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SLAPHAPPY: A COVID-ERA COMMEDIA to be Presented by Villanova Theatre

This zany, gleeful, effervescent project marks the final presentation in Villanova Theatre’s virtual 2020-2021 season.

SLAPHAPPY: A COVID-ERA COMMEDIA to be Presented by Villanova Theatre

Villanova Theatre will present Slaphappy: A Covid-Era Commedia, a joyfully devised, "mockumentary"-style film conceived and directed by Theatre Department Chairperson Dr. Valerie Joyce and streaming May 20-30 at Tickets are free with a suggested donation of $10. This zany, gleeful, effervescent project marks the final presentation in Villanova Theatre's virtual 2020-2021 season.

Imagine a universe where cutthroat collegiate teams vie for glory in the high-stakes world of...commedia dell'arte??? Outsized characters, physical shtick, running gags, improvisation and - perfect for the Covid Era - MASKS! Inspired by cult film favorites Pitch Perfect and Waiting for Guffman, this ensemble-devised comic romp aims to deliver giddy delight in an age of anxiety. Simply put, Slaphappy is "stupid in all the best ways."

First developed in Italy in the 16th century, commedia dell'arte is an improvised style of theatre that features stock characters, intricate masks and lots of physical comedy. Its proliferation through touring ensembles fueled European theatre for centuries, and one of its key props helped name the genre "slapstick comedy." Since this production represented most students' first time working within this unique style, several professionals served as commedia coaches to teach the character types, movements and lazzi (comic scenarios) the actors would improvise throughout the process.

John V. Bellomo, an associate professor at West Chester University, served as Slaphappy's main commedia consultant and was instrumental in teaching actors commedia basics over Zoom. Villanova Theatre's Associate Artistic Director Chelsea Phillips and Andrew Blasenak of Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School served as in-person movement coaches, helping to further develop the physical comedy through slapstick drills and "lazzi-offs."

Despite its Renaissance pedigree, Slaphappy owes a debt of inspiration to the 2012 film comedy Pitch Perfect, which follows obsessively competitive collegiate a cappella groups in their quest for vocal supremacy. The Villanova Theatre mockumentary brings this cutthroat attitude to the (entirely fictional) world of intercollegiate competitive commedia dell'arte, using reality TV-style confessional interviews to delve into the minds and hearts of the various troupe members.

Dr. Valerie Joyce, who both conceived and directed Slaphappy, said, "Our theatre students and faculty navigated extraordinary stressors and challenges this year as we strove to continue offering meaningful performance opportunities during a global pandemic. Although the end product of our shared labors will be viewed on screens instead of on stage, students were hungry for an in-person production experience, and desperately in need of one rooted firmly in joy and laughter. These were the primary goals of this project."

The heightened reality of the piece called forth elaborate and fanciful contributions by the design team. Set designer Colin McIlvaine created impressive scenic elements in not one but two theaters within the new John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts, using periaktoi - rotating three-sided columns used widely in Renaissance theatre production - to generate multiple settings in short order. Resident costume designer Janus Stefanowicz's costumes are as outrageous as they are impressive, running the gambit from 16th century period dresses to bright circus attire to elaborate, sequined drag outfits complete with custom masks.

Villanova assistant professor and award-winning filmmaker Hezekiah L. Lewis III joined Villanova Theatre once again, having served as Director of Photography/Editor for Bakkhai Variations at the start of this unprecedented season. His work included filming intimate confessionals, improvisatory rehearsals and highly choreographed performances in the Courtyard and Topper Theatres, as well as an epic nighttime "lazzi-off" on top of the Mullen Center's parking garage. Resident Lighting Designer Jerold R. Forsyth likewise brought his decades of experience to lighting a number of nontraditional settings, while Sound Designer John Stovicek has carefully curated a playfully quirky, pop-inspired soundscape.

The creative team will reconvene for Speaker's Night on Thursday, May 20th at 8:30pm via Zoom Webinar. Director Valerie Joyce, Director of Photography/Editor Hezekiah L. Lewis III, Commedia Consultant John V. Bellomo, Villanova Theatre Associate Artistic Director Chelsea Phillips, and Dramaturg Kirsten Sughrue will discuss how this glee-filled film came together.

Villanova Theatre is located on the Villanova University campus in the John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts (at Lancaster & Ithan Aves.). Registration is required with a suggested donation of $10 at Registrants will receive a link to a password-protected website where the video will be published after its release date and for the duration of its run.

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