Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Dave Barry’

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Today, Bardolatry is sponsoring an opinion poll regarding the title of this post. Is it:
a.  A  play on ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ unfortunately more apt than anything involving Andie MacDowell should be
b.  The beginning of a Paul Reisman joke (“Four shrews and a merchant walk into a bar…eh?”)
c.  A bad title and should be called ‘Piercing Eloquence Episode XXIV: Revenge of the 90-Minute Shrew’
d.  A mere excuse for Ellen to generate an opinion poll when she has been watching too much CNN, and worrying about the futility of her feeling that she would follow Barack Obama even into the ranks of death
As I’m not up to writing the code for an actual poll complete with radio buttons, I ask all three of you who read this blog to please post your vote as a comment.

Fairmont, West Virginia, January 20-28:

To quote my best-beloved Portia, I must be plain with you: I was not particularly enthused by the schedule for our week-long stay in Fairmont even before our vans had set wheel across the West Virginia border. I may not have been alone, because the schedule listed 85 million (hyperbole translator: 15) workshops that week, and some people (because of the kinds of workshops requested) had as many as seven or eight (actual figure). However, I knew I would have no more than two or three, and I always enjoy workshops, myself. No, my enthusiasm failed to reach a fever pitch because we were scheduled to do four 90-minute Taming of the Shrews. Granted, the weekend promised a full-length Shrew and a performance of Merchant of Venice (for those of you doing the math at home and wishing to vote e. Ellen can’t count, because that’s clearly five Shrews, you’ll just have to read more before you judge).

I have long discussed my dislike of the 90-Minute Shrew, which, in a continued spirit of candour, stems from a completely selfish motivation. I like being an actor because I like being in plays, and consequently I dislike the 90-Minute Shrew because the Bianca sub-plot is considerably cut. It’s like a bad dream of the sort where you’re back in high school only it isn’t really your high school, but instead I’m Bianca, but I’m not REALLY Bianca. And the now-you-say-it-now-you-don’t aspect of the cuts is probably bothersome for most of us, simply because it makes for an irregular Shrewniverse (oh no she didn’t).

However, let me be clear that one of these reasons is NOT because it is typically our high school show. Yes, they are generally at inhuman hours in the morning (a redundant phrase, in my case), but despite this, I have done five previous high school tours, precisely because it is God’s work in the vocation of theatre. I believe that high school audiences are actually the most important ones that we play for, and it is precisely because I want to try to communicate to high school students that it saddens me that Bianca must try to communicate with half her usual amount of lines.

Though I still was not excited about four days of getting up in the aforementioned ungodly morning hours in order to do Shrew Lite, I was prepared to change my mind when we were treated to a very nice dinner reception held for us by the college upon our arrival. (See my previous post, and the rest of this blog, for the intimate link between food and actors.) Indeed, the university administrators and professors who hosted the party were extremely friendly and engaging, and I ended up having great conversations with two professors of 18th and 19th century literature. I speculate that they were both kind enough to strike up conversation with me because I actually appear to be somewhat 18th and 19th century myself, a speculation that I brazenly make because they both told me so within roughly five minutes of introduction.

N.B. It is moments like these that make me feel like my claims of being from the nineteenth century are substantiated, and not merely a fever of my own brain. Brent Bussey, the at-home tour manager for the ASC, told me that Erik Curren, the very kind Director of Marketing, saw me during the pre-show for Christmas Carol and said, “She really looks like she walked out of a Jane Austen novel!” Thank you, Mr. Curren! Please tell that to theatres casting Pride and Prejudice nationwide! Or at least to those people who greet my assertions with that familiar look of amused incredulity. As Dave Barry would say, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. As a matter of fact, the more this tour teaches me about how I am wired as a human being, the more I feel that wiring comes from fairly early in the Industrial Revolution, and is thoroughly unlike the motherboards with which most people operate.

