Archive for March, 2008

Indianapolis, Indiana, February 25 – March 2:

The Piercing Eloquence troupe spent a week in Indianapolis, but I did very little exploring of the state’s capital, chiefly because I partly grew up in Indiana, and my father still lives in Bloomington. That’s right: I may originally be from Philadelphia, I may have spent the last seven years of my life in Boston, and I may currently reside in a series of hotel rooms, but this itinerant actor is part-Hoosier.

N.B. For those of you who don’t know, or cannot extrapolate, a ‘Hoosier’ is a person from Indiana. I recall having a conversation with Aaron, our tour manager, back in December, in which he expressed doubt that people from Indiana actually called themselves Hoosiers, and probably called themselves ‘Indianians’ instead. “They certainly called themselves Hoosiers when I lived there,” I said, and the proposition of ‘Indianians’ probably gives you an idea as to why. What the kind people of Indiana never revealed to me is the origin of the word ‘Hoosier.’ I reject the cheap ‘Whoo’s-yer daddy’ derivation. Dave Barry says it is from the sound that pigs make when they sneeze, which is as compelling an explanation as I have found.

Discussion Questions
1. Is the name for people from your state a little awkward? ‘New Yorker’ is fine, as is ‘Californian,’ ‘Floridian,’ ‘Oregonian,’ ‘Virginian’ and others. But Pennsylvanian is not a whole lot better than Indianian. Is that what we call ourselves?! I feel as though I’ve rarely heard it actually applied. Which brings me to our next discussion question:
2. With Massachusettsian under consideration (whch I KNOW I’ve never heard), is ‘Masshole’ actually the state-recognised term?

So I spent more time exploring the hour’s drive between Indianapolis and Bloomington whenever I could, in order to visit my papa. It is quite a disorienting experience to be an itinerant actor and, at the same time, be in a house generally associated with Christmas vacation and the occasional summer, but also just about the best thing in the world. It’s just particularly difficult to go back to hotel rooms afterwards. It was unspeakably wonderful to see my papa, and Pravina, and I also got to visit with my high school friends Devin and Gwyn (I hadn’t seen Gwyn in over two years, because she’d been in China)! My dearest Frave, who is called ‘Melissa’ by most people, also came down from Chicago over the weekend with her husband and his parents, and I got to play with her for most of Saturday. In essence, it was the best week I’ve had on tour!

But, that being said, I’m not quite sure what the Indianapolis ‘touring’ experience was like, since it was more of a ‘home’ experience for me. It may have been similar experience for Evan, who is originally from Indiana; though I lived in Indiana a little longer than he did, he can actually claim to be a Hoosier by birth. Dan, Evan, and Chris Johnston also had wives/fiancées/girlfriends (respectively) visit them in Indy, so I think it was a special venue for a number of people in the troupe.

The theater that we performed in for most of the week was quite nice, and every day I meant to bring my camera to take some pictures, and every day I forgot, like the sharp-minded genius that I am (I remember having my first ‘senior moment’ in, quite literally, pre-school). It was essentially a thrust stage, but on a curved semi-circle rather than a rectangle; the first row was positioned right at the lip of the stage, making it easy to speak directly to audience members. Furthermore, the rows of seats were on a very steep rake, so that it was possible to make connections with audience members seated in the very last row. I imagine that the steep rake also made for clear viewing from the audience’s perspective, regardless of the seat. Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is to compare its format to that of an ancient Greek semi-circular amphitheatre, only, naturally, indoors, as we were not in Islamorada anymore. Toto.

In the attempt to make my Les Bardolatables-sized posts on week-long venues slightly more digestible, I will continue the tradition, as with Canton and Fairmont, of using headings for the separate shows.

90-Minute Taming of the Shrew Vol. I

Apparently, I am at the point in the tour where shows blend together and I can’t remember anything remarkable about them. Such is the case for this 90-Minute Shrew. I have a recollection of it happening, but that’s about all. The fact that the show took place prior to noon and consequently I was not truly awake may have something to do with it.

Merchant of Venice Courtroom Workshop

I became Verbosity XTreme in discussing this workshop, the question-and-answer that followed, and the nature of criticism in our society. Thus, in an unprecedented move, I have created a separate blog post about this workshop, to clean up the post on our week in Indianapolis a bit, which God and yourself can witness, needs cleaning. You may find it here, or you may also scroll down. Don’t let my wordiness scare you away from it, as it is actually a far more interesting post (in my opinion) than the usual endless recital of theatre spaces and eating establishments. However, if you are terrified by wordiness, you have probably already made your cursor run away, screaming in its little pointy manner, to lolcats or some suitable antidote. MANY WORDZ ABOUT SHAKSPER, I HAS DEM.

Henry V, Vol. I

My father, who is coincidentally also Henry the Fifth in our familial line, came to see our Thursday Henry V along with our family friend John. Another John who teaches at the Folklore Department with my father was also in attendance with his wife, though they had no idea that I was in the show; they are simply fans of the American Shakespeare Center, having seen a show at the Blackfriars, and so sought out an opportunity to see the company in their home state! Evan also had about fifteen family members attending. I use ‘about’ as genuine approximation, not as a licence for exaggeration, because I believe there were actually an upwards of a dozen Hoffmann family members in the audience, including many (as Evan reports it) who had never seen him act before.

Happily for Evan’s family and my father, I thought it was a good performance. Evan sounded like he was on fire as I listened from backstage. I really enjoy listening to Henry, in part because it’s still a bit of a novelty since we do it less often, and also because it’s really my favourite Shakespeare play. I love it because it has a little bit of everything in it, so I’m not forced to chose a comedy or tragedy as my Absolute Favourite. Additionally, it holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Shakespeare play to which I was ever exposed. In case I have not narrated this story on this blog before, the very same Henry the Fifth in attendance that evening took me to see the Kenneth Branagh film version when I was seven years old. I loved it so much that I made my parents take me to see it again. Four more times. I also wrote to the movie theatre asking for one of the movie posters when they were finished with it. They granted my request, as I imagine they did not have too many other seven-year-olds clamouring for them. I still own the poster, which is quite battered and torn, and bears childish writing at the bottom which reads, ‘I SAW HENRY V FIVE TIMES.’

This is why I am weird. You have my parents to blame. And/or thank, should you be in the rare predicament of needing a Shakespeare Nerd.

