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Archive for November, 2007

Blacksburg, Virginia, November 14:

We performed another Taming of the Shrew at the Lyric Theatre, a venue that both shows movies and hosts musical and theatrical acts, such as ourselves. Consequently, the marquee read ‘INTO THE WILD’ and below it, ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW;’ it was delightful to feel that the two art forms were living side by side, peaceably, and in brotherly love, without theatre getting uppity about the magic of community created by shared space, or film getting uppity about the fact that it makes a bajillion dollars whilst theatre is required, in 99% of cases, to hold out a hat just to survive. Also, it made us feel, if even falsely, famous.

Other movie theatre attributes of the Lyric included the vending of popcorn, thus making everything smell tantalisingly of butter-flavoured heart attack. Evan obtained a bag of popcorn in the lobby before he came in as the Lord in the Induction, and was chomping on it with such gaiety, that the normally urbane Lord was strongly reminiscent of a six-year-old. Ha HA! Let’s see Vince Vaughn, or maybe that gigantic bear, jump out of the movie and eat your own popcorn, film suckers! Ahem. Brotherly love. I forgot.

I did not take any popcorn, because it seemed improper for Bianca to eat popcorn. But I cannot wait until we do Henry V in the Blackfriars. The Boy is going to solicit candy from audience members like it’s his job.

The other telling movie-theatre feature was the fact that the backstage was clearly designed for people who are flat. The actual backstage was a hallway wide enough for about two people to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, or one person, if that person is wearing a turquoise petticoat of such volume that it almost stands out perpendicularly from said person’s waist. (You have three guesses as to who this theoretical person is; the first two do not count. A considerable hint if not definite answer can be found in the troupe picture taken in Canton. Process of elimination may work for you, if naught else.)

We set up the pipe-and-drape system along the back wall, which created an auxiliary backstage. This system worked quite well until the final scene, when Alisa, Ginna, and I go backstage because Bianca has decided it’s time for the men to drink port and smoke cigars and ostensibly talk about politics but probably talk about women (which they clearly do; they even bet on them). Normally, the three of us stay right behind the entrance; I get lazy because it’s such an effort to walk in those high heels. But today, I needed to go the bathroom, and Alisa needed to do some costume thing in the backstage area, and all three of us walked, like lemmings, into the backstage hallway.

The door connecting the backstage hallway to the pipe-and-drape entrances had been propped open for the entire performance with one of our signature black boxes, but all boxes are called to the stage in the final scene, so the door was shut. As it is the property of doors to close, it did not alarm us, nor did alarm us when we went through and the door closed behind us. It chiefly became a problem when Ginna realised that the door to the stage had not only closed, but LOCKED. The three of us then shared a moment in which the palpitations of our hearts meant that everything in the world seemed to travel in slow-motion. We were unable to get back on stage at arguably the worst possible time in the show: the action, after all, is focused on the re-entrance of Kate at Petruchio’s bidding, and if Kate does not enter, we have a slightly different story on our hands.

Of course, we realised within a couple of seconds that the situation was not quite that dire; Ginna went around to a side-entrance that opened into the auditorium in front of the first row and right next to the stairs to the stage, and Alisa and I started rapping on the locked door quietly enough that it would not be audible to the audience, but hopefully noticeable to Evan, who, as Biondello, comes to fetch us. It was not audible to Evan, because the first we heard from him was a panicked “WHERE’S GINNA?” as he tore open the locked door to see Alisa and I with our knuckles still poised upon the air at the very instant that Ginna was entering into the audience.

The experience backstage was certainly a comical one, if for different reasons than the experience onstage. Apparently, Chris/Baptista said, “By my holidam, here comes Katherina!” looking expectantly at the upstage-left entrance through which Kate usually appears. Chris/Hortensio, who is seated facing the entrance through which Kate ACTUALLY appeared, saw her and apparently signalled to the rest of the company that Katherina was, in fact, offstage-right, and everyone slowly turned to see her in a thoroughly new location.

Ginna, in re-telling the story, said that she tried very hard to clomp her gigantic boots as she entered, in the hopes of being audible. Though her plan did not work, everyone adjusted fairly well, without the need of explanatory interjections such as, “Why, daughter Katherine! How come you ‘round that entrance of the house?” Improvising is not easy in Shakespeare, especially not in verse.

N.B. This is sometimes a good thing, as I notoriously add text in order to justify mistakes, like in the famous matinee of A Doll’s House in which the Christmas tree caught on the doorframe within five seconds of the play starting, and I laughed, “Dear me! It looks as if I’ve picked a Christmas tree too large for my house!” and then, thirty seconds later, the unwieldy Christmas tree smashed the water glasses on the side table, and I called after the disappearing form of the maid, “Get a broom and dust pan, would you, Helene? I’d hate to think of the children stepping on the broken glass.” These were merely two of five such episodes during the course of the performance.

I am a mild-mannered actor, to all appearances, working on my blog much in the way that Clark Kent and Peter Parker work for their respective newspapers, but all the while harbouring the alter ego of the RUTHLESS IMPROVISER! Granted, the Ruthless Improviser really only comes out when there has been some kind of disaster on-stage which the R.I. (Ruthless Improviser, not Rhode Island) deems it necessary to smooth over. This is the bat-signal to which she responds, not to the ‘make the audience laugh some more’ bat-signal. She realises she has mixed her superhero metaphors, and thus departs.

NUMBER OF ALTER EGO PERSONAE ELLEN HAS ON THIS BLOG: 4 (5 if you count Morning Lamb)
NUMBER OF POINTLESS DIGRESSIONS: Countless

However, the mild-mannered actor in whom the qualities of the R.I. lie obscured, singled out a nice boy sitting on the stage right to flirt with during the “special…face” line in the Kate/Bianca Bound scene. As Jim originally suggested I pick out someone from the center audience, which I have faithfully done in every single show, this created a slight departure from blocking, which I discussed with Ginna beforehand.

The reason I thought it might be a worthwhile departure was because said gentleman and I had a slight discourse during the pre-show, unhampered by the fact that I am singing most of the time. I knew he must be kind because he complimented me on my singing, and, as my singing is really nothing special, one would have to be a generous human being to find merit in it. I complimented him on his shoes, not simply because I wished to be generous in return, but because they were really great Chuck Taylors. He elaborated that he had specialised Hokie-coloured ones, and I was confused for a minute, as I am not a student at Virginia Tech, and had been in the town for about five hours.

But when the moment in the Kate/Bianca scene came, let me say: BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE. Or at the very least, BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE AS BIANCA. This kind boy not only waved back, but leaned forward in his seat, placing his chin in his hand, and nodding eagerly. He may even have been batting his eyelashes. The audience cracked up, because they could not only see my flirtation, but they could also see the person for whom it was intended and his subsequent response. On the whole, I thought it was one of my best shows; I remember having a lot of fun with Raffi and Chris in the Latin/Music Lesson Scene.

We were staying in a beautiful hotel, a welcome anodyne from our previous two experiences; it was comparably beautiful to the Hyatt in Sterling, VA, only without the confusion with the staff, both of which are still tied for second in my mind after the Belmont Inn. As Aaron and I were discussing the Touring Heaven that is a microwave, a refrigerator, and a gigantic flat-screen TV, I wondered aloud, “Why is it that we only stay in the really nice hotels for one day?” “Because if we were here for more than one day, we’d be staying somewhere else,” Aaron replied. Ah, the wisdom of Master Hochhalter. Young Nerd has much to learn.

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I know this is sort of becoming a Birthweek rather than Birthday, but perhaps this attenuation is an advantage of being continually belated, and I thank the belated wishes of many dear friends for the contributions towards making this a week-long event. I was originally (in 1920) born on Thanksgiving, and consequently it is fitting that my birthday lingers, like leftover turkey. And there is nothing wrong with a week-long birthday, so long as you were not actually born over the course of a week, which would be awful if not medically impossible. However, I was from my mother’s womb untimely ripp’d, so perhaps it was a birthweek thankfully cut short.

 For any of you who were extrapolating from the title that I might have already figured out how to use the digital camera given to me by my mama, you are optimistically mistaken. Instead, they are pictures of the wee birthday party I had, and they are all thanks to the spectacular Ginna, who is really, quite honestly, one of the best people on the planet.

