Drama, Choral Music, Instrumental Music
- The reproducible handouts for this activity
- Paper and pens for brainstorming
- A personal technological device for research
Verdi’s Falstaff is full of hilarious moments buried amidst rousing and complicated ensembles. Filled to the brim with rapid-fire text, scenes in this production showcase the singing actors’ ability to make the audience laugh. Learn about some different styles of comedic acting, then act out a scene from Falstaff.
STEP 1. KINGS OF COMEDY
Just like there are many ways to make people laugh, there are many different genres of comedy that actors can draw upon when designing a scene for their character. Some actors go so far as to specialize in one style of comedy, while others are masters at many ways to make people laugh. The exploratory process of learning a role helps actors find different ways of engaging the audience, and many will change things from performance to performance to keep things fresh!
Begin by brainstorming as a class: Who do you find funny? What kind of humor do you most enjoy? What kind of comedy do you not find funny? What kind of humor do you think will be in Falstaff?
Now, read about a few of the many, many different types of comedy. Discuss each as a class and brainstorm names of actors, singers, and comedians that fit each description.
- Slapstick: Slapstick involves physical comedy, exaggerated facial expressions, and stunts. This style of humor can be cartoonish and raunchy, while keeping a lighthearted mood. Slapstick often features characters who injure themselves or others.
- Deadpan: Also known as dry humor. This style of dry comedy evokes laughter through an intentional lack of emotion. Actors tell jokes without a change in facial expression or visible change of emotion.
- Parody: Like satire, parody is a work that deliberately imitates another work for comic effect. Parodies can target celebrities, politicians, authors, composers, or any other interesting subject. Sometimes parodies deliver a message by commenting on a subject, trend, or style.
- Prop Comedy: Actors use hilarious objects in normal ways or normal objects in hilarious ways. Relies on carefully selected props or even puppets. Prop comedy is an off shoot of physical comedy and ventriloquism.
STEP 2. QUICK RESEARCH
Let’s learn about one another’s favorite sources of laughter! You will have three to five minutes to use your personal technology to research your favorite comedians (actors, singers, dancers who make you laugh). Once you know who your favorite jokester is, choose a genre of comedy from the list of above that you think best suits their brand of humor (e.g., Jim Carey is a slapstick comedian). Share out with the class.
STEP 3. PLAYING THE SCENE
Now it’s time to put our comedy skills to work with a little scene exploration. On the reproducible handout, you will find the translated dialogue for two scenes in Falstaff (MOoD Tracks 7 and 8; MOoD 14–15). Break into groups, select one scene, and cast it with members of your class. Make sure that every person in the class is in a scene. Each actor in the scene must select a style of comedy that will influence their characterization in the scene (e.g., Nannetta uses physical comedy and shows that by tripping on her way into the scene, etc.).
You will have 20 minutes to prepare your scene for performance. At the completion of your working time, you will perform your scene for the class who will then guess which style of comedy each actor chose to influence their interpretation of their character. Working with your scene partners, prepare the scene according to the specifications below.
- Every actor must be engaged and focused for the entire scene and remain in character.
- Each actor must select a style of comedy upon which to base their character (reflect on the different styles of comedy we studied above). Work to make over-the-top representations of whatever style of acting you choose so that your audience will be able to guess which style you chose.
- Actors need not be the same gender as the character they are playing.
- Actors receive extra credit if they perform in an English accent, since Falstaff is based on an original work by Shakespeare.
At the conclusion of each scene performance the class will discuss the questions below.
- What style of comedy was each actor using? How did you know?
- Does it work to have each actor focusing on a different style of comedy? Why or why not?
- How would music have added or taken away from each of these scenes?
STEP 4. WATCH HOW THE PROS DO IT
Now watch both scenes from a previous Live in HD performance (MOoD Tracks 7 and 8; MOoD 14–15). Pay attention to the different ways that the singing actors rely on comedic timing, physicalization, and facial expression to make the audience laugh.
Work as a class to create a playlist of your favorite comedic moments in opera,
TV, movies, or stand up. Have each member of the class submit a short video clip (YouTube is fine!) of their favorite comedic moment from a show. Make sure to respect school norms for language and content with the clip you submit. Once everyone has submitted their favorite comedy moment, watch them all back-to-back as a comedy festival of sorts!