In any case, I had a good show: I continued to be less-ashamed of the Boy’s soliloquy, as I had in Alabama. I was able to capitalise on parts of the amphitheatre-space, scrambling up into the seating, and borrowing someone’s program to hide behind. In the English Lesson scene, Ginna and I got the dress twisted around the wrong way when I was putting it on; it’s only happened once before, but fortunately it HAD happened once before, and so I already had the experience of improvising French for the problem, and could pull out the same sentence. As I have discussed before, I take a secret delight in small obstacles of that sort, because they keep me on my toes. Meanwhile, the person that I used for ‘de ande’ at the end of the scene had a nice ring on, and I said, ‘Ooo!’ The Le Fer scene was one of the most fun ever; everything went well until the final wooing scene, which  I thought was simply not at its best. Ginna, however, was surprised to learn this afterwards, and I admitted that because I felt it hadn’t been going optimally, I decided to change some things up.

After the show, we had to drive straight to Kokomo, Indiana; originally, we were going to be performing in Kokomo, and in her generosity our contact incorporated the high school show we were originally supposed to have there into our contract. So we stayed for about seven hours (again, approximate and not hyperbolic figure) in a hotel in Kokomo in order to be fresh and ready for the following morning’s:

90-Minute Taming of the Shrew, Vol. II

This was a historic performance because Evan thought he got some kind of food poisoning and was nearly incapacitated. He had spent the entire night evacuating his stomach, and was only capable of lying down in utter surrender or sitting with an expression on his face that looked as though someone was treading on his intestines, which may actually be a kind assessment of the pain. Ginna served as the stage manager for the show, bless her heart; Evan roused himself to play the Lord in the Induction, and then the one, the only, World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager Aaron Hochhalter went on as Biondello. Here is a picture of him in the Biondello costume:

He that has the two fair daughters, is't he you mean?

You can see how excited he is! Biondello has few enough lines that Aaron was able to stow the script in his pocket whenever he went on stage and perform off-book. It was pretty amazing to see him mimic the Biondello Surfer Dude physicality. I stood unabashedly in the wings (and ergo possibly in view of the people seated on stage) and watched whenever I could. Aaron took a modest, just-doing-my-job attitude about the whole endeavour, consequently leaving me, I speculate, to balance the universal energy by finding it really exciting. Because you know this means it’s time for another


As of this performance, we have the following notches on our collective Drama Belt, which much be very large indeed to encompass the entire cast:
– The drama of thinking we might not do a show, but in the end performing as planned;
– The drama of doing a different show than the one we were planning to do;
– The drama of not doing a show;
– The drama of doing one-half of a show;
– The drama of doing a show with the World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager stepping into a role vacated by a deathly ill actor.

After the show, the kind folks at IU-Kokomo provided us with a sandwich buffet lunch, which we all enjoyed. Except for the man whose stomach was in a vise.

Henry V, Vol. II Part B The Sequel Revenge of Black Boxes and Red Poles

My father came to see Henry again, this time accompanied by Pravina; Frave (‘Melissa’), her husband Peter, and his parents Ken and Laura were also there. We had a larger audience, though we’d had a nice house on Thursday, too. I personally did not have as good of a show, except for the final wooing scene, which I thought was better. My father said he did not notice a difference in quality, only the natural variation that occurs if actors are trying to be honest and responsive, which just goes to show that actors’ perception of their work is probably out of proportion to the visible difference to audience members.

It was a kind of wonky-mouthed show, however, albeit not in a way that audience members could discern. There was one gentleman in the third or fourth row who was following along in the script, so he may have noticed; on the other hand, so many things are consciously cut or vary from edition to edition, that these tiny blunders may have not even seemed to be as such to someone following a full version of the script. A number of people simply slipped out a different word by accident (for example, the ever-excellent Chris Seiler as Fluellen said “his prawls and his prabbles and his indigestions,” instead of “indignations,” which almost made me laugh as the dead body of the Boy and consequently bring new meaning to the term ‘corpsing’); once, I heard from backstage a couple of lines seamlessly dropped from the middle of a speech; I accidentally said ‘nails’ instead of ‘mails’ the time that Ginna/Alice is supposed to correct me (but she, the excellent actor that she is, simply didn’t correct me, and didn’t even bat an eye).

The English Lesson scene ended quite nicely, however. There were a great number of children in the audience, and several seated in the curved front row. The young boy whom I first approached when naming body parts started to ascend to the stage when I took his hand, which was so charming that I was sorry to cut his stage time short with “Oh, mais non, merci!” In the centre of the first row sat the kind professor whom I’d met at the Merchant workshop, and had told me that he and his young daughter would do bits from the scene before she went to bed. As I came around, I saw that he was lifting his daughter up, so I made sure to get to her and pointed to her beautiful sparkly shoes by the time I got to ‘de foote.’ I had promised her father on Tuesday that I would be more than happy to meet her after the show, which I did. She is, by all appearances, younger than I was when I first saw Branagh’s Henry V, which bodes well for the future of Shakespeare Nerds. It’s nice to see that there are always a few children are being messed up in the same manner that I was. If I have in any way helped water the seed of Shakespeare in her young mind, that it might one day bloom into the kind of blind nostalgic adoration that most people of my generation associated with ‘Thundercats,’ I can die in peace. Now, before I outlive Keats!

Also on the plus side, Evan gave a particularly good Crispin’s Day speech. Sometimes it’s really hard not to cry, and I have to remind myself to try to be brave and manly. Even people who don’t love it with blind nostalgic adoration admit to weeping because it’s such a beautiful speech, and I think it’s doubly difficult for me.

Another odd thing about the performance was that the folks at the venue decided they wanted an intermission. We don’t normally have an intermission on the road, though we will when we return for our residency in the Blackfriars, a fact which I am not anticipating with glee. Unless I have to go to the bathroom or change a costume, I hate intermissions. It makes it very easy for the spirit of the play to break, and I cherish remaining within its energy, whether I am on or off the stage. And unless I have to go the bathroom, I don’t like intermissions as an audience member either. Of course they’re necessary: there are concessions to be vended and merchandise to be hawked. But most of the time, I would just rather that the play continue.

Merchant of Venice

I woke up the following morning with the ‘food poisoning’ that Evan had, which is the reason that I phrased it ambiguously as ‘Evan thought he got some kind of food poisoning,’ and also the reason that I was able to discuss the pain in such specific terms. Four of us in the troupe have had a similar affliction by this point, albeit with slight variations in symptoms, which makes me believe that it is probably the flu, and not a rash of food poisoning from evenly spaced dining establishments. My version was also accompanied by fever, chills and dizziness, so I think flu is a safe bet, especially since, as Katherine, I kissed Henry/Evan a couple of times on Thursday night, when his flu was probably incubating.