The wonders of perspective

Pictured (l-r): Myself, Ms. Elisabeth Rodgers, Ms. Susan Heyward

Perspective renders me a dwarf in this picture, and I am also aberrant for not wearing glasses. We all look equally delighted, however! I am wearing that red shirt purposefully so that it would not matter if I got spaghetti sauce stains on it. For this reason, the spaghetti sauce did not make a break for the border of the pan.

 Let this picture also show that the kitchen in Bev House 605 was once clean.

Present modelling Part IPresent modelling Part II

Pictured (l-r): Me, Knob Creek Bourbon (thanks to Mr. Dan Kennedy), The Princess Bride (thanks to Mr. Evan Hoffmann), Me again

It is obvious from these pictures that I am all set to endorse products should any company want to seek a spokesperson to appeal to that mass of rabid consumers, the Shakespeare Nerds. The people at Knob Creek will probably not be calling me any time soon, because I look terrifying. I am also modelling the Most Beautiful Scarf I Have Ever Seen, made by the lovely Alex.

The grand hallway

Pictured (l-r): Me, Bike [Josh’s?]

I am pictured here admiring the Happy Birthday streamers Ginna put up in the front hallway. That bike is not another birthday present, though my one hand does appear to be endorsing it. I think it is Josh’s bike.

For interested historians, the hallway pictured above is the the first place I ever witnessed random all-terrain wrestling. Historians may be more interested to note that I did not see it until this point in my life, as it’s apparently prevalent.

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We interrupt our irregularly-scheduled program to bring you something less topically relevant and less tardy than the average post. Not that this is saying much.

 And let the record show that I am belated in wishing my own birthday to myself, for any of you whom I have wished something belatedly, or for any of you who are cranky about the untimeliness of this blog. I was born belated, a fact Alisa and Chris skillfully picked up in purchasing me a special ‘Year of Birth’ birthday card for the year I was born, 1920. Apparently it was the oldest card available; Alisa wrote, inside, “If I could have gotten a card for people born in the 1820s I would have purchased that one instead.” But I understand that the market for an 1820 Year of Birth card would be small. I might even be its sole target audience, though I don’t want to be conceited in believing myself unique.

N.B. Thanks to Alisa’s card, I am now supplied with the following information of goings-on in the year 1920, my adoptive year of birth. I supply you with my version of the highlights here:

– Census data reveals that, for the first time, over half of America’s population lives in urban areas. (Absurd City Girl wins!)

– Under the 18th Amendment, prohibition of the sale of alchohol begins in January. (They had no way to deal with the Econo-Lodge.)

– The Boston Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for the unprecedented sum of $100,000 cash and a $385,000 loan. (One good thing to be said about my actual birth-year is that I saw the end of the Curse of the Bambino, not the beginning.)

– The U.S. Post Office rules that children may not be sent by parcel post.

My most heartfelt thanks to all of you in different regions of the country who sent me well-wishes for my birthday; as I spent my actual day-of-birth (November 25) on a train from Philadelphia to Staunton and launched right into rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, your little messages made the day for me!

 I also had a wee party on Monday night, with great food and three-pronged dessert: a gorgeous banana bread cake made by Dan, and rice krispie treats and a pumpkin pie from Ginna, because these last two are my favourite desserts. Some of my dear friends went to the extravagance of getting me presents, which was too kind! Evan gave me a movie-and-book set of The Princess Bride (he is on a continuing quest to culturally educate me; oddly enough, The Princess Bride was the first movie I remember seeing in theatres), Alex made me the Most Beautiful Scarf I Have Ever Seen, Dan gave me a lovely bottle of bourbon of a type we sampled on the road, Susan gave me a delicious bottle of Apple Cider Brandy, and Ginna gave me a little sheep and the Sweetest, Softest Lounge Socks On Earth. The two of us saw them together at Bath & Body Works in Watertown, New York, and noted the wee sheep; I noted it because I have always rather liked sheep, and Ginna noted it because she has said that I am like a little lamb early in the morning: fuzzy, and sort of slow. I concur with this assessment, as I am unequivocally stupid in the morning, a little wary, and really only mobile if you herd me into position.

My grandmother also sent me a wonderful compendium of Shakespearean quotations, for use in every daily situation, because, lord knows, I don’t spout enough Shakespeare quotes in daily life. My favourite ever, though, came from Chris Brophy, whilst we were rehearsing The Scottish Play; pointing across the room at a cast member who was eating nuts on a break, he cried, ‘Yon Cashew has a lean and hungry look!’ I laughed for about 287 days, or at least five minutes. We may file this joke under, ‘How to Make a Shakespeare Nerd Laugh.’

 And my mama, who is the best mama in the world, got me a digital camera, so I may eventually be able to put my own pictures on here, if I ever figure out how to use it. That portentous if I write here with the same skepticism with which I originally began this blog. She also got me a Papelbon t-shirt, red as the Sox, with the big Cinco Ocho on the back! Who could ask for anything more? Really! I am blest.

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Danville, Virginia, November 13:

Our lodging in Danville was called the Stratford Inn, which certainly sounds like a topically appropriate location for a travelling Shakespeare troupe. But when we arrived, the only thing that struck me as truly appropriate was its emblem of a red rose, naturally Lancastrian to my Shakespearean mind. Otherwise, it did not rank highly in cleanliness; the leaf-clogged fountains in the motel courtyard had a certain element of faded grandeur that would have been reminiscent of Tennessee Williams if it had been more grand, or if it were currently more faded, and not just dirty. Also, there was wallpaper on the back of the bathroom door which always made me feel as though the door was going to seal up and leave me trapped in a dubiously-cleaned bathroom for all eternity, until future archaeologists find my skeleton, and assume that we worshipped gods in the shape of toilets and I was either some kind of sacrifice, or that toilets were our finest possessions and we could not pass into the afterlife without one. Either way, it bodes well for Scot’s Halloween costume.

Ironically, the bedspreads in our room were William Morris-esque, and by far the most beautiful bedspreads I’d yet seen on tour. Why is it that so many hotels’ bedspreads are stuck, stylistically, in the ‘random swashes of colour’ design of the early 90s? Furthermore, the Stratford Inn had posters of Audubon prints, also a stylistic advantage over many nicer hotels. The best room art was in West Hartford (they had Van Gogh posters!) and that was the place where someone, ostensibly the hotel manger, called up Alisa and Chris’s room during Alisaween and said “If you guys don’t shut up, I’m going to kill you!” I shared these contemplations of hotel room aesthetics with Evan, my roommate at the time, and he did not seem as troubled by the problems as I did.

The above paragraph was written to refute anyone who chuckles at me incredulously when I say that I really don’t have a life.

We performed Taming of the Shrew for a truly wonderful audience. Whilst not feisty, per se, in accordance with the F.P.C. unit of measurement, they were engaged and appreciative: I would classify them more as chucklers than as whoopers. There was some discussion before the show that, as part of the stagehands’ strike, we would be perfectly willing to do the show, but would refuse to load in or set up for it. However, the conversation concluded with the fact that we were glad that the American Shakespeare Center on Tour remains untouched by any such considerations, because there is nothing else in the wide world that I would rather do than be in a Shakespeare play, and I hazard a guess that most of my troupe members (if not all) feel the same.

It was an excellent show, in part because of the wonderful audience and in part because we were all happy to be doing the show again, after a wee break. Chris Johnston, in particular, had a great show, and was trying out some new things as Hortensio. But I am able to attest to the general excellence of the show because there was a video monitor in the dressing rooms, so I skittled down to watch the scenes that I had time to catch. The television rendered people’s faces into little white blobs, but I rather knew what everyone in the play looked like and thus was able to fill it in with that powerful tool, the imagination. Ginna said that it reminded her of watching the videos of your high school play at the cast party. Though I granted that the quality of the footage was about the same, there were a few things that were different: none of us were eating pizza, for example, or randomly hooking up, and the general talent level on screen was considerably greater. Indeed, watching the play in which I was currently performing on a TV was an oddly distancing experience, but the main thought I had was, ‘Wow, these people are really good.’

Apparently, however, there was at least one example of the vagaries of irregular repertory: during the wedding scene, Scot was stuck on stage for a moment, when the appropriate people did not make their entrance, and had to shout at the curtain, “Hark! I hear the minstrels play!” This is amusing because literally half of the entire troupe (Evan, both Chrises, Josh, Ginna, Paul, and myself) is waiting behind the curtain to make the entrance, and yet we were late. This story is thanks to Mr. Evan Hoffmann himself; because, as a matter of fact, I didn’t even know that we were late. I simply wait for Evan and Chris Johnston to sing the wedding music, which functions as my cue for an entrance, and I imagine that a few other people have begun doing the same thing. I know it really shouldn’t be funny, but it is. The fact that we were only late by a couple of seconds may allow all of us to laugh at this in times to come, and not just me.

