me to present an ID and talk to someone at the front desk. But still.)
And guess what!? Noel Coward (Escapism) gave me the courage to go to the magical room of hard-to-find plays. Pure stubbornness triumphed over anxiety. I dare you to find a short play by Noel Coward without marching up to the third floor of the performing arts library, handing over all of your belongings, and humbly entering with your water bottle, pencil, and roll of quarters for the copy machine. And that was that.
While I am still in mourning for this play that should have been brought to life by Hedgepig’s Ensemble, I also feel a sense of relief, because this time around, the search seems less foreboding. I’m quite excited to head back to the library and spend the weekend reading and considering plays.
It seems that obstacles (in this case, a big fat NO from the literary agent) force you to find a new route to your destination.
Secret #5: I believe in my heart that this new piece will actually be better for the ensemble, the audience, and me, because I’m approaching the quest with ease and openness.
Thanks for letting me entrust you with my secrets. And remember, shhhh...mum’s the word.
Choices, Not Voices by Greg Phelps
When I was a young lad and first getting into Shakespeare, I was CONVINCED that
the Bard’s words could (and should) only be spoken aloud with a pure and clean
British dialect. I believed that the meaning of the words, the musicality of the verse,
and the playfulness of the rhymes were far better understood and appreciated when
spoken in the dialect for which I believed they were written.
I blame Kenneth Branaugh for this.
His highly acclaimed 1989 film adaptation of Henry V was the first Shakespeare I’d
ever seen on screen that left me awe-struck, mesmerized, and deeply inspired. It
was certainly a far cry more entertaining to me than any skull-hefting, ruffle-and-
tights wearing, black and white snooze-fest I was forced to sit through in high
I was therefore convinced (CONVINCED) that the way the actors spoke in that
Branaugh film must be the only way to perform Shakespeare. I was also just as
equally shocked (SHOCKED) to find out that this idea was widely frowned upon and
discouraged by the vast majority of professional Shakespeare companies in the
United States. There’s even a commonplace term among most of these companies
that is mockingly applied to any American (or non-English) actor who adopts a
British dialect in order to perform the Bard’s works. It is known in these select
circles as “Shakespeare Voice”.
While preferred acting styles have changed throughout the ages (and most likely
will continue to change), at the time of this writing, if you are an American actor
auditioning for a role in a Shakespeare play, you do NOT want to use Shakespeare
Voice. It is rather much more accepted in the U.S. these days to speak the text with
whichever dialect you grew up speaking - the one that feels the most naturally
connected to you- in an attempt to convey a more truthful, believable character. This
in turn also helps American audiences to feel less separated from the language, and
allows them to become more easily invested in the characters and the overall story.
Which, to my understanding, is why we do this whole thing.
Having performed Shakespeare’s plays hundreds of times over many years, this
doctrine of acting style has now been thoroughly ingrained in my body, heart, and
soul. What a delightfully strange, yet simultaneously familiar position to be in, then,
to have to attempt a convincing British dialect for Hedgepig’s upcoming event,
Escapism: An Evening with Noel Coward.
Noel Coward was a British playwright, who wrote British characters in a British
setting. The meaning of his words, the musicality of the language, and the playfulness of his humor is far better understood and appreciated when spoken in
the dialect for which it was written. It would seem like the logical choice, therefore,
to perform his plays with a British dialect.
The challenge will be to embody this foreign dialect accurately and naturally so as to
serve the characters, their situation, and the story being told. The Hedgepig
Ensemble strives to accomplish this task with any text we work with, whether it’s
Shakespeare, a contemporary playwright, or anything in between. Through our
collective trainings, we’ve learned to take clues from the text in order to make
Choices, not Voices. It’s a challenge, therefore, that I believe the Hedgepig Ensemble
will joyfully overcome, and I know we’ll present a wonderful, humorous,
heartfelt evening of Noel Coward’s plays and songs.
Vulnerability Saves the Day by Rachel Schmeling
Hello friends, happy….spring? Well, getting there.
I am currently wrapped in a blanket, drinking coffee, thinking about how a year ago, give or take a week, I was doing my first event with Hedgepig...Shakescon 2017. It was a glorious night filled with awkward moments of knowing absolutely no one, drinking wine, and doing my world famous Batman impression (it famously does not sound like Batman at all). And I find myself thinking about that night a lot, about how much things can change and grow in a year, and how strangers can become family through vulnerability and intimate connection. In our last training, Mike Magliocca led us through an intimacy direction session and it got me thinking about a lot of things; not just how we approach intimacy onstage as actors, but how intimacy is an essential part of our lives as humans and theatre artists. And how embracing intimacy and vulnerability will help us change the world.