And so, in this state, I had to do Merchant of Venice. Fortunately, I think my worst day was the Monday following, because when I woke up on that Sunday my first thought was ‘O no, not today!’ and my second thought was a command to my body: ‘Not today, body. Wait about five hours, and you can be as sick as you want.’ Because not going on was not an option, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there is no one to go on for any of the women, as much as I know Aaron wants to play Portia. Secondly, a whole slew of people I knew were coming to the show: my father, Pravina, Melissa, Peter, Ken, Laura, two of my best friends from high school: Devin and Gwyn, the mother of another of my best friends, Lynn (mentioned in the last post) and her friend, family friends John, Karen, her boyfriend Jim, the entire McDowell family including another old old friend of mine, Michael, and Robert Neal, the man who directed me in my very first Shakespeare play. That is eighteen people. I had to do the show, despite my body.

As I get sick at least a couple of times a year, and I have been doing shows back-to-back-to-back-to-etc. without any breaks since I graduated college, I have amassed a small amount of experience in doing shows whilst sick. Even earlier this year, I had a comparatively tame cold whilst we were in Sheffield, Massachusetts, but I only did Shrew and Henry under its influence. Being able to go backstage is always helpful; I did a performance of Midsummer once in which I almost threw up on Lysander’s face when anointing his eyes, and was only able to hold on until I went backstage. But of course, we don’t go backstage during our production of Merchant. Ha ha!

On the positive side, I would much rather be onstage with a flu than with a sore throat which mangles my voice. There were about four performances of Diary of Anne Frank in which I actually sounded like a frog, and you can’t leave the stage for that one, either. A voice distorted by illness is a real obstacle, because every time I speak I am reminded that I am not well. The key, in my experience, to performing when sick is to think: ‘The character is not sick.’ It is either a testament to my faith in the presence of the character, or, more scientifically, the testament to how faith is capable of affecting the body, that I’ve found this works pretty well. I don’t believe that one can delay illness indefinitely by forcing your mind to reject your body’s messages; that is, I believe that illness IS in the body, not just in the mind. But the body will do a job required of it, so long you allow yourself to crash afterwards.

Consequently, I only felt real waves of nausea pass over me when I was sitting on the benches during other scenes, and only then did I feel considerable chills or the painful sensitivity of skin that accompanies flu. I’ll be honest and say that there were a few moments, sitting on stage, when I was so cold that I thought my blood would congeal if I didn’t move. However, once I stood up to do a scene, I felt my consciousness enveloped by the circumstance of the play, as if anything extraneous had been burned up in my fever. I simply didn’t have the extra energy to waste on anything but doing the show. My awareness may not have been at its best, but I think I had a good show; and my modest, young experience tells me that lack of awareness as to my own performance (coupled, naturally, with vital awareness of the scene and your partners) may yield some of the best performances.

On the other hand, I would not classify it as my very best performance, but in that it was not a mess it was a kind of success. I was also struggling to make sure I kept my volume up, because Aaron told me that my lowest volume is consistently difficult to hear. I confess I’d been taking advantage of what I thought was an acoustically easy space by using my lowest volume in intimate moments, because variety is the spice of acting. Apparently, I misjudged the space. It shames me that I have this problem: it shames me so utterly that I’m not sure why I write about it. I suppose it is because I am committed to honestly reporting the trials of this particular actor, since I cannot speak for any other. But I was able to keep volume up, as Aaron said afterwards that there were no problems.

Many of my castmates did not think it was our best show, however, because we were distracted by a woman with two very young children sitting in the first row. The woman had also sat in the front row with one of the children for the previous evening’s Henry, and you would think she would have learned that it was difficult to control her child during the show. I didn’t notice him too often during Henry, because I didn’t spend the entire show onstage; he stood up and started talking at the beginning of my Boy soliloquy, but I just acknowledged him, his mother made him sit down, and I didn’t think about it again. During Merchant, I found them not to be too distracting when I was doing a scene, because I had to bend all my thought on being a healthy Portia. But when I was sitting on the sides watching the other scenes, I take no compunction to say that they were infuriating. You have to recall, of course, that from the sides of the stage we were effectively watching the action of the other scenes against the backdrop of these squirming children, and so people in the centre of the audience, directly behind them, may not have had the same view. But I’m certain that people on the side could see them, too, because they were doing things like putting their hands and legs ON THE STAGE (which was, as I said before, within hands-and-legs length of the first row), flopping around, and throwing around a water bottle.

I am not faulting their behaviour as children, because both boys had to be less than five years old. Some five-year-olds can watch two hours of Shakespeare in a well-behaved manner, like Scot’s adorable daughter Ella, or the daughter of the professor who came to see Henry V, or my niece Carly, who sat through a Twelfth Night I did in college with great delight when she was only THREE. But not all children can do this, and it is the responsibility of the parent to know whether or not your child can handle it. And then it is the responsibility of the parent NOT TO SIT IN THE FRONT ROW. I’m willing to make allowances: maybe the mother was a student, maybe she had to see these shows, maybe she couldn’t find a babysitter. But for the love of all that’s holy, when you have seen that your child behaves like a four-year-old, being, after all, four years old, and cannot sit quietly for two hours, DO NOT SIT IN THE FRONT ROW. Because when you leave to take both children to the bathroom—TWICE—you have to walk in front of everybody in the entire theatre. The woman and the two children returned from the bathroom the second time during Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech, so Chris was speaking into the audience whilst the two children dawdled and were dragged down the amphitheatre-style stairs. Of course, as a proud devotee of the American Shakespeare Center aesthetic, I’m a firm believer in acknowledging whatever is going on in the house, but I don’t know quite how you’re supposed to acknowledge that and stay within such a vitally serious moment as that. Chris dealt with it admirably, but I was completely incensed. As you can no doubt tell, since here I am, three weeks later, writing two gargantuan paragraphs about it.

Other things that I recall about the show include two of the suitors that Ginna chose. She chose the perfect man, right in the front row, for the French Lord, M. Le Bon; when she pointed him out, he made a gesture as brushing hair away from both of this temples and gave me a kind of Gilderoy-Lockhart grin. I walked the length of the stage towards him before I responded, “God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.” I gave his hair-tossing gesture back to him on the line “He is every man in no man:” I always love it when the audience gives me something very specific to play with. Then, Ginna picked my best friend from High School, Devin, as the German suitor. I know I couldn’t help but smile for an instant, rather than immediately give way to the standard shock-and-indignation that accompanies the proposal of such a drunk. Every time I have had male friends come to a performance of Merchant, Ginna has managed to pick them as one of the suitors, despite the fact that I have never told her to pick any of them, or even that they are attending. I suppose it is because they look like nice chaps, being, after all, nice chaps.

