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Archive for July, 2008

Fairmont, Minnesota, March 15:

We performed at the Fairmont Opera House, which has the dubious honour of being the (I can safely say) penultimate example of any variety of the Drama of Not Doing a Show. This particular strain of Drama is the same we experienced in Kokomo, Indiana, and the same (albeit with advance notice) that constituted our final Drama, when our Illustrious Tour Manager went on for Evan in Taming of the Shrew and Merchant of Venice during our residency, so that Evan could go to his brother’s wedding. This, the Final Drama, was more dramatic insofar as Aaron performed off-book, and we were all slightly in suspense as to whether or not he would say “You look not well, Signior Bassanio,” (instead of ‘Antonio’), which he did both times we rehearsed the scene. It was less dramatic insofar as Aaron knew he was going to be going on for Evan in those performances since last June.

But in Minnesota, our beloved Chris Seiler fell ill with what he interpreted to be some kind of food poisoning. I believe it was the same Martian Death Flu that wracked Evan and me in Indiana (for the doubtful amongst you, ‘Evan and me’ is correct grammar in this case), because we were all eating the same cereal in the dining hall in Duluth. It would make far more sense that we would get the flu in waves, and food poisoning simultaneously. But regardless of the cause, Chris was incapacitated—I seem to remember him lying behind a table in the backstage area huddled under a blanket that had initially hung as decoration on the wall—Aaron had to go on as Baptista and the Page, and we can log a second example of The drama of doing a show with the World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager stepping into a role vacated by a deathly ill actor. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture this time.

Of course, Aaron could not play the seventy-three different musical instruments that Mr. Seiler commands, so a fair amount of negotiating was needed for the pre-show music. Alisa went on for her fiancée for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” having (I believe) never played ukulele before. It was certainly a Dramatic moment for those of us backstage, because, without Chris Seiler there, Chris Johnston forgot when he usually comes in, and so Johnston and Alisa played the intro for at least three times as long as it is usually played. I think Alisa considers this one of the more shameful moments of her entire tour, but in all honesty it wasn’t bad, and likely, people who had never heard our version of the song before didn’t even notice anything was awry. Plus, it afforded Alisa this following gem of information: it is much easier for men to play the ukulele than women. (Recall that the instrument is held at chest height.)

The show itself went well, with Aaron performing book-in-hand; as we were walking through scenes with him beforehand, it was surprising how little I actually knew of Baptista’s traffic pattern, but could only say things like, ‘Well, he usually ends up here by this point.’ I think Aaron got a lot of that kind of direction, because much of the blocking ended up being completely different. But I love having to make adjustments on the fly, because it makes all choices, old and new, absolutely truthful.

There was no convenient place to watch from backstage, especially as audience members were seated along the sides of the stage in usual ASC fashion. Nevertheless, Aaron made me laugh so hard I practically cried on two separate occasions. The first was when Raffi and I were waiting to make our entrance in the Vincentio/Pedant Confrontation scene, and we heard Aaron say, “What, is the man LYEWnatic?” from the house. Not only did Aaron milk the liquid ‘u’ in ‘lunatic’ for all it was worth, he upped the pitch of this syllable about an octave above both his normal speaking voice and the pitch of Seiler’s usual delivery. Like all of life’s funniest things, not even one-eighteenth of the humour is translated in the retelling, but all I have to say is that it was a good thing that Raffi and I always make that entrance laughing, because if I’d needed to enter weeping, there would have been nothing I could do. I think Raffi was in a similar state, which makes the hilarity all that more impressive, focused actor that he always is.

The second extreme moment of comedy came at the curtain call, which we had all neglected to talk through with Aaron. In consequence, as we all walked to our curtain call marks singing ‘Hit me with your best shot baby etc.’ Aaron kind of shuffled around, looking for a logical opening in the formation. Then, when just Alisa usually sings ‘Fire awaaaay!’ at the end, Aaron continued singing with her, perhaps because he was distracted by not knowing where to go, or perhaps because he also legitimately did not how much the rest of the cast usually sings. Either way, there’s something about someone simultaneously singing ‘fire away’ and shuffling backwards in the most tentative manner that derives true humour from its paradox.

