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The Assistant Director of Comedy of Errors Talks Virtual Theatre

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Screenshot of actors with their puppets during a Comedy of Errors rehearsal.

 

Interview conducted and written by Becca Goetz for Theatre 200.

Rubber chickens, puppets, hipsters, and video chats…what do they all have in common? Well, for sophomore Dylan Gray, they are now a daily part of life as the Assistant Director for M.U. Theatre's production of The Comedy of Errors. Previously, Dylan has held the role of Pan/Bud in Batboy, aided as an Assistant Lighting Designer for She Kills Monsters and was the Lighting Designer for the student-written and directed performances of Ceremonials and Don't Call Him That.

What is your role as an Assistant Director in The Comedy of Errors?

My role is to be a second set of eyes for Gion DeFrancesco [our director] and pick up anything he might have missed while being focused on the other aspects of production. Sometimes I'll oversee smaller scenes that involve 2-3 characters in break out rooms via video chat.

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How has your role changed now that The Comedy of Errors has moved to remote rehearsals?

A lot of the fundamentals have stayed the same. I still work scenes while Gion is doing other things. I take notes. It's different because I can't talk to Gion right away; I can't lean over and whisper to him like in a typical rehearsal because we are in a video call. Blocking is also a lot different now because people can't move around as they could onstage.

What has been the biggest challenge moving to remote rehearsals, and how has the team worked to overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge has been trying to find ways to keep the actors involved with the other actors in a scene. It's hard to build that conversation together over a webcam. That has been a lot of our focus these past few weeks. We want it to seem like the actors are talking to each other instead of reading Shakespeare while staring at a computer screen. The actors have been really good about portraying that conversation and trying to make big choices while still being onscreen. It's made our job a lot easier.

How has the artistic vision for the show changed from the live to video performance?

The show was based in a very particular aesthetic that's roots were the set and costumes. We called the aesthetic "Hipsterbethan." It was a 2013-2015 hipster style with an Elizabethan flair. The characters were to appear in flannel with codpieces in a town that was being gentrified.

Our characters are still in flannels and beanies as well as some dress shirts and Elizabethan hairstyles. It's become a modern interpretation of the characters. We've incorporated a set by having the actors move around their house to help establish the inside and outside of 

Antipholus of Ephesus' house. We are trying to keep the idea of the costumes and set without the ability to fully construct them. 

What has been the funniest experience during the production process?

There have been a lot of funny moments; obviously, it's a comedy. My favorite thing about video chats is that you can change your background image. So the cast and I (mostly me) will change our backgrounds. One day a bunch of us changed our backgrounds to the characters from the Cats movie.

There was also a day of rehearsal when the dramaturgs, Eleanor Alger and Rian Sondag, would interrupt us during a script reading by yelling "joke, joke, joke" to let us know that the line was written to be funny. It was a fun way to learn about Shakespearean jokes- so they were no longer just phrases but were funny to us. 

Comedy of Errors will air via video performance early Summer 2020. The video will be available on the Department of Theatre's Facebook page and the College of Creative Arts youtube channel. 

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