Bringing some slapstick laughs to the stage

Published 10:43 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Alden-Conger students to perform classic improv comedy

ALDEN — It’s slightly slapstick, partly punny and peppered with colorful characters, and it’s for those three reasons that the Alden-Conger play director chose the school’s current fall play, “Is There a Doctor in the House?”

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“It’s a comedy, and it has some physical comedy in it, and our audiences seem to be drawn to funny action,” director Ada Theusch said.

Additionally, Theusch said she knew the cast was up for it.

“We have a talented group of seniors this year, and I knew they could pull off that kind of physical humor,” she said.

“Is There a Doctor in the House?” follows Lucy Canary, whose father, the mayor, tells her to marry Otis Lackginger. Lucy, however, is in love with someone else. When the time comes to exchange her vows with Otis, Lucy somehow loses her voice. Wacky doctors parade in and out as the cast searches to find a solution to Lucy’s sudden ailment.

During a dress rehearsal for Alden-Conger’s upcoming play, quack doctor Pillpurge, played by Chris Martens, right, examines the throat of Lucy Canary, played by Ahnika Johnson, center, after she suddenly loses her voice minutes before she’s supposed to say her wedding vows. – Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

According to senior and student director Tirzah Larson, the comedy is also what provides a challenge for the actors.

“It’s a little more difficult than you think it’d be, because you have to have just the right timing and just the right amount of emotion,” Larson said, so that the humor doesn’t get lost.

However, senior Ian Olson has been enjoying the opportunity the show gives him to improvise with comedy.

“You get the basic lines, and then when you practice them enough and you feel comfortable enough, you feel like you can add something new to it,” Olson said. “It adds a whole new personality … like when every school does their own version of the play, they all have different lines and it adds something new. And that’s something for the audience to look forward to, because they don’t expect it, and that’s usually some of the best lines.”

For Olson, this improvisation includes a scene in which he gets beaten up by another character. They are looking for ways to further include the audience by sitting in the crowd or running around the audience.

According to senior Chris Martens and Theusch, the play’s cast is a notable mix of young and old.

“We’ve definitely got a lot of younger actors, and it’s been interesting watching them develop their acting skills, because many of them are in their first performance, and some of them are in like their second or third, so it’s been interesting watching them,” Martens said.

Martens said only one of the boys in the cast is not a senior, and it will be a change for the drama department in the future to fill in with other actors.

Alden-Conger actors put their costumes and makeup on for one of their final rehearsals. The play runs Friday through Sunday. – Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

Theusch said the amalgamation of older and younger provides opportunities for both sets.

“One thing that’s really fun to see is the older students mentoring the younger students, working on lines, working on expressions, working on stage presence,” Theusch said. “The older ones are really crucial to getting the younger ones to remember different things about acting. … And when they’re not inhibited to — when those seniors are showing, you know, putting those inhibitions aside — the younger ones will follow suit.”

In addition to newer actors, Alden-Conger high school has also been provided with new lighting through donors and memorial donations, and some of the sound equipment has been upgraded. Some students will be miked and others will not, which means the sound crew will need to balance the onstage sound for conversations between certain characters.

But the greatest challenge, Theusch and Larson said, is getting the actors together for rehearsal.

Martens runs cross country. Not being able to make all the play rehearsals has made it tougher for him to learn his character.

“It’s kind of hard to develop your role when you are only at one practice a week,” he said.

However, Theusch said the scheduling is the price she pays for these students’ involvement.

“If it weren’t for those talented, dedicated kids, we couldn’t have plays,” she said. “And so you want those talented kids? You’ve got to work with it.”

And while, according to sophomore Annika Riebe, it’s all for the audience, Olson said it has been fun for everyone.

“Everyone seems to be enjoying doing this play, so I hope the audience feels like how much fun we’re having on stage and they know just how much we enjoy it,” she said.

“Is There a Doctor in the House?” will run at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Cast members for Alden-Conger’s fall play huddle up for a cast meeting before running through a dress rehearsal Sunday. “You guys are funny. You look great. You’re very entertaining,” director Ada Theusch said. – Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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