MISSED ENTRANCE CUE: Not funny
MISSED ENTRANCE CUE BY HALF-A-DOZEN PEOPLE: Funny
MISSED ENTRANCE CUE BY HALF-A-DOZEN PEOPLE IF YOU ARE ON STAGE: Not funny

Despite the largely positive experiences on stage and in the auditorium, there were a few detractions in the backstage area:
1. Alisa almost died from flames shooting out of a bare light bulb filament when she turned on the make-up mirror in the dressing room. I did not witness the event, but I was the only one in the next room when it happened, and when I came running in response to Alisa’s yelp, I smelled the burnedy fumes with my own two nostrils. Alisa does not have a good track record so far with flaming things, and I can only think that some fire-demon is jealous of her wit, all-around-awesomeness, and the way she pretends to go down stairs behind the discovery space as the Pedant.
2.  In order to cross around from backstage to the back of the auditorium, one had to go down four flights of stairs, through a basketball court, and back up four flights of stairs, which, in my three-inch Bianca high heels, was a little like the Incredible Journey.
3.  There was a basket of dum-dum lollipops sitting in the costume shop that we passed through to get to the dressing rooms, which, as I had no reason to believe were for us, taunted me. Forbidden Dum-Dums! I can only hope we shall meet in the Great Hereafter, when I shall eat as many of your root-beer-flavoured brethren as please me.

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Watertown, New York, November 4-7:

Our stay in Watertown did not have an auspicious beginning. Instead, it began with all of us loitering in the parking lot outside of the Days Inn, waiting for Aaron and Paul to return with our room assignments, but seeing, instead, Aaron stride out of the hotel with the kind of purposeful gait employed by action heroes about to lay the smackdown. “Get back in the vans,” he said. “They fucked me.”

Aaron had apparently called the people at the Days Inn, asking them to add a day to the beginning of our reservation. But they had no record of the extension, and, obviously, no record that Aaron had called. And because a convention of psychics had booked the hotel that weekend, there was no room at the Inn.

So we were forced to drive down the street to the Econo-Lodge. And o my sweet lord indeed, I think I may have preferred a stable.

It was not the moment that we pulled into the parking lot and someone glimpsed an abandoned washing machine in the back that depressed me; nor was it the moment that we walked into the hallway and it smelled, not merely like smoke, but like a bowling alley; but when the door swung open and I saw our room, my very spirit sunk. The only thing the room looked fit for was for committing suicide, and from the extraordinarily negative energy of the room, it would not have surprised me to learn that someone had indeed killed themselves within.

I am very serious about this. I am not a person who goes on excessively about ‘negative energy;’ in fact, I can’t remember ever responding so strongly to any single room in my life. The dirt alone is not to blame, because I have stayed in many less luxurious rooms in foreign countries in my life: I have slept on a one-inch foam pad on a stone floor in India; I have slept on a carpeted floor augmented only by sheets in China. But this room had BAD JUJU. It is the second most depressing place I have ever been in my life, the first being the airport in Mumbai at 3 AM, because there was no place to sit, no windows, and a kind of sickly light that puts one in mind of The Place Where There Is No Darkness from 1984. There were people sleeping on cardboard in the bathrooms—not homeless people, but Indian passengers, who clearly found the bathroom preferable to the general terminal and its horrific pallid light that, too, made one think of suicide.

I immediately left the room and sat in a drive-through Starbucks for a couple of hours until dinner. Ms. Ginna Hoben, Mr. Raffi Barsoumian, Mr. Evan Hoffman and I went for a grand night out at the nearby Applebee’s that evening, essentially in order to get drunk enough to be able to deal with our hotel rooms. Or at least, I know that was my reasoning, and I think that Ginna was of a similar mind. It was not entirely successful, as it shut down the rational side of my brain that was battling the terror of the Econo-Lodge; I wanted to stop by the Days Inn and see if one of the psychics could cleanse the juju of my room. But instead, I slept fitfully, partly because of the mattress, but predominantly because my completely inebriated and illogical self was afraid that if I went into a vulnerable sleep state, the Evil Spirits would possess me and make me hang myself on the cord for the ceiling lamp or slit my wrists in the filthy bathtub.

DISCLAIMER ONE: You cannot blame this paranoia on recent films about terrifying hotel rooms such as No Vacancy or 1408, neither of which I have seen. I may have even gotten their names wrong.

DISCLAIMER TWO: I have never had an actually suicidal thought in my life. This blog post is not a cry for help. Although it might be, if I were still staying in the Econo-Lodge.

The following day was a day off, but naturally we had to check out of the Econo-Lodge at 11 AM, and we couldn’t check into the Days Inn until 4 PM. Thank you, helpful and hospitable Days Inn staff! So we were stuck toting our bags around in the strip mall hell in which both hotels were located. I find suburban retail sprawl more dismal than any other American landscape, in part because it’s so prevalent, and in part because it strips the soul out of the place and makes one place utterly indistinguishable from the next. Or perhaps everything seemed depressing, as the whole town was cast under the pall of the Econo-Lodge.

Thus anything that went wrong in Watertown we attributed to the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When Ginna thought she might not get to see her boyfriend that weekend—that was the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When Aaron, having long contemplated the idea of succulent wings, went to the Buffalo Wild Wings, only to find that it would not open for another week—that was the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When there were no more rice krispie treats at the dining hall—that was the Curse of the Econo-Lodge. When a small child wept through Kate’s last speech in Shrew—that’s right: the Curse of the Econo-Lodge.

Fortunately, the people at the venue were very nice, and even had a dinner for us, with lots of Thanksgivingesque foods. The highlight of this event was when one of the English teachers, a Polish woman who had been entertaining all of us at her table for some time, leaned over to the next table, and addressed Evan by saying, “O King, o king: you must wear briefs, and not boxers.” The randomness of this interjection made both Aaron and Ginna launch themselves from the table and collapse in fits of laughter at another table, which was almost as humorous as the comment itself. Naturally, I sympathise with them, as I frequently find that things are so funny that I cannot actually deal with them whilst remaining in my original seat, though generally I just fall onto the floor rather than stumbling the length of the room. The teacher’s comment was less surprising for those of us at her table, as she had already brought the topic up more gently earlier, posing the King Henry Boxers vs. Briefs Issue as a question, rather than a command. When another of the teachers queried her about the fact that she had an opinion on the matter, she replied, “I check out everything: above the equator, and below.” I think her decision to instruct Evan on the matter was equally amusing to those of us who saw the build-up, but for different reasons.

Admittedly, for Evan, this episode may also fall under The Curse of the Econo-Lodge.

As is already abundantly clear, we had a performance of Henry the Fifth on our first night. It remains difficult to hit the show’s stride when we only do it once a fortnight, but we had a nice audience that laughed at some of the more complicated jokes. It was not, perhaps, our best Henry ever, though it’s natural that our best one has been in Canton, when we got to do the show twice in one week.

I personally had a fun time in the Clowns at War scene. I’m supposed to mock what Pistol has just been doing with my line, “As duly / But not as truly / As bird doth sing on bough;” originally, Dan had been doing a kind of Gilbert and Sullivan style shuffle which Giles dubbed ‘Pistol’s Revue,’ and I was supposed to do a little soft-shoe in ridicule. But Dan’s been changing it around, and blowing his nose on his flag—which I certainly don’t mind, I’m simply in the position of trying to do what he does. I saw that there was a flag on a pole on the side of the stage: a more common fixture in high school auditoriums, but which graced this theatre, too. So in order to mock Pistol I went over and blew my nose in it. Then I realised that the flag is a bit of an anachronism, so I lifted it up and scrutinised it: what is this odd flag with all of these red and white stripes? I decided also to take advantage of it when Fluellen came in, and twisted myself up in it to hide.

Perhaps no one noticed, as there are so many other funnier things going on in the scene, but it was a delight for me, and an example of what my director for Macbeth, Brendan Hughes, called being a Theatre Ninja. That production also toured, and he encouraged us to take stock of a space like a Ninja and use everything in it to its utmost potential. The words of the estimable Mr. Hughes obviously remain with me to this day (as do others, such as ‘mmminteresting’ and ‘meow’), and the opportunity to be a Theatre Ninja is one of the chief reasons that I love touring.