But I WOULD be making something up if I did not confess that the consecutive early-morning, truncated, high school shows did not begin to cast gloom over a substantial portion of the cast, though not because they were consecutive, early-morning, or truncated. Well, getting up before the weak winter sun may have had something to do with it; but I took pains to point out that I value high school shows precisely to emphasize that my judgment of the following conditions has no negative bias. Consider, if you will, the following run-down:

The Week of the 90-Minute Shrew

SHOW ONE: Five minutes before we were about to go on for pre-show, the fire alarm went off. One or two schools were already seated in the auditorium, so actors and audience alike put on coats and went down four flights of stairs to wait for the alarm to shut off. In the snow. After a few minutes, the alarms silenced, we trooped back up four flights of stairs, took off our jackets, and began the pre-show. Three-quarters of the way through “Love Comes to Town,” the fire alarm went off again. We put on our coats, went down four flights of stairs, and waited, once more, for the all-clear. Did I mention it was snowing? We went back up four flights of stairs, took off our coats, and then the alarm went off again. This time we were met by building personnel, who told us to stay in place should another alarm go off, because often times it’s triggered by sawdust in the shop. As one would assume that sawdust was a fairly common occurrence in the shop, one might therefore expect we could have been notified earlier; one might even hope that such a potentially-frequent problem might have cause for a permanent remedy. But by this time, the kids’ attention was completely scattered, the show was running late, and the last school had yet to arrive.

SHOW TWO: I cannot recall whether all of the schools arrived at the theatre late, or if it was merely the overwhelming majority. The effect of the substantial delay in the entrance of our audience, however, was that we did almost none of the pre-show and started, I think, fifteen minutes late.

SHOW THREE: Apparently the universe wanted to make up for our lack of pre-show the previous day, without actually allowing us to start a show within a quarter of an hour of the intended curtain. Over half of the audience had arrived by our second song, but as we finished all the Shrew pre-show songs and the last school had yet to arrive, our stage management and music directing powers (Evan and the Chrises) decided that we should play “Peace, Love and Understanding.” It ended; the school had still not arrived. So we played “London Calling.” And then “Losing my Religion.” And then “Fortunate Son.” Alisa suggested we do the Christmas Carol Mega-Mix, and though the absurdity factor was attractive to me, I cannot say it was my favourite thing about Christmas Carol. But the school finally arrived, the question was put to rest, and the show commenced. Twenty minutes late.

Now, I understand that teenagers are one of God’s most difficult substances to transport, but I have never known school shows to be so late, especially not three shows in a row. If something were such a statistical regularity (like, for instance, the existence of sawdust in the shop), one would THINK that the schools might take preventative measures, and leave a little earlier.

Furthermore, we might have been a little more cheerful about the delays if the kids had seemed excited to be there, or if they had seemed conscious. Let me stress again, I have seen a fair number of high school audiences, probably somewhere around two hundred, and I have never in my life seen ones quite as comatose as these. And let the record show that when we had feisty audiences, I said I preferred them to sleeping ones. What I’d like to add, now, is that I prefer audiences who are blatantly slumped over and sleeping to those who are awake and appear lobotomized. Because I was practically narcoleptic in high school, I understand; it had a lot more to do with being stationary and with getting up at 6 AM than it had to do with being bored. Consequently, even sleeping high school students don’t depress me the way that ones who stare back at me as if I were a television showing test patterns do. If you’re asleep, there is a logical explanation for why you don’t laugh at “What, with my tongue in your tail?” aided by the visual image of a Petruchio actually poised beneath a Katherine who is bending over. But if you are awake, there is no excuse.

Of course, my castmates and I refuse to ‘give up,’ ever, on a high school audience, in the hope that there are students who might be enjoying the show—but it was a hope, only. I couldn’t hear much of anyone enjoying themselves, and they didn’t look as though they recognized that we were speaking English.

All of this culminated in SHOW FOUR, which was cancelled due to a two-hour snow delay for all area schools. Naturally, we did not find this out until we had arrived and begun setting up things for the show, though the Ever-Astute Alisa had already ascertained that all area schools were on a two-hour delay and that we were unlikely to have a true conclusion to such the fantastic Week of the 90-Minute Shrew. And I finally experienced the drama of NOT doing a show, having had my curiosity piqued by stories about Georgetown, and having notched up the drama of doing a DIFFERENT show than planned the previous week. The answer is: it was not very dramatic, though perhaps the fact that it was 8 AM dulled my sense of drama.

