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Ellen’s News in Brief

This is a historical sub-title, it being the first time the words ‘Ellen’ and ‘brief’ appear in the same sentence without a negative between them.

This fall, I was in a production of Henry IV, Part One at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC. It was an absolute delight, from start to finish, and I’m not just saying that here because this is theoretically a public forum. I have wanted to play Lady Percy for a long time, and have in fact held her up as a part I’d rather play than some more famous Shakespearean heroines who have a great deal more text.

The director (Paul Barnes) was wonderful: gentle, encouraging, helpful, welcoming of collaboration but also firm in challenging me to think in new ways. I had fantastic fun in rehearsals, and then continued to have fun playing in performances with my Hotspur, who is approximately 857 times better than Ethan Hawke was in the Lincoln Center version. He possesses a colloquial grace with the text that I can only dream of in my nerdy Shakespearean dreams.

This is perhaps one of the best production photos I think I’ve ever been a part of:

 

Ellen Adair as Lady Percy and David Graham Jones as Hotspur

Ellen Adair as Lady Percy and David Graham Jones as Hotspur

 I am pictured here threatening to break Hotspur’s little finger. I think much of its brilliance may be attributed to Mr. Jones, which is a not inaccurate representation of the scene as a whole.

The following is a picture I find amusing in part because it looks like the Gossip Girl version of Kate and Hotspur. The other half of my amusement I derive from the fact that I look like I’m saying something catty and David appears scandalised, when I was of the (perhaps mistaken) opinion that most of this scene was consisted of Hotspur saying something catty and Kate being scandalised. Consequently, I am not sure when in the text this picture falls, outside of it being part of the Glendower scene in Wales.

Ellen Adair as Lady Percy and David Graham Jones as Hotspur, Act Two

Ellen Adair as Lady Percy and David Graham Jones as Hotspur, Act Two

The entire cast was wonderful, both as performers and as people with whom to spend an autumn. We had good times in the Folger housing, nine people in one kitchen notwithstanding, and it was rather exciting to spend the fall of 2008 on Capitol Hill. I could quite literally see the Capitol building from my bedroom window. On election night, we were buffeted from crowded bar to crowded bar along Pennsylvania Avenue, before finally settling slightly farther away in the standby of theatrical folk, Tunnicliffs. The bottle of champagne I purchased tasted no less sweet, the Obama shirt I was wearing was no less nerdy. We did not, unfortunately, storm the White House gates with others, since we had a student matinee the following morning, and our own political drama to enact. Throughout the run, comparisons with varying elements of our current and recent political history were rampant, and our production even got mentioned in Newsweek for that reason. Pretty spiffy! It was entirely Newsweek’s loss that they did not include the picture of Hotspur’s Little Finger in Peril.

As I type these words, I am in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the beginning of rehearsals for the world premiere of a play entitled The Yellow Leaf at the Pioneer Theatre Company. The Yellow Leaf is an absolutely gorgeous play (in my ever-humble opinion) about Byron, the Shelleys, Claire Clairmont and Dr. Polidori, centred around the summer of 1816 they spent in Switzerland. I am playing Mary Shelley, most famous as the author of Frankenstein, least famous for being the wife of the man I wrote my senior thesis on in college. For anyone who knows me, or for anyone misguided enough to have read this blog closely and discerned all the references to Romantic poets, this is outrageously exciting for me. I took four classes with focus on the English Romantics in college, one of which was actually entitled ‘Byron and the Shelleys,’ a passion which culminated in writing a big old paper about metapoetry through self-representation in Shelley and Keats. (If anyone ever foolishly doubted the veracity of the nerdiness promised in this blog’s subtitle, now is the time to cease your false advertising lawsuit.) I am continually indebted to a professor of mine, Andrew Stauffer, who is now teaching at the University of Virginia, for making me the Romantic Poet Nerd I am today. My Shakespeare-related nerdiness is someone else’s fault. I’m not sure who, exactly, but by god if I ever apprehend the responsible party, there will be a great reckoning to pay.

In any case, for me, playing Mary Shelley is, on a Scale of Excitement from one to ten, about fourteen-and-a-half. I found out about this play from the call-board in the Equity building in New York in late June, soon after ending my contract with the American Shakespeare Center. I think I actually leapt backwards with surprise when I saw that there was a play with a breakdown listing the attributes of George Gordon, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin (Shelley), etc., because I remember sheepishly mumbling something to the startled gentleman looking at the posting next to me.

