Sometimes you just need a little drag.
This has been a loooooong 8 months for us here at Bag&Baggage. The closure of The Venetian, the cancelation of Noises Off, the completion of the capital campaign, and two pretty hard hitting shows back to back at the start of the season – trust me, we have all needed a break from that very difficult work.
So, I was eager to get started on something completely different. And then we started rehearsals and I realized something: doing a Farndale show is, in fact, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a director (and I know it is incredibly difficult for the actors too). Not only do we have to create a play about terrible actors doing terrible theatre, but we need to do that extremely well. Not only do we have to invent a billion sight gags and puns and in- nuendos, but we have to do it in 6 inch heels, wigs, and stuffed bras. So much for taking a break from all of that hard work!
But, in all honesty, it is very fun. These performers are a joy to spend time with and to create with, and I am particularly thrilled that Patrick Spike gets to reprise his role as Pheobe; that Norman Wilson gets to do an- other show with us after so many years; that Jeremy Sloan gets to expand his B&B reper- toire; and that Tyler Buswell gets a crack at doing a B&B style show. Arianne, of course, is no stranger to our audiences, but this role pushes her in a decidedly different and new direction, which is also a joy.
The Farndale shows are actually more than just camp, over-the-top shenanigans. They are actually part of a long theatrical tradition in England– a tradition that I fell in love with during my time in Scotland.
Walter Zerlin (one of the two madmen responsible for the Farndale series) is said to have taken his inspiration for the worst community theatre troupe in history from his mother. Zerlin said, “My mother had been in a local drama group for years. I always remember seeing her in shows with other women playing men’s parts, and all of them doing it dreadfully.” After seeing one of his mother’s best (meaning worst) performances, Zerlin concocted an idea to have a group of four English housewives, all of whom were abysmal actors, attempting to mount a very serious production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and butchering it so badly that it simply transcended serious theatre into farce. And so it began…
All of the Farndale Avenue shows find their beginnings in a number of grand theatrical traditions, including Commedia dell’Arte, Shakespeare and Moliere, the ancient British version of Commedia known as “Italian Night Scenes” which involved highly energetic comedy and complex stage business, Harlequi- nades (which were the birth place of the term and style of Slapstick comedy); British-style Pantomime (or just “Panto”); Michael Green’s “Coarse Acting” style; and modern day drag performances. I know, I know…it feels a little precious to say that this over-the-top farce has any kind of connection to grand theatrical tradi- tions, but it is true….seriously.
This connection is particularly true of the British Panto tradition, which includes some of the funniest, most overblown characters you will ever see on stage. These “Panto Dames” – male comedians dressed up as hideously ugly women with names like The Widow Cranky – are a staple of English holi- day traditions. Enormous handbags, dresses made of thousands of yards of chiffon, ill- fitting wigs, an inability to walk in heels, and grotesque makeup are the hallmarks of these stock British stage characters. They are a hilarious and beloved part of British holiday theatre…as crazy as that sounds.
And, if you really think about it, men have been playing women playing men (and doing it badly!) for thousands of years, and actors who are out of their depth have been attempting to portray Hamlet or Lady Macbeth or Willy Loman for generations. We have all been there. We all know the sheer terror and utter desperation that is born from being trapped in a theatre watching a truly terrible performance. What Farndale Avenue does so well, and so unapologetically, is to embrace this one great theatrical truth: really really re- ally bad theatre can be really really great the- atre…both cringe-worthy and hilarious.
So, welcome back to the Ladies of Farndale. There is no doubt you will all break a leg… figuratively and literally.
Happy Halloween, dahlings!
For tickets and more information please visit bag&baggage.com