A lot of my journey this past year with Hedgepig and with myself has been about vulnerability. Opening up to connect more fully with myself and with the world around me. Despite being an actor most of my life, vulnerability is still difficult for me sometime. But jumping into the vulnerability pool with both feet has made my life exponentially more enjoyable and full. One of the first times vulnerability and I interacted with Hedgepig was our retreat last May. During that trip, Mike carried me across a river, Jamal talked me through a panic attack on the side of a mountain, Sara and Olivia checked my body for ticks, and we all nerded out about Shakespeare. Some of my favourite memories with the Pigs are from that trip, and I honestly believe our work got better the more we connected with each other that weekend. And it was scary for me! I had just moved to the city, was new to this company, and suddenly we were all in the middle of the woods together without cell service or wifi forced to CONNECT WITH OTHER HUMANS. What a notion!
The past few weeks, I have become even more certain that only through love and connection will we will build a stronger humanity. And that is why I believe artists, especially live theatre artists are so important. Through our connection with each other onstage and our ability to empathize and bring stories to life, we bring people together. We bring extremely diverse audiences together. We live in a world right now where hate, anger, and rage are so prevalent, and many think the solution to our problems is to stay separate. Staying in homogenous groups reinforces the idea that our similarity is our strongest asset. But it’s exactly the opposite. It’s the ability to recognize other’s pain as our pain, other’s struggle as our struggle--regardless of skin color, gender identification, sexuality, etc--that makes us better people and a stronger community. Theatre allows us to look at people and say, “This person is not like me. But I can understand their internal conflict. I know I would want compassion in this moment so I will give compassion to them.” As artists and theatre makers it is our job to continue to create environments of safe discomfort, accessible empathy, and tell the stories of those not like ourselves so when we encounter those kinds people in real life, we can respond with love.
Intimacy is defined as “close familiarity or friendship; closeness. A private or cozy atmosphere the quality of being warm, comfortable, familiar.” My relationship with Hedgepig is definitely an intimate one, and I think our work as an ensemble has only gotten stronger the more intimate we have become. Our connection fosters other connection. And that is the work I am passionate about and always extremely proud to present to an audience. I am so grateful to be a part of this Hedgepig family. I am positive that our connection, our vulnerability with each other is our strongest weapon in this battle humanity is fighting. Thank goodness the artists are here to save the day.
March Ado About Nothing by Drew Hutcheson
Hey there! Happy March, Hedgeheads! That’s right, I said Hedgeheads. It’s a term I just made up. Honestly, I’m not married to it. How about Pigamaniacs? Pigots? You know what—never mind. We’ll workshop it.
So, I am very excited for SHAKESCON! We Hedgepigs will once again be front and center, presenting several rounds of “Are You Smarter Than a Drunken Knave?” trivia on March 8th!
This is something that began in the very early days of Hedgepig. For several years I had been making Shakespeare quizzes (and numerous other quizzes) as an editor on Sporcle.com. So when the hedgebosses asked what I could bring to the table, I said “hey, I could make some bar trivia.” And so we did. And it was glorious.
Last year was the first time we did our trivia outside of a bar—onstage, at
Shakescon—and it was a blast. It was so much fun to not only meet scads of fellow Shakespeare nerds, but also to try to out-nerd them with our Shakespeare trivialities. Now we get to do it again! Oooh, that reminds me. I haven’t come up with anything yet. I should really get on that. Is the “Shakespeare or Batman?” category played out yet or should we give it another go? I guess we’ll see.
As far as what else I’ve been doing, I am currently in tech rehearsals for Epic
Ensemble Theatre’s “Shakespeare Remix”. The Remix is “an after-school youth
development program at three NYC Public High Schools in Lower Manhattan,
Harlem, and the Bronx, that culminates with students performing alongside
professional theatre artists in fully produced Shakespeare productions.” In this
particular case, I’ll be performing with students from the Evander Childs High
School in the Bronx in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We will be
performing at the National Black Theatre in Harlem.
This will be my third year in a row working and performing with these kids, and it’s
always an incredible experience. Last year I was the prison guard in their
production of Richard III. Here’s a picture:
What’s great about these shows is that the students themselves take a Shakespeare
play, mash it up, swirl it around, and rewrite it to suit their own agenda. They write
it, they perform it, and lucky dudes like me are hired to perform along with them so
they can have the experience of working with professional actors.
In this Midsummer, I am once again the only adult in a cast of around 45 people. I’ll
be playing Egeus. In the students’ version of the play, Egeus shoots Theseus dead at
the end. (Sorry, spoilers.) He does this because Theseus, his closeted politician
brother, won’t “fix himself”, and he believes Theseus’s “ungodly” ways have
corrupted his gay daughter, Hermia, who is in love with another girl, “Lysandra.”
Intense, right? I am constantly astounded at the ambition and talent these kids bring
to their writing and performing. There’s no way I was that ambitious or
sophisticated when I was in high school. But I guess we’re seeing a lot of that these
Anyway, I’m off to go come up with some trivia. Oh, by the way—if you can’t make
Shakescon, there will be another opportunity to experience “Are You Smarter Than
a Drunken Knave?” on April 10th! This will be truly special as we, for the very first
time, are pooling our resources with fellow Shakestrivia nerds Hamlet Isn’t Dead
and co-hosting a trivia night at Professor Thom’s, our “home bar” for this sort of
thing and site of every great Hedgepig trivia night experience.