However, I could not make the EPA because I was going to be in Oregon for my grandmother’s eighty-fifth birthday. Rather than submit to complete despair, I decided to at least email the artistic director of the theatre company in supplication, in the hopes that he would be sympathetic to my Nerdy Romantic plight because he is also, not-so-coincidentally, the author of the play. I didn’t really think that this would result in getting an audition, since I am certain that artistic directors are similarly pestered every day of their lives, I just knew that I would not forgive myself if I didn’t do everything in my power to pursue an audition.

Fortunately for me, Charles Morey, author of the beautiful Yellow Leaf and artistic director of the Pioneer Theatre Company, is about the nicest person I have ever emailed, and actually paid attention to me. It may have been my threat to intentionally sail into stormy waters, thus drowning in the same manner as Shelley. Regardless, he told me I could send my headshot and resume along to him, and extended the challenge to identify the allusion of the title. I did both. (The title comes from Byron’s “On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year.” Thank you, Professor Stauffer. Byron may also have been alluding to a line from Macb*th. Thank you, unapprehended felon.) I wrote to Mr. Morey that I hoped he would not hold it against me if I’d misidentified it, but that if I got it right, I would get some kind of reward, like ice cream. Or an audition.

My ability to go to the auditions was slightly complicated by being in Washington DC at the time they were held, but, to double my fortune, the wonderful Mr. Paul Barnes is well known to the wonderful Mr. Chuck Morey (and vice versa), the former having worked at the latter’s theater frequently. So, I was able to skip out of rehearsal for a day and dash up to New York (that’s ten hours on a Megabus, my friends) on the callback day. Of course I hadn’t actually MET Mr. Morey, or the director, Geoffrey Sherman, or the casting director, so I felt the audition had a kind of Hail Mary quality (yes, that’s actually a football reference, not a Mary Shelley reference, though I suppose it is also a Catholic reference). But as always, I was simply infused with the sense that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t do everything in my own power.

But I was triply fortunate, overwhelmingly lucky, and now I get to be Mary Shelley. It is quite literally a dream come true. I remember saying to a friend of mine on graduation, as, despite my English Major, I never intended to do anything but become an actor, “Well, what I’m really fit to do now is play Mary Shelley in a play about Byron and the Shelleys.”

This also marks the first time my name is in the title of an article on Playbill. Of course, I’m not being so audacious as to assume there will be a second time, which is why this is perhaps doubly exciting. But how about this? Thorstad, Kelly, Adair Are Brit Lit Trio of Yellow Leaf Premiere at Pioneer in January 2009 ! I love how it makes it sound like I am actually important, when really no one besides my parents are more likely to see the show because of my inclusion in the article’s title.

Rehearsals thus far have been about as wonderful as I imagined, which is saying quite a lot. I feel, at this point, that I could not possibly have asked for a more wonderful, talented, and friendly group–director and cast–to work on this paramount of all productions. I will wait to deal with the fall-out of having achieved my life’s purpose at this relatively early age. For now, I’m thrilled.

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BONUS ACTIVITY: In honour of the final, belated, and final belated post about my tour, make a list of the things that are mentioned that make actors happy and the things that make actors sad. Feel free to illustrate your favourites. Or do an interpretive dance.

Rockville, Maryland, March 24-26:

The Piercing Eloquence troupe wrapped up its tour in fine style at Montgomery College, where, coincidentally, Sasha Olinick, one of the fine actors in the American Shakespeare Center’s Summer/Fall season works. Sasha’s Feste in Twelfth Night is AWESOME, all the moreso because his completely-different Cornwall in King Lear and Elbow/Barnadine in Measure for Measure also rock. Go see Twelfth Night right now. No, literally, go right now. …No, don’t actually go right now.

N.B. I know the meaning of the word ‘literally,’ but this literally/actually joke is a private shout-out to the rest of the Piercing Eloquence tour on this, the much-belated final chronicle of the tour.

