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Archive for September, 2007

Today’s title is brought to you by: It’s Fun to Say It. That’s the kind of dorky title one can only expect of a Shakespearean actor. We were having a conversation about which of our lines are most fun to say, and I think Evan pretty much trumped us all with “..but in gross brain little wots / What watch the King keeps to maintain the peace.” And that’s coming from someone who gets to say “No, thou proud dream / That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose” within the very same speech. That Shakespeare—holy wow, he’s good. The result of the conversation is that I’ve had the “little wots what watch” line stuck in my head like a song.

 Aaaand that’s the kind of dorky introductory paragraph one can only expect from a Shakespearean actor. Perhaps more specifically, one who calls themself a ‘Nerd’ within the title of their own blog.

Cullowhee, North Carolina, September 18:

The campus of West Carolina University was nestled in the middle of the mountains, which made for a beautiful and slightly nauseating drive, the former due to the plunging gullies spattered with light filtered through ivy-covered cathedrals of the trees, and the latter due to the hair-pin turns. The campus was also gorgeous, and I had fleeting visions of how lovely it would have been to walk to class every day against the backdrop of the mountains, until I remembered that my Role is Absurd City Girl, and all told, I’d really rather walk to class against the backdrop of A Thai Restaurant Somewhere in a Three-Mile Radius.

And as Absurd City Girl, I have to say that I found the university’s theatre almost as beautiful as the landscape. For those Boston folk who are kind enough to be reading this, the theatre reminded me a little of the Wimberley theatre in aesthetics, only about twice as big, and with better acoustics. The stage was large enough that we had three or four rows of audience members on either side, on fancy risers, and the dressing rooms were about the size of a few of our performance areas at other venues. Some very kind people also gave us technical help, which was perhaps necessary in such a state-of-the-art theatre. For it is frequently pointed out from one troupe member to another, on the occasion of someone breaking something, that THIS is why actors cannot have nice things. Or at least, we cannot.

The audience was equally large and enthusiastic, filling up all the seats on stage and the vast majority of the orchestra, which I estimate must have been at least 500-600 people. I felt a little overwhelmed by the numbers when they all immediately rose to their feet curtain call, and it hit us like a sudden and vast wave of the ocean. Our subsequent performances of Merchant have always gotten standing ovations, as well, and it doesn’t cease to amaze and delight me.  I thought the show was at least a little improved over the previous night (which wasn’t bad), with the possible exception of the heartbreakingly gorgeous “Fancy Bred” song composed by Chris Johnston, which I continue to heartbreakingly mangle to his unspoken but patient chagrin.

I had also attended the workshop that afternoon, so it was great fun to see a lot of those faces in the audience in the evening. I felt a little guilty that the same poor boy whom I had ‘rejected’ in the Actions Game portion of our workshop was also picked out by Ms. Ginna Hoben as one of the suitors (Faulconbridge, if I recall correctly), so I had to reject him twice. It was, however, a good and no doubt purposeful choice on Ginna’s part because he was wearing a bandana tied around his head, which gave me something to reference when I talk about his bonnet. Ginna is amazing for 8.7 billion different reasons, one of them being that she always seems to single out the one person in the audience with some kind of head accoutrement.

We stayed in a lovely guest house on campus; my own room was only amusing in so far as Johnston had selected it himself, and it was clearly the Pretty as a Princess Room of the house, with matching four-poster beds with rose coverlets. However, the guest house remains memorable chiefly because Evan and Ginna were given a room in which the two single beds were placed about six inches apart. I pointed out that it was like the bedroom of a mom and dad in a 1950s television show, with the upshot that the two decided to call themselves Mama Bear and Papa Bear. The most amusing part of the story, notwithstanding Ginna’s impression of herself sleeping stick-straight in fear of moving, is that Mama Bear accidentally locked Papa Bear out of the guest house whilst she was in the shower, and the rest of the Berenstein Eloquence Troupe was out on the habitual fool’s errand of trying to find somewhere that will serve both food and beverage after 11 o’clock at night.

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So the American Shakespeare Center On Tour’s Piercing Eloquence Troupe has set off into the world! Provided that, by ‘the world,’ one means ‘the mid-south eastern coast of the United States and also Ohio.’ It continues to amaze the majority of our troupe that we have not actually been on tour for most of our lives, but rather a week. This has lead to much discussion, culminating in Raffi sitting on the floor of Ginna’s hotel room crying, “The Road knows no time!” Though in fairness, I agree with him. Also, I too was sitting in the floor.