A rather terrifying moment occurred when Raffi, as the Duke, fell as he descended from what we see as presiding over the courtroom, but may be put in more plain terms as sitting on a chair on two tables on a pile of slippery money. I did not see the actual event, as I was picking up Shylock’s yarmulke at the time, but I felt my inattention all the more acutely when I said “I humbly do desire your grace of pardon.” Raffi/Duke was fine by that point, but it didn’t stop me from running over to him like a fool and consequently scrambling up the blocking for the ring business at the end of that scene, which, with all due respect, is some of the most awkward blocking in the show. Or maybe I just always feel like Mr. (Miss) Awkward at the time because of the nature of the scene.

Afterwards, I greeted all eighteen people who had come to the show on my behalf. I began by announcing to them that I probably shouldn’t hug them, lest they get my Martian Death Flu, but ended up hugging everyone anyway. (If any of you got the Martian Death Flu in a timely manner after this hug, please post your blame as a comment.) I was much happier to see everyone than I could muster the strength to express, as my flu tried to reclaim its lost time. My father, hugging me as I felt the energy in my body going into utter collapse, said quietly to me that it was “a triumph.” He meant that it was a triumph to have simply survived through the show, which it was.

The rest of the cast was picked up from the hotel in limousines and taken out to dinner by a gentleman whose company handles some aspect of audience services or public relations for the ASC. It was a lovely time, by all accounts, but I was glad that I was able to dine on Sprite alone and sit slumped in the company of family and friends. I had been looking forward to this week far more than our sojourn in Florida, and I would have traded a wilderness of limousines to stay near a kind of home for a few more days. But as it was, I and my flu had a few more hotel rooms in a few more strip-mall suburbs to visit instead.


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Today’s title brought to you by Bardolatry’s Department of Redundancy Department!  This is a companion post to the longer (yes, longer) post on our entire week in Indianapolis.

We performed the Courtroom Scene from Merchant of Venice in an actual courtroom, followed by a discussion led by a panel of professors from different departments in IUPUI. Here is a picture of us trying desperately to work out some of the blocking in the fifteen minutes we had before everyone came in.

Uh...which is the Merchant here, and which the Jew?

Pictured (l-r): Scot Carson, Ellen Adair, Evan Hoffmann, Chris Seiler, Chris Johnston. Photo credit goes to Alisa Ledyard, whose feet you see pictured in the bottom of the frame. I am not wearing my barrister wig in this photograph, a fact about which I am slightly grateful. I have never seen myself in it (since I put it on and take it off on stage), and I am apprehensive that I might find it comical. At the very least, I might be reminded of my favourite Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch of all time, in which John Cleese sings, “If I were not a barrister / Something else I’d like to be! / If I were not a barrister, / An engine driver, me! / With a chuffa chuff chuff…” I’d like to see what Shylock would say to THAT.

If you think I look a little apprehensive in this picture, you are right. If you do not think I look a little apprehensive, you are wrong, or perhaps, to give you the benefit of the doubt, apprehension is difficult to discern in the tiny pixels that make up my face. For most of my acting life, which is also most of my life, I have revelled in situations that mix things up and require me to think on my feet; however, in most of my acting life, I have never gone up on lines. However, in the history of performances of this scene, I have gone up and said a different line two distinct times, and once (in one of the dress rehearsals in Staunton) I misinterpreted a silence as a cue, and skipped a few lines of text. You must realize accounts for about 50% of the times I have forgotten a line IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Experience has taught me that I can deal with these situations, but experience has also taught me that I want to avoid the descending elevator it installs within my stomach. The reason that this scene accounts for a significant percentage of lifetime line-flubs, as I have discussed many times, is that I have a whole lot of lines in this scene that are very similar; usually, one line does not easily substitute for another, because there is an unalterable progression of the scene. Consequently, I feel as though I really remember which line is which in this scene with the aid of my placement on stage (for any curious non-actor parties, blocking has a lot to do with ‘how we remember all those lines’). So, to give a long paragraph a thesis sentence, I was afraid that fly-by-the-seat-of-my-barrister-robe blocking might make me mix up one of my ‘Therefores’ or ‘Why thens’ or ‘Tarrys.’

But the scene went off without a hitch, if it lacked the emotional weight of the rest of the play behind it. I was pleased that I was even able to take advantage of some of the differences of the courtroom space with some fly-by-the-seat-of-my-barrister-robe blocking. Professors of English, Law and Religious Studies illuminated different points of the scene afterwards in brief lectures, which were, and I am not just paying them typing service here, fascinating.

Then, the panel opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to ask questions; to our regret, most people asked questions of us, the actors, rather than the professors, when really, we wanted to hear the professors speak some more. A man in a red plaid shirt raised his hand and then rapped out, “I have three questions for Portia.
“1. Why do you disguise yourself and lie to the judge about coming from Bellario? You step into a court of law and the first thing you do is lie.
“2. Why do you tell Shylock that he has a case, and then push him to do something else? Isn’t that a poor bargaining tactic?
“3. Why do you stick that last law upon Shylock, when you’ve already got him walking out of the courtroom?”

I took a deep breath and said, “I could spend all evening answering those questions, but I’ll try to be as brief as I can.” In essence, I answered that:
 1. Though I have a long and complicated backstory for myself about my relationship to Bellario, I had to impersonate a man because women would not have been allowed into the court. Furthermore, I do have an arrangement with him, so I am coming from him in a sense, if not spatially; lastly, I had to say that he sent me because he was the doctor (lawyer) meant to settle the case, so only he would have the authority to hand the case over to me;
2. I try to show Shylock kindness and come in on his side in the hopes that this tactic will encourage him to be merciful. Perhaps, I think, if this man has previously been entreated in anger, he has simply responded in kind. I don’t want to condemn him; I want him to let himself off by letting Antonio off, too. I beg him multiple times, fairly late into the scene, to be merciful. But I enter with a kind of naïve hope bred of my privileged background, and end up getting embroiled in the courtroom’s atmosphere of hate, and get caught up in it myself. There are two levels: the higher level of mercy, and the level of law. If he agrees to ascend to the level of mercy, he too receives mercy; since he demands the law, I stick the law to him. Think ‘blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ (Though, as the Law professor points out, the law condemns Shylock to death but contains within it a provision in which the Duke can grant mercy, which he does. I also ask Antonio “What mercy can you render him?” after the Duke spares his life.)
3. I enter with the knowledge of the law that if an alien (i.e. a Jew) seeks the life of a citizen of Venice, the latter gets one-half of his goods, the other half goes the state, and the Duke determines whether or not the offender lives or dies. This is also why I wait until Shylock is literally about to kill Antonio to condemn him. But the famous bit about only being able to take a pound of flesh, without shedding a drop of blood, is something that (as I figure it) I can’t piece together until I actually see the wording of the bond. So that’s something I come up with in the moment. But the law which appears second in the scene is the inevitable law that I’ve been heading for from the moment that Shylock refuses mercy, and says “I crave the law.” That’s the law he gets.