Progress By The Numbers by Mike Magliocca
February marks my 1 year anniversary as a Hedgepig (I think I can officially say that I have graduated from Fledgepig to Hedgepig). A year of absurdism and realism, Shakespeare and Mary Zimmerman, and at some point I fell into a river in upstate New York. It has been a year of growth and discovery, and I guess I just want to use this little platform to give the listeners at home a taste of what can happen in a year.
Here at HQ (Hedgequarters), all of the Hedgepigs have roles to help us grow: Marketing/PR pigs, Communication Pigs, Cruise Ship Director Pigs. I am Accountant Pig. Because I’m one of those weird actors who loves numbers. Fun fact of the day, I actually have a degree in Ecology and helped write a scientific paper on turkeys and leaves and deer (oh my!). So if you ever want to spend a Friday night over a drink talking about the secret evil lives of deer and the wholesale destruction of Northeastern deciduous forests, I’m your guy.
But back to the numbers.
So Mary and I met a few days ago to go over Hedgepig’s expense reports for 2017 to check and double check before tax season, and we decided to do a year-to-year comparison of all of Hedgepig’s numbers. And you don’t have to like numbers to see the beauty in what this little ensemble has managed to accomplish in a year:
A 500% increase in marketing and advertising, which means we can get the word out to 5x as many people, building and diversifying our audiences so we can share bigger and better stories.
Over 2.5x the production budget, meaning we can involve more actors, more designers, more artists in our projects. And pay them.
A decrease in fundraising expenses and operating fees means that we are getting more efficient as a company and learning how to make the most of the opportunities given to us.
And none of this would have been possible without YOU. The amount of donated income doubled in 2017. That is devoted, caring people like you coming out to support the art we create and I truly lack the words to thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for that encouragement. Thanks to you, we’re able to increase the resources we put into the things that matter most to us and end the year in the green (which is kind of a big deal for a young theater company).
I’d also like to take a quick moment to thank you personally for that support, because you have indirectly supported me. The life of an actor has ups and downs, good years and dry years. In 2017, Hedgepig Theatre Ensemble was the only company to employ me as an actor. That is the difference between going an entire year without acting, and instead filling it with training and A Taste of Shakespeare and absurd plays and Tennessee Williams plays and getting to work with some of the most generous, talented actors in New York. Thank you for letting this pig play. Thank you for your support. Happy Anniversary.
"Yes, and" in a #MeToo World by Sara Hymes
During rehearsal for The Secret in the Wings, a fellow company member (who agreed to be anonymously discussed here) entered rehearsal late and obviously upset. We checked in and she insisted that she’d be fine, so we kept moving forward. This cast member revealed later that while hustling to rehearsal, she had been approached, solicited, and had her butt smacked – hard. The perp had walked off laughing before our friend could even gather her thoughts. Unfortunately, it was not the first time such a thing has happened to this company member. Nor was it, as it turned out later, to be the last.
This has likely happened to the majority of us in some capacity. It is commonplace to find strangers violating our personal space, our bodies, our mood, and our ability to professionally walk into rehearsal and get to work.
As that corner of the universe is cracking wide open--with the Harvey Weinsteins and the Kevin Spaceys and the Matt Lauers of the UpsideDown pouring forth--I find myself confronting and being confronted by my own monsters… not just the ones under the bed or hiding in the wings (extra points for Hedgepig fans that got that one ;-)), but the ones on the way to rehearsal and on the subway platform and even that share the stage.
So many have found strength and support in the newly popular #MeToo movement (read about how Tarana Burke actually started the movement 10 years ago). In light of this, a friend and peer of mine was inspired to reach out to me and apologize for an incident onstage a few years ago where he got “lost in the moment” and took the opportunity (being at least 8 inches taller and 80 pounds larger than me) to plant a nice big wet one on me in the middle of a public performance.
Was it called for within the context of the scene? Absolutely. Was it something that I would have welcomed in discussion during rehearsals? You bet. Was it the kind of following-an-impulse acting upon which this actor/friend/peer operated so well, and for which I so adored him? Yes. Was it completely consensual? No.
Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about this incident in YEARS. One of the things that alarms me most is that it had obviously been on his mind for a long time. It was serious enough to affect his conscience. I wonder whether I’ve become desensitized, or if I’ve just learned to operate in a way in which I roll with the punches in order to stay hip to the energy given off by my leading male counterparts. This man is wonderful and talented and genuine and caring and absolutely adored by not only the community at large, but also by ME. And now I think about whether he has abused this privilege.
I’ve used the time since he reached out with this confession/request for forgiveness to try and think critically on whether I’ve been on the giving end of the same inappropriate attention with a younger or more submissive scene partner. I’m well aware of the power of my sexuality and womanhood – have I used these powers to unintentionally manipulate scene partners? Would it just play out like a welcomed scene from a romantic comedy if the gender tables were turned?