I’ll go over a few highlights of the venues we have visited thus far, and I think memory may prove a very able filter for weeding out the things that are less interesting. For even if I wrote with any kind of timeliness, who would want to read about how exactly I injured myself at each load-in, or what passes for a salad at the fast food chains that are our chief sources of sustenance? And if anyone would read it, I’m not thoroughly certain that it would be the best usage of their time—which is not to say I deem my blathering a worthy expenditure, even as it stands.

Veritas Vineyards, September 12:

We performed our 90-minute cut of Taming of the Shrew in a large ballroom-like space with our audience seated around dinner tables. I recognise the necessity and the merits of the 90-minute version, but it’s less fun for me, as the only scene that I am actually in from start to finish is also the only scene that is completely cut. Interestingly, in nineteenth-century productions of Shrew the Lucentio/Bianca subplot was often completely cut or severely trimmed down, so perhaps I’m only getting what comes to me, being, after all, from the nineteenth century. I do not, however, confuse our production with a nineteenth century production, chiefly because of my delightfully ridiculous blue and pink paisley dress. And turquoise high heels.

The kind Veritas folks fed us afterwards with some of the dinner set that had been set aside, and more than one of us made a comparison between our hungry selves and the players in the opening induction scene being invited to the buttery. I was thankful that we were not truly mirroring this scene in the play, in which case I, as the servant in that scene, would have had to play one of the servers who were kept afterwards to wait for us whilst we licked clean the pans. And as much as I love writing ‘-Soto’ and ‘-Keep an eye on the one in the red beret’ on a yellow notepad, eating crème brulee is far preferable.

Weyers Cave, Virginia, September 14:

We were fortunate enough to inaugurate a brand-new beautiful black box theatre (unintentional alliteration, I swear) with our full version of Taming of the Shrew. Though I know some people already have a different preference, it was my personal favourite time that we’ve done Shrew so far. We had a number of company friends in the audience, as we were not too far from Staunton, and everyone in the audience seemed to have a great time.

I think I particularly relished it because I was so thankful to have all of Bianca back again. I in my own weaknesses have struggled with developing a spiritual connection to a character who has been given a few more farcical moments than those I generally have played in the past; I tried harder than ever to connect with her spirit in this performance, and felt a noticeable breakthough, at least from within. Naturally, it still needs a lot of work, and it remains a task that I look forward to working on for a year. I am actually thankful for the difficulty I have had in finding this connection, because I have been shown the difference between having it and not having it, which has, I think, proved its importance and perhaps even the truth of its existence.

Also, when Lucentio and Hortensio were about to fight each other in the Latin and Music Lesson Scene, they pulled in opposite directions, causing Hortensio to fall down, which really upped the stakes of the whole scene. I can only say this now without guilt because Johnston was not actually hurt.

I believe this was also the birthplace of the Unofficial I Love Evan Hoffmann Club, the Official Club, I think, having been founded some years before by Evan’s fiancée. Evan told me a couple of days later that he received an email from a girl in the audience at this venue that read something like ‘You were funny. You’re cute. Do you have a girlfriend? PS. You reminded me of the turtle in Finding Nemo.’ I told him I was sure it would not be his last such email. Except for, perhaps, the bit about the turtle. O Fandom! The rest of us can only imagine what it must be like to have people whom you have not met request to friend you on myspace.

Lawrenceville, Virginia, September 15:

Another performance of Shrew, this time in a cavernous auditorium that was not particularly well-populated. When we started our pre-show music, there were only three people in the audience, a number significantly outweighed by the on-stage members of Fancy Bred (the name of our band, many thanks to the delightful & ready wit of Alisa Ledyard). More people eventually showed up, but no one was particularly eager to sit on the stools on stage until Chris and Chris and their purple pants had wheedled throughout much of the pre-show speech. What’s an American Shakespeare Center show without some kind of thrust staging, after all?

I clearly remember my relief when eight gentlemen who had been sitting in a different time zone in the back row loped up to the stage. This was very kind of them, as the width and low altitude of their pants attested that they were far cooler than any of us (except maybe Johnston), especially those amongst us who would describe ‘the width and low altitude of their pants.’ Bianca had fun flirting with them, and they flirted back. It was kind of awkward when we saw them at the pizza parlour after the show, and they were so obviously cool and we were so obviously nerds. Or at least, I was.