We Are Crankypants

We were also, by that point, becoming cranky for various reasons that had nothing to do with shows, or the lack thereof. The dining hall buttered every vegetable that it saw within an inch of its life, and it never met a piece of meat that it didn’t fry (unless it was a hamburger). On the plus side, the campus gym was matched in excellence only by the gym in Canton, which was probably a necessity for the student body (no pun intended, really) to combat what was coming out of the dining hall. But the main issues were those of communications; some people couldn’t get internet at the hotel, the entire area was a ‘roaming’ area for my cell phone, and I got very little cell phone reception, of any sort, at the hotel. I got just enough to occasionally place a call, hear it ring, and sometimes talk for about fifteen seconds before the reception cut out—and that was if I did not move a muscle and breathed very shallowly. These are the kinds of things that one can easily shrug off for a day or two, but make everyone a crankypants during a week-long stay.

Shrew IV 

But our audience for our Taming of the Shrew on Saturday was fantastic, and included Dan’s lovely wife Alex, Scot’s equally-lovely wife Kate and daughter Ella, and a three-year-old boy with a fauxhawk who sat in the front row and laughed through the whole thing. I had so much fun during the entire show, as I always do after released from the seeming chains of the 90-Minute Shrew; my delight was not even substantially dampened by the two little flubs I made, both related to scenes or part of scenes cut during the 90-minute version. I quite simply forgot that I was supposed to give Raffi the ring before the Music/Latin Lesson scene for the delightful new business that we had only done once before at our Taming of the Shrew SURPRISE! the week before, in part because we rehearsed the bit beforehand with his own ring. Then I inserted an involuntary pause in the part of the See How Beastly She Doth Court Him scene that is cut in the 90-minute version, because I was (honestly) too busy thinking about how cute Lucentio was, and only realised I had a line just as Raffi tried to save me. He gets so many points for putting up with me.

I have to say that my three favourite parts of this show were all things that the audience could not hear to appreciate. Chris Johnston/Hortensio whispered to me during the Wedding Scene, “You wanna see my clef and two notes? My notes are the size of cantelope…!” And as we were backstage waiting to go on for the final scene, and Paul was doing some Paulesque antics with his Vincentio cane, Raffi whispered to me, “Sorry about my father,” at the identical moment that I whispered to him, “Your father’s a little weird sometimes.” My personal favourite was during the final scene, when Evan/Biondello comes around and pours us air out of a bottle into our wine glasses. During one of the week’s shows, I had said to Raffi/Lucentio, “This stuff goes straight to my head!” and in a similarly flirtatious Bianca spirit, I whispered to him, “I want to get SMASHED!” Raffi, God bless him, perfectly in character, said with great hesitation, “…Okay…” Let me say, it was beautiful to feel as if I could actually see Lucentio learning a bit more about his new wife, since normally I am prancing around with a whacker noodle or off-stage during these realizations.

Naturally, I don’t think of this as an inconsistency with Bianca’s character, since during the conversations that Ginna and I have as Kate and Bianca after we go off-stage because we think Petruchio is not coming for the wedding, we have often discussed going off to drink all of the wedding champagne as consolation. As a matter of fact, during this particular performance, Ginna mentioned what a great idea for a play it would be to show the scene with Kate and Bianca getting drunk on the wedding champagne and commiserating. I suggested that you could also have the parlour scene at the end of the play with Kate, Bianca, and the Widow, with interruptions as Grumio tries to get them to return to their husbands. The scene in which Kate initially ties Bianca up might also be amusing, though perhaps I think so simply because our backstage version usually is. I think it should probably be in prose; you could call it Katherine and Bianca Are Wed. What would be tough about this play would be the temptation (which some might view as ‘need’) to ‘say’ something with it, when I think the most interesting thing would be to have these women be human beings, rather than put some other spin on it. Perhaps I say this because I would bet five dollars (I’m an actor; that’s a lot) that almost anyone besides myself would be tempted to take the ‘Bianca is the real shrew’ tactic. Everyone I meet seems to espouse this view, no doubt because they think they are being So Original, whereas they are instead completely in line with every production I have ever seen, and 98% of the people to whom I speak. It wears me out.