The following day, we had a 90-minute version of Taming of the Shrew for a wonderful high school audience, who were both spunky and attentive. People were swaying their arms back and forth during the pre-show music, and two boys in green shirts about one-third of the way towards the back were having so much fun that I marked one of them to be the one Bianca flirts with on the lines “I never yet beheld that special…face / Which I could fancy more than any other” in the Kate/Bianca Bound scene. It was a good choice, as the boy actually waved back at me.

But of course, I was very glad to get Uncut Bianca back when we did a full-length Shrew the following evening! It was a good show, I think. I love creating little ‘play’ situations backstage; it’s such fun to work with other actors who create them, too, or will play along with mine, and Raffi and Ginna are two such actors. One of the amusing features of both of our Shrew performances was that Evan, when he makes the ‘Master! Master! Master! Ugh! MASTER!’ entrance as Biondello, leapt onto the tall stage and slid across the surface on his belly. I have previously thought of the leap that he often does on the top step as a kind of ‘dolphin leap,’ so it is good to see that he is adding other aquatic creatures such as penguins to the repertoire. It reminds me of Bill Mootos, who played Captain Brice in the production of Arcadia that I was in several years ago, talking about ‘his animal’ for the evening being a cheetah, or a moth, or a vole, &c.

But none of us were too broken up to leave the Curse of the Econo-Lodge behind us. The only good that can be said of it was the creation of the band toor, whose hit single “Where’s the Water” (in Watertown) was directly inspired by and recorded in the Econo-Lodge. The band artists are very clandestine about their involvement, but as I have heard their voices once or twice before in my life, I can credit Mr. Chris Johnston and Mr. Paul Reisman as the original band members: Paul sums up their artistic contributions in the “Where’s the Water” as “He does the playin’ / I do the ironic comments.” The song is absolutely a perfect evocation of the Econo-Lodge experience and you must listen to it. Special guest artist “Afro” joins them on their second song, “Cooter,” whose voice, I’ll be sworn, has a resemblance to that of Mr. Raffi Barsoumian. I will issue a Parental Advisory in regards to these songs, fantastic as they are: if you are impressionable, easily offended, or pro-Econo-Lodge, you listen at your own risk.

 Of course, if you are impressionable or easily offended, I really ought to have issued a Parental Advisory about the closing sentence of my introductory paragraph. And if you are pro-Econo-Lodge, god help you: you’ve got greater problems than these to worry about. 

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As this post is also ridiculously long, I will continue to have headings for a modicum of added clarification and readability. And though I don’t have the excuse that we were there for a week, this visit does contain One of the Longest Days of My Life.

West Hartford, Connecticut, October 30 – November 2:

Foreshadowing

Upon our arrival to the venue, Aaron requested that we be on our very best behaviour, like ones well-studied in a sad ostent to please our grandams. (Those last are, as you might have guessed, Shakespeare’s words, not Aaron’s.) We are generally well-behaved, at least for a group of actors (more on how scary a group of actors is towards the end of the post), so the reasoning behind this request was:

a) the email servers at ASC had been changed over within the last week and consequently Aaron had not received some of the emails from the people at the venue, thus spawning some communication issues and
b) last year two nameless people made a hole in the wall backstage.

Now, let me be clear that neither of these things are the ASC’s fault, nor our fault (Chris Johnston was not involved in the puncturing of the wall), nor Aaron’s fault, who, as Troupe Manager, has an omniscience that borders on the divine. Rather, part a is obviously the fault of the E-mail Demon, to whom we have clearly, as a society, given too much power, and now it is rising up, at last, to eat our first-born emails. Part b is the fault of the wrestling craze that apparently came to our troupe via its predecessor.

Perhaps this is a widespread phenomenon, but I have never before known grown men to start spontaneously wrestling in domestic environments. I remember the first time I was standing in the eastern Beverley house, and two of my troupe members starting wrestling in the hallway, using the banister for leverage and crumpling the carpet whilst lookers-on moved fragile objects on the tables into the next room. I thought, ‘By god, one day I will be forty-five years old, and my life, perhaps, will not be so chaotic, but I will remember that once I was young, itinerant, and the men in my troupe would start wrestling in the kitchen with no apparent notice whatsoever.’ It is less notable to me, now, after five months of witnessing random all-terrain wrestling, and, as the sizeable patching backstage at the theatre in West Hartford attests, it is hardly unique.

If digressing were my job, I’d make more money than I do as an actor (not that it’s a particularly difficult sum to surpass). It’s clear that my brain was made in an age where they paid by the word, and it cannot shake the habit now, despite quite the opposite being true. My point here is that Aaron asked us to be responsible, which evidently triggered our appearance of greatest incompetence thus far.

One of the Longest Days of My Life

On Halloween, a fun-filled Day o’ Revels for youngsters across the country, and also Alisa’s birthday (more on this later), we had a 10 AM full-length Taming of the Shrew, followed swiftly by a 1 PM Merchant workshop, followed less swiftly by a 7.30 Merchant of Venice. I started off this arduous day by waking up precisely three minutes before the van was supposed to be leaving to take us to the theatre. Granted, as I am a champion sleeper, and the van was leaving at 7.20, it was a kind of miracle that I woke up of my own volition at all; but I was mortified, because waking up at the same time that I should already be in the parking lot is not the kind of thing I usually do. But my alarm had not gone off (I discovered later it was the old set-the-alarm-for-6-PM fatal flaw), and so I scrambled desperately to put all of the necessary toiletries in a plastic bag to take with me.

Naturally, I forgot my contacts. Naturally, I also forgot the mandolin, and the kind and long-suffering Chris Johnston had to drive back to the hotel and get it before the show. This was the thanks he got for magically restoring me to semi-health! I would say that my self-loathing was palpable that morning in the dressing room, as I rinsed my hair in the sink, but probably it was not palpable to anyone but my self, the object of loathing.

After the show was over, those of us in the workshop had a little over a half an hour to change out of costume, sprint over to the dining hall, eat, and get back at least five minutes before 1 PM. (We couldn’t eat after the workshop, since the dining hall was only open during certain hours.) Aaron was very good about letting the workshop folk dash after the show; unfortunately, a few other people thought we were all cleared to go, and only a couple of people ended up doing the changeover. Not a big deal, but simply another episode for which the request for our best behaviour is dubbed ‘foreshadowing.’

Furthermore, all the overhead lights in the dining hall had been turned off, so that the dim light from the windows would set a spooky mood, and everything was festooned with Halloween paraphernalia (think spiderwebs over the drink machine). This was, no doubt, great fun for people with plenty of time for lunch, or for those who knew their way around the dining hall, or for Alisa, on her birthday, but I could not help but wish that I could see when I only had twenty minutes to find something edible and then eat it. It felt like the primordial dining hall, in which I’d have to attack the salad bar to survive, never knowing what beasts lurked behind the ice cream cooler.

The workshop went off without disaster. A girl named, I think, Cory, dressed as Willy Wonka, gave the best plot summary of Merchant of Venice that I’ve ever heard.

But as we were preparing for Merchant that evening, Alisa uttered six fateful words:

“I’m going to clean the iron.”  

Now, let it be known that Alisa had previously cleaned the iron in Sheffield, Massachussetts, without a hitch. You can see a picture of it, clearly well-behaved, in the vanishing perspective of The Miracle at Sheffield. Let it also be known that this iron has been somewhat of a talisman of woe for Alisa and me, as the people in charge of all costume-related issues. It was leaving burn marks on clothing, an unattractive trait for which I could have sworn there was a remedy in a tube that the lovely Erin, Costume Goddess, had shown us. I took everything out of the repair bin, and, not finding it, assumed that it had perhaps never existed. I contacted Erin, she assured me that it did exist, and I took everything out of the repair bin again, in search of it. No iron cleaner. So, Alisa and I went to something like a K-Mart or one of those other monstrosities, and bought iron cleaner; Alisa did most of the searching, because I, as the Walking Plague, was only on this side of delirium.