Due West, South Carolina, September 17:

We were actually housed in nearby Abbeville, South Carolina, which is my personal favourite of the places we’ve stayed so far. We stayed in the Merchant-appropriate ‘Belmont Inn,’ a gorgeous hotel that is a little over a hundred years old. The furniture in the rooms was all old-fashioned, and the front parlour and dining rooms appeared to have genuinely antique furniture. The best part was the veranda with potted palms and white wicker furniture, opening onto the town plaza. There are some pictures at the Belmont Inn website, if you are so inclined.

One of the rooms in the Belmont Inn is apparently haunted; Chris Johnston stayed in that room on tour last year, and said he felt like he was being watched while he was sleeping. Raffi and Paul were lodged in the haunted room this year, and had no similar experience, as far as I can tell. Perhaps the ghost only watches over someone if they don’t have a roommate.  Rejected haunted-room-related activities included making an entire short horror movie using Paul’s digital camera, and me coming into the room at 3 AM with white make-up and standing on a chair until Paul woke up.

We performed Merchant of Venice for the first time since the preview at the Blackfriars Playhouse, which had been two weeks prior. Aforesaid preview was also three weeks after we had done our second of two dress runs at the end of our Merchant rehearsal process. Ahhh, repertory! The day of the show, I remember saying to Ginna, “I am afraid of this show. ‘Nervous’ does not suffice. Afraid.” I also recall rejecting the nearby Mexican restaurant on the grounds that Mexican food, before a show of which I was afraid, did not sound advisable.

Those of you who know me well enough will know that I don’t usually get very nervous for shows.  But the time lapses between performances allow in all kinds of brain farts that are less likely to crop up if you’ve done a play within, say, the last three weeks. Usually, when one opens a play, one has done that very play the previous evening, and you can trust that you will probably remember very basic things, such as blocking. And lines.  Not only do I talk quite a bit in Merchant, but I am not aided by having four lines in the courtroom scene that begin “Therefore” and two that begin “Tarry,” and I also have to try to remember when it is “The court awards it and the law doth give it,” and when it is “The law allows it and the court awards it,” or when it is “He shall have nothing but the penalty” versus “He hath refused it in the open court” versus “Thou shalt have nothing but the forfeiture.” Lines are very rudimentary things to be concerned about, but the fact is, no matter how often I went over them, I muffed them up a bit in the preview and it terrified me because I’m so used to lines being as deep in my body as my own breath. I’m also struggling with balancing a number of more complicated things in this play, which did not lead to my general ease, and consequently did not lead me to have Mexican food.

However, the show itself went well enough, or at least better than the preview. It went well enough that we were all able to rejoin to the Belmont Inn’s bar afterwards, ostensibly to relax, but inevitably to talk about theatre.

If anyone has the attention span to have read thus far, I congratulate you; I am going to post this in the interest of putting something up, and also because it would be too LUDICROUSLY long for a single post, were I to bring it to the present date. I hope to catch up as soon as I can.

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Belated Expectations

I greatly wanted to write a post prior to the start of our tour, but our final week in Staunton was spent in hectic activity and unprecedented exhaustion. A calendar and my own post about the touring schedule reveal to me that we have now been on the road for about a week, which is utterly absurd, as it feels like we’ve been on the road for the entirety of my life, or at least a couple of months. Nevertheless, as the following will tell you, I often find expectation nearly as important as the event. And as The Event of touring will be continuing until March, and the full Expectation of it is now gone forever, I am going to write my first (but I somehow doubt it will be the last) Belated Post.

 Now entertain conjecture of a time when it was last week. This is fairly easy for me to do, as I wrote a few of my thoughts in my journal, so to acquaint you fully with the expectations I had on the eve of my departure, I’ll make a blog post out of a selection of that journal entry. Pray forgive its unbloginess and its ardour, which I am almost ashamed to put forth to the world; I fear that it might be dubbed pretentious if it were written with the intention of posting it. But these are just the personal ramblings between the hand and heart, which I now resort to for a belated post. On the other hand, I understand from friends of mine who are not disabled by being from the nineteenth century, that the object of these blog-devices are often to contain personal ramblings. So perhaps my first Belated Post is also my first True Post. Ponder that.

Some thoughts on the eve of departure

Touring: the broad highways seem to shed their skins upon the earth for us. O the things that I imagine—I wonder how like or unlike reality they will prove. The feeling of the car, the trees whipping the sun on until it becomes the coursing moon. The orange restaurants, the washed light of gas stations, the tumbling out of the car with loglike legs, the horizon, the horizon, the horizon.