Our stay at Montgomery College was fantastic because they treated us like kings, or at least dukes. They gave us presents, they had fruit platters in the dressing room, and, most importantly, they put us up in a FANTASTIC hotel. It was not, perhaps, my personal favourite, because the Belmont Inn in South Carolina and the Partridge Inn in Georgia get style points for being from the nineteenth century, and the place in the Florida Keys (La Siesta?) gets style points for having eighty-five palm trees and an ocean. However, these suites in Gaithersburg were certainly luxurious. Everyone got their own bedroom, and the bedrooms shared a living room/kitchen. Having a kitchen is just about the most blessed thing one can imagine after having been on tour more or less since September, precisely at the moment that even the sight of the bizarre architectural façade of a Bob Evans makes one want to barf.

Here are some pictures of my suite:

They have WILLIAM MORRIS prints on the wall! Ten points: the most reasonable thing a hotel can do if denied the advantage of being from the nineteenth century. The hotel also had one of the best hotel fitness rooms we saw on tour, and a happy hour with free wine, beer, and food, most notably hummus, one of my two and a half favourite food items. So you could go to the gym and then drink wine with increased justification! Heaven. Sheffield visited Ginna whilst we were here; Evan stayed with Jacki; Scot celebrated his birthday by trying to hide the fact that it was his birthday from the rest of us; everyone was happy.

Despite the fact that these were our last shows on the road, I remember fairly little about them, especially compared with the previous shows in Virginia Beach and in Minnesota. The auditorium had a central seating area that was a good five or six feet lower than areas along the side and in the back of the auditorium, which were roughly the same height as the stage. In explaining it this way, I suddenly realise that it’s the same basic format of the Blackfriars, only without seating along the sides and in the back of the stage, and larger in square footage, if not in number of seats. An odd wall came down from the ceiling in front of the seating area in the back, which we were told made it very difficult to hear. So, once again, we had to resonate in each other’s faces, but thankfully it would be the last time, at least for these shows: in addition to being the most beautiful theatre I’ve ever been in, the Blackfriars also has just about the World’s Best Acoustics.

The only distinctive things I recall about our performance of Taming of the Shrew would appear to not bespeak the best of the audience, so I have to place a disclaimer that I think it was a very friendly and attentive audience, and a good show. I was still having a lot of fun exploring the icing on Bianca’s physicality, to continue to borrow the metaphor from Gremio’s line “My cake is dough.”

However, during my first scene as Bianca (which I unofficially think of as the “Will you any wife?” scene, after yet another Gremio line), a woman’s cell phone went off. It was doubly unfortunate for her that she was sitting in one of the seats onstage, and perhaps trebly unfortunate that there is a fairly lengthy portion of the pre-show in which Chris Seiler beats Chris Johnston with a whacker noodle for being on his cell phone. (“I’ll call you back in five minutes!” WHACK “I’ll call you back in fifteen minutes!” WHACK “I’ll call you back after the show…and tell you what a wonderful time I just had!”) The Use of Cell Phones is also what makes actors Very Sad, as is evidenced by the whacker noodle ‘long tears’ made famous in The Great Whacker Noodle Massacre and Its Redemption.

The cell-phone started going off in the middle of my line, but as that line is very much in the business of being demur and making my books and instruments my company, it didn’t even occur to me to lay the whacker noodle into the cell phone perpetrator. God and my fellow troupe members know, I’ve got no aversion to adding text to justify spur-of-the-moment bizarre occurances, but not if it would break character. So I just stopped, and stared at the woman with the tuneful shoulderbag, using the default response taught to me by Diego Arciniegas of the Publick Theatre in Boston, still one of my favourite directors of all time, as a way to deal with the airplanes, helicopters and sirens that sometimes appear in Sidley Park, Syracuse, Italy, or Elizabethan London if your theater is outdoors in the middle of a city. Just stop, counselled Diego. And stare. And he was right, as he was in so many things. Audiences respond to actors staring at an airplane as though the actors had reinvented the wheel, or perhaps even the airplane.

Of course, it’s a little different when you’re staring at an animate object no less than five feet away, and that animate object is desperately tearing through her shoulderbag whilst the inanimate object inside the bag starts to go through the second cycle of its ringtone. My ever-resourceful Papa/the ever-resourceful Mr. Seiler, having also had some prior experience with slugging Mr. Johnston during the pre-show for having a fictional cell phone, borrowed a whacker noodle from her neighbour and gave the girl one solid Whack of Remonstrance.

The cell phone, being inanimate and insensible, continued to ring. Or, more accurately, melodically beep.

