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!