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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

DRAMA RUNDOWN!

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

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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Alternate Title: Death and Rebirth in Islamorada

Islamorada, Florida, February 8-9:

Words cannot express how fantastic, and how surreal, it was to be in the Florida Keys.

And so this concludes this particular blog post.

Ha ha! If I fooled you, you must have never seen the average length of my posts. Perhaps you stumbled onto this blog by accident, seeking information about Islamorada, and not the Shakespearean persiflage of a nerdy actor. You must also somehow have looked past the blog’s actual title. Furthermore, you must additionally be unable, for some reason, to see that there are paragraphs below the one that you are currently reading.

For an example of how fantastic and surreal it was, consider this: as I stood in a t-shirt and skirt on our hotel’s pier, overlooking the oddly placid ripples of the Atlantic, each tipped with moonlight, my Frave told me that the temperature was one degree Fahrenheit in Chicago. Meanwhile, it could not have been much less than eighty at night in Islamorada. People went swimming. At night. O brave new world, that has such temperatures in it!

If this is not a geographical reminder that life is not fair, I don’t know what is. My conversation with Melissa made me wish that I could find a tourist t-shirt reading:

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m in the Florida Keys For My Job While You are Freezing

Of course, said t-shirt would probably have cost about $45. The retribution to be paid (literally) for being in the Florida Keys was the exorbitant price-tag on everything. However, this is merely in accordance with Newton’s little known Eleventh Law, stating that prices increase in direct proportion to the appeal or positive attributes (“coolness”) of any given location.

The ASC drives to Islamorada

The above picture was taken on the drive in to Islamorada. Note the window reflection, above, and the scenic orange traffic barrel.

Our first performance was a 90-Minute Taming of the Shrew at a local high school. The auditorium spanned several postal codes, a problem exacerbated by the fact that the entirety of the house was equally as live as the stage; this meant that we had to project (or ‘resonate,’ as my Linklater training would posit) over the sound of at least five-hundred high school students just to hear ourselves. Nevertheless, we gave a solid show, though I often feel I have little to do with that in the 90-Minute Shrew, and the most distinctive thing I remember about the actual show was how delightful the outdoor cross-around was in the 90 degree sunshine. The student audience stood squarely between ‘rowdy and excited’ and ‘apathetic and lobotomized,’ which seemed lovely—until they all got up to leave as Hortensio and Lucentio gave their final lines, and we were left bowing to the retreating ends of the slower half of our audience. That feels about as bad as it sounds. However, it is merely in accordance with Newton’s little known Eighty-Seventh Law, that high school audiences are often appreciative in inverse proportion to their degree of being spoiled. And here we are talking about people who live in the Florida Keys. (With the exception of the fantastic Holton-Arms Academy, I’d take an inner city school over a suburban prep school any day.)

The true drama at that particular show was the death of a couple of inanimate objects that tour with us, for which this post gets its alternate title. Of these, the far more grievous was Chris Seiler’s bass, which snapped, apparently from the humidity. It was very tragic for the loss of the bass itself, though it also meant that we had to do with either an additional guitar on the bassline or (in places where this was moot) nothing at all. As we came out for the pre-show for the following show that evening, Chris announced to the audience, “Our band is called Bassless.” I suggested in an aside to Alisa that we should keep our original name but simply say that these performances are ‘Fancy Bred: Bassless.’ After all, we are always unplugged, and so can hardly aim for that as a variant to sell more of our non-existent albums. And our holiday variant, ‘Fancy Gingerbred,’ is not much needed outside of A Christmas Carol.

However, the alternate title promises Rebirth as well, and not in the sense that one day all broken instruments will be resurrected and joined with their melodious souls in the life of the world to come, but in a more immediate sense. Because that very evening, when we were setting up for Henry V, Chris, who is Stage Manager for that show, was talking to the very nice man who was one of our contacts at the venue. The man told Chris that he played guitar, and so Chris told him the Tragic Tale of his Snap-Necked Bass, and asked the man if he knew of anyone who could fix it. The man replied that HE was the only person on the island who did guitar repairs, but that he would be happy to do it as swiftly as we needed it! Chris apparently brought the bass its earthly saviour later that evening, and we had it by Sunday when we had to leave.