It’s also got me thinking about the “Yes, and” culture that permeates every workshop, rehearsal room, and film set in this industry. “Yes, and” is a term familiar to many in basic improv or scene development or devised work, or even strong team-building. It is the attitude that you should never shut down another’s idea, but build upon it and see where the idea can take you. Is this sacred practice becoming dangerously antiquated? Does it need a fresh makeover? A concern among many artists as we are re-defining boundaries loudly and clearly is whether our openness, creativity, and art may suffer.
While a lot of questions are swirling in my mind, some welcome certainties emerge as well.
With Hedgepig, we get together once a month to learn new techniques, find different ways to physically tell stories, and push comfort zones for the sake of growth. This helps to create a safe space. A foundation of trust. I am relieved that whenever I am in a room with my fellow Hedgepig company members, I know that I am respected and safe, and that’s a nice bit of warm light in which to enter the new year.
That safe space permeates our work. In the final performance of The Secret in the Wings, I was particularly thrilled about 2 young people in the audience: The 8-year-old girl for whom I’ve cared over the last two years sat right next to my 6-and-a-half-year-old nephew. They sat in the front row as the cast told stories of fear, safe spaces, boundaries, morality, gender roles, and, of course, ogres. I was proud that we could go out for cookies and hot chocolate afterwards, surrounded by friends and family and love and warmth, and very simply start to invite honest discussion on the some of the aforementioned themes because of the play they’d just experienced. I’m proud to use my art for good. I think I have to. And I know that we have to continue to not only tell other peoples’ stories, but stick together to keep supporting the truth in our own. And I’m so grateful that Hedgepig offers a community where that can happen.
Swoons and Swans by Alex Tissiere
There are two kinds of Virginia high school kids that took the Online Advanced Shakespeare Honors course my senior year:
- The kids who wanted an easy A while still getting to skip school once a month for the field trip where they had to sit through live Shakespeare productions at Staunton’s Blackfriars Playhouse.
Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about the easy A (though I ended up doing way too many friends’ homework), but the real thrill was getting see live Shakespeare for free every month (and yes, it was also nice that I did not have to go to IB Mathematics).
Not all the shows were good, but it didn’t matter. Even the worst production of Shakespeare was still thrilling to me in those young days of Bard-love. At every show, I learned volumes not only about the plays themselves (which I hated to read but loved to watch), but more importantly to me at the time, I learned about the performing of them. And seeing 3 or 4 shows a semester, I got to see the full gamut of performing: terrible, god-awful acting (the most fun), mediocre, uninspired acting (my worst nightmare), and top-notch, transcendent acting (dammit I’ll never be that good). In the latter category was a guy I saw perform many times in many roles my senior year, but who I never thought I’d see again: our very own Greg Phelps.
A large number of my high school classmates would spend the majority of every performance waiting for it to be over. They would text until they got caught texting, squirm until they were told to sit still, or excuse themselves to the bathroom and see how long they could hold out or make out, for those couples who strategically signed up for the class together.
That all changed when Greg came on stage. Almost always in the leading-man role when I saw him, his presence in that theatre could turn the head of even the most jaded teenager (even my friend Jade, who I actually think they based the word on, would watch his scenes). Neglected programs on the floor that had been crumpled/torn/used for note-passing/filled with discarded gum/turned into footballs/planes/paper fortune tellers were resuscitated by dozens of young girls who would frantically flip to the cast page to see who is the guy playing…
“Psst, Alex, who is that guy?”
“What’s the character’s name?”
“That one, the hot one.”
“Huh, okay thanks!”
The bus ride back from Staunton to our high school in Richmond normally took about 2 hours. After Greg performances, it felt like 20. A stranger on the bus would have thought that Greg was our school’s football captain. There were play-by-play recaps of him taking his shirt off in one scene, detailed hypotheses about his kissing skills, and lots of swooning over his singing voice. “AND he plays guitar!!” I don’t play guitar, I’ve been asked not to sing publicly, and especially in high school, I was not swoon-worthy. It was torture. I should’ve hated Greg out of jealousy, as many of my male classmates did, but I didn’t. I was still extremely jealous, obviously, but I tried to channel it into my work as I headed off to acting school, tried to motivate myself to be the next Greg Phelps.
Seven years later, when I arrived at my callback audition for the Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre, I looked around to see if there was anyone I knew. Then it happened: I knew it was him the second I saw his face, but logic sometimes tries to override instinct when you’re in mild shock. It can’t be him. To me, there was no context in which Greg Phelps, The Swoon-Master himself, would be auditioning for the same ensemble group as me. I was star-struck the way you would be if you saw your favorite childhood local newscaster in a different city. You want to shout, “HEY, LOOK EVERYONE! IT’S GREG PHELPS!!” But no one would understand.