But this time, the iron cleaner made the iron issue forth some smoke, which set off the highly sophisticated fire alarms in the building. Rather than the old-time raaaaraaaraaar which my friend Devin, during high school fire drills, would render the drone of the bagpipes by singing ‘Scotland the Brave’ in its key, the fire alarm here was a computerised male voice saying ‘May I have your attention please. There is a security hazard within this building. Please proceed to the nearest exit in a calm and orderly fashion.’ It was, somehow, much more terrifying, perhaps for the usage of the words ‘security hazard,’ which sounded more like planes crashing into the performing arts center than a misunderstood iron. We all gathered on the lawn outside; Paul was in his masquing robe and mask; finally, the theatre manager, a very nice man named Howard, who was very nice despite the fact that we’d put holes in his walls in past and had now unwittingly summoned the fire department, came out with the iron-cleaning towel like an apprehended felon. I started laughing, helplessly, unable to catch my breath, ostensibly because I mentioned how funny it would be to have a computerised official voice saying, ‘Please proceed to the nearest exit in a frantic and disorderly manner,’ but truly because it had been a rough day, and I was nervous about the show that evening.

I was nervous about the show that evening because my dearest Lewis was driving all the way from Boston to see it; he had roped another of my dear friends, Kevin, into accompanying him, as they had both opened a production of Hamlet that morning. (“We were doing cosmically-aligned Shakespeare this morning,” observed Lewis, “since we both had shows at 10 AM.”) Both gentlemen are, coincidentally enough, mentioned in my post Off-Off-Off-&c. Broadway, and there is a picture of me and Kevin in Pygmalion. There is no picture of me and Lewis so I will put one here, because I enjoy pictures of my friends in nineteenth-century costumes. Here we are in Arcadia:

Ellen Adair as Thomasina and Lewis D. Wheeler as Septimus

I told no one but Alisa that Lewis and Kevin were coming, because I didn’t want everyone else to know that I was nervous, because knowing that they knew that I was nervous would make me more nervous. (Nervousness is a downward spiral in that way; it makes one behave like a silly teenage girl, or use the same word three times in one sentence, which are often one and the same thing.)

I only made this confession to Alisa because Evan heard a rumour at the box office that the show was sold out, which made me apprehensive about my friends getting into the show. We often have audiences of a lovely size, but we had never, in all our touring days, actually ‘sold out’ a venue, so it was surprising. But I was afraid, with the way that the day was going, that the very second time I had people driving from a long way away to see a show, they would indeed be denied entry by some Cruel Whim of the Fates, probably the same Cruel Whim that had been eating Aaron’s email and had set my alarm for 6 PM.

But when I walked out onstage for the pre-show speech, I actually laughed aloud, and Alisa laughed too, knowing the source of my amusement. It was not sold out. It was probably the smallest audience we’ve had for Merchant yet, barring, perhaps, the venue in Valhalla, New York. There could not have been more than seventy or eighty people in the audience; Lewis and Kevin were very plainly sitting in the fourth row of the auditorium, looking somewhat like islands in the Pacific Ocean.

But deciding not to mention to Ginna that I had friends in the audience proved my second, or perhaps my forty-second, fatal flaw that day. Because we were performing at a women’s college, and also because there were no more than eighty people, there was a scant number of potential ‘suitors’ in the audience for Portia and Nerissa’s first scene. So naturally, Ginna used both Lewis, as Faulconbridge, and Kevin, as the Duke of Saxony. It is certainly an odd experience to deliver the lines, “He is a proper man’s picture; but alas, who can converse with a dumb-show?” to one of your favourite people in the world, when a) said person is not in the play with you and b) the person who IS in the play with you has no idea that you know this purportedly Random Audience Member.

The show was otherwise adequate; in my experience, my best shows are rarely ones where I have friends in the audience. Afterwards, Lewis, Kevin and I went to a 24-hour diner suggested by Howard the Theater Manager. It was unspeakably wonderful to see them both, though tinged with the surreal, as almost everything is on tour. I was unable to get over the fact that the three of us were riding in Kar (the name Lewis and I gave to his car some time ago) to go to a diner in the middle of Connecticut, and Lewis was similarly flabbergasted when I did not order pancakes. But all too soon, they had to drive back, because they had a show the following morning—as did we.

Morning Shows

We’d never before had a Merchant in the morning, and I was dreading it. Merchant is a tough show for me, and doing shows in the morning is tough for me, and doing anything after the Longest Day of My Life also held the strong possibility of being tough. So I feared that it would be tough, cubed. But instead it was, in my opinion, a fantastic show, probably because I was released from the pressure I’d felt the previous evening, and just enjoyed every single minute of it.

Apparently, I waited for the FOLLOWING morning to crash, because I felt nearly as comatose for that performance of Shrew than I did for the matinee in Canton. I didn’t really wake up until Raffi thoroughly surprised me by whispering something entirely new into my ear during the Latin/Music Lesson scene. Awww, he’s such a heavy suitcase.

Another Dear Friend Travels to Connecticut Because I Happen to Be There

On Friday, I also saw my dear friend Jess, who I’ve been friends with since my freshman year (when she was stage manager for a production of Twelfth Night in which I played Viola), and who I lived with for a couple of years in Boston. Her family lives very near by, so she travelled down to visit them for the weekend, and see me! She’d been hoping to see a show that evening, but we only had a morning show; still, her loss was my gain, because it was more fun to actually get to see her than to simply have her in the audience.

Alisaween!

This week of seeing friends was kicked off in the grandest way imaginable, by Alisa’s Birthday/Halloween party. It was fantastic; Alisa and Chris had purchased all sorts of Halloween decorations at discounted prices, and had put, amongst other things, a skeleton in the shower. There were also three little figurines that made the classic eeeeeEEEEEeeee Halloween sound-effect made popular by motion-sensitive bats across the nation: one was a ghost, one was a pumpkin, and one was Frankenstein’s monster (people who call it ‘Frankenstein’ get my Romantic-Literature-Specialized-English-Major Glare of Annoyance). It was the most fun when we had all three going at once, thus coining the phrase, ‘For god’s sake HIT THE PUMPKIN’ in the troupe vernacular. Alisa has more pictures and a hysterical commentary on her wonderful blog; I have stolen the picture of all of us together to put up here.  It is amazing what costumes people will come up with in a situation when time, money and resources are all scant.

Alisaween

Left-right: Paul as a Banana (or Not-Corn), Ginna as a Princess, Scot as a Malamute With Its Head Stuck in a Toilet, Chris Seiler as Undead in Chris’s Dress Clothes, Ellen as A Return to 1980s Fashion (because it was the scariest thing I could think of), Evan is ‘Awkward’, Josh as a Native American, Alisa as a Sexy Dinosaur, Aaron as Aaron With the Vampire Teeth Alisa Gave Him a Month Ago, Chris Johnston as Vampire Jesse, Daniel as a Halloween Intepretation of a ‘Hot Dog,’ Raffi as Super Cholo.

Some commentary on the costumes:

Alisa, as Sexy Dinosaur: Let it be known that Alisa specifically packed this costume many weeks ago in preparation for this event. I love Alisa for 2.7 billion reasons, one of them being her subversion of the ‘sexy’ costume concept. It is difficult to find costumes for grown women that are not, by description, sexy: Sexy Maid, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Witch, Sexy Bunny, Sexy Medieval Literature Professor, Sexy Waste Management Artisan, etc. In certain circles, I suspect Halloween is actually called Excuse to Dress Like a Slut Without Any Social Stigma Day. But Alisa’s costume was amazing, not the least because she managed to be sexy whilst peeping through a dinosaur’s tonsils. And I say that as a straight, female dinosaur.

Paul, as a Banana, or Not-Corn: When Paul first came in, he said, “I am not corn!” Despite his disapprobation, a number of us continued to think that the absence of corn was a finer costume concept than the existence of a banana, fine though a banana is. It’s like Paul’s excellent No Tomatoes Joke. Think, next Halloween, you can go in anything you’d like, and when someone asks you what you are, you can say, ‘I am not a pirate!’ or ‘I am not a streetlamp!’ or ‘I am not a Sexy Midieval Literature Professor!’ The possibilities are ENDLESS! Plus, not-being is sexy.

Aaron, as Aaron With Vampire Teeth That Alisa Gave Him a Month Ago: Aaron is very funny when he talks with these teeth in. It’s especially great when he says Biondello lines in them.

Chris Johnston, as Vampire Jesse: You really need to be in the troupe to get this one. It was one of the finest costumes of the evening, in my opinion. You may also need to have gone through our rehearsal processes in order to get ‘Super Cholo.’