The audience was kind and receptive, if not as young and rowdy as some of our college-aged groups. I overheard someone who worked at the venue speaking to our stressed tour manager about making sure that the show wasn’t too suggestive, because the audience base was fairly conservative. I recall Aaron replying, “We’ll do what we can, but when Shakespeare writes ‘What, with my tongue in your tail?’ there’s not a lot of leeway.” Aaron was more gracious than I probably would have been under the circumstances, because people getting huffy when Shakespeare is a little dirty really gets my pumpkin pants in a knot. If you play the text, it will not be clean. I’ve seen enough scandalised English teachers on enough high school Shakespeare tours, and it makes me furious that, of all things, the people purporting to TEACH Shakespeare apparently don’t read it closely enough to see that the dick joke is as basic an element of Elizabethan theatre as is the iamb. But I digress, especially since, at the Fairmont Opera House, both audience and staff alike were very friendly and seemed to enjoy the show. As a matter of fact, the venue hosts get extra super bonus points for laying out an entire table of food for us backstage. They will live forever in our hearts, having lived briefly in our stomachs.

It was Raffi’s birthday the night we stayed in Fairmont; unfortunately, we had to rise very early the following morning, because we had the first of two full drive days to get all the way back to Virginia. This did not stop most of us from having a few drinks at the hotel bar, the upshot of which was that, in the morning, Raffi was so late that he met the vans at the gas station across the street. This is only worth noting because Raffi has been unofficially voted Most Likely to Arrive Early to Anything of the Piercing Eloquence Troupe, and so the sight of him wheeling his suitcase across the median may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Unfortunately, none of us had any way of knowing that one of our vans was going to get stuck in the car wash next door, with the garage-style-door literally halfway down on the hood. If we had, we could have let Raffi have another fifteen minutes of sleep. O, touring! The situation comedy of a life on the road is often more situation than comedy.

A Word from Our Sponsors

Today’s post is made possible by the wifi supplied by the megabus en route from New York to Philadelphia. Thank you, megabus! You are a beacon of free wireless connectivity in a dark ocean of secure networks. Now, if you could only work on not keeping your buses at a temperature set for penguin habitation.

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Before scaling our way up Minnesota to Duluth, we stopped in Minneapolis for several days when performances we were going to have in Iowa fell through. It was wonderful to be in a large city again, and it was also wonderful to have a visit with my friend Aaron, who, in the world of Bardolatry the Blog, famously showed up at a performance of Merchant in Washington D.C. without any forewarning.

Brief reviews of things I visited in Minneapolis, in no order whatsoever:
– The Guthrie’s production of Jane Eyre: Perfectly competent, but not as electrifying as I would have hoped from either the Guthrie (previously unknown to me in more than reputation) and Jane Eyre (previously known to me). The actors were acting to the back walls of the theatre and not to the other actors on stage, at least from the perspective of someone who sitting three-quarters of the way to the back wall of the theatre.
– The Guthrie, as a piece of architecture: Five Stars for Spiffiness, One Star for Ease of Use.
– The Minneapolis Institute of Art: Fantastic! (Though Dan disagreed.) A wealth of art without being too overwhelming. Special notes go to the ‘Period Rooms,’ from Tudor England to French Ballroom to Colonial American, and to a painting by the rather obscure artist Thomas Chambers, about whom my mother is currently publishing a book. I have rarely been so proud of myself as I was this time for recognising an artist’s style from across the room.
– Dim Sum Restaurant Across the Street from our Hotel (not the actual name): Five Stars for Yumminess, Five Stars for Ease of Use.
– The Mall of America: Despite my best intentions to be unswayed by the fact that it’s just a mall, only really big, I got caught up in the mallesque grandeur and actually purchased three items of clothing, thus straining my turquoise Teeny Tiny Travel Suitcase to its uttermost. In my defense, this made for five total items of clothing purchased in the last year, and that’s coming from a woman who owns (in boxes in another state) over forty skirts.
– The Paul Bunyan Ride in the Mall of America: Okay if you hide behind my friend Aaron on the log chute to avoid getting wet. If you are aquaphobic, like myself, I would not attempt it without said friend Aaron or a reasonable substitute.
– The Loring Pasta Bar: Four Stars for Yumminess, Seven Stars (out of Five) for Interior Decoration. No, really, this restaurant is one of the most fantastical interiors I have seen in my life and I have lived in Istanbul, Turkey, and Oxford, England, and visited a good many other places. You can take a look at some pictures on their website, but none of them do it justice. I want to LIVE in this restaurant: the plants, trees, twinkly lights, layers of walls that cut to exposed brick, balconies, vaulted ceiling, curtains, checkerboard floors, and general décor remind me more of Alice in Wonderland than anything I have seen this side of waking. Also I saw a man there who looked like Yeats, but that is purely coincidental and I do not expect, if I ever get to live in the Pasta Bar, that this man will necessarily be included.
– My friend Aaron: Five Stars. It is good to have friends. Touring will teach you that, if naught else.