Mr. Seiler, dismayed either that the woman still was unable to locate the cell phone in her bag or that the whacker noodle did not have the same effect on real cell phones that it did on the fictional one in the pre-show, decided to press on. The only problem was that, instead of going over to Gremio to be ‘enticed’ by the truly hideous quasi-cloisonné double-headed tiger bracelet, I had cross downstage to counter Baptisa’s whacker noodle initiative. Somehow, we all sorted ourselves out, and the scene continued; I couldn’t even tell you what was left out, or if anything was, but I think the audience was as distracted as we were and probably did not notice that anything had gone wrong. …Aside from a cell phone going off for what seemed to me to be about a minute, and probably seemed to be about eighty-five minutes to the girl who possessed it.

The only other thing I remember about this Shrew was the voluminous number of people who decided to visit the bathroom during the scene where Raffi and I are waiting to make an entrance from the back of the house. When someone random passes through the lobby of any given theater whilst I’m waiting there, which is a common occurrence when we perform on college campuses, I always give them a huge wave and a slightly farcical grin. I found that the best defence was a good offence as far as receiving looks for being dressed in a huge blue-and-pink paisley dress, or as a boy, depending upon the show that has me waiting in the lobby. But whenever it’s actual audience members, I always feel awkward. It’s a mixture of ‘I see you care deeply enough about our show to visit the bathroom 10 minutes before the end’ and ‘So, howzabout that suspension of disbelief?’

Our final Merchant of Venice on the road was not what I would have wished our final Merchant of Venice on the road to be, in order to provide a nice close to this narrative. But I suppose humans feel the need for narrative so strongly precisely because our lives, in most cases, lack a good structural narrative. In the interest of preserving the narrative of my last post, I kept this fact apart, but now it must out: after our last performance of Merchant in Virginia Beach, which had been so revelatory for me on so many counts, Aaron announced that the show had run about quite a few minutes over its best running time. I don’t recall the actual figure by this point, but it was some horrendous amount like ten minutes, and as the character with the most lines in the show I was probably responsible for a healthy (or unhealthy) percentage of that. The upshot of this fact was that we were asked to tighten up our cues as much as humanly possible, and the upshot of that request was that I spent the final show on the road thinking predominantly about picking up cues and eliminating any hairbreadth of a pause.

I by no means believe in pause-ridden Shakespeare, but, on the other hand, I have enough faith in myself in a person who likes to Move the Text that I stopped thinking about it, and that was obviously the place I had gotten to in Virginia Beach. And I appreciate that perhaps the show in Maryland was better than its immediate predecessor for the audience, but I felt straitjacketed simply by having to think very hard about something other than telling the story—it’s precisely the same reason why the first show in an any acoustically difficult space was trying for me, because I always had to keep part of my mind on this utterly technical point.

I know I strive, as an actor, to reach a point where I am no longer thinking—perhaps we all do, though in working with this troupe of actors for an entire year I was able to glean enough to speculate this may not be everyone’s goal. But I think I came to the point of being halfway-decent, as an actor, when I learned how to shut off as much of my thinking brain as possible and just be a little stupid. (My eternal thanks to Dennis Krausnick of Shakespeare and Company for leading me to that point.) And in order to do what I think is my best work, I need to not-think about verse, and not-think about text work, and not-think about pacing. And, even in my modesty, I think I did that many times within this season. But it didn’t happen with the Merchant at Montgomery College.

But Aaron was happy with the show, which is more important than the skewed opinion of my internal judge. Afterwards, he announced with some triumph that the show was back to its original length, and asked us if we noticed the difference. Ginna, I recall, thought it was a great show, but Josh made some comment about feeling as though he was in his head, with which I more than sympathised.

We had what amounted to a day off in between the two performances, when only a couple of people had a workshop in the morning. (I participated in an interesting workshop about direction in which both Ginna and I agreed that we were very glad we don’t do the darker and more violent Kate/Bianca Bound scene that we tried as a redirection.) I decided to go into D.C. to go to a museum, and, perhaps to the shame of my Art-Historian mother, was taken with a desire to go to the Air and Space Museum over an art museum.

I took three astronomy courses in college and am consequently a kind of dilettante astronomer, my current efforts being constrained to reading relevant newspaper articles with interest, possessing a proclivity to the Air and Space Museum, and reading physics-for-the-masses books like The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene. These are tasks well-befitting my abilities, as none of them involve math. But I found the Air and Space museum less enchanting than it had been for me at, say, age eight, and narrated to one of my dear Astronomy professors from B.U. that my mind would have rather preferred more Space and less Air, however my lungs might feel about the matter.