Scot, as A Malamute Who Got Its Head Stuck in a Toilet: The evolution of this costume is fantastic. Apparently, Alisa has previously told Scot that he reminds her of a malamute, because Scot has very blue eyes. Then once, when we were riding in the van, the following conversation took place:
Scot: So, Alisa, what should I go as for Halloween?
Alisa (after a moment of contemplation) : A toilet.
Scot: A TOILET?!
Alisa: Yeah, it would be a great costume.
Scot: Great. So that’s what you think of me. As a place where people—
Alisa: No, because I was thinking of a malamute, and they’re white, sometimes, and then I was thinking of what else was white, and I saw toilet costumes in the Halloween Store yesterday…

Alisa’s continued explanations were of little avail; Scot continued to fume in a semi-comic way about it, and there was much discussion about whether or not he would Hate Alisa for the Rest of Eternity, which culminated in his edict that he would not be going to Alisa’s birthday party. As his wife and daughter were supposed to be coming that weekend, I too was gullible enough to believe his continued assertions that he would not be going to the party. Thus, it was a great delight for me, Alisa, and any other credulous folk, when Scot showed up (last) at the door in that amazing costume. For anyone who is wondering, YES, that is an actual toilet lid, actually skilfully unscrewed by Mr. Scot Carson from his hotel bathroom, and scrubbed for about three hours.

Josh, as a Native American: You see that correctly, his bow and arrow are hotel hangers.

Chris Seiler, as an Undead in Chris’s Dress Clothes: Chris decided that he wanted to get some mileage out of his dress clothes, which we are required to bring along, but which we have not yet had occasion to use. Then he did a really amazing make-up job on his face and hands, and spiked his hair. He also executed a perfect undead lumber, and the remembrance of him tumbling out of the bathroom door and unevenly striding by the Snack Station is so funny that I honestly can barely type these words. For whatever reason, we eventually decided that he was an Undead Shylock, and discussed how fantastic it would be to do an otherwise perfectly normal production of Merchant, but with Shylock as some kind of ghoul. Then we took turns substituting ‘ghoul’ for ‘Jew’ in all of our lines, which was amusing for a few of us, not just me. Other options on the same theme were explored: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? NO, we don’t! Ahahahaha!”

I’m not sure if the Undead Shylock started this, or if it predates to an earlier time in the party, but we started saying that everything was, in a kind of wobbly Halloween voice, SCAaAaARYyy. For example, ‘This hotel is SCARY,’ or ‘Malted slime balls are SCARY,’ or ‘A roomful of actors is SCARY.’ Scot, as usual, trumped us all with ‘A roomful of actors is A GROUP FULL OF ACTORS.’ The real pay-off to this story is that Alisa said, in the morning Merchant a couple of days later, “I am a JEW’S DAUGHTER,” in the identical SCARY tone, and I laughed so loud, and for so long, that I had to concentrate very hard on something depressing in order to stop.

Ellen, as A Return to 1980s Fashion (because it was the scariest thing I could think of): My ‘costume’ concept was inspired solely by Alisa’s desire to see what my hair would be like if I made it big. Every day I wake up and my hair desperately inquires if it is either 1980 or, preferably, 1809. I tend to comply with its 1809 wishes; it’s fortunate that they are somewhat similar to my own desires, because my hair is the master in our relationship. But on this evening, I said, ‘Okay, 1980 it is,’ and blow-dried it, to please the Birthday Girl. Then I wore a slip, tights, boots, my absurdly-brightly-coloured flowered thermal shirt. I might have come up with more ridiculous attire, had I more than a carry-on-sized suitcase of clothes.

 This is a picture of the last time I dressed up for Halloween.

The Jane Austen Look

 You can see I am complying by my hair’s 1809 wishes. The year previous, I went as Hermione from Harry Potter (not from the Winter’s Tale), also because my hair does the Hermione thing well. Perhaps you are beginning to perceive the truth in the statement, ‘my hair is the master in my relationship.’

I realised that my 80s costume idea might not have been quite as jank as I thought it was when I found out that the Red Sox did it, too, for Curt Schilling’s wife’s birthday. I stole this picture from outincenterfield.com, a blog that I have grown to love for its wit, good nature, and clips of Jonathan Papelbon’s Magical Media Tour.

Yes, I am in love with the man with ridiculous sunglasses.

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Subtitled, ‘It may be ridiculously long, but we were there for a whole week.’

Sub-subtitled, ‘Okay, I added headings to sections in order to make it a bit more easy to navigate.’

Canton, New York, October 22-28:

Canton: Reputation and (My Personal Opinion of) Reality

Nameless people who were on nameless previous tours told me, when I was making general enquiries, that Canton was not their favourite of the venues. They were always hasty to point out that the people in Canton are some of the friendliest and most welcoming that you’ll encounter on tour; however, they pointed out, the town is not much larger than the college, and the fact that there’s not much to do grows wearing over the course of an entire week.

But now, having been there for a week myself, I must say: I [heart] Canton, NY. I’m envisioning a line of t-shirts, modelled on the archetypal I [heart] NY t-shirt, but with ‘Canton’ written in, possibly with smaller letters, or with editing insertion marks. Of course, as Absurd City Girl, I can’t say that I’d like to live there for all time, and, perhaps more importantly, as Cold for 85% of Her Life Woman (alter ego of Poor Circulation Girl), the winters would cut out all of my superior brain function.

N.B. All I mean by ‘superior’ is the higher end of my own brain function; I make no claim to any other kind of superiority. But, meagre though my brain function may be, it disappears when I am truly cold, which is why I hate cold so much. Once it gets below 20 degrees, I cannot hold conversations whilst walking down the streets. The only thing I am capable of thinking about is something along the lines of ‘pleasemakeitstop pleasemakeitstop pleasemakeitstop.’ That is why cold is the Primary Evil in my life, now that no one is making me take math.

 Why I Heart Canton, NY

However, I would have been happy to stay in Canton doing shows for another few days, especially since it was downright balmy the first couple of days that we were there, at least for a place that calls itself the ‘North Country.’ We were staying in host homes rather than a hotel, which made me slightly apprehensive beforehand, but I ended up preferring it; after all, I had my own room, and there was something much more comforting about going to an actual house at the end of the day, instead of a hotel. We had access to the nicest gym I’ve seen since I left Boston; there were all kinds of beautiful places on campus, indoor and out, to sit and do whatever you’d like; most importantly, everything was in walking distance which allowed a certain amount of autonomy. And because we were there for a whole week, we only had to load and load out once! Furthermore, they had chocolate frozen yogurt at the dining hall. What else does a human being need?!

An itinerary of a day in Canton might be as follows:
– 9.30 or 10: Wake up. If I’d like.
– Walk to the gym, stay as long as I’d like.
– Walk to the dining hall, eat a lingering lunch (frozen yogurt).
– Go home, take a shower.
– Walk back to campus, find a nice place to read/write. Such as, for example, Herring-Cole Hall, a nineteenth-century building vaguely reminiscent of the Oxford University Student Union, with tables and chairs inside for studying, and, for some reason, no students, ever. (In retrospect, I hope it wasn’t Against the Rules for me to go in there, and that the Canton Police will not come after me, several states away, for violating its nineteenth-century sanctity.)
– 4.30: Walk to the theater space, begin changeover and set-up for show.
– 5.00-6.00: Dinner (frozen yogurt).
– 6.00-7.30: Continued set-up for show.
– 7.30: Oh, that’s right, I have a job. Which is: acting in a Shakespeare play. Which is: my favourite thing in the entire world.
– Post-show/evening off: Watch Red Sox in the student centre, provided that there was a game.

Life does not get a lot better than that. Seriously. Although I have never truly been on a cruise, I can only imagine that I would prefer our week in Canton, and not merely because I am an aquaphobe. Because essentially, I am not quite happy unless I’m acting some time or another during the day, and so I vastly prefer a light ‘work’ schedule (though truly, it’s play; they’re called ‘plays,’ after all, not ‘works’) to a ‘vacation’ schedule. I have never been able to thrive on the thorough aimlessness that advertising seems to suggest should be the aim of all our days. This is not to say that I don’t see the climatic advantages of tropical beaches with azure seas over an area tantamount to Canada, but I’m not sure if I could find enough Shakespeare in the Bahamas. See: Cold for 85% of Her Life Woman is willing to be so in order to do theatre. I have chosen this life, and not merely because one cannot lie around on beaches for a profession, unless one has a trust fund. I stand on the street corner of life, and hold up a cardboard sign that reads:

Will Be Cold for Shakespeare

So, when we are in places like Maine, or the North Country of New York, or, Holy Mary Mother of God Pray for Us Cold Ones When We Are in Duluth, Minnesota, I hold up this figurative sign. Granted, that’s because I can’t think of anything but ‘pleasemakeitstop’ and have been reduced to gesture.