When the callback was over, I passed Greg as he was putting on his shoes, and worked up the courage to tell him why I’d been staring at him the entire audition: “Hey man, I’m Alex, and I used to see you perform at Blackfriars like every month when I was in high school!” Immediately, I knew, I’d made a huge mistake. The look on Greg’s face was one of confusion and mild contempt, and I thought, well great, you ruined it. You had to say "in high school" didn't you? I literally face-palmed myself in the elevator, and figured it would be another seven years before I saw Greg again.
Instead, I now get to act alongside him in the ‘The Seven Swans’ and many other stories as part of a really thrilling Hedgepig production of “Secret in the Wings.” I get to learn from him as part of a professional theatre ensemble. I get to brag about acting with and learning from him to high school girl friends when I see them, and their reactions almost make it feel like this is my “big break.” And you know what? I’d be okay with that. In fact I’d be more than okay with that. I may even swoon a little.
In the Wings by Danielle Cohn
My, how time has flown!
I’m Danielle, your Digital Pig, and I am in charge of this blog. I wrote the first one over 6 months ago, and must say, I can’t believe all the growth and excitement that this little ensemble has seen in that time alone.
Like my other ensemble members, I have honed my skills in monthly trainings; almost died on the side of a mountain and forded a river during our woodsy excursion; had the honor of welcoming new Ensemble Members into our family; enjoyed the creative ways Hedgepig fundraises (waffles, anyone?); and so much more. I can say simply and honestly that this group is more unified in its approach to work and its commitment to the vision of the company than ever before.
And with that, I can tell you that rehearsals for The Secret in the Wings, our biggest venture to date (it’ll run in December, so keep an eye out!), have been a blast. From the first rehearsal, I have watched as our ensemble has embraced this challenging and beautiful play, using the tools we have discovered together as well as each individual’s unique insight. I am so excited for the journey that working on this play will bring, and grateful to be along for the ride.
To give you an idea of what rehearsals have been like, I thought I’d include a few of my favorite moments thus far:
--Watching the costume designer measure someone for an ogre tail on Day One… Using a life-sized replica of that tail…
--Creating “selfies” as princes and princesses, using actual picture frames instead of Instagram filters
--Acting out “The 3 Bears” as two ensemble members narrated, despite the fact that neither of them could totally remember the story, which only made it funnier
--Learning the haunting-yet-catchy music that was composed for this specific production…And finding it stuck in my head for days (It’ll get stuck in your head too. Just sayin’.)
--Doing a movement/choreographic exercise that managed to involve a collapsible sword from China, a pair of drumsticks, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (and more!), and watching all of those things work together just as cohesively as everyone in the room worked together!
Needless to say, it’s already been a wild ride, and the fun is just beginning.
Here’s to growth, and to tackling challenges with a group of incredible artists!
Two-hundred and ten Waffles
Or Counting Waffles, by Mary Candler
Waffles are no longer just a well-engineered maple syrup delivery system to me.
No, no. Waffles = progress.
Hedgepig started off as TWO. Gwendolyn Kelso and I are those TWO. We huddled together during Hurricane Sandy with way too many flashlights (thanks, Dad) and talked about what we wanted out of theatre: Crystal clear text work, physical storytelling, a platform for strong female voices, deep relationships between artists, and an engaged COMMUNITY that gobbled it all up.
Getting from TWO to COMMUNITY has been the steady journey since then.
At our first performance (a staged reading of Twelfth Night* directed by Lenny Banovez), we basically begged friends and family to come—bribing them with free food and wine.
Fast forward to last week—nearly eighty people showed up to our fundraiser to support the mission, the ensemble, and our upcoming production of The Secret in the Wings. A lot of the attendees had discovered us through our productions and wanted to lean in and help the company. It was overwhelmingly wonderful to have such a supportive turnout.
Plus I got the best compliment ever: “The spirit of your ensemble infects all that you do and makes me feel welcome and a part of it all.”
In 2012, Gwen and I put together all the ingredients of a great marinade, but we needed to add the right people and let them sit and create together. The only way to achieve our vision of trust-based, relationship-centered work was to let it sit and develop.
And now, a few years later, I can say, Yes! When deeply connected artists bring good work to the public, the audience feels connected, too.
At our Boozy Brunch & Board Game Benefit, we made approximately TWO-HUNDRED-AND-TEN waffles for the folks who joined us (yes, they were all eaten). So when I say Waffles = Progress, it is because we now have a community to feed. And in this case, that community was literally** gobbling it up.
We’re just at the beginning of this journey from TWO to COMMUNITY. We’re gonna need to buy more waffle makers.
*If you were at that performance, you should get a star for being awesome.
Directing the Piggies by Emily Lyon
September 2, 2017
I'm incredibly excited to direct our next show, Secret in the Wings. We have very talented designers on board (!), intriguing ideas for how to use the space, and – of course – a wonderful ensemble of actors.
What I love about being a part of Hedgepig is that none of our work is ever lost. Everything we do -- from workshop to show to hanging out and discussing things -- becomes a foundation for our next piece. A Taste of Shakespeare wouldn't have been the same without our shared vocabulary, physical training, and mutual trust. We couldn't have had those qualities without our monthly workshops and retreat. And I know that Secret in the Wings will build on that sense of physicality, ensemble, music, and energy that we found in AToS. (Now if only we could use the ice cream and cereal pops, too...)