The Merchant of Shame

It was fortunate that the Shrew was so much fun, because the following day’s Merchant was, in deep apology to the citizens of Fairmont, West Virginia, my least favourite Merchant performance of all time. Mostly, I was struggling with the alterations I was supposed to make in the show, which may have seemed minor from, say, a directorial point of view, but had a major impact on my internal journey. And walking around on stage without a clear sense of my journey felt kind of like walking around without a head: it was awful.

I was, in all honesty, happy with the beautiful show that we had by November, but am also, in all honesty, happy to be making these changes, since I see the strengths in both. But regardless of my intellectual opinion, it is one of the most difficult things I have done in my professional life. I said early in this contract that I would walk across a bed of hot coals on my knees for Jim Warren, and I absolutely stand by that, which is why I’m striving as best I can to knee my way over these hot coals. It’s unlike making changes during the rehearsal process because during rehearsal an emotional course hasn’t already made its way into the body. And for a role like Portia, where the work is (for me) more emotional than technical, it feels more like trying to un-know something, rather than merely making a change. I fear that this makes me an inferior actor, to have difficulty in turning on a dime, but the difficulty comes from the fact that I have to BELIEVE everything that I do: otherwise, I feel as if it is not worth doing.

Admittedly, the show may have been fine (though no one would mistake it for great), and I may have felt more like a bombed landscape than I seemed. Much of my dismay may have come from the stress of knowing that, as Jim said, I “drive the show,” and so am responsible for driving the changes. The fact that we hadn’t touched the show in an entire month didn’t help, either. I momentarily went up on a line in the first scene, and covered for it with only middling success; that moment when one’s brain draws a blank is just about the worst feeling in the world, and because I never in my life went up on anything before this contract, it additionally makes me feel like some kind of sham of my former, responsible self. In my defense, I went over all my lines three times that week, once the day before, and once that morning; also, I saved someone else who will remain nameless when he completely forgot a line; and Paul, as Aragon, said “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” rather than “shall get as much as he deserves,” when choosing the silver casket. But although Aragon said he chose the right casket, he still opened the silver one, and thus apparently lost because he was unable to distinguish the caskets; I bet my father’s will wanted to weed out those kinds of people, too.

The final blow to this performance was my awareness that I probably wasn’t speaking loudly enough, because the acoustics in the theatre were awful. The nature of the kinds of scenes in Shrew, the fact that I have about 15% of the lines in Shrew that I do in Merchant, and the fact that I’m wearing a corset in Merchant that constricts my breathing capacity by about 50%, all compound to make volume much harder to keep up in the latter show. I also know that one of my main weaknesses as an actor (I remember writing this on a questionnaire that ASC sent us prior to our arrival) is my tendency to let volume slip when I’m thinking really hard about anything else, such as, say, trying to change my character arc five months into the run of a show, or making sure I remember all 600 of my lines when we haven’t spoken it aloud together in a month. Never before have I felt that, were I a samurai, I would be honour-bound to kill myself for a performance, but this was the closest I’ve come.

I Am a Nerd

The best part of my week was Friday evening, when one of the professors, Deborah, whom I met at our lovely introductory dinner, invited me to her house to watch some Jane Austen movies, apropos of one of our conversations. Another of her fellow-English-professors, Maggy, came over, too, and we had a grand time talking, eating brie and bread, roasted chicken and potatoes, salad and strawberries, playing with their dogs, and watching, and occasionally mocking, a 1979 version of Pride and Prejudice.

STUDIO AUDIENCE (in unison): You are a nerd!

That’s right. Some things never change. Like me writing Shakespeare Shrugged for every entry, for example.

Read Full Post »

A brief question and answer session, in the earlier tradition, regarding the title:

Q. Do you really intend the bad sound-play pun in the title that I perceive you do?
A. Are we not Shakespearean actors? And does this not hone our fine sensibilities to attempt bawdy jokes on all themes, at all times?
Q. You are answering my questions with more questions again.
A. Neither are you sticking to your interrogative purpose.
Q. Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?
A. No, sir. But I bite my thumb, sir.
Q. You are a nerd.
A. Was there ever any question?

