A Lesson in Comedy

By Emma McFarland

This past week has been a very important one for the cast and crew of Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir. After spending weeks in the rehearsal room and a few days on stage for technical rehearsals, we finally had preview performances. Previews are the first time that the general public is invited to view the piece. Although the show may not be quite finished, and is not considered “open,” the actors and design team have a chance to gauge audience reactions and to fine-tune their performances.

Despite the fact that I went to university to study theater and that I worked on an average of two shows a year, I have never worked on a comedy. I understood that preview performances were important to the process of any production, but I never imagined how different the process would be with a comedy as opposed to a drama. There’s a reason why comedic timing is notoriously difficult. It takes a huge amount of skill to properly time a joke without losing the flow of the rest of the scene.

After sitting in rehearsals for weeks, everyone in the room can become desensitized to the jokes. No matter how funny the writing may be, hearing the same joke for the fourth or four hundredth time deadens a lot of the comedic effect. It can be difficult for the actors to guess what might get a laugh in performance when the audience in the rehearsal hall has been focused on things other than the humor.

Fortunately, our production of Souvenir has been cast with two incredibly talented and incredibly funny performers. Both Karen Murphy (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Wayne Barker (Cosme McMoon) received huge laughs during our preview performances. Even more impressively, both actors were able to instantaneously adapt their timing to accommodate a laugh that they didn’t expect or to cover a laugh that they thought was going to happen, but didn’t.

It is almost impossible to predict what each audience will find funny and no two audiences are the same. The ability to adjust your performance on the fly and to assist your scene partner in selling a joke are only two of many tools in a comedic actor’s toolbox. Previews give the actors a laboratory environment to perfect their timing and hone their performances before the show officially opens.

The preview performances for Souvenir have been an invaluable experience for both the actors and the rest of the creative team. A live audience teaches everyone new things about the show or reminds us of things that we may have forgotten along the way. Learning from the audience in previews ensured that the opening night of Souvenir was funnier than it had ever been before

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