I hope the above paragraph makes some student writing an English paper on the courtroom scene very happy.

Naturally, my response didn’t come out quite so cleanly, in part because between questions two and three the gentleman in the plaid shirt and one of the professors engaged in at least a literal minute (though it seemed like about five) of back-and-forth Portia-bashing, to the tune of things like ‘You really trick Shylock—you come in preaching mercy, and then you nail him.’ I said, “There was a third question; would you like me to answer it, or would you prefer to discuss it amongst yourselves?” Acknowledging the slight comedy of the situation actually relaxed me slightly, though there may have been an element of strain in my smile.

I spoke to the professor afterwards (quite a kind man), and shared with him my frustration that it seems everyone, from people like Harold Bloom and Judi Dench to anyone who has ever seen, read, or heard rumours about Merchant of Venice, decides to hate on Portia. I am by no means defending the racism and anti-Semitism at the core of the society that formed her; I think it wearies me because aforementioned ‘everyone’ always seems to think they are so CLEVER for villianising (I know I made up that word, but why should Shakespeare have all the fun) Portia, and victimising Shylock. It’s not that they don’t have a point, I’m just tired of everyone thinking their point is so original, when no one is really saying anything to the contrary.

It’s similar to the education I received in American History throughout grade school, in which everyone was busy telling me, from age six to age seventeen, that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and spent comparatively little time talking about what he was actually trying to do in terms of human rights. And it’s not unrelated to why I loathe and hate feminist literary criticism, at least in regards to the periods I predominantly studied in college. Why in the world spend an entire essay proving that Percy Shelley had a view of women as different from men, when he was part of a society which viewed women as unequal? I find it lazy, because the argument is pre-fabricated, and also because these kind of perspective attacks always receive pats on the back. The authors of such criticism can become smug, because they know they have an inviolate position. One cannot argue against the fact that, for example, Byron objectified women; not only is it nearly self-evident, but to argue against them is to expose oneself to the risk of being thought to defend sexism, or something ridiculous of the sort. As a woman, I’m spared that particular conundrum, but the phenomenon is widespread.

I think it is a symptom of the greater-than-usual obsession with celebrity-bashing in our society, from people making millions on pictures of Britney Spears wrecking herself at speeds more aptly associated with planes than trains, to historians knocking ‘heroes’ off their pedestals to make sure they get tenure, to the insistence of perfectly intelligent people that Shakespeare was not, in fact, Shakespeare. (You knew I’d bring it back around somehow.) Everyone’s so busy knocking people down that they don’t appear to realise that no one’s building them up anymore, and they’re swinging at the air. And in regards to Shakespeare’s characters, who are no less immune to this phenomenon, I want to say, ‘That’s right, Shakespeare was creating real, complex human beings, with flaws as well as virtues. But that makes them no less worthy of our love than our criticism.’ As a society, we weigh so much more on the side of criticism, because praise puts us in a vulnerable position. I find it to be clothed in the same cowardice as pessimism; it takes bravery to hope, it takes strength to accept ambiguity. Naturally, Shakespeare himself embraces ambiguity quite well. One of my favourite Shakespeare quotes is from All’s Well That Ends Well: “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together. Our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not, and our crimes would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues.” Oh man, do I love those ‘problem plays.’ The more contradictory Shakespeare is, the more I love him.

Later, when I was telling my papa and Pravina about the questions asked of me by the man in the plaid shirt, Pravina said, “It’s funny that he attacked you as if you were really Portia.” What is perhaps additionally funny was that I was not sensitive to that as an issue at the time, and I think it is because, flaws and all, I love my characters more than myself.

I was not surprised to learn that the man in the plaid shirt was actually a trial judge. I was surprised to learn, several weeks later, that he had flown in from somewhere in the southwest of the United States for this very event.

On another note, as we took our position in the jury box after the scene to hear the panel’s discussion, I saw someone sitting towards the back of the courtroom who looked extraordinarily like Robert Neal, an actor who was with the Indiana Shakespeare Company when both myself and the ISC were living in Bloomington. (I have continued to live, only elsewhere; the ISC has ceased to live.) I fixed the gentleman with such a persistent stare that I almost swore he noticed it, but I was trying to figure out whether or not it was, in fact, Robert Neal, one of the best Hamlets and best Petruchios I have ever seen. I got excited when he raised his hand to speak in response to a question about how often Merchant is produced, and why it hasn’t been shown in Indianapolis in recent memory—as soon as he spoke, I knew it was him, regardless of the fact that the first words out of his mouth were “Well, I’m an actor…”

As soon as the workshop was over, I bolted to intercept him. I asked him if he remembered me, giving my full name. His face lit up and he confessed that he hadn’t recognised me at all—but then, why should he expect that a girl that he directed in Julius Caesar when she was twelve years old should necessarily have become a professional Shakespearean actor and have come touring back through Indiana? In addition to acting, he teaches part-time at area universities (every actor needs another job), and just happened to be teaching a course at IUPUI this semester. A couple of my compatriots had even led a workshop in his class the previous evening! So, Robert Neal, this verbose blog post is for you. If you hadn’t been part of the team that made me part of the Indiana Shakespeare Junior Company, and directed me in my very first Shakespeare play, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

I played Julius Caesar, by the way. Thus initiating a long tradition of me impersonating men in theatrical situations. Just like Portia.

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 Sub-title: Also, it snowed.

Sub-sub-title: Also, we had these Shakespeare plays we did.

Dayton, Ohio, February 21-22:

On the American Shakespeare Center On Tour Weather Map, we can see the vans moving up here while this front of snowy misery moves down from the artic north like the Assyrian coming down like a wolf on the fold and smashes into the poor actors in their frail caravan. Do you see this, Jeff? It’s really a mess in here, where all this green is swirling around. And over here, on the What References to Romantic Poets is Ellen Making TODAY Bulletin, we can see that said Assyrian is from George Gordon, Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” Back to you.

We had avoided much in the way of accumulating snow on tour (and, to a certain extent, in Staunton, with the exception of the snowfall that lead to the Great Snow Seige of the Beverley Houses), including in roughly parallel states that we have travelled to since our stay in Ohio. Thus, an animal bred in captivity on tour would believe that it only really snowed in Ohio, provided it had an understanding of geographical concepts such as states. I found snow to be a major set-back on tour, because neither of my two pairs of shoes are equipped for it; it’s hard to pack snow boots, or other snow attire, into the Teeny Tiny Travel Suitcase. Chris and Alisa, natives of Ohio (as is Ginna), lamented the fact that the group now has an image of Ohio’s winters as being distinctively miserable, which might make people cranky about Ohio. But I am not cranky about Ohio because it was a Kingdom of Ice and Snow. I am cranky because of Ohio’s showing in the primaries. Thankfully, I was several states away by the time those rolled around, and so couldn’t even think about going around the streets saying, “Come ON, people!” On the negative side, Obama was in Dayton THE DAY after we left. O cruel fate.