What look will get into the eyes of my troupe members as they squint at the horizon, how will the rhythm of the green roadsides reflect inside that glance that can only be observide sideways? I have often thought that the squinting of the eyes or soul at the horizon is the most beautiful pose of the human, for its melancholy, for its contemplation of its own unreachable and infinite capacity. O God: what an adventure it seems, in a world that has been derobed of much of its adventure. Could it possibly prove to make the the self as seasick and as landstrong as I think? If so, o God, let me endeavour to deserve it.

 It seems important to contemplate what we imagine, compared to what we will discover, because it teaches us about the verity of our own imaginations.  And the human with its eyes on the horizon sees Adventure there. And sometimes—I know by experience—Adventure is crouching in that line. But does it spring out just once per life? Have I spent mine, and must go looking for adventure like some second soulhalf that never comes? Or is it in all things, is Adventure crouching in the grassblades like God, waiting for us to see it and to pluck it up? –Like God again; for  I reject the idea that either God or Adventure are solely dependent on one’s state of mind. I have known Adventure to rise up and I have known it to lay dormant, I have known it and not known it. Now I ride out with my lance of verse and my armour of the naked collarbone.

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This week’s title is brought to you by Mr. Raffi Barsoumian, whose charming habit of saying ‘What’s up, [inanimate object]?’ in way of observance has infused itself in my consciousness. Consequently, I go around saying things like, ‘What’s up, dirty dishes?,’ ‘What’s up, rain?,’ ‘What’s up, dental floss?’ and so on. And so in thinking of a way to introduce the American Shakespeare Center’s 2007/2008 Piercing Eloquence Touring Troupe, my first thought was, ‘What’s up, Piercing Eloquence?’

Both of these pictures are fairly small, but we resemble ourselves to a greater degree than we do in our program headshots. This is the official ‘Troupe Shot,’ and unofficially the ‘Ellen Sandwiched by Chrises with Stringed Instruments Shot.’

Back row (left-right): Daniel Kennedy, Scot Carson, Josh Carpenter, Alisa Ledyard
Middle row (left-right): Paul Reisman, Ginna Hoben, Evan Hoffmann
Front row (left-right): Raffi Barsoumian, Chris Johnston, Ellen Adair, Chris Seiler

For further introduction, I will run down the primary parts we all have in each play in the order we appear in this picture, rather than listing each part per person. Granted, I may have an unintentional bias towards listing ‘primary’ parts in scenes that I’m also in, especially in Henry, where a number of people are playing 17.9 parts.

Taming of the Shrew

Back row: Tranio, Gremio/Sly, Petruchio, Curtis/Pedant
Middle row: Grumio, Kate, Biondello/Induction Lord
Front row: Lucentio, Hortensio, Bianca, Baptista/Page

Merchant of Venice

Back row: Launcelot Gobbo/Tubal, Antonio, Bassanio, Jessica
Middle row: Lorenzo/Arragon, Nerissa, Gratiano
Front row: Solanio/Morocco, Salerio, Portia, Shylock

Henry V

Back row: Pistol, Exeter/Erpingham, Constable of France/Bates, Montjoy/Queen of France
Middle row: Nym/Gower, Hostess/Alice, Henry
Front row: Bardolph/Orleans/Williams, the Dauphin/Court, Boy/Kate, Fluellen/French King

 In slight recompense of both of these being so small, here is another picture, taken during our second week of rehearsal:

Standing (left-right): Josh Carpenter, Ginna Hoben, Evan Hoffmann, Raffi Barsoumian, Ellen Adair, Chris Seiler, Alisa Ledyard, Scot Carson
Kneeling: Paul Reisman, Chris Johnston, Daniel Kennedy, Aaron Hochhalter (our fantastic tour manager!)

So, pray you consider that you have been provided with the answer to the question, ‘Who are the people in the Piercing Eloquence tour?’ or alternately ‘What’s up, Piercing Eloquence?’

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Oh Boy!

Renaissance Boy: The above picture of the Boy was taken by Mr. Paul Reisman backstage during the Renaissance Run of Henry V.

This week, our serialised blog continues on the topic of rehearsal tools used by the ASC. In addition to paraphrasing, we’re also responsible for knowing all of our lines prior to the start of rehearsal. Naturally, this generally facilitates our ability to put up three Shakespeare plays in twelve weeks, but specifically it’s needed because we hit the ground running/are thrown into the deep end/are tossed into a vat of stock cliches with a Renaissance Run.

