Songbird Musings from a Hedge Shrub
By Sara Hymes July 2019
At the start of this year, the majority of our Hedgepig Ensemble members finally realized a long-discussed dream of focusing on making music together. We organized, rehearsed, and produced a really fun cabaret benefit evening! It was refreshing to step outside of our typical Hedgepiggery and focus on a talent and passion shared by many, and most importantly, to do it together. It seemed scary and unsure at times to be so out of our “wheelhouse,” but everyone leaned completely in to tackle anxieties and logistical concerns together, which is exactly why it worked.
It was like our family evolved a little. “Leveled up” together.
On this journey, we met a fantastic accompanist named Laura Mesrobian, and I started brainstorming about how, as artists, we could all keep creating work for and with each other.
Something that a lot of my classical theatre colleagues may not be aware of (unless they’ve had the pleasure of ending up at a Japanese karaoke bar in the wee, wee hours of the morning as we rounded out my birthday celebrations) is that I didn’t start my artistic journey by going to theatre camp or visiting New York on vacation or being a liberal arts Shakespeare nerd.
I started my fascination and love of performance with music.
I sang in a professional touring children’s choir from middle school through high school, after which I switched out my tenure to join the theatre department at Kent State University, where I earned my BFA in Musical Theatre Performance. Countless hours of voice lessons and recitals and training… and I just don’t exercise it much any more.
The Hedgepig Cabaret had left me feeling charged, so I reached out to Laura and asked whether she would be interested in helping some of our interested ensemble members put together videos (or “reels,” as we call them in the biz) of each of us singing various selections of songs. The purpose of this is - of course - to send to your sweet grandma back home. But also to attach to any casting services or audition sites where casting directors may be looking for not only brilliant classical ensemble-based storytellers (ahem.), but also those that may be able to sing. Boy howdy, do they want that these days. If you can muster the energy, just do a Google search on why “being a triple threat isn’t enough anymore”. Oof.
As is wont to happen in this beautiful group of artists, the “yes, ands” started pouring in!
I got to scheduling and organizing. Laura offered us an incredibly generous group rate. Performance space was available due to grant writing on Mary’s part. Desiree offered lighting equipment to brighten a fluorescent-lit rehearsal room. Danielle volunteered a backdrop to make the whole thing look professional. Rachel offered tips and tricks on how to get the best video quality. Some of us went to take voice lessons with Mary to tune up old songs and get inspiration for new ones. And just like that… it all came together.
If you’ve read my other blogs, you probably know where this is going. But here it is, unapologetically: I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pride in this community of artists that has so gracefully combined forces. No one did this for quick money or a great review or a resume boost – but to help each other continue to become more active, well-rounded, and passionate artists. Awakening my voice for this tiny side-project has brought me so much joy.
Support, evolution, love, joy… that’s my kind of ensemble.
By Greg Phelps June 2019
A few nights ago, fellow Hedgepig Ensemble Member Sara Hymes and I had the great fortune of attending a performance of the production of King Lear currently running on Broadway, starring Glenda Jackson in the titular role.
There were things I liked and didn’t like about their production, but this will not be a review; this will rather be a celebration of similarities between their Broadway production and Hedgepig’s Independent Theatre productions.
If you’d like to read a review of their production, here’s a couple I found that were insightful and accurate:
Ben Brantley, NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/theater/king-lear-review-glenda-jackson.html
Sara Holdren, Vulture/NY Magazine: https://www.vulture.com/2019/04/theater-review-once-more-into-the-storm-with-king-lear.html
The first similarity that became clear was that throughout their cast, there were many different approaches to Shakespeare’s text in regards to performance, with varying techniques and skill levels.
As with most productions of Shakespeare’s plays (including Hedgepig’s that I’ve either seen or been a part of), there are actors from a wide range of backgrounds, and it’s this mixture and collaboration of skills that make some of the best Theatre.
Next, it was their spirit of Ensemble. For much of the play, the majority of the cast (whether they’re in the scene or not) is situated on stage; present, but not pulling focus. It’s a part of what I call the “Make Everyone Else Look Good” technique that helps to put the story of the play above everything else. This simple, yet intrinsic element of Ensemble-based theatre is what first attracted me to Hedgepig, and it continues to grow as we grow as Ensemble members and friends.