The image rendered in the opening weather map is fairly accurate, except that snow isn’t green in real life: we hit a snow storm as we were driving up from Alabama, which naturally made for a difficult drive. Before the weather complications, however, we came across one of the most fantastic examples of Highway Irony I have ever witnessed, about sixty miles south of Louisville on I-65. On one side of the highway, a large black billboard proclaimed: HELL IS REAL. Directly opposite, an equally large billboard advertised the ADULT SUPERSTORE sitting directly beneath it. Dan noticed it initially, and since I could not get my camera out in time, he suggested I put it in my blog. So here it is! Immortalised for all time. Provided that the internet goes on for all time, and does not eventually implode from all the unweight of the staggering numbers of unprinted words accumulating daily into an impalpable entity.

The University of Dayton is so pretty, especially when it's not snowing

I did not take this picture of the University of Dayton, as is evidenced by the fact that it is clearly green in this photo, and not submersed in snow. But the campus was so pretty, I wanted to supply a picture. Photo credit goes to this random website. Although I imagine they also did not take the picture themselves.

The University of Dayton’s theater is as lovely as its campus (which is, as is evidenced above, quite lovely): the distinguishing feature of its standard (but very nice) proscenium theater was an orchestra pit that moved up and down the length of the story between the stage and loading dock/dressing rooms. I label this distinguishing because a) it meant we did not have to carry all of our set pieces up the stairs; b) the kind gentleman and tech student moved it up and down by means of a long metal pole inserted in the floor, so that, as he stood grasping the pole as it descended or rose, he looked something like Gandalf (having made reference to Harry Potter a couple of posts ago, my Nerdom is now complete); and c) riding on it was equally as cool, as it reminded me of the scene in Gladiator where Maximus and Commodus ascend into the Coliseum on a platform (okay, maybe my Nerdom is complete now). Naturally, all this truly proves is that I am Easily Amused, which my yearbook mentor in Middle School suggested were the actual words behind my intitials.

Our first night, we performed Taming of the Shrew. My greatest memory of this performance was that it was one of the best Kate/Bianca Bound scenes ever, in my opinion. Much of this had to do with the pre-beat between Ginna and myself, which was so feisty and amusing (to jog my memory in future years, I will call it the Modern Dance/I’m Going to Get Your Nose pre-beat) that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to stop laughing in order to enter. Another benefit was that the knot around my hands slipped a bit within the first few lines of the scene to a position that actually hurt slightly when Kate pulled on it. I wish I could figure out how to do that every time, because I always prefer not acting when possible (i.e. the Heavy Suitcase proposition).

We had a Merchant of Venice the following night, and it was not the best Merchant (nor the worst); sometimes, after a particularly excellent show like the one we had in Huntsville, it feels a little lacklustre for simply being average. For the first half of the show (which is a little lighter for me), I couldn’t shake the feeling that, quite simply, this was not the first time I was speaking these lines, and that it wasn’t the first time my castmates were speaking the lines either. This sensation happens very rarely to me (it happened a little more often during Christmas Carol‘s twelve show weeks), and it always makes me feel poorly. The only truly distinctive thing I recall about the performance was that Ginna’s parents and some of her friends attended.

But what made Dayton truly memorable were the fantastic students that we met. We were treated in a princely manner by the University, who provided for us a vat of trail mix and a fruit assortment of a size generally associated with pictures of cornucopias. But EVEN NICER was getting to meet the theatre and tech students thus conscripted to help us, who were kind enough to perform tasks beneath their abilities, i.e. lugging the cart with snacks, focusing lights, elevating the pit like Gandalf, etc. We usually have someone who helps us with these things at the theatres, but usually it is a singular tech director, not a squadron of students.

Some of these students came to our shows (and sat on stage), but others had shows themselves the two evenings that we were there, but were hanging out in the theatre beforehand. In this manner, I re-met (it’s the best way I can describe it) a woman named Rebecca who went to my High School, though she was a Freshman the year after I graduated! We met only a couple of months before, when we were both part of the Bloomington High School North Alumni Cabaret over the New Year’s break; she organised a comedy sketch for everyone to open the show, and I did a scene from As You Like It with the amazing actress and my oldest friend, Lynn Downey. Rebecca was one of the students in the simultaneous shows at Dayton, but whether or not people in that predicament could see the show was of less importance to us than the fact that we actually got to converse with students from the university, which is far more of a rarity than one might expect.

As I have named these the ‘True Confessions’ of a life on tour, I must continue my commitment to honesty, at the risk of losing all the glamour (ha) that adheres to the title ‘Shakespeare Nerd:’ when I envisioned touring from town to town, I envisioned a lot more parties. Perhaps this misconception was fuelled in the summer by Chris Johnston’s insistence to our handsome representatives at the merchandise table that they were responsible for finding out where ‘the parties’ were. Consequently, I assumed that there were, in fact, parties. After all, Mr. Johnston had been on tour the year before, and must, I reasoned, have some prior knowledge. Now, I am sure that parties do exist on the campuses we visited, I just haven’t heard about any in all of our months of touring. I am open to the possibility that people found out about parties last year, or that a couple people this year have found parties and I have not heard about them, since I make a poor wingman, as I am not, after all, a man.

So you have to understand how Monumental an Event it was that Evan overheard a couple of the theatre students talking about a party and asked if we could crash. As kind souls to whom I shall be eternally grateful, they welcomed Evan’s suggestion, and Evan, Dan, Raffi, Paul, Josh and I went over to the campus house after the show. All of the people at the party were great fun, with witty conversation, good dance moves, and beer games I had never seen before. Theatre students! They just don’t make anything else like ‘em. It was so great to go to a party with such fun people and feel like a normal human being, that I lost all track of time; at one point, Evan came up to me and said, “We probably ought to go soon.” “Why?” I responded. “Because it’s 4:30 in the morning,” he said. Ah.

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Huntsville, Alabama, February 14-16:

One of the problems with God’s Geographical Reminder That Life is Not Fair (otherwise known as Florida) is the question of why bad weather happens to good people. We drove into a cold front as we moved west, so that when we emerged from the vans in Huntsville, Alabama, the temperature hovered around freezing, and our correspondent attitude hovered around despair. We had not travelled significantly to the north from our previous venue in Georgia, so it was not only a harsh thirty-forty degree drop in temperatures, but a thoroughly unexpected one. “What have we done to deserve this?” wailed Alisa. “We’re good people! Why are we being punished?”