Duluth, Minnesota, March 13:

The question (dear reader) that has no doubt been gnawing at your mind since you realised that we’d be travelling to the United States’ Arctic North is: Did it snow when we were in Duluth? I am pleased to say that yes, it did, and looked quite beautiful falling through the pines, thus giving us a the proper visual Duluthian experience (this may not be the adjective for ‘of or pertaining to Duluth,’ but I’ve given up worrying about it with deference to the more seriously problematic place name adjectives discussed in my post on Indianapolis).

I sincerely hope, however, that the question of whether or not I was cold was not also fretting your consciousness, as you should know that OF COURSE I was cold. I am cold when I stay for too long on the back porch of the Bev House at night in May. However, I was not that Holy Mary Mother of God Please Make It Stop level of cold (my dear friend Lewis also called this Sweet Baby Jesus Wear All Possible Layers of Warmth level of cold), because we brought a warm front along with us from Missouri, rendering the daytime temperature somewhere in the mid-twenties. My friend Aaron will witness that not a day before we arrived in Minneapolis, the temperatures were certainly in the below-ten region. Those are certainly the kinds of temperatures (and I have known them, in Boston) at which my brain molecules apparently stop bumping around and I lose all coherent thought. Think of it, if you will, as the Absolute Zero of my intelligence.

Just when you think I can’t get any nerdier, I do.

The college at which we were performing was architecturally dominated by a large stone castle-like building that sat impressively atop the hill of the campus grounds. As we rounded the driveway to the college, it looked like Hogwarts or a grey-stone version of the meadow façade of Christ Church at Oxford (which, let’s face it, are nearly the same thing, since parts of Christ Church were used in the Harry Potter films…and, just when you think I can’t get any nerdier, I do). I regret to say that once next to it, it looked more like some kind of Disneyland castle; something about the extreme irregularity and chunkiness of the stone looked more like ‘Hey, let’s build this to make it look like a castle!’ than ‘Hey, let’s build a castle!’ —always an important distinction amongst castle-builders. ‘Method’ castle-builders are quite peeved whenever anyone mentions the story about the famous old architect who said to his young co-worker, “My dear boy, why not just make it look like a castle?”

(Ten Ellen Points to anyone who names the story to which I’m making reference—God knows enough different people have quoted it to me in my life that it must be common knowledge. Ellen Points are redeemable for overly large stuffed animals in the afterlife.)

The auditorium in which we performed was in the castle-like building, and I would guess it usually serves as more of a music hall than theatrical space. The only way offstage was through two doors in the wood-panelled stage left and stage right walls, and the stage was so wide that our pipe-and-drape system could not actually stretch its full length. This left a small gap between the door and the start of the draped ‘backstage,’ so that in order to make any entrances, one had to employ that physicality dreaded by many an actor, the Neutral Walk. I ended up staying in this backstage area for most of the show—especially on the road, I enjoyed listening to and ‘staying with’ the show—but the thought of the Neutral Walk proved more annoying than the actual execution of it. Though I’m not sure how Neutral I really was in those three-inch turquoise high heels.