That evening, I had dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, the self-same who were proud witnesses of One of the Finest Moments of Theatre, Shakespearean or Otherwise, That I Have Ever Seen. We went to a Chinese restaurant, under the false impression that they had Dim Sum all day. It was no matter, because Dan and I went to get Dim Sum the following morning, and I think I ate enough Dim Sum to have sufficed for the previous evening, and perhaps the following evening, as well.

Here is a picture taken after our final performance. We have our hands in the ‘Fancy Bred’ circle that we would do prior to some performances. Points go to Head Historian Paul for the orchestration of this photo, which as you can possibly infer, involved a ladder. When he first asked for a ladder I thought he was going to try to do a re-creation of the 1987 Henry V picture of the first production that led to the formation of Shenandoah Shakespeare, later the American Shakespeare Center. I am glad that he did not, because no one would have been able to recreate the leather shirt on the esteemed Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, FEDADOM, and the smiley unbearded face of Jim Warren. (This photo is by the rehearsal hall in the Blackfriars, and if you, dear reader, go on a guided tour of the theatre, you can see this picture yourself.)

As I look at this photograph, it seems to me as if the unseen photographer is saying to Alisa, ‘Give me sexy, baby,’ and to Ginna ‘Give me cool, baby, work it,’ and to me ‘Give me overcompensation for the fact that you’re sad the final show on the road wasn’t the experience you hoped, yeah.’ I do not mean to put overcompensation on anyone else’s smile, but knowing that Josh confessed to a similar opinion of the show, I do wonder about the fact that we’re almost the smiliest ones in the photograph. Besides Dan. But Dan is smiley because he’s one of the best people on earth.

Clockwise from lower left: Paul Reisman, Ellen Adair, Josh Carpenter, Chris Seiler, Alisa Ledyard, Evan Hoffmann, Ginna Hoben, Scot Carson, Chris Johnston, Raffi Barsoumian, Daniel Kennedy

Piercing Eloquence 2007-2008

I couldn’t ask for a more talented group of actors to roam the east half of the U.S. in three vans with. Thank you.

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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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My Personal Additions to the Encyclopedia Baracktannica 

As the title suggests, this is completely off the topic of Shakespeare, the American Shakespeare Center, and the tour. Fortunately, I am always a nerd, and in consequence, this is quite in keeping with the ‘True Confessions of a Shakespeare Nerd‘ promised by the blog’s full title. I have been known, in the past, to indulge in a couple off-topic posts regarding other passions of mine, simply because I don’t have another forum in which to write about it. In this particular case, I am specifically hoping that I can put my additions to the Obamified English Language here for the world, or perhaps the three people who read this blog, to see. And so that, should any of them appear elsewhere, I can say, ‘I thought of it independently!’ It is not likely that the words of this blog will spread like wildfire, so I may not be able to say, ‘I thought of it first!’ But I suppose one can dream. So use them, and go forth.

 The brief backstory (Barackstory?) is as follows: I was watching CNN yesterday morning, as I do far more often than may actually be healthy (oh Anderson Cooper, you sexy man), and heard in passing a story about new words being coined in reference to Mr. Barack Obama, such as ‘Obamazon,’ for ‘a passionate female Obama supporter.’ ‘That’s fantastic!’ thought I, ‘Now I have a name for my amorphous feeling that I would follow Obama even into the ranks of death!’

Now, I thought, it may be that the words were created in a spirit of support, or it may be that they were created to be somewhat pejorative of those who are roused into great fervor by Obama; but it is no new tactic for cynics to fancy that they are raising themselves above those who get excited by making depreciatory remarks about the latter. Nor is it any new tactic for the fervorous to claim these deprecations with pride (i.e. ‘Nerd’), knowing that it is bravery, and not stupidity, that allows us to put ourselves in the vulnerable position of being hopeful and impassioned. So whatever the spirit of its creation: I am an Obamazon, and proud.

I searched the term online, hoping to find its origin. The whole thing apparently started with an article in Slate by Chris Wilson entitled ‘Obamamotopoeia: The English Language, Obamified.’ There is a widget on that page which offers their Obamisms if you continue to click ‘More;’ some of my favourites include Barackstar, Barackupied, Barackryphal, Baractagon (An eight-sided Obama), and Obamage (Respect or reverence paid to Obama). Fantastic!