The key is to remember that Florida is a reminder that life is not fair, not a lesson that those who live in Florida are God’s chosen people. It would be even easier, in response, to ascribe to the Elizabethan worldview that everyone travels on Fortune’s wheel (as I pointed out at the end of my post in Islamorada) simply because what goes up must come down, not as retribution for personal behaviour. This argument appears to fall through slightly when you consider that there are plenty of people who get to stay in Florida all winter long, until you remember: hurricanes.

The most distinctive thing about our stay in Huntsville, however, was the fantastic audience. (Also, the University had a great gym.) In addition to a healthy showing from the university student population, the Huntsville Literary Association, which has been bringing the American Shakespeare Center to Huntsville since Shakespeare was a child, populates the audience with a large age range of people. I’ve generally found that a demographically mixed audience is a more responsive audience, because SOMEONE finds all of the jokes funny, which leads to more responsive behaviour overall. (Conversely, our least responsive audiences to date were homogenously comprised of West Virginian high schoolers.) And the responses are not always what one might think: while the college students certainly whooped, the most raucous of audience members were probably the older women in the Literary Association. Bless their hearts.

The performance space abided by the old platform-in-the-middle-of-a-multi-purpose-room set-up made popular by such venues as Orrville, Ohio, Canton, New York, and, most recently, Sarasota, Florida (another place with a slightly more severe, but pleasantly large, demographic spread). The benefit of this arrangement is that it provides us with a true thrust stage rather than a couple of rows of seats in a proscenium theater, though this also means that no audience members are within arm’s harassment. The disadvantage is that these stages have proven to be somewhat hazardous. In Sarasota, there were a number of sharp edges and protruding staples to the platforms; in Canton, the image of Paul/Grumio wiping out during the Wedding Scene is indelibly etched on my memory; and in Huntsville, two pieces of the stage actually slid apart during the middle of a scene, creating an impromptu trap. (The ghost of Marley could not be reached for comment.) The quick-thinking (and amply strong) Mr. Evan Hoffmann leapt off the stage at the end of the scene and shoved the platform back into place. I am glad he was on stage to deal with the problem, because the image of myself, in my petticoat and three-inch high heels, straining fruitlessly against the offending platform, is more comical than the mental-image projectionist in my head can deal with.

Because indeed, we performed Taming of the Shrew on our first night there, which was also Valentine’s Day. This was either fortuitous or good planning, since Shrew is definitely our most Valentine-appropriate show. One could not say the same of all interpretations of Shrew, but ours is definitely more of your romantic comedy, they-hate-each-other-so-much-at-the-beginning-you-know-they’ll-be-kissing-by-the-end-You’ve-Got-Mail variety. With whacker noodles! The audience was the largest this evening, perhaps owing to the holiday, but also due to an enthusiastic high school group who came in to see the show.

The two things I recall about this show are:
1. It was the best delivery I ever gave of “Is it for him that you do envy me so?” and it actually got a huge laugh, thus, I am concluding, expending my entire allotment of laughs for that line;
2. For some reason, when Ginna/Kate threw down the hat in the final scene, it went sliding off the stage. I can’t recall if some other hat-propelling agency was involved, but the extreme journey of the hat added a great deal to the lines that Alisa and I have following. (“What a foolish duty call you THIS?”) Ginna gracefully descended from the stage during her speech to retrieve the hat during her speech, with perfect improvisational skill.

Our Henry V and Merchant of Venice which followed on the next two consecutive nights were equally excellent shows, fed by the superlative audiences—though slightly smaller, they still filled the room, both in terms of occupied seats and generous energy. I remember even fewer distinctive things about these performances than I do our performance of Shrew, in part because they were simply, to my recollection, a couple of the best shows we’ve had. All I really remember about Henry was that afterwards Aaron told me it was the best he had ever seen the Boy’s soliloquy, which made me very happy. I, too, had been feeling less ashamed by it than usual that evening, and I really value Aaron’s opinion.

One specific thing I remember about Merchant was that Ginna picked a very cute boy in a hat on stage-right as the German, and I felt slightly poorly for picking on him later as the “lewd interpreter;” but he gave me no choice, because he had laughed and clapped much louder than anyone else at Ginna’s consistently-brilliant “Why, shall we turn to men?”

I also felt that the Quality of Mercy was perhaps the best it had ever been, or perhaps merely revitalised by my attempts to use a slightly different treatment of the text. As I have discussed before, I think the two main treatments of Shakespearean text are styles I might call ‘simplicity and reasoning’ and ‘deep emotional resonance,’ and I think employment of both makes for the best performance. Naturally, most lines and moments are a blend of the two, but the pull of the extremes of these two styles is always compelling when I see it in other performances. It floors me both when an actor allows his body and the words to be conduit for pure emotion, and when an actor tosses off lines like “What’s the matter?” or “I will go” with colloquial simplicity, and the true power rests in having both. This is perhaps too many words spent on a concept that is not terribly sophisticated: in essence, if everything has equal weight (or, conversely, equal lightness), eventually, nothing is heard. It is certainly too many words spent on the topic of the Quality of Mercy, Huntsville Version; quite simply, I have always approached the speech as one with a greater percentage of ‘deep emotional resonance’ than ‘simplicity and reasoning,’ but this evening it came out slightly favouring ‘simplicity and reasoning’ at something like 55-45%. This pleased me, because I’ve been feeling recently that I need a larger percentage of it in my work, and that it is the dominant texture in most truly great classical work that I’ve seen (and that I see, daily, from my castmates).

Huntsville leisure activities included a viewing of Atonement, my first visit to a Steak & Shake since high school (in my mind’s scrapbook, I recall a photograph of me after a performance of The Boyfriend looking rather as though my milkshake had been spiked), and Dan and Ellen’s Two Attempts and One Successful Visit to a Thai Restaurant. The Shakespearean actor is a simple beast: it rises, it seeks food, it performs Shakespeare, and it goes to sleep. Some breeds, also, watch too much CNN.

The kind people at the Huntsville Literary Association held a dinner for us after our performance of Henry on Friday night; it was delicious. Everyone was very friendly, but one woman lamented to me that I’d only had two scenes, but that I’d done such a good job with the French. I told her that I had five scenes as the Boy (six if you count the “Kill the boys and the luggage” scene), and she gazed at me for a moment before she said, “That was you?” Ha HA! Success.