That kind of growth also mimics my own story with Hedgepig. I found the company many moons ago when it had just been founded. Actually, they found me! I had just gotten a twitter account (wow, seriously?) and followed a bunch of Shakespeare companies in the city. Not long after that, I got an alert saying someone had followed me -- Hedgepig, a new company supporting women in classical theatre! After scoping out their website, I sent them a message asking to "intern" to grow their social media presence. When I moved to the city, I finally met the Pigs in person at a trivia night. That grew to being invited to join the ensemble. That grew to directing our first Fringe show...
And now Secret in the Wings will be my fourth production with Hedgepig. Being a director in an ensemble of actors is a gift; not only do I know how to work with and play to each of our actors' strengths, but my own style and strengths have been shaped by our group. As I continue to push for clarity of language and intention, our company of physically-inventive classical actors has upped my choreographic game. We all support and nurture each other.
I'm incredibly grateful to have grown with this company. Hedgepig has been an artistic home for me during these past four years, and I'm so glad we've been able to work and learn together!
Hot Summer Hedgepigs by Andrew Hutcheson
August 1, 2017
It’s hot in the city right now! All of the piggies are melting under their hedge-feathers. Or their hedge-scales? Hedge-fur. Probably that. The point is, despite my lack of knowledge in hedgepig anatomy, NYC is dead in the middle of another long HAWT summer. But that doesn’t keep us from hedgepigging about and creating exciting ensemble theatre. The heat may be intense, but our communal spirit remains fierce.
What am I up to right now? Why, I’m writing this blog, of course. What a silly thing to ask. Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Assassins at City Center as a part of their “Encore” series. It was a highly entertaining performance, with the two female assassins (played by Erin Markey and Victoria Clark) completely stealing the show. I even had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Sondheim, who was in attendance. No, I’m not kidding. And no, I can’t tell you any more about it because I only have so much space in this Hedge-blog. You’ll just have to sit there and be jealous.
Hedgepig had a “very special edition” of our Monthly Ensemble Training Session in July, led by co-founder Gwendolyn Anne Kelso. Why was it so special? Well, for one, Gwen led an awesome session—longer and more intense than usual, and it included secret handshakes, breakneck-speed story-building activities, and soul-bearing soliloquies. And it was very clear by the end how well we coalesce as a group.
But even more significantly, it was Gwen’s last session with Hedgepig for a while. Gwen has gone home to Austin for several months to spend time with her family and star in Austin Shakespeare’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. (Yup, she’s Beatrice.)
But before she left, and after our training session ended, we all joined Gwen as she put on her T-Rex costume and terrorized Times Square. No, again, I’m not kidding. Here is a GIF of Gwen dancing around Times Square in her T-Rex costume right after our ensemble training:
It was glorious.
I am so excited about this month’s A Taste of Shakespeare! Not one, not two, but THREE Shakespeare plays presented in convenient 20-minute bite-sized portions AND each one is paired with a specific food or beverage that complements the play itself. That’s bonkers. This is also the first time Hedgepig has spread out one of these events over three different venues and seven shows. So that’s seven different opportunities to see five tireless and talented piggies playing approximately 800 different parts in three different plays over the course of an hour or so. That’s a lot of numbers I just threw out there. But I couldn’t help getting excited—I can’t wait to see this show!
Like, literally. Turn on the AC.
TUNES FOR TENNESSEE by Greg Phelps
July 5, 2017
For the past month, I’ve been away from my fellow ‘Pigs, working in Charlottesville, VA at the Heritage Theatre Festival’s production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song.” In the show I sing, act, and play live music with other actors and a band.
As an Actor/Musician, it’s often difficult to split focus and put time and energy toward both avenues at the same time. It’s rare, therefore, when both come together in one single opportunity. What an extraordinary pleasure, then, to have been a part of Hedgepig’s “Dreams, Fictions & Fantasies: An Evening with Tennessee Williams,” where I and several other Ensemble Members collaborated to perform Williams’ lesser known one-act plays, short stories, poems, and music.
Because each of the plays was rehearsed separately, it was exciting when we all got together the day before the performance to work out staging logistics and show each other what we’d been building. We found that in order to help set the world of each unique story, several of the pieces called for extra sound effects and musical underscoring, which was all imagined, created, and performed by the Ensemble Members previously not involved in the piece.
There were also several poems by Williams, which were turned into songs by adding either choral or instrumental underscoring. One piece in particular called “Of Roses” was a complete Ensemble collaboration, where all of us wrote and performed an original song using Williams’ words as lyrics and inspiration.
Overall, the evening was a great success, filling the space upstairs at 61 Local, where we had to make extra room for all the friends and family who came out to support us!
