Chairs and Giggles – An Ongoing Struggle


So, we’re slowly but surely approaching the final chapter of our year as the 2015 Bell Players. And boy has it been a great one. We’ve dusted dry red dirt from our clothes in Newman, swam with whale sharks in Exmouth, and participated in an intense drama class game of Duck Duck Goose with our bellies full of freshly baked Donald scones in Donald, all the while aiming to give you guys the best possible 50-minute Shakespearean performances we could, in whatever Aussie town called our names. So much laughter, so many tears (well, not that many tears.  Actually Lucy and I did see Still Alice at a cinema in Wollongong during which we probably shed a year’s worth of tears for all four of us).

However, it has not always been smooth sailing for Team C, let me tell you. We may appear to be cool, calm and collected, but there have been incidents where a powerful and highly dangerous virus has infiltrated our otherwise unshakeable Team front, threatening the very foundations on which our Team was formed. Our will-power, professionalism and strength of character are thrown into jeopardy. It’s frightening.

Now many of you actors out there may be familiar with this virus, referred to by some as the ‘Corpsing’ virus, or quite simply, a dreaded and seemingly uncontrollable unwanted burst of laughter. It is said to have been originally labelled ‘corpsing’ from the times when there an actor must play a corpse, and there has been a tendency to make that actor laugh. You know the feeling – something very funny happens on stage, and the sensible half of your brain tells you ‘hey, that’s okay buddy, let’s just keep on keeping on, hold on to your focus, keep your head in the game, it’s gonna be okay.’ And then the other half is saying ‘HAHAHAHAHAHAH THIS IS THE FUNNIEST THING TO EVER HAVE HAPPENED WHY ISNT EVERYBODY PEEING THEMSELVES WITH LAUGHTER OH I DONT CARE HAHAHAHAH’. So which half do you listen to? It really is a trying test for the actor, not allowing yourself to fall victim to corpsing. Your face gets hot, your chest starts bubbling, nostrils flaring, the sides of your mouth are reluctantly quivering upwards. The struggle is real.

Shiv has a great tip (which personally has not worked on me): when something distractingly funny happens on stage, think of a chair. Only a chair. See now I don’t know about Shiv, but I have experienced some pretty humorous-looking chairs in my time, so I think that could be a very dangerous substitution. Nevertheless, you can read more about it in his latest acting book, ‘Think of a Chair: The Technique and the Way of Life.’

A wee example from our experiences: some of you may recall, in a performance of Midsummer Madness quite a while back, a notable funny happened. The mechanicals were doing their thang on stage – I was playing Snug as I do, and Quince had just handed out our scripts for Pyramus and Thisbe which we were instructed to read and rehearse. But as it goes, before we have a chance to do so, sneaky Puck comes along and freezes the Mechanicals mid-action so that he can enact some of his magic mischief. Now, back to the dreaded corpsing. Just at the point where Puck freezes us, I (as Snug) am sitting precariously on a road case to read my script. And just after Puck does his magic freeze-clap, I (Snug) slowly and ungracefully slip off the road case and fall heavily onto my bum, breaking the freeze and looking like a total doofus. And then I make a feeble attempt to pretend like Snug has fallen on purpose by throwing my arms into the air and saying ‘Woo!’ For the minutes following this clumsy incident, (at which many of you audience members were sniggering – oh yes, I heard you), it became rather difficult for us actors to stifle our giggles, as every time we would make eye contact we would replay it in our minds. Except for Shiv. Shiv was too busy thinking of a chair to share in our amusement.

They are pretty exciting though, those moments. They can be challenging, because you’re fighting so hard to get yourself and your fellow actors back on track, and it can seem like the more you try and fight the giggles, the more vengeful they will be when they creep back up into your throat. I guess what we’ve learnt is just to breathe, take a little moment to gather yourself and get back into the circumstances of the play, and importantly, not to beat yourself up for having a little giggle. After all, acting is supposed to be fun, otherwise why else would they call it a ‘play’?

And like in life, nothing on stage ever really goes exactly as you think it will. So if the virus finds it’s way into a performance you’re in, just relax and breathe, it happens to everybody! Or if you simply cannot relax, think of a chair I guess…