March 2nd, 2014
Behind the Scenes with the Pudding
by Emma R. Adler
By the time the first modern Broadway musical had its premiere in 1866, the Hasty Pudding Theatricals had already produced more than 20 shows. And the troop has not slowed down since. “Victorian Secrets,” the Pudding’s 166th production, is running at Farkas Hall through March 9. The Crimson sat down with composer Dylan MarcAurele ’16, writer Brian J. Mendel ’15, and actor Ethan D. Hardy ’14 to get an idea of what went into the making of the latest iteration of a time-honored spectacle.
The Harvard Crimson: What are your favorite memories from the rehearsal process or the show’s run?
Ethan Hardy: As a cast member, the 12 of us spend a tremendous amount of time together. It’s kind of ridiculous. We spend hundreds of hours total with each other. We do the show 38 times…and the weeks of [rehearsals] prior to that run 12 hours a day. There’s a lot of togetherness that develops over that.
Brian Mendel: There have been a lot of moments that have been very cool from a writer’s perspective…. When we saw the sketches for the set design…[was] when it all became real. And then the first read-through, and seeing everyone in their costumes for the first time…. It’s been really cool to have something come out of nothing and become this huge production with all of these very talented people.
THC: What is your favorite number in the show?
Dylan MarcAurele: “Bustin’ Out” gets the best reaction. It’s Ethan’s big gospel number, in which Sharon Secrets, the poor missionary girl, proclaims that she’s going to leave the church and sort of become a slut. In a punnier way.
THC: How do you deal with the heels?
EH: We get pretty good at them…. It’s all about just developing those leg muscles…. I can’t speak for [the whole] cast, but I’m actually quite fond of heels now. I think they’re pretty fun to wear, and I think it helps you get into character.
THC: What are the particular challenges of performing in a Hasty Pudding show?
EH: It’s definitely a throwback style. It’s very vaudevillian…. Our director, Tony Parise, who’s been working with us for 25 years or so, describes it as a combination of vaudeville and Shakespeare….It is a very performative, very physical style of acting…. We’re not doing method work here, where we’re sitting in a room looking into each other’s eyes…. It’s all about standing up straight and directing your focus to the characters that are speaking, and making sure you’re essentially being a puppet master to your costume, which is enormous and elaborate and heavy and cumbersome and beautiful…. It’s much more antique than a lot of theater that goes on at Harvard because it’s such a…show.
THC: What makes this year’s show unique?
EH: I think the production values this year are really superb. I think they’re basically on par with a lot of professional productions. Across the board: the set design, the scenery. The costumes are stellar and gorgeous. The use of the stage…it’s definitely been a step up this year. As a purely visual spectacle, it’s really very spectacular to see.
THC: How did you balance honoring the traditional style of the Hasty Pudding with incorporating your own style?
BM: Usually the people who write the show were involved with the company at some point…so we sort of had our own unique perspective on what to put into the show. I feel like we haven’t had as many puns this year.
DM: For me it’s been a learning process, learning to write in the style of the Pudding. But…it’s hard to articulate why it’s different.
EH: I think part of the fun in creating it is in seeing how you would interpret these traditions…. There are so many people involved too, and we do work with professionals. There’s so many hands going in, and voices…. It ends up being a sort of baby reared by a village.
THC: How did you come up with idea for the script?
BM: You think of a setting first, [and] we settled on Victorian England. We had this running joke that in past Pudding shows there’s one character who’s a prostitute or something of that ilk, and they always come to the front of the stage and say their joke about their craft and then walk back to the back of the stage, and we thought, what if we had twelve characters like that, and we set it in a brothel, and called it “O Brothel, Where Art Thou,” and that’s one of titles of the songs…. From there we just thought, in Victorian England who would be there?…. I don’t know how we came up with the plot…but the idea of these weird characters sort of led [to it]. Like we [thought of] a professor [named] Hannibal Lecture and we thought we should probably have someone get murdered.
THC: What is your favorite moment for your character?
EH: I play Sharon Secrets, who is a missionary who returns to England to find her brother so that she can claim her half of the inheritance because she’s decided to leave the church in pursuit of, romance, we’ll say. I’ve had an absolute blast playing her. My favorite moments in general with her are interacting with my brother in the show, who’s named Baron Wasteland. Obviously in our family, the family line is made by the rhyming first name and not the same last name. It’s a lot of fun simulating this brother-sister conflict.
DM: They get really close together and just breathe on each other
EH: There are so many intangible things that I end up loving in the show. It’s a cast of 12, and it’s a pretty ensemble cast. We don’t have a chorus, so everyone is a main character, and there’s little things that everyone does that I think are so funny. And when we’re all on stage together, it’s amazing that we can keep it together, and sometimes we can’t because someone will say a line differently or look at someone a different way…. There’s nothing I don’t like.
THC: Describe the show in one word.
EH: Zany, but with like three zees…wherever you want to put the zees.
DM: Sexy. With a zee, also. It’ll have some sizzle.