The Muffin Lady, a New Troupe Photograph, and the Finest Joke I Have Made Yet On Tour

Canton was also wonderful because, in a similar way to Orrville, Ohio, the American Shakespeare Center has been going there for long enough that there are a number of people in the community who have become fans over the years, and consequently decide to give food to the actors. The foremost of these was the Miller family: Tyke, who calls herself ‘the Muffin Lady,’ her husband Jack, and their daughter Lynn. Lynn attended, I think, every single one of our shows, and Tyke and Jack were there for the majority of them! To add kindness to consideration, Tyke baked some kind of goodies for us every single day that we had a show: French breakfast puffs, chocolate peanut butter bars, chocolate fudge bars, peanut chocolate chip bars, and, my personal favourites, two separate recipes dating from the 17th century for raisin and oatmeal cookies! Chris Seiler, who I am coming to find one of the funniest people I have ever known, said of the 17th century cookies, “Hey, Ellen! These cookies are even older than you!” “Yes, they’re just like my grandmother used to make,” I replied. That was the finest joke I have made yet on tour. This being the case, I am coming to find that I am one of the least funny people that I have ever known.

Here is a picture of us with the Millers, after our final performance of Taming of the Shrew. Photo credit goes to Alisa Ledyard, who posted it on Facebook:

The Piercing Eloquence Troupe and the Miller-Muffin family 

Standing (left-right): Chris Seiler, Alisa Ledyard, Josh Carpenter, Chris Johnston, Tyke Miller, Jack Miller, Lynn Miller, Raffi Barsoumian, Ginna Hoben, Scot Carson, Evan Hoffmann
On a Yellow-Striped Level all of His Own: Daniel Kennedy
Kneeling/Sitting (left-right): Ellen Adair, Aaron Hochhalter, Paul Reisman

Also pictured is my afamed and fantastic sleeveless blue-and-pink paisley Bianca dress. That dress does better acting in Shrew than I do. Thank you, Erin West!

The Actual Shows

Taming of the Shrew

We had performances of Taming of the Shrew on Monday and Friday evenings, and on Sunday afternoon. Monday’s show had a couple of unintentional pratfalls, because it was our first performance on what we were learning was a very slick stage. The first was executed by Mr. Chris Johnston, when he came on as Hortensio/Licio/Thor with the neck of the lute around his own neck. I did not witness it, because I was off-stage, probably holding the noisemaking device that I have labelled ‘The Bane of Ellen’s Existence.’ However, from the sound of it, he fell, told everyone else on stage to “Look over there!” and quickly scrambled up. The second dive is credited to Mr. Paul Reisman, though I think Ms. Ginna Hoben should, if my memory serves, get an RBI; all I remember clearly was that it happened during the Wedding Scene. I think, however, when Ginna/Kate whacked Paul/Grumio with the Flounder, Paul stumbled backwards and fell. I am reconstructing this event out of a recollection of feeling, as Bianca, that Grumio was only getting what was coming to him, for throwing toilet paper on my sister, and a visual memory of Paul’s hysterical expression as he lay, supine, upon the stage.

N.B. Only a life in the theatre can give occasion to phrases such as ‘Ginna/Kate whacked Paul/Grumio with the Flounder’ and ‘Grumio was only getting what was coming to him, for throwing toilet paper on my sister.’ God bless it.

I believe it was Friday’s performance of Shrew in which Raffi had the brilliant idea of letting me wear his Cambio coat in the scene after we’ve eloped (in my mind I’ve come to call it the ‘Ay, sir, so his mother says if I MAY BELIEVE HER (HAA!)’ scene, because Alisa absolutely cracks me up). He got the idea from a conversation that we had prior to the Music/Latin Lesson scene. I was complaining of being cold, not only because I am always cold, but because it was a veritable wind tunnel backstage; consequently, Chris (as Hortensio) told me that he’d keep me warm, and proceeded to put his arm around me. I, as Bianca, tried to make pleading eyes at Lucentio, and said, “If you were a real gentleman, you’d offer me your coat.” Some time after the scene, Raffi said, “How about I actually do give you my coat?” I love this for three reasons: a) the coat itself, which is teal, purple, yellow and fuschia plaid; b) it generally marks the first time that I am uncold in the course of a two hour show; and most importantly c) because Raffi is wonderful in the way that he always looks for new things to bring to a performance, and it is an inspiration to work with him.

More on Sunday’s performance of Shrew in a few headings.

Henry V

We had performances of Henry the Fifth on Tuesday and Saturday nights at 7.30. The second of these performances was perhaps my favourite since the preview that we had in Staunton, and certain things about my own performance I certainly felt were better. It’s a shame that we don’t get to do Henry as often, not only because I love the play itself, I love Giles’ (and our) production of it, and I love Evan’s performance, but because the sporadic nature of the performances means it’s hard to pick up the inertia that we had when we’d been rehearsing it for four weeks. Oddly enough, I think our second Henry audience was the smallest that we had all week, but they were simply very engaged, very generous, and very intelligent, laughing at jokes that no one had tittered at since we had our very knowledgeable audience in Staunton. My host family was there that night, which was nice; they came to each of the shows once, and some of them came to Shrew twice!

During Tuesday’s performance of Henry, Dan realised that he’d left his trumpet mouthpiece in the backstage area, which was unconnected to the entrances through the house. So, as a result, he exited backstage rather than through the audience when Fluellen chases him off, and ran back through at a well-timed moment in my speech, when I’m talking about Pistol. Suffice it to say, it got the largest laugh that has ever happened during that speech, because Dan is the Lord of the Comedic Kingdom in which I am, at best, a serf. I’ve been struggling with the Boy’s speech a great deal, and not really getting anywhere. However, Saturday’s show was probably the best I’d ever done it, solely thanks to a superior note given to me by Mr. Aaron Hochhalter which made me say ‘Ohhhhh RIGHT!’ Which is reason #3098 that I love Aaron (you will see that this number has grown since the last time I mentioned it), and why he should direct Measure for Measure. Which, for anyone who happens across this, is not actually (one might say literally) happening…but it should.

Merchant of Venice

We performed Merchant of Venice on Wednesday at 7.30 and on Saturday at midnight. Yes, that’s right: midnight. And after Saturday’s 7.30 performance of Henry, which gave us just enough time to change over the set, eat an apple (or similarly-sized snack of one’s choosing), and change into costume for Merchant. A kind person who had been over to the student center told me the state of the Red Sox-Rockies score (as it was the only game I had to miss in its entirety) and then we had to go for an 11.30 pre-show.

I’m not sure if everyone had a similar experience to my own during the midnight show; I know that some people, like the lovely Ginna, are morning rather than nighttime folk, and were very tired by that point. Naturally, we were all operating on a certain level of exhaustion, simply because we’d already done a show within the last four hours. And whilst performing at 12 AM may not sound that extreme, the thought of doing the Courtroom Scene at 1.30 AM was a little daunting. I have more experience than I’d care to admit of doing shows whilst being very tired, simply because I do not properly wake up until 10 AM, am really not at ‘performance speed’ until after noon, and yet I have done FIVE high school tours with shows at ungodly hours like 8 AM. My body clock is far more suited towards performing at 1.30 AM than 8 AM, but, never having done so, I was curious—and slightly apprehensive—about how the show would unfold.

And because I had never previously done a show at midnight, not being exactly the type to be cast in Rocky Horror, the midnight showing of Merchant had acquired a kind of mythic stature in my mind. I became a little nervous as the show approached, and as I walked down the steps from the dressing room and the stage came into view, the theatre space itself, with our benches set into the audience, and our costumes and props laid out carefully, appeared magical: the precision of all objects wove a tapestry out of the air. My attention was heightened, my consciousness loosened.