Though the auditorium was fairly large with a moderate rake, the performance was made more intimate by the fact that the stage was only a step or two above the area preceding the front row, and the step ran along the entire length of the stage. This meant that it was very easy for people to pull things out into the audience, and a few people used the area between the stage and the front row as an alternate acting space.

It was an important show for me personally, because it was the show in which I took the first steps towards the work that finally made Bianca coalesce for me, or, in slightly more moderate terms, finished the Bianca cake by finally putting the icing on. This metaphor is apt not only because of my history with food metaphors, but also because these finishing touches are inspired by that which may be seen as cloyingly sweet. Here’s what I realised: Bianca should be more like a Disney Princess, and to that end, I began watching some clips from that endless font of time expenditure, YouTube, and incorporating Disney Princess Gesture into the part.

Of course, what really made me realise this were my fellow actors, and, in particular, Mr. Raffi Barsoumian. He did such brilliant physical work in all three shows, but in watching his physical work on Lucentio, I thought that perhaps I would feel better about place in the unique world of our Shrew if I tried to be more the girl version of Raffi’s Lucentio. For a long time this, and my fantastic dress, led me to a kind of 1950s housewife physicality that was certainly appropriate, but didn’t feel to me to be quite enough to fully integrate me into the world of physical specificity brought to the show by people like Dan, Evan, Alisa, Paul, and Raffi. Part of my struggle with Bianca, too, for the entire year, had been seeking ways in which to make the Daddy’s Girl comedic bits come from a positive, rather than a negative choice. I had no interest in employing any of our society’s stupid cheerleader/spoiled rich girl physical templates, in part because I feel there ought to be something more timeless about Bianca—she says “Old fashions please me best,” after all, and I couldn’t agree more with THAT.

The Disney Princess idea came to me in a flash, and I’m so happy with it; though they’re maybe a bit cloying and absurd when we watch them as adults, they are basically sweet, well-intentioned girls. And taking notes from their physicalities was a fun process. Watch Sleeping Beauty: her arms are always held out a RIDICULOUSLY long way from her sides. And I think it was ultimately effective; when we returned to the Blackfriars, Jim gave me the note, “Wow! You seem so much more comfortable in Bianca’s body.” (Yes, I DO love Jim so much that I have unwittingly memorised every nice thing he’s said to me.) And just think: it only took me nine months of doing the show to make it work. Bianca had the same gestation period as a true human baby! I think Portia sprung out of my forehead, Athena-style, during the Ren Run, which has caused all the more complications thereafter.

I also spoke to two very nice sisters who saw Shrew in the spring—both are aspiring actresses and came up to talk to me while I was at that infamous theatrical hangout, the Stonewall Jackson bar—and they were very particular about loving the little gestures that I used. It was flattering in part because I really used them to please myself and to blend in with the play’s world better, not because I thought anybody except for perhaps the show’s director might notice them, when there is such fantastic physical comedy going on elsewhere on stage. I told the young women that I never thought anyone noticed, but they said they both remarked together that I used the ‘Glinda Foot,’ because apparently Glinda in Wicked cocks out her foot in the same manner. I’ve never seen Wicked, but from what I know of it, I think the Glinda-Bianca comparison may be generally apt, and furthermore, if it’s good enough for Kristin Chenoweth, it’s surely good enough for me.

Meanwhile, back in Duluth, Minnesota: the only other distinctive quality of the college campus that I recall was the fact that both sufficient visitor parking and the dining hall were so difficult to find that it almost seemed they trying to hide their dining hall from enemy detection. Note to enemy spies: THE DINING HALL IS NOT WORTH INFILTRATING. The cereal was the most consistently edible offering.

More Words on More Belatedness:

I do not currently have any internet connection, and so must steal the odd wireless signal from the ether in order to get anything done at all. As the internet is also required, in this age, for any amount of job- and house-seeking, my internet time is hugely pressed. It’s nearly impossible to function in today’s society without the internet, and living without access is more frustrating than this sometime-luddite would like to confess. In any case, I actually have a few posts waiting in my computer to be brought to the internet’s light, and will make an effort to get those up sometime before the presidential elections.

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