The few religious comparisons that I made in the previous paragraph are much due to the fact that it felt like miraculous providence that we should happen to find the one person in Islamorada who could help Chris and the bass within less than eight hours of the original horrific discovery. As we were setting up, I kept walking around saying, “It’s amazing. AMAZING,” rather as if I didn’t have any other words in my vocabulary.

The other object that died at the high school show in Islamorada was the more problematic of our two irons. This was, indeed, the iron that set off the terrifying ‘security system’ smoke alarms in Connecticut when Alisa was trying to clean it. It had long been a talisman of woe; it had been cleaned several times, but somehow it kept on accruing more black gunk and stealthily transferring this to our clothing. I spent AT LEAST a half an hour and used up the entirety of our supply of Iron-Off in trying to rid it of the black gunk prior to our high school show, but a few recalcitrant pieces of black sludge clung to the iron’s surface, like barnacles, or like Huckabee to the Republican nomination. In consequence, I decided that the iron finally needed to be replaced.

With a similarly speedy period for rebirth, I purchased a new iron at CVS that afternoon. Her name is Irona. I hope she will serve us well, as I feel somehow personally responsible for her. I gave the old iron to Paul to destroy, as I gathered that he would get even more pleasure out of it than I. At the last moment, Chris Johnston usurped the gradual destruction the iron was receiving at Paul’s hands, swinging it around by its cord and smashing it on the concrete. I tried to document it all with Paul’s camera, and though I did not get the ideal action shot of the iron airborne, lasso-style, in the hands of Mr. Johnston, I hope that someday those pictures will see the light of this blog.


Troublesome Iron R.I.P.
You may be smashed to pieces, but your black sludge remains indelibly imprinted on our clothing
(Picture a detail from ‘The Miracle at Sheffield’)

Our evening shows were at an outdoor amphitheatre, which, to me, took the best advantage of our temperate surroundings. Who wants to be indoors in the Florida Keys? Not me! And not just because the indoors were generally air-conditioned, and thus, in a cruel twist of fate, I was cold.

 The American Shakespeare Center in Islamorada

The amphitheatre. The humans pictured, left to right, are Raffi Barsoumian, Scot Carson, Aaron Hochhalter, Paul Reisman, Alisa Ledyard, and Evan Hoffmann. They may appear nearly indistinguishable, but after nine months of everyone wearing the same clothing, everyone is imminently recognisable from quite a long ways a way. (Anyone who can tell me what ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ sketch this is a reference to, you win an undisclosed prize.) Also pictured is the skeleton of our discovery space.

Sweet heaven, my captions are as long as my posts.

Of course, a disadvantage to the amphitheatre was that the audience was in the natural darkness of the Florida night, and they were also set back quite far from the stage by a large swash of grass. This made them terribly difficult to see and speak to, and somewhat confounds the American Shakespeare Center’s trademark ‘We do it with the lights on’ (I do not believe there were any efforts at revising this to ‘We do it on the grass in the dark’). However, these conditions also meant that we were able to witness the sun dip into the ocean behind the palm trees as we were loading in and setting up!


A view from the amphitheatre

 I love the spirit of performing outdoors, as it reminds me of the dear Publick Theatre in Boston. Unfortunately, along with balmy weather, and sunsets over bodies of water of varying size (Gulf of Mexico vs. the Charles River), there came the difficulty of being heard out of doors. I had so much fun with Henry V, which we performed on our first night at the amphitheatre. I was focusing on a helpful note that Aaron gave me for the Boy’s speech, and delighting in inhabiting Katherine (and the French) fully after my less-than-ideal experience a couple of nights prior. Mostly, however, it was exhilarating because the outdoors make a fantastic setting for a majority of the play. As the Boy, I could run around on the grass ‘backstage’ and kick things, which leant added spirit to all of those scenes. Meanwhile, the expanse of the surrounding night seemed to summon up both the freedom of a wide world and the terror of an encroaching army—yes, I am a nerd, but I am an actor because I have an over-active imagination, or perhaps vice versa.