Lastly, it was their overall commitment to the conventions of the world of the play that struck me. While this may seem like a rudimentary step in terms of creating a believable theatrical experience, I’ve noticed in certain Broadway performances that I’ve seen that there’s usually at least a few cast members (often in the background or chorus) that have obviously become bored with the show, and have “checked out”. It’s understandable with an eight-show-per-week schedule, that the repeated lines/choreography/songs might become less than captivating for the casts of long- running shows, but that did not seem to be the case for the majority of the cast of King Lear.
Similarly, Hedgepig strives for the same level of commitment in every production, and no one involved will only be giving 75%.
To conclude, it felt reassuring to see all of these similarities between the elements on Broadway and of Hedgepig’s productions. While we may not yet have the same sized houses to play in, an RSC Goddess (and former member of Parliament) to lead a production, or a cast member from “Game of Thrones” to round out the cast, it’s encouraging to know that in many ways we share the same caliber of theatrical storytelling.
The Echoes of Elizabeth May 2019
By Olivia Williamson
Reader, I write to you from a crumbling chateau in the south of France. For a brief few weeks I have traded my flat in Manhattan for a tiny attic space, where the floor groans under my every footfall and a 5'1’' French woman sighs and hums to her recently lost lover in her sleep nine precarious wooden steps below me in the lower chamber of the room.
I have come for rest. I have come to learn. I have come to process my role in our last Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre's production of MARY STUART.
I am at the Center Artistique Institute Roy Hart in Malerargues and my days are filled with workshops where brave students discover the limits of the human voice, explore the intrinsic link between the voice and the spirit, devour plates of humbly and generously prepared French cuisine, and commune with nature in the Cevennes mountains.
The only access to the outside world is a tiny bench that sits outside of the Institute's office, where a charming bilingual French woman named Bea toils behind a noisy old calculator 3 days a week, and where I can grasp a few bars of WiFi to send this to you, Reader.
Adrenaline is the cruel savior of the exhausted performer. Most nights we played MARY STUART I slept at odd hours in random stints, fitfully, and woke without the salve of a good night's sleep. Every night, however, about an hour before our performance began, the sweet sap of adrenaline rushed to my aid and carried me effortlessly to the end of the show.
My nature is to seek out joy and comfort, and I don't think it is any accident that I find myself at this retreat in this moment. For the two weeks I have been at the chateau I have slept more than 10 hours every evening. My dreams are vibrant and have an unaccustomed texture. Often I dream the Actor’s Nightmare: The show is opening and I don't know any of my lines. Sometimes I have other nightmares.
The dream I am most interested in processing with you, Reader, is one of those nightmares.
In my most frightful dream, my entire family and extended friend network threw me a surprise party. They had created an elaborate ruse to celebrate me! (Now Reader, I have never had a surprise party thrown in my honor, and yet have always secretly wished I might.) In my dream I responded so manically and negatively to the event my loved ones created, that by the end of my party I had alienated myself from every person in attendance-- most notably, my mother and my sister. I was thankfully woken from my sleeping torment by my previous roommate, an elfin Dutch woman who snored so loudly she scared away my demons.
I have little experience analyzing dreams; my intuition about the meaning of the stories my unconscious brain weaves fails me and therefore I am only left with questions:
What echoes remain when an empathetic actor puts on a character, like wearing a glove, after the production ends?
What does it take from an actor to play a character whose longtime lover abandons her night after night? Who chooses to kill her only familial female counterpart at every performance?
What part of a character's psychology and physiology remains haunting secret chambers of the player's soul and reveals itself only in the dead of night?
Growing the Artistic Family April 2019
By Rachel Schmeling
It’s been a tough winter. Honestly, I think winter is always a hard season. It’s cold, the sun is….somewhere else, and things can seem a little harder when that’s the case. Luckily, I have had the pleasure of working as an actor during the winter, which has lifted my spirits immensely. I got to work on a show that went up at NY Winterfest, do a regional premiere in PA, AND sing in Hedgepig’s first-ever cabaret fundraiser. The beautiful thing about working on all of these projects is the community I gained and maintained.
