Shtick or Treat
by Jim Murchison
When I went to see The Comedy of Errors this summer done by my friends at Bear and Company there was a scene near the end of the play where one of the actors dressed as a nun, but sporting a white beard, calls out to her long lost love. The audience loved it; laughed and applauded. I told the actor it was a cheap way to get a laugh and he basically told me that I would know (because I had done exactly the same thing in a play with him just two months earlier). The fact is I have no problem about going for the cheap laugh if it works and the person doing it knows that is exactly what they're doing.
There are little packages of tricks that actors and directors rely on. Things that they know will work. In medieval Italy it was called Lazzi and they were whole routines that were choreographed for when actors went dry. Vaudeville called them schtick. Others call them gags. Whatever you call them they are old reliables for when a performance has bumps on a night or to add emphasis on those nights when it is going terrifyingly well.
How well these stock items are received depends on how well they're wrapped up and doled. If you get too much they can make you sick. If they aren't packaged or have come apart they can be scary, but delivered with the right touch and in just the right amounts these little tricks can be quite a treat indeed.
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