Here at the Heritage Theatre Festival, I am having the pleasure of working on a traditionally rehearsed musical. The production team is coming together to work from a musical score and script that have already been written. It’s a bit of a gearshift after working with Hedgepig on the Williams pieces!
As I continue to grow and learn new things as both an Actor and Musician, I plan to bring all of the energy and musicianship I’ve picked up during this time in Virginia, and bring it back full-force to all upcoming Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre projects.
See you at the next one!
RETREAT YO SELF by Olivia Williamson
June 1, 2017
Recently, eleven Hedgepigs packed up three cars and headed northbound with Taconic State Park as the final destination. We needed some space, we needed some silence, we needed some time to focus on creating. With a full itinerary, we quickly got settled in three, dare I say "cushy" cabins, and immediately started training.
Over the next four days we hiked, we laughed, we created, we ate, and we trained. We went on silent walks so as not to drown out the sound of nature. We studied trees and listened to waterfalls. We did the entirety of one of Shakespeare's plays for a captivated audience of flora and fauna. We had ensemble-lead trainings by day and read Shakespeare and Williams by night.
We bonded over many things... campfires, fire building, and checking each other for ticks...to name a few. However, our most epic bonding moments occurred during a seemingly harmless morning adventure advertised as a treasure hunt. What started as a jovial jaunt through the woods quickly became an arduous journey to locate a trailhead. The Hedgepigs clung to the sides of river valleys, navigated steep cliff edges, and eventually crossed a rushing river. With fierce focus, ingenuity, and great care for one another, we finally made it back to our cabins.
In many ways, I think the Hedgepig Ensemble creates work in the same manner that we faced the challenges of the "treasure hunt." With fierce focus, ingenuity, and great care for one another the Hedgepigs have returned from our time in the woods ready and energized for the season ahead.
MY DREAM ROLL by Gwendolyn Kelso
May 1, 2017
I was a goat.
My first professional theatre gig was spent in a fur suit dodging scaffolding. Interesting fact: goat horns get stuck on lots of things. (It was actually a really wonderful experience with a great theatre company). I might have been a goat, but I was making art. This was the beginning of something great! Oh, the places I would go!
Fast forward #@% years, and now I’m a New Yorker…. And I** am rolling an industrial-sized laundry basket nine blocksthrough midtown. If you have never rolled an industrial-sized laundry basket in Manhattan, you’re missing out. Bowling for tourists, I like to call it. The production was Hedgepig’s first full-length show, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the industrial-sized laundry basket had a starring role. A brisk basket roll down Eighth Avenue really makes one think. It makes one think about how not even two years earlier, two people sat down (while a hurricane “blow-wind-blow”-ed outside) to discuss what type of theatre company they would run if they were of the mind to run one. As the hurricane roared on, a theatre company was born. It would be called Hedgepig. It would be a home for artists to play, grow and create.
It’s been almost five years (two since the great basket-roll through Midtown) from the time Mary and I dreamed up Hedgepig– and what years they have been! From two people, we have grown to nine ensemble members and four “fledgepigs” (our awesome group of newbies who are playing with us), we've held many an audition, produced an award-winning play at the NY Fringe Festival (Interior: Panic), produced an award-winning one-act (The Women of Williams County) at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, worked with incredible guest artists for our ongoing ensemble trainings, performed on Governors Island, worked on a series of fifteen minute Shakespeare plays, hosted trivia nights, organized fun benefit events…. and so much more! Whew. If you think that’s a lot, wait for 2017-18!
I never would have thought that from a goat I would become a ‘Pig. There are no words for how magical the Hedgepig journey has been thus far. We have an incredible group of theatre artists hungry to create powerful work. And I have to tell you, I would roll a million baskets through Manhattan to do this kind of theatre with these Hedgepigs. Look out world, the Hedgepigs are on a roll (see what I did there?)!
**full disclosure: Mary was rolling the basket, too.
GIVING THE ABSURD SOME PERSPECTIVE by Sara Hymes
April 2, 2017
I am an Akron, Ohio-born, Detroit-educated, Moscow-trained, Brooklyn-based actor currently writing this blog to you from a porch in the Shenandoah Valley, VA. But hey, who isn’t these days? A bit absurd, I’d say…
Last weekend, however, I was in an old beautiful warehouse space watching the dust get kicked up and caught in the late afternoon sunlight streaming from overhead skylights as fellow Pigs busied themselves in prep for our evening of “Living With the Absurd.” How magical to see this lovely group coming together to find the positivity and forward movement in the chaos of the recent political climate. I had a relatively small part in the fun of the day -- mostly helping with set-up and participating in one play -- but it was nice to see the machine working from more of an outside perspective. I always adore the way a group of strangers will chose to give up a few hours of their afternoon and join in solidarity to mourn or celebrate or escape -- or ideally, all of the above. Smiling strangers started streaming in to take up space on the pillows and couches and around the bar and coloring book stations. They were no longer strangers, but neighbors. They settled in to tackle how, in the face of absurdity and uncertainty, we could possibly keep evolving, moving forward, and swimming toward the surface as a collective.