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Whilst we were in Georgia and I was on a picture-taking spree, I took the following pictures of Life as Bianca:

Bianca’s self-portrait

More Bianca
Bianca and the angle of the petticoat

This is what it looks like to be Bianca. You will notice that my feet are not visible.

Hellloooo feet! I am reminded of the bit in Alice and Wonderland where Alice has eaten the cake and now worries that she will have to send presents to them for holidays. This is me sticking my foot out so far that I almost lost my balance.

These are the reasons that it was not easy to keep my balance with my foot stuck out far enough to be visible. The one, the only, three-inch turquoise high heels.

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Augusta, Georgia, February 12:

Travelling one state northwards into weather more reminiscent of April than June, we settled in Augusta to give a performance of Taming of the Shrew in a gorgeous theatre that we all agreed we would like to pack into the cargo van and take with us. (Of course, this would require a cargo van with interior capabilities even greater than that of Mr. Weasley’s old Ford Anglia, may it continue to roam the Forbidden Forest in peace.) Fortunately for you, I can dispense with the one thousand, or perhaps one-thousand-five-hundred words (knowing me) of description and provide you with a couple of pictures:

Pictured are an out-of-focus Paul Reisman and Chris Seiler (Digital cameras are fantastic, but at least one in every twenty pictures is out of focus, which never happened with my old manual camera. It shames me a little.)

Pictured, left to right, are Chris Seiler, the now-nameless but kind gentleman who worked at the theatre, Aaron Hochhalter, and Ginna Hoben.

A full stage is hiding behind the curtains and discovery space, but we chose just to use the front thrust, as it is so ideally suited to our thrust-staging ethos. The stage floor that you see there is actual hardwood. How they keep it in such good shape, I have no idea. A season low in tap-dancing musicals would probably be a start.

The show itself was fun and lively, because, as Ginna and I both agreed, it felt ‘good to be back’ after the performances in the noisy high school auditorium and the amphitheatre, in which we all had to project within an inch of our lungs’ lives. It was a lovely audience; Josh’s parents were there to see it again, as I recall they were also there to see it at the Holton Arms Academy.

However, I confess that the most distinctive thing that I recall about the entire show was something that happened backstage. Before we were about to enter for the second time in the Wedding Scene, after Katherine and Petruchio have been married, Ginna was holding the Flounder, as she usually does. A couple of people, most likely Josh and Paul, were taunting her, and she whacked one of them, most likely Paul, with the Flounder. Then she spun around to the semi-circle of people who simply happened to be gathering for the entrance in a way that seemed say, “Who else wants to give it a shot? C’mon! I’ll take you all on!” It was just about the funniest thing I had seen since Dan’s little grin as Launcelot Gobbo in Merchant in New Martinsville, West Virginia, and, naturally, shares with all things I find truly hysterical the key attribute of not being particularly amusing in the re-telling.

Part of the reason I found it so humorous was that her moves reminded me of some kind of combat video game, and led me thus to imagine the character selector, with a little video game Kate posing in her bridal regalia while the player scrolled through the list of possible weapons (bouquet, super-soaker, walker, etc.) before selecting [Flounder]. And no, you do not need to tell me that my brain makes bizarre cognitive leaps. I am sufficiently aware of the oddity, especially since I do not think I have ever actually played any kind of fighting video game. Maybe the Flounder made me think of that Kingdom Hearts video game that my dear friend and roommate Briana used to play.

Suffice it to say, all I really I remember is clinging to a nearby ladder for support as I heaved with silent laugher, whilst Ginna kept pointing her finger at me and saying, “Don’t make me laugh! Don’t!”

After our performance, our lovely hosts took us ‘out’ to dinner at our hotel, which was fantastic. I have three words for you: goat cheese grits. Unless, of course, you hyphenate goat-cheese, in which case I have two words for you. This dinner will also live in my memory as taking place on the evening of the Potomac Primaries (or ‘Crabcake Primaries,’ as Jon Stewart showed a clip of someone saying, thus proving that not only actors have a food fixation), because when I discovered the results I ran into the other room, exclaiming, “Obama swept!” and literally leaping into the air. This is distinctive mostly because Paul said it was the fastest he had ever seen me move.

All of us at dinner at the Partridge Inn. The goat cheese grits have not yet arrived.
Visible, clockwise from the back of Alisa’s beautiful red head: Raffi Barsoumian, Scot Carson, Paul Reisman, Josh Carpenter, Chris Johnston, Dan Kennedy, Chris Seiler.

I wished that we were performing in Augusta for a week, rather than a day, in part because of the beautiful performing space and our kind hosts, but also because the hotel was AMAZING. It is tied in my estimation with the Belmont Inn in Abbeville, SC, and may even exceed my admiration of the Belmont for being larger and fancier, with a better breakfast (three words: regular cheese grits) and workout facilities. Both, however, captured my heart by being not merely old-fashioned, but Genuinely Old Hotels; my nineteenth-century soul was charmed.

But anyone, whether they are misplaced from the nineteenth century or not, would be impressed by this suite:

Although they are not pictured, there are TWO walk-in closets in this suite. The discovery of that fact actually began to make me feel moderately guilty, because I happened to have a room to myself whilst we were in Augusta, and this meant that there were only .5 people per walk-in closet. But no more than sixty seconds after I had taken these pictures in exultation, Paul (the housing coordinator) called me up to say that Dan and Scot had accidentally been put into a room with only one bed, and asked if I could switch rooms. Naturally, I did, so this was my room instead:


I actually preferred this room, because it had that ineffable quality which makes me wish that I could simply hole myself up and try to write Great Things. (Picture, if you will, a typewriter on the above desk.) The only other room that has spoken to me in this manner was a room in a B&B in Derry, Northern Ireland; that room had the decided advantage of being in Ireland, this had the advantage of having a veranda:

And because we were in Georgia, it was actually warm enough to sit outside and write. Both days that we were there it was partially overcast, but that kind of thick, protean grey with clouds that hang like ripe fruit and enrich the colour of green on the earth. You can probably tell that I like this kind of weather, and when it is paired with 70-80 degree temperatures, you are absolutely right. It is, as a matter of fact, my favourite kind of weather, simply because it resonates with me on some inexpressible level, in the way that the hotel room made me want to write. It may be that its rarity has something to do with its value in my estimation, since in a place like Boston, you get no more than two to four days like this a year, in late April and early May. But for whatever reason, I’d take the emotion of spring-like clouds that seem almost to give way to warm rain over the placid smile of a cloudless sky any day. If this is anything like Georgia usually is during the winter, I am going to winter in Georgia and not Florida in the unlikely event that I am ever financially comfortable enough to do so.

I love Georgia in the winter

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