 The Renaissance Run is so-named because it’s based upon the conjectured process for putting up a play in Shakespeare’s own time.  I am not an absolute expert on this topic, so please blame me and not the ASC if I’ve pieced together any of these facts incorrectly. Because Elizabethan-Jacobean acting troupes would put on as many as 100 different plays in a year, working a new play into the repertoire was probably a speedy affair. Moreover, there were no directors, though I suppose it’s possible that the theatre’s owners or the playwright, if part of the company, may have been consulted to contribute their opinions. Of course, a playwright like Shakespeare is a director, even from the grave, because there is so much direction embedded in the text, both in terms of action (such as grabbing hold of someone, or kneeling) and in terms of emotional journey.

In our Renaissance Runs (shortened to ‘Ren Runs’ by that same human tendency to abbreviate common phrases that has brought Boston’s entire transporation system to be known by a single letter), the troupe stages the play in one and a half days of rehearsal without any kind of director.  Each rehearsal process begins with a full day of Ren Run Prep, and then in the afternoon of the second day we perform the play for the director, the company staff, and any other folk (such as the actors in the current Resident Troupe) who are kind enough to attend. Obviously, it’s important that we be off-book, so as to be able to do the entire play on the second day of rehearsal! Of course, if we do forget a line, we may ask for it by calling ‘prithee.’ But under the correction of bragging may it be spoken, I’m happy that I never needed to do that during a Ren Run!

My odds were improved by the fact that we didn’t actually have a Ren Run for Shrew, as we were joined a week late by the wonderful and talented Mr. Raffi Barsoumian, and we would have lacked a Lucentio without him. During the Ren Run of Merchant, we experienced a power outage just when Bassanio was about to go on the Casket Game-Show (‘You may pick this washer & dryer set, or the wife that’s behind door number three’), which was somewhat of an issue in our basement rehearsal hall. My immediate reaction as Portia was, I think, a sophisticated and Elizabethan ‘woo-hoo’ to find myself in the dark with Bassanio, quickly followed by general confusion. Somebody made a joke about ‘We do it with the lights off’ (see Universal Lighting), whilst some of our friends in the Resident Troupe urged us to go on, as it is, after all, very Shakespearean to ‘hear’ rather than ‘see’ a play. But when we recommenced by the light of a few people’s Shakespearean mobile phones the voice of our director called out ‘This isn’t doing me any good if I can’t see it!’ As the general consensus was that we would not be able to Continue Living in a state of Ren Run Interruptus, we moved everything up to the upper lobby, which had the advantage of windows, and some dim daylight. Personally, the sense of adversity overcome—that nor hail nor snow nor power outages could stop the Shakespeare–was especially satisfying.

Personally, I LOVE the experience of the Renaissance Run. It requires the actor to make a choice swiftly and decisively, and within this requirement I found absolute freedom.  It is thoroughly liberating to worry about nothing except for my personal connection to the text, and to know that my response to this spontaneously constructed world, whatever it may be, is correct by virtue of its honesty. The experience seems to me to be the quintessence of acting: I must listen sharply, and honestly, but I have no other responsibility. This is not to say that the benefit of a director is a hindrance, for the final shows are no doubt more excellent than our ramshackle telling of the story, but it brings to light the naked play, and the bare heart of our profession in it. I think perhaps I sometimes lose sight of this simplicity. And without doubt, the activity of preparing for and performing in Renaissance Runs is one of pure joy: it feels more like playing than anything I have done since I actually was a young child. It feels to me that giddy, that unfettered, that fresh.

The mixed blessing of starting a rehearsal process with a Ren Run is that it acquaints the actor intimately with their preferred interpretation of a text, the closest connection to a character. It has often proved a useful reference point, because ‘what I did in the Ren Run’ is easier to remember, when asked to summon it up, than ‘what I thought about this before we started rehearsal.’ But once the choices have been made, parting from them can be painful. We get to do everything absolutely the way we would like, down to costuming ourselves (see Boy, above), and I confess I’ve found myself missing things I got to do in the Ren Run. For a simple example, our fantastic director for Henry, Giles Block, told us in advance that we ought to learn all of the Choruses, because we’d all be doing them. We do all have a part in some Choruses, but I really miss the lines in  the 2nd and 3rd Chorus that I got to do in the Ren Run—not that they should be mine, nor that I begrudge them now to the talented actors who have them instead. I just learned what fun it was to speak those lines!

 Suffice it to say, I find the Ren Runs an experience of such unadulterated delight and absolute fun, that I would give my right hand/my firstborn child/my full store of stock cliches to be part, someday, of ASC’s Renaissance Season—where they put up full productions with a little more rehearsal time, but in just the same manner!

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