Hedgepig always makes me smile. Seriously, I cannot not be happy when I’m with these talented folk. We work as an ensemble to build a sense of community and common language in our work, and they truly are my family. I’ve been a part of the ensemble for over 2 years, and the time has gone so quickly. No matter how bad my day has been, or what emotional state I’m going through, the Pigs have been there for me. We have all shown up together, again and again, making art and building a safe space to be and work in together. So when I found out we were workshopping LITTLE WOMEN during March training, I wanted to share my family. I asked the director of my Winterfest show, Brooke, to come play with us!
We are putting up LITTLE WOMEN as our winter show this year, but don’t really know what the show will look like yet! Brooke came in with some text from the novel and we got to play with the sisters and Marmee as they celebrated Christmas. (I took on Jo, every little girl’s dream. Plus I didn’t have to work with a rehearsal skirt- WIN). Because of the trust and familiarity we already have with each other, it was truly like coming home for Christmas. We laughed and teased like sisters, improvised using the text as our base, and achieved intimate moments in just a few hours. And it was FUN. It was fun to play and laugh and explore text with my artist family.
I love the connection theatre brings, not only to the actors and production team, but the connection between worlds. Working on one project to end up meeting people to bring onto other projects, letting my theatre family lift my spirits on the down days, and having the trust and freedom to play- that’s a unique experience. And It’s that connection and sense of play we have as an ensemble that makes our productions so special. There’s a depth to our work because we support each other inside the rehearsal room and out.
Want to see that in action? Make sure you check out our spring show, MARY STUART, April 11-20 at the Access Theater and catch me in LITTLE WOMEN this December. Excited to keep expanding my theatrical family this year.
Ensemble in Song, Bravery in Spirit
By Jamal James March 2019
People. Let me get this out right here, right now.
Besides the "Retreat Of Almost Death" a couple years ago (ask around 'cause we have the stories!!), I have never been more proud to be a part of this ensemble than at our recent fundraising cabaret, Never Doubt I Love!
For those of you uninitiated, Never Doubt I Love was a benefit concert showcasing love songs that were directly (or indirectly with lyric finagling) inspired by Shakespeare. I mean, we’re a classically-trained group. What did you expect?
BUT WHAT A SHOWCASE IT WAS!
Now, call me biased because I am normally blown away by the talent in this group, but these singers came and did their thing and SANG y’all! With almost all the Hedgepigs either working the event or onstage at the West End Lounge, this fest truly explored all the joy, gravity, and complexity of love with the velvet power voices of: Mary Candler, Rachel Schmeling, Greg Phelps, Jory Murphy, Danielle Cohn, Sara Hymes, Thomas Valdez, Our Special Guest: Emily Drennan, Our Emcee Andy Baldeschwiler, and Me!
Accompanied by our fantastic band with Laura Mesrobian on Piano, Greg Phelps subbing that Guitar, Julian Giaimo on Drums and Ron Black on Bass, it turned into a truly rocking good time!
I hope you’ll indulge me though as I call out someone for some courage. It takes a huge amount of bravery to sing in front of a crowd of people when you’re usually the one behind the scenes. Hell, it takes a lot even if you sing in front of people all the time, but our director Emily Lyon took center stage, and was beautiful, fierce, brave and vulnerable all in the same moment. If you weren’t there, then I wish for you that you could go back in time. You missed something truly special.
(Also I would go through wars to share the stage with Sara Hymes any day of the week for the rest of my life. She’s the bee's knees!)
All in all, none of us knew what to expect. Exploring and cultivating a cabaret for an audience was truly a new venture for us.
From planning, to song choices, to adaptation, to rehearsal, to showtime, there was a lot of: “Will this all work out in the end?”
But by the cheers of the crowd (and the fact that we hit our fundraising goal for the evening!), it most certainly did. And I, personally, can’t wait for more in the future.
Speaking of the future, our next Hedgepig Ensemble production, Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller (which is what we were -- and still are! -- fundraising for), will be starting rehearsals next week! Stay tuned for that opening April 11-20th at the Access Theatre!
I know I can't wait to see what feats of bravery this show will bring out of this beautiful group of Pigs!
Down to Clown
By Andrew Hutcheson February 2019
Hey there Hedgeheads!
This is Drew with my blog entry.
Today I’m going to focus on vulnerability. You see, when I heard the Hedgepigs were going to have nine hours (over three sessions) of a “Clowning Masterclass” with renowned instructor Richard Crawford, I got really nervous. From what I understood about clowning—largely from fellow Hedgepigs—it sounded like clowning is no laughing matter. You have to be vulnerable to clown. You have to bare your soul to clown. According to the stories I’d heard from fellow pig Alex Tissiere, in order to clown you must first be humiliated. And at the advanced stages, that humiliation could last for hours.