It was only a matter of time before I would come up with some of my own, almost against my will. Consider the situation in my brain:
1. I love words;
2. I am quite ferverous about Obama;
3. I have no life, as I am on tour, and thus spend undue time contemplating the above two points.

And thus, with nothing but reverence, affection, and the ability to laugh about that which I like most, we have:

Ellen’s Proposed Additions to the Encyclopedia Barracktannica

Obaminology – My proposed replacement for ‘Obamaisms’

Barackmeter – An instrument for measuring the atmospheric pressure of the winds of change.

Obamatar – A male Obamazon.

Obamrade – Fellow Obama supporter.

Baracktacular – Anything whose excellence is reminiscent of Obama, or his message. See also Barackcellence.

Barackcellence – Exceptionally high Obama quality.

Barackumentary – Compiled film of campaign footage.

Barackmobile – The spiffy car that Obama hides in the Barackcave.

Obammunism – The theory by which ‘every child is our problem, every child is our responsibility.’

Barackules – Hero whose ninth labour was to obtain the girdle of the Queen of the Obamazons. (You’ve got to be a real nerd to like this one.)

And my particular favourite:

Baracket’s Red Glare – 1. Fierce but delightful gleam in Obama’s eye when attacking (red) Republicans.
2. Small emendation to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ sung secretly by extreme Obamafans.

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

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

The wonders of perspective

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

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

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

Present modelling Part IPresent modelling Part II

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

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

The grand hallway

Pictured (l-r): Me, Bike [Josh’s?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So I was trying for a very long time to figure out some way in which I could relate today’s haze of Red-Sox-related joy to the actual Bardolatrous subject of this blog. I noted last night, whilst watching the post-game blather, that one of the owners (I forget who) referred to the team as a “band of brothers” and I thought in passing about people quoting Shakespeare without even really being aware that they’re quoting Shakespeare, but really, I cannot be false and try to pretend that’s really what’s on my mind, simply because it happens to be pertinent.

  In fact, I am seeking vent for my excitement because I spent eight hours in a van today when I wanted to be doing the Papelbon dance. And because yesterday, when the game ended, I was Riverdancing all by myself in the basement of a host home in Canton, NY, trying not to make any noise as everyone else in the house was asleep. And even when I had watched games in the student center, I was generally one of the last people there. Granted, perhaps this was because I had frightened the college students by wincing and shouting, for I have a hard time being anything but an active audience member; nevertheless, part of me kept thinking, ‘Are you really telling me I’m more interested in the playoffs and the Series than a full campus of college boys?’

 And in fact, I knew I would miss my friends, and I knew I would miss the theatre community in Boston, but I had no idea how much I would miss little old Boston itself. I loved it, surely, but I underrated how much it had begun to feel like my own, and how much I had felt that I belonged to it. Now, in my dreams, my fairy godmother whisks me off to Boston, just for today, and everyone is smiling at everyone else on the T, and exchanging banter at Dunkin’ Donuts, and lightheartedly bashing the Yankees, and I walk around the streets, watching Boston being Boston. Whilst many would claim this vision of Boston to be an improbable fiction, I know that sporting victories make tight little communities out of big cities, and TODAY, the only part about this fantasy that is false is the existence of my fairy godmother.

(Also false is the fact that, the existence of a fairy godmother presupposed, I’d spend my whole wish on just going to Boston.  As long as magic is involved, I think I’d be asking for an actual baseball player.) 

But seriously, in the end, I suppose this is somewhat pertinent to the topic of touring, if not Mr. Shakespeare himself, for I’ve found that there is nothing like a state of homelessness (though not ‘houselessness’) to make me realise that I once had a home. There is nothing like loss of identity to make one grasp at identity, which is why Americans often put such store into their roots, saying, ‘I’m Irish,’ or ‘I’m Italian,’ or ‘I’m Greek,’ and why I, feeling that I have cast off almost everything that I recognise as myself, think hopefully, ‘Yes, that’s me, Boston is my town.’

Because even though I’m so close—we’re only in Connecticut—I feel like I’m hearing of the world’s goings-on as if from orbit, a kind of space station of hotel rooms. But you can bet that I’m doing the Cinco Ocho Jig and the Youk Running Man in zero gravity.

 Oh, and the title of the post is in iambic pentatmeter. I thought that, at least, might tie things together.

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