However, the following day Aaron told me that I needed to be much louder, an act which he followed by a note to the entire company about volume. I should have realised that because I was having such fun, I was probably not focusing enough attention on projecting into the sound-eating monster of the outdoor space. Also, it had been so windy the previous evening that we had to tape the drapes to the pipes, to the other drapes, and to the floor. We did not have to tape them to the floor the second evening, which was fortunate especially since another drawback to the outdoor space was that we had to load in and load out for both shows.

Nevertheless, I projected at the top of my lungs, shall we say, for the second show, Taming of the Shrew. It was, in consequence, not the most fun Shrew for me; though the broader style chafes less at increased volume, it diminished the honesty which always slips in and out of my grasp in this show. Furthermore, the kind of job that I have in Shrew doesn’t have much place for the ‘deep emotional resonance’ style which can be a recompense of increasing volume, as I so verbosely discussed in my Treatise on Volume in Stage Acting.

It seemed that the majority of property on Islamorada was beachfront property, since the island appeared to be wide enough to accommodate only the road and the buildings on either side of it. This meant that our hotel was right on the water! Photographic evidence of this, and the prodigious number of palm trees, follows:




A view from our deck/balcony

Our rooms were suites, with a living room and a full kitchen, opening onto a communal deck. This meant that I didn’t even have to stay indoors to eat the food that I bought for myself at the grocery store! I ate salad, fruit, and hummus (not all at once) to my heart’s content, ruffled by the Florida breeze! People without itinerant lifestyles do not appreciate how fantastic it is to have a refrigerator, stove and microwave, nor do they appreciate the consequent joy of having as much or as little food, precisely when you want it, and the consequent joy of not eating preventatively and feeling fat all of the time. I was so excited at the grocery store, that I purchased things rather as if I were getting the last tub of mixed field greens off of the Titanic. 

Not that this stopped me from going with the larger part of the troupe to an outrageously expensive (for an actor) seafood buffet on our day off and eating myself into a kind of pain that I had not experienced since Christmas. There was less sushi than I hoped, but it was worth it. Other day-off activities included sea kayaking (it was a lot easier than my previous experience off the coast of Wales), a dip in the hotel pool, and that most perfect kind of vacation activity: exactly what you’d most like to do (talk to friends on the telephone, write, read, perform Shakespeare) but in a gorgeous environment.

But seriously, don’t hate me because my job took me to the Florida Keys. The whirligig of time brings round its revenges: we are now in the snow, in Ohio, and in February once more. Look you: Fortune is an excellent moral.


Islamorada R.I.P.
We may have ‘passed on,’ but you are the ‘better place’

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Raffi Barsoumian as Lucentio, Ellen Adair as Bianca, Sticker as Itself

The above poster is from our week-long engagement at Fairmont, and is my favourite version of the many posters strewn about the campus. You know you’ve hit the big time when people put frowny stickers on your forehead. It’s even better than the drawn-on moustache or glasses, which only require a pen. I got a whole sticker!

This editorial comment was made prior to our arrival (or at least, prior to our first show, which is when I caught sight of it), and I think the ubiquity of the poster may have been what garnered the review. About halfway through the week, the poster’s prevalence made me suddenly wonder if anyone recognised either Raffi or myself, as we shuffled around campus. My supposition is that no one did. O fame, you fickle mistress: one day, everybody’s putting stickers on your forehead, the next day, you can’t get arrested.

Suffice it to say, this particular poster was rather the highlight of my week.

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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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