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Q&A with the Director of "Terrors"

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Artistic Director Brian Vaughn has acted and directed at the Utah Shakespeare Festival for over three decades. He has directed such notable plays as 2019’s Hamlet, as well as Henry V, Shakespeare in Love, Peter and the Starcatcher, and many more. This year he is directing Ragtime and The Comedy of Terrors*. Here’s what he recently had to say about his experience with “*Terrors.”

The Utah Shakespeare Festival: You are directing two shows this year at the Festival: Ragtime and The Comedy of Terrors. These are very different shows. How do you make the switch from Ragtime with its large cast, soaring music, and plethora of scenery and costumes to The Comedy of Terrors, with two actors and minimal scenery and costumes?

Brian Vaughn: The switch has been both welcoming and a touch jarring, to be honest. Ragtime has so many moving parts and is such an emotional ride. Our production has been occupying a huge portion of my brain for many, many months now, especially as we navigated COVID-19 protocols during the early days of rehearsal. That combined with the sheer complexity of getting a very large show up and running under a very tight timeline played havoc on my central nervous system. The Comedy of Terrors has been a complete 180. It’s been a joy to flex the comedy and farce muscles a bit and laugh frequently, while exploring a completely different theatrical form than Ragtime. In many ways it’s a great example of our repertory schedule here at the Festival—the opportunity to work on two completely different projects and relish specific aspects of each. They are both vastly different, and they both have tremendous value.

The Festival: That being said, what are some of the challenges of directing such a small show?

Vaughn: This show has its own unique challenges. Only two actors, playing multiple parts in a quick paced, rhythmic style, with dialects and multiple technical elements makes each performance of the play fresh and lively. The old adage that comedy is hard is true. It’s all about timing, precision of movement, clarity of the set up and punch line, and all while keeping it honest and effortless. Luckily these two actors (Michael Doherty and Alex Keiper) excel at it, and it makes my job so much easier.

The Festival: The Comedy of Terrors is a light-hearted, farcical play that is witty and fast-moving. How does this type of show fit into a schedule with Richard III, Ragtime, and other “meatier” plays?

Vaughn: The Comedy of Terrors references Shakespeare, mistaken identities, and an individual’s search for love while also seeking reconciliation and reunion. The broad, witty, comical element of this play helps celebrate the nuttiness of life and the joyous comedy we need as a relief alongside such heavy dramatic material. Sometimes it’s just nice to laugh. I don’t know about you, but I relish the opportunity to laugh these days.

The Festival: In your Director’s Notes for the play, you reference vaudeville, stand-up comedy, Laurel and Hardy, and Burns and Allen. Could you elaborate on these influences on the play?

Vaughn: The Comedy of Terrors has witty, rapid-fire banter, similar to the comic stylings of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Laurel and Hardy, as well as famous British comedy teams like Monty Python or Beyond the Fringe. It is filled with word play, tongue-in-cheek references, and broad satirical characters. In many ways it celebrates British pantomime or vaudeville, with a crazy plot, silly characters in silly circumstances, and semi-dangerous scenarios.

The Festival: How has it been working with the high-energy husband-and-wife team of actors, Michael Doherty and Alex Keiper?

Vaughn: Working with Alex and Michael has been a dream. They are both so incredibly gifted. They have a tremendous rapport together, and their work ethic is envious. Plus, they are just flat out funny. They’re always fine-tuning comic moments with grace and openness, and it’s a complete and utter joy to work with them. The play really hinges on two actors who are completely at ease with one another and who are quick on their feet and have agile brains. They are both so, so good. It’s been fabulous.

The Festival: As playgoers, what should we watch for in this production that may help us enjoy it more?

Vaughn: Just come and enjoy the silliness.

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