Conflicted in Comedy

Sandy Rustin’s sexy comedy The Cottage opens on Sylvia Van Kipness (played by Hanley Smith) basking in the glow of her annual rendezvous with her lover, Beau (played by Greg Balla). Described as “perhaps the best looking man in Britain,” Beau is a dashing, debonair lawyer who has his fair share of secrets – until they all unravel in front of him and everyone close to him.

Greg Balla is tasked with conveying Beau’s conflicting feelings – at times, Beau comes alive with passion, but also must maintain a sense of decorum. We sat down with Greg to talk about how he and Beau are similar, the challenges The Cottage presents him as an actor, and his pre-performance rituals.

The Cottage has been held over by popular demand and is now playing in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through August 24. For tickets and more information, click here.

In The Cottage, you play Beau. How would you describe Beau, and what do you two have in common?

Beau has a unique outlook on marriage and fidelity which, by today’s standards, some may consider to be – shall we say – a tad chauvinistic. He suffers from a lack of certainty in love and commitment, because he feels that his privilege presents him with too many options. This is a very 21st century phenomenon that some – especially younger – audiences may relate to. However, he is also a man who strives to maintain order, manners, and control amidst chaos. In this regard, he and I are very similar. I have been having a lot of fun finding that balance between chaos and control.

What are some of the highlights of your career, and how have they prepared you for this role?

I spent six years touring the country as a Blue Man in the popular show, Blue Man Group. The show is very physical and the Blue Men do not speak, so I had to quickly learn how to efficiently tell a story using physical language alone.

The Cottage is also a physical comedy, and although we do have words to say, much of our story is told through very precise physical language that demands exquisite timing. In addition, the ability to sense and react to an audience’s energy from night to night is a skill that I learned as a Blue Man, which is now coming in handy for The Cottage!

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Greg Balla in The Cottage. Photo by Matthew Holler.

What all goes into perfecting the physical comedy and careful timing featured in The Cottage?

They say that Drama is an art and Comedy is a science. Working out the timing and subtle physical shifts in each moment affects how a joke lands, so we spent lots of time in rehearsal tinkering until we found the movement or gesture that is “just right.”

For example, is it funnier if I hold the cigarette like this, or like this? Should I pause here, or here? This process was lots of fun, but also very mechanical and precise. It requires flawless technical execution, finely tuned listening, and great flexibility.

The Cottage is written in a very specific style. How does this affect your acting approach or performance style? 

The characters in The Cottage all experience, at one point or another, a conflict between what they are feeling on the inside and what they are expressing externally. They are constantly “keeping the lid on it.”

Throughout the play, Beau is roiling with passions and feelings on the inside, but on the exterior, he consistently attempts to maintain a calm, poised demeanor, even in the most absurd situations. Finding the moments where his calm facade is shattered and his “lid comes off” has been a very fun process of discovery.

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Greg Balla in The Cottage. Photo by Matthew Holler.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you do before every performance?

The rest of the cast and I play Frisbee. The show is an ensemble piece, so the act of playing catch helps us to connect with each other and become present in our bodies. Then, when on stage, we ditch the literal Frisbee and “toss” the language back and forth.

What is something that FST audiences would be surprised to know about you?

I am an excellent cook, an avid gardener, and a bicycle enthusiast.

I’ve climbed Mount Vesuvius 3 times.

I also love for locals to show me their favorite spots!

The Cottage has been held over by popular demand and is now playing in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through August 24. For tickets and more information, click here.