So I naturally decided I would say I was sick and unable to attend the clowning masterclass.
But then I decided otherwise. I decided I would attend the first session of clowning. I don’t like being vulnerable in front of people. I don’t even like talking to people if I can avoid it. But I know the Hedgepigs. I can be vulnerable in front of them, I decided. We’re family. I can talk to them and tell them how I really feel about things.
On my way to the masterclass, however, I found myself in a situation I am absolutely not comfortable with: being compelled to talk with random NYC strangers.
Right before the class, I stopped by Starbucks to get a large black tea Lemonade (my go-to). It’s always $4.63. I had my $5 bill ready. However, the guy in front of me who had just finished his transaction turned to me and was like:
“Hey man! I have 15 cents left on this gift card. How about you just use it? I’d throw it out anyway.”
I had one earbud in but was forced to interact with this stranger. So I said, “Sure! Thanks, man!” Seriously, it’s 15 cents, I would have paid way more than that to avoid talking to t his dude, but I acted like he had just handed me a winning lottery ticket.
So I gave the barista the card and she ran it for 15 cents. Then I handed her the five.
She completely misunderstood the situation, however, and deleted the transaction.
She then added the five-dollar bill to the gift card and ran it to pay for my drink.
I tried to feebly object to what she was doing, but she kept saying “nah, it’s fine.” So then she handed me back the dude’s gift card, which now has 52 cents on it. (The original 15 cents plus the 37 cents change from the 5 dollars.)
Did you follow all of that? Doesn’t matter. I now consider this a “The Ring” situation where the guy was simply passing on a cursed Starbucks gift card in order to get rid of it. I will therefore be giving this Starbucks gift card to the first person who asks me for it at the Hedgepig Cabaret.
What is that? I can hear you asking…well I’m glad you did.
On February 15th at the West End Lounge, the Hedgepigs are going to siiiiiiiing!
That's right, the pigs are going to display their musical talents (and they have plenty to spare) on a night where the theme is "Love Songs Inspired by Shakespeare." I've talked to several of the pigs about this, and trust me: they are playing pretty loosy-goosy with this premise. I think one of them said, "Well, Shakespeare would probably like this song." It's going to be a fascinating experiment. You are going to see a lot of vulnerability. That's the theme of this blog but it is also what you are going to see on February 15th at the West End Lounge. I'll be there. I mean, I won't be singing necessarily, but I will sing to you personally if you ask me to. It's cold. Come and warm up with the power of love. Anyway, back to my story...
So then I finally made it to the masterclass with Richard Crawford. I had already had an experience where I’d failed at being open and honest with strangers, so I was still dubious of my ability to open up when I arrived.
The first hour was an historical recap of clowning and a somewhat intense but pretty fun warm-up. Despite dripping sweat on the floor, I was enjoying myself. After all, there wasn’t much focus on anyone individually. (But we were really loud. Like really loud. We played pretend bongos. LOUD BONGOS. This girl from the studio next door came into our room and screamed at us about how loud we were. Jory later would sing a song about this.)
But the last two hours? That was where the soul-baring came into play.
We were instructed to break up into three groups and for each of us to “sing” a “song” about something that we “loved”. Sorry for all of the quotes, but they’re important. I thought this would be a goofy, silly exercise where we could just talk about something clever or dumb. Boy was I wrong.
Richard was relentless about having people open up and show vulnerability. If he didn’t feel they were, he would tear them apart. Even if it took forever, he would keep at it. I was terrified when I went up to sing a song.
So I sang a song. I sang a song about how I love snow at nighttime. Richard yelled out “WHY do you love it?” (he did this throughout the night) and so I thought about it and started to explore my childhood in song. I thought about and sang about how I equate nighttime snow with my childhood in Connecticut and a specific Christmas episode of “ER.” I was just being honest. But I was being vulnerable. And despite these things, or perhaps because of them – I was having fun.
At any rate, Richard seemed cool with it. The Hedgepigs seemed cool with it. I didn’t have to do anything else, which was great, because I didn’t feel like I had anything else in me.