But my favorite part of this event was in soaking up the dedicated work of some fresh faces in the room. The new artists that have been joining us to play remind me that ensembles should constantly be evolving and growing and finding more colors and more energy and more challenges. It creates work that is exciting and speaks to a broader audience. And it’s not just applicable to a bunch of hippie dippy artists in a Brooklyn warehouse space on a Sunday afternoon sipping cocktails with clever names and reading blatantly politically bent absurdist works. I’m down in Virginia for the week as a teaching artist (separate from my work with the Hedgepigs), using my years of Shakespeare and rhetoric work in a series ofleadership trainings. I am here to help a group of people from a drastically different career path also continue to evolve and grow and find more color and more energy and more challenges.
Because evolution is important for artists. But also for educators. And for politicians. And for people who work for international paper companies. And for human beings overall.
Ten years ago, I could have never predicted my journey from Akron, Ohio to this porch in Staunton, Virginia. But I wouldn’t have changed the evolution of my path for the world. Because the most beautiful parts of life are born from growing pains (some more painful than others), embracing the absurdity in life and if you’re lucky, getting to do it with a few good friends, family, and neighbors at your side.
FULL-CIRCLE FEBRUARY by Alex Tissiere
February 25, 2017
This time last year, in a small, dark studio rental space, I was hopping around pretending to be a grasshopper to try and prove to two very talented ladies my adeptness with Shakespeare (it was Queen Mab, so not a completely random grasshopper. . . 'cause that's better). Two weeks later, I was back in front of those same two talented ladies plus a bunch of other really talented folks shouting “SPIT FIRE SPOUT RAIN!” about 50 times while undulating and rolling around on the floor. So if you had asked me back then if a year later that same group of talented artists would be asking me to write a blog post about this year’s ensemble auditions, I would have said “OH YEAH SURE, AND I CAN SPIT FIRE FROM MY GRASSHOPPER LEGS.”
But here we are, I’m writing it, and if you’re reading it, that means they even decided to publish it! I feel so lucky to be a part of the Hedgepig Ensemble, and I feel even luckier to be able to welcome in a new talented prickle of Hedgepigs (yes I totally googled what a group of baby hedgehogs was called and there was no way I wasn’t going to include it when “prickle” is what came up. Amiright??)
And even though I’m worried that they were SO good that they put my grasshopper, floor-roller performance last year to shame, it was such an honor to get to see some smart, hilarious, and open-hearted work from every artist I saw at the Hedgepig Ensemble callbacks. From a Snow White-inspired Huntsman who announced his presence by quietly screaming and grabbing his crotch, to a powerfully electric devised text work by a huddle of Lear-mad actors, to the beautifully simple waves goodbye to a passing ship, I was inspired by and grateful for everyone in the room.
It’s always a treat to see artists willing to share their work at an audition, but when auditioning for an ensemble, it takes an extra level of bravery and openness to share yourself as a person at the same time, and it was amazing to see so many people step up to that challenge.
That all being said, it can be hard to really get to know someone in an audition setting, which is why it was such a pleasure to see a lot of those brave actors show up for our February ensemble training, which was hands down the hardest I’ve laughed in 2017. Everyone brought their A-game, from creating specific and interesting objects out of thin air, to transforming some very random props into incredible stories, to some very talented eye contact. And with all that excellence happening in the room, I opted for a getting-hit-in-the-balls bit.
And now, as February comes to a close, all I can say is, this particular grasshopper/fire-spitter/ball-hitting-jokester can’t wait for the second Monday in March when he gets to see the whole talented prickle of Pigs again.
WELCOME TO THE BLOG by Danielle Cohn
February 6, 2017
Hedgepig has an exciting year lined up, and we want to make it possible for you to be with us every step of the way. So, we’re starting a monthly blog, where each month, a different Pig will get a chance to talk a bit about their experience in this marvelous ensemble, and what’s been shaking for us!
I (Danielle) am the Digital Pig (meaning I am in charge of things like the website and blogs), so it seemed only appropriate that I kick off this digital venture! I’ve been with Hedgepig for about a year, and am stoked for the eclectic season we have lined up.
What's been going on of late? Good question! Our most recent monthly training was a blast. We brought in (for the second time) a master teacher, Richard Crawford; previously, he had worked with us on neutral mask, but this week was all about character work, which is definitely close to my heart. It was fun to see how just changing a few physical attributes can spark your imagination into seeing an entirely new person, and a lot of the exercises were based in a very freeing level of creativity. (I myself chose at one point to be a killer android with a jet pack, so you know my inner 12-year-old was having a b last!).
Because of the big season we are planning, we're taking in a few new Pigs this year, and I was fortunate enough to sit behind the table for some of the auditions. A lot of strong talent came out, which was inspiring, and we will be holding callbacks next week. I'm excited to add some new members to our ensemble!
Stay tuned for an amazing season and a glimpse into the "secret lives" of the other Pigs!