And I, personally, found the show to be a very spiritual experience. I remember little of it now, except as a kind of dream; I remember how easy and how new things felt; I remember the text burning in my body. I remember the Courtroom Scene the best, in part because it started (literally) pouring down rain right after I said “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath.” How awesome (pronounced ‘awsum’ in the style of Mr. Hochhalter) is that? Let’s have an instant replay:

Portia (via Ellen): “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath—”
Rain (via roof): BababaBAROOOOM clattaclattaclattaclatter

I gestured to the roaring roof once again when I said, “It is an attribute to God Himself,” as if to cite, or as if to say, ‘Today’s ridiculous rain onomatopoeia is brought to you by the ingenuity of God.’ I’m poking a bit of fun at myself, because at the time, the coincidence felt almost holy, and the moment almost divine. The current of an awareness of the moment, balanced by a lack of awareness of anything else, flowed throughout the entire show. Consequently, I cannot tell you if it was the best Courtroom Scene ever, but I do know that I was more heartbroken, more devastated, and more horrified at the end of it than I have ever been. As a result, and also because it was quarter-to-two-in-the-morning, I found it more difficult to bring myself back up a bit for the Ring Brouhaha in the final scene, which is always a struggle.

 So, although the Midnight Merchant was a fantastic experience, I think Wednesday’s show was better, on the whole, and I think it may stand as our best Merchant to date. The true credit for the excellence of both of the Merchants that we had in Canton goes to my fellow castmembers. Chris Seiler was amazing, as always—I found myself watching him in the “Hear you me, Jessica” Scene and suddenly thinking, ‘Holy wow, I’m sitting next to Shylock.’ Ginna gets funnier in every show, and is such an anchor for me; Alisa continues to break my heart; Paul keeps diving deeper into a kind of nonchalance that is painful in its precision; absolutely everyone is finding new things, and delving deeper into that which we already have. Both Raffi and Josh were just phenomenal in both shows; watching or playing opposite either of them makes me feel truly challenged to step up. In Wednesday’s show, especially, Josh was so simple, so fresh, and discovering so many new things, that I, too, made a whole slew of new discoveries, and it was especially painful to feel I’d ‘lost’ Bassanio. I feel honestly blessed to play opposite these two men in Merchant and Shrew; they are excellent actors for slightly different reasons, but both challenge me to make new discoveries and live in utmost honesty, and for that reason, they are very heavy suitcases. That’s right:

Josh Carpenter and Raffi Barsoumian = Heavy Suitcases (for an explanation, see an explanation on ‘One of the Finest Moments of Theatre, Shakespearean or Otherwise, That I Have Ever Witnessed.’)

Another thing that made these Merchant shows excellent was the fact that, like the space in Orrville, Ohio, the side benches were set on the floor with audience, rather than along the sides of the stage. Most of us agree that this opens up the energy of the show in a positive way. We had lovely audiences for both shows, though the midnight audience was quieter than most of our Merchant audiences, perhaps because it was, after all, approaching the wee hours, and they were not moving about, as we were. As it was the weekend before Halloween, there were a number of Halloween revels around campus, so many people came to the midnight Merchant in costume. This resulted in two quality moments:
1. Ginna brilliantly chose a man in a kind of Three Musketeers costume as Faulconbridge, which had a fantastic pay-off in my line “How oddly he is suited!” Furthermore, he actually had a large hat with a feather in it, which works much better for the “his bonnet in Germany” portion than does the questioning inflection I give the word when the audience member is not actually wearing anything on his head.
2. Evan climbed off the stage for the “Nay but I bar tonight” business, and gestured to two girls, one dressed as the Grinch, and one painted entirely in black with an iPod as one of those silhouette iPod advertisements, as he said, “You shall not judge me by what WE do tonight.” The idea of Gratiano, the Grinch, and an iPod advertisement going out on the town was so funny that I confess all subsequent incarnations of this moment have paled in comparison.

The Comatose Shrew

So, although the midnight Merchant did not prove too difficult for me and my body own clock, the Shrew matinee the following afternoon was absurd. I personally did not get home after the show (after we had put things away, changed out of costume, and so on) until 3.30 AM, and I had to get up at 9 AM the following morning in order to make it to breakfast by 10.30 and the theatre by 11.30. Now, five hours is not a ludicrously small amount of sleep, but five hours after having done two physically and emotionally tiring shows back-to-back is. We did three shows in twenty hours, followed by a load-out. I do not think I qualified as a human being, and I do not remember anything about the show except for a vague incredulity as to how tired I was.

The only other thing I remember was that there were a fair amount of children in the audience, one of whom, aged approximately three, talked through Kate’s final monologue. I met the cutest little girl after the show, aged approximately six, with a name something like ‘Braylen’ (I was semi-conscious, I cannot be expected to remember things), who told me that I was her favourite. This is no doubt the first and only time that Bianca has been anybody’s favourite (except mine) in our production of Shrew, and I suspect that Braylen was swayed by the fact that I am dressed like a Barbie doll.

I Heart the Red Sox

I finally became sentient at around dinner time, which was conveniently just in time to watch the final game of the World Series, if a little late to help me with the matinee.

I Am a Nerd

We had a day off on Thursday; I went to an English Class taught by one of my hosts, because… (gestures to studio audience)

Studio audience (in unison): You are a nerd!

That’s right. It was so lovely to be staying with two English professors, and it afforded me the opportunity to sheepishly ask my hostess, Sarah, if I might go to a class. I decided on a class of hers, a kind of ‘British Literature II’ survey, chiefly because they were making the transition from Romantic to Victorian literature, but also because it was very easy to borrow the reading. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but would selfishly have enjoyed it a little more had we spent more time on the reading for that day, and less on a student presentation about the role of women in Victorian society. Oh, power point presentations. I am not sorry that I have left you behind.

Paul asked me afterwards if I answered every single question. Actually, he asked me if I was That Girl, and I wondered how he knew that I spent the vast majority of my college career thinking that everybody in my English classes probably hated me but not being able to resist the desire to save the poor professor who was asking a perfectly easy, nay, obvious, question and just needed someone to throw the ball back because teachers are not, after all, television sets. How did he know? You’d think Paul spent twelve hours a day with me or something (which is, after all, true). Or perhaps it’s obvious. But NO, I did not answer every single question, because the class already had a That Girl of its own. It was kind of an out-of-body experience, honestly. I didn’t become That Girl until the end of the class, when we split up into groups to discuss the reading. I didn’t, of course, have the actual texts, because I’d simply borrowed the professor’s, and it was more than a little awkward to say things like, “Now, I don’t have the text, but wasn’t Mill the one who separates poetry from description by saying that poetry must be scrupulously truthful?” I’m not sure what was worse: not quite feeling like I remembered the reading very well, the realisation that I still remembered it better, for the most part, than those who were currently glancing through the essays on their desks, or the sense that the other members of my group were wondering what planet I’d flown in from. Sarah explained that I was with the American Shakespeare Center when I came in, and was kind about my performance in Merchant the previous night (when she had attended), but I could see well that all of the students were still thinking, ‘But what are you doing HERE?’ I said, by way of explanation, “I’m here because I miss college. You don’t think you will, but you will,” and immediately regretted it for several contrasting reasons.

The reading itself was a number of essays on what some Victorian writers think that poetry ought to be, including one by my old favourite, Matthew Arnold, who suggests that poets should not read Shakespeare because they become entranced by Shakespeare’s style and forget that what makes Shakespeare’s poetry brilliant is its action. Mostly, I disagree, because Arnold judged his own poetry so harshly that he stopped writing it, and I think it’s some of the best stuff any Victorian poet has to offer. Secondly, I think what makes Shakespeare brilliant is its EVERYTHING. Now, some part of me has to cede that Arnold has a point (perhaps it is the English Major side of me, who is always ceding that somebody has a point (except for in really extreme examples of people who are obviously both stupid and evil (like George W. Bush) (this usage of nesting parentheses is stolen straight from Jonathan Safran Foer in Everything is Illuminated))). I might well serve as a Cautionary Tale about what will happen to your child should she be exposed to overly large quantities of Shakespeare: you may, as the twenty-first century parent that you are, hope that your child will grow up to write short, incisive posts on their web-log about all of the wholesome yet contemporary activities in which they are engaged, like soccer, or Yearbook Online, and whilst, in your dreams, they do not not use multi-word abbreviations like ‘omg’ (o my god)  or ‘idk’ (I don’t know) or ‘wafiaonwki’ (we are falling into an Orwellian nightmare without knowing it), and they do not confuse your and you’re, or their they’re and there, they certainly do not write sentences as long as this one, paragraphs as long as this one, and blog posts like A la recherche de temps bardolique.

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