I felt relieved. I’ve resolved to approach the rest of these sessions with an attitude of “I will do whatever.” It’s freeing.
And I will give you $.52 if you ask me. But you have to come to the cabaret.
The Art of Failure
By Alex Tissiere December 2018
When Mary asked me to do a skill-share for our last training of the year (each of the Pigs take turns choosing and sharing a skill of theirs at the top of monthly training sessions) I ended up having a mini moment of personal crisis: did I have any shareable skills? Did I have any skills at all?? What even is a skill??!! There’s the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours version of skill mastery (did he say ten thousand??). There’s the mostly exaggerated special skills section of my acting resume. What if I share a skill that someone else is more skilled at? What if everyone realizes I’ve been a fraud this whole time???!!
Then I started imagining the clown show version of this crisis: a young clown realizes he has no skills and goes on a journey to find some, failing spectacularly at many along the way. I always gravitated to the clown who fails, and has to live with that failure in front of an audience that just watched him try so sincerely to be good at something, just one thing, only to realize: he’s not good at anything. I wonder if that says something about me… nahhh probably not.
I learned to love to live in that place, the place of failure, from my clowning teacher of four years at NYU, Orlando Pabotoy. He was as magnanimous as he was enigmatic, as mysterious in his teachings as he was open-hearted in his humanity, and my biggest takeaway from Orlando’s radiating genius was that you could have the funniest, best-timed piece of physical comedy about failure ever known to the stage, but what makes a true clown is their honest reaction afterward, the discovery of what it feels like to fail in front of an audience full of people who were waiting to watch you succeed, and you let them down. It’s in that place that the clown’s magic thrives.
That was my only hope, I decided: to share my skill at failure, and make other people fail too. So I brought to training all the clown exercises I’d failed at over the years, and forced a beautiful crew of old and new Hedgepigs to try and make everyone laugh, to not get their boss to fire them, and to sing a group song about why everything was going to be okay.
And you know what? They crushed it. They nailed it. I was furious.
Nahhh not really, I wasn't surprised. Hedgepig is a place that prizes discovery and honesty and rewards failure, so I knew the Pigs in the room would be brave enough to get up there and discover what it feels like when your first idea was your worst idea, and then when no one laughs at your earnest second and third attempts, and then when Danielle doesn’t laugh at ANYTHING YOU TRY, DAMMIT DANIELLE (but actually thank you for being honest with your laughter). I wasn’t surprised that a brand new Pig, Thomas, at his very first training, was the first to volunteer for every single exercise (Mary told me to make the old hogs go first which I failed at, but I’m so glad I did because Thomas’ bravery set the bar HIGH for the rest of the group up to make beautiful leaps to try and reach). I wasn’t surprised at any of this because in rewarding failure, Hedgepig fosters a space of trust and mutual benefit where everyone grows as a result: the individuals AND the ensemble.
It’s that culture of bravery and discovery at Hedgepig that made me so infinitely excited to see this just-closed production of All’s Well That Ends Well (an easy play to fail at). I was originally supposed to have this post finished (spoiler alert: I failed) before going to see the show on opening night, and in my original post I wrote about how all I could think about was getting to see those beautiful brave Pigs up on that stage that night, sharing their skills all over the place.
And you know what? They crushed it. They nailed it. I wasn't surprised, but I was still blown away.
Thank you to the entire cast and crew of All’s Well for an unspeakably beautiful show, it was a magical night, and congratulations on a successful run!
By Emily Lyon November 2018
“The personal is political, and the political is personal.”
As I was prepping to direct All’s Well That Ends Well, the world seemed to be falling further and further apart. More mass shootings. The environment has 22 years before it’s permanently devastated. And Brett Kavanaugh, in the face of the #MeToo Movement and Anita Hill and copious ignored witnesses, was confirmed.
All’s Well that Ends Well has always intrigued me. (What can I say? I’m a girl who likes problem plays.) My tastes are a healthy balance of comedy and darkness — politics and humanity. Without the humor, we cannot to go into the darkness. Within that realm, All’s Well is a perfect fit. And fittingly, the characters all have what what we all have today: skewed perspectives.
Our country is, and has been, full of skewed perspectives.
