Posts Tagged ‘Cold for 85% of Her Life Woman’

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

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

Canton, New York, October 22-28:

Canton: Reputation and (My Personal Opinion of) Reality

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

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

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

 Why I Heart Canton, NY

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

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

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

Will Be Cold for Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

The Piercing Eloquence Troupe and the Miller-Muffin family 

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

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

The Actual Shows

Taming of the Shrew

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

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

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

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

Henry V

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

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

Merchant of Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Comatose Shrew

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

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

I Heart the Red Sox

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

I Am a Nerd

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

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

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

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

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


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