An Interview with Antipholus of Ephesus from Miami University Theatre's The Comedy of Errors

Jack Troiano from The Comedy of Errors

Jack Troiano plays Antipholus of Ephesus in MUT's The Comedy of Errors.

“We’re pioneers into this new world of online theatre”

An interview with Jack Troiano, one of the leads in Miami University's Department of Theatre's online production of The Comedy of Errors by Megan Hayes.

When in-person classes were cancelled because of coronavirus, the theatre department’s spring production of The Comedy of Errors was cancelled as well. With students sent to their homes across the country, director Gion DeFrancesco faced a unique question- How to make a play happen online? Students had already been cast in roles, production work had already begun, so he reached out to the cast and crew and asked them to help him stage The Comedy of Errors over video conferencing. The cast responded enthusiastically, and so online rehearsals began, culminating in a final recording of the play performed over video chat to be viewed online. I FaceTimed with Jack Troiano, who plays Antipholus of Ephesus, to ask him about his experience with the show.

How did you feel when you heard classes were moving online for the rest of the semester, considering how that would affect Comedy of Errors?

Sad, but not discouraged. I knew we’d find a way to figure it out. I believe restriction breeds creativity. I wasn’t discouraged, but I couldn’t help lamenting the loss of a stage play at first. But I’m proud of the product, even if it’s not the traditional theatre work we’re used to.

How did you feel when you heard the production was going to be done online?

Excited, of course, but the realist in me was a bit skeptical. I think that skepticism has influenced my performance, however. I don’t want my performance to be limited to an online performance. I don’t want this show to be good for a virtual play, I want it to be good regardless of the medium. I think that skepticism was a good check on my performance, and on the show as a whole, because we all share that same skepticism and desire to make it good beyond the “limitations” of the medium.

What are the logistics of doing Comedy of Errors online?

This production is not a staged reading, the actors aren’t speaking their lines out to the audience as if they were speaking to their scene partners. This is a play, through the medium of video conferencing. When I was rehearsing a scene with Kevin (Dromio of Ephesus), I would look off stage left, and he would look off stage right, so in the final cut it looks like we’re looking at each other. Like the Brady Bunch. It was tricky for me to perform seated, but the challenge bred creativity. I had to solve problems I’ve never solved before. We had to figure out how to do fight choreography over video conferencing. How do you do that without moving? How can we use only our upper bodies to tell a story? These questions were part of the rehearsal process as we navigated these uncharted waters together as a cast. It developed a sense of comradery as well. We’re pioneers into this new world of online theatre, and we grew very close as an ensemble as a result.

What has your approach been to the show and to your character now that it’s online?

I didn’t want to minimize my performance. When you think about Shakespeare, you think of spectacle heavy, slapstick performances, and I didn’t wanna lose that just because we were leaving the stage. You owe the medium you’re performing in justice. There’s a duty I feel I have through this medium to respect it, honor that it’s different from a normal Shakespearian show, but still keep the heart of the performance and my character honest and theatrical despite the fact that it’s over Zoom.

How do you think the show has differed because it’s online?

The biggest change was that we had to let go of our preconceived notions of what we wanted this show to be, and let it be what the show was in the given circumstances- honestly, truthfully, and holistically. For the cast and crew, we had to be truthful with ourselves as to what realistic expectations for this production could be. I’m so proud of our performance, even if it’s not what I was expecting to put on my resume. The biggest difference was that we were faced with the reality of how to make a theatrical and fun Shakespearian show, considering that goal seems to disagree with the medium of a visual recording. We had to find what this show means right now to this medium and this method of storytelling, without the theatrical expectations you’d normally have. It takes a different kind of rehearsal, but I’m proud of what we’ve created and that’s thanks to the resiliency of the cast and crew.

What does this show mean in the medium of visual recording?

This show right now means an escape. This show is not just a show you see so you can forget about the real world, though that is a part of it- it’s good to laugh right now. But at the end of the day, this show is about family. And a lot of us are reconnecting with the importance of family right now. It’s unavoidable to come to terms with our relationships with our families at this moment. And that's what this show is about, through all the slapstick, there’s catharsis of family and reunion. Comedy of Errors is more than just a funny show you can laugh at, it’s about family, something we need in this time. It’s important to recognize that even when circumstances aren’t perfect, you can still make good art, and you can still tell good stories. At the end of the day, that’s the job of theatre artists, and the job of this show.

How do you feel the pandemic has affected you personally in your artistic capacity?

Assurance that this is what I should be doing. It’s hard to be motivated these days, even though I’m passionate about everything I’m doing. It’s hard to stay on top of everything I need to do, except for this show. The pandemic has simplified things for me in this way, not that I’m diminishing the terrible tragedies of this pandemic, but it has been an opportunity, and I feel an obligation to myself, to see what really matters to me. And that’s acting and my family. It’s been nice to have this show to have an artistic outlet and explore the world through the eyes of a different human being, and there’s not much more you could ask for as an actor. This show has been a lot of work. It’s draining and frustrating, all the things a normal show is. But just like every other show it’s been truthful and honest and rewarding and demonstrated that acting is something that I can count on in my life.

What has this online rehearsal process been like?

6-9 p.m. each weeknight. It’s tricky compared to a normal rehearsal because when you’re called for three hours, you’re still interacting with the show and in the space. There have had to be sacrifices in regards to my school work and family time, but it’s worth it. It takes hard work to create an online show. But it was a small price to pay for the experience to continue acting, and an insignificant inconvenience compared to the sacrifices of the rest of the world in this pandemic.

Watch online episodes weekly on Fridays at 8 p.m. through July 10 on the College of Creative Arts youtube channel.