We’re deeply affected and influenced by our personal echo chambers, and those around us hold sway over how we see the world, and how we see ourselves. That's what I'm most interested in for this play: how our skewed perspectives shape who we are and how we approach the world. Helen is transfixed by Bertram and overly aware of her lower social status. Bertram cares deeply what other people think and is overly aware of his higher social status. Parolles is, conversely, actively distorting other people’s impressions of his social status. And even the King is insecure enough in his status to lash out when others don’t bend to his will.
Our set designer, Anna Driftmeier, and I have had some awesome brainstorming meetings. We’ve been inspired by hearing room of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony; the rigid lines and overwhelming structured architecture evoke the overbearing masculine society structure we’re forced to play in. We’ve been inspired by the celestial imagery of the play; it brings our awareness to the fact that the universe is so much bigger than our individual problems, the question of fate, and a reminder of the chaos of the natural world. I’ve spent our design meetings discussing the darker political resonances within the show, finding the right metaphors to emphasize the societal structures that create the characters’ worlds.
But when we got into the rehearsal room for that first rehearsal and read the words, it was a hoot!
This play is funny and cheeky and thoughtful and tense. It reminded me that our humanity, while deeply flawed, is beautiful, complex, and ultimately rewarding. Our perspectives are skewed - I know mine are - but we still have a lot to appreciate.
We just flipped the house. We elected more than 100 women. And we’ve engaged our communities in more open discussions of privilege and history.
In this crazy time, I feel so grateful to be able to delve back into the art that gives me joy. This is my fifth full production with Hedgepig, and for a young company that’s pretty awesome. Hedgepig has been my artistic home since I’ve moved to NYC, and it’s been exciting to grow with the company as well as grow it. Our runs are getting longer, our budgets a bit bigger, and our vision of our identity as a company stronger. And I hope we as a country keep building together, too. May our national community be as connected and empathetic as our smaller one is!
By Andy Baldeschwiler October 2018
One of the odd things about living in the city, as opposed to a small town, is having neighbors whose names I don’t know. I’ve lived on the same street for six years and have passed by the same folks hundreds of times. Sometimes we exchange nods or a quick greeting, but for the most part, distance – and silence – is the norm.
It could be argued that rural areas and smaller cities have a stronger sense of community. Not only are people more likely to know their neighbors, they are also more likely to introduce themselves to strangers. Now I might be wrong, and I’m definitely making generalizations, but I’m also curious how environment affects communication.
Perhaps density, the volume of people, makes conversation seem daunting or insignificant. In the city, everyone – especially women – have to be vigilant about their safety, so there’s a general wariness of engagement with strangers. Technology is also a Huge Factor. Yes, it’s convenient to carry around music and news and games so easily, but people are hiding behind those screens and noise-cancelling headphones.
Is it becoming a world – look at our elected officials –
where we don’t know how to communicate with one another?
Or don’t want to?
A few weeks ago the Hedgepig Ensemble had its annual Retreat. We spent 50 hours in the woods, bonding and playing theatre games. We did improv. We made tableaus. We spoke in funny voices and sometimes we didn’t speak at all. Within a short period of time, our methods of communication changed often.
Hedgepig cares a lot about ensemble-building – read previous blog posts about our monthly training sessions – and a couple days in no-frills cabins, cooking pasta on hot plates, can really bring a group together. Responsibilities were shared, leadership of activities and skill shares was divvied, and overall it was a nice balance of work and play.
However it was not easy. Three hours each month is one thing, but nonstop, unavoidably close proximity for two days is another. There were personality conflicts, disagreements on group decisions, and the occasional difference of opinion with park rangers. We had escaped from the city, but at times still felt crowded.
Thankfully, we listened to each other. We paid attention. We danced on a tennis court and sat around a campfire, all the while pondering how better to tell stories. We developed trust and tools to communicate with each other, in the hopes that this bond would make us better able to communicate with an audience.
So maybe communication isn’t being lost, after all.
Maybe it’s just changing and we have to work harder to do it well.
For a couple days in August, Hedgepig communed with nature and (mostly) avoided our cell phones. We challenged ourselves and each other. Obviously we don’t have all the answers – and I’ll have to keep musing about environment versus communication – but we’re back among the crowds, back to monthly training, and looking forward to a winter production.
Re-Treat Yo-Self II
By Olivia Williamson August 2018
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 July 2018
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 June 2018
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 May 2018
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 school.
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 April 2018
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 March 2018
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 2018
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 January 2018
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 December 2017
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!