Colchester Vermont, October 10:

World records exist to be broken, and in a similar manner, the second group of highschoolers from Powhattan High School could not remain our best Taming of the Shrew audience for all time, nor could my Weyers Cave Shrew stay forever the best (though I had begun to fear that it might). The breaking of our records differs slightly from that of sports, in so far as we use absolutely NO Shakespearean steroids in an effort to surpass former glories. (Paul’s Grumio has been suspected by authorities, but continually tests as clean.)

Reasons that the show was excellent are as follows:

1. The chief contributing factor was the superlative excellence of the audience; the house was already packed at the beginning of the pre-show, and they were immediately singing and clapping along with us. They were certainly revved up, which made us more excited, which made them more excited, and so on until the end of eternity! Or, at least, the end of the show.

An amazing thing happened in the pre-show: during one of our earlier songs, a man shouted out, “Play some ‘Free Bird’!” This warrants the adjective ‘amazing’ because Scot says that exact thing during the improvised Sly opening of the show, which was to come within the next half hour. Ginna and I exchanged a look of shock and awe, mouthing at each other, “I can’t believe that just happened!” It was as if we were cosmically aligned with this audience.

2. The performance space, which was built as a music hall, had an acoustical wall around the back and sides of the stage, meaning that the centre entrance through the discovery space did not have access to the entrances downstage right and downstage left. So, we set up the pipe-and-drape system along the entire back length of the stage, with centre, upstage left, and upstage right entrances. This was chiefly a problem because there was no access for entrance into the back of the house except via the downstage entrances. So, if you exited to the downstage sides of the stage, you couldn’t enter through the centre, and if you exited through the centre or upstage entrances, you couldn’t enter downstage or through the house. ALL OF THIS COMPLICATION IS TO SAY: we had to alter some blocking.

Why is this good, do you ask? Simply because, in my opinion, it stirs things up, and in a solid show like our Shrew, that’s generally advantageous. A few examples are as follows:

2.a. Chris Johnston had to go to the true backstage area in order to retrieve the mandolin for the Latin/Music Lesson scene, but Raffi and I were of necessity stuck behind the pipe-and-drape backstage area. So, instead of all three of us entering from the discovery space, Hortensio entered separately, which gave Raffi and I the opportunity to construct an entirely new pre-beat for the scene, in which our flirtations were interrupted by Hortensio’s entrance. I’m sure that kind of thing happened for a number of different people, and it simply lends a new flavour to the scene.

2.a.i. An amusing side note to the altered blocking in that scene was that, once he’d exited to the true backstage space in order to get the mandolin, Chris realised that he’d left the Gamut with brightly-coloured hearts in the other pipe-and-drape backstage space. So somehow, in the brief time afforded him, he made a whole new Gamut. What it lacked in blue-and-salmon colour it made up for in the gigantic size of the heart on the front, reading, “The Gamut of Hortensio.” Naturally, receiving it felt very fresh and new, and reading the inside felt doubly fresh and new, as it read:

Gamut I am the ground of all achord
I left the prop backstage, sorry

[several bars of written music]

love love love love love
love love love love love
love love love love love
love love love love love

I have problems reading one set of words and speaking another, so this was what one dubs an Interesting Challenge, when one is trying to be judicious.

2b. I sat in the false backstage, i.e. in the five feet behind the pipe-and-drape system, for the entirety of the show, but there was really nowhere to sit/stand where you couldn’t be seen through one of the curtain flaps during entrances and exits. Still, I made the extraordinarily poor choice of standing precisely at the point where Kate comes barrelling through in I.i. (“I will go sit and weep / ‘Til I can find occaSION OF REVENGE RAAAA”). As I made the realisation that I was in full view of the audience through the curtains that Ginna had just parted, I threw my hands up, uttered a faint “aiee” and scuttled through to the comparative safety of the discovery space. I think I heard a few chuckles from our Supremely Responsive audience, but honestly, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time, as Bianca. And it may well be the pre-pre-beat to the scene where she ties me up in my own sash. (Ginna and I have gotten the pre-beat down fairly well. I will not disclose its full glory, but one key element is tickling. Other elements may include “O Christmas Tree,” the machine gun, or the Finger Ninja. These are actual elements. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.)

3. Chris quietly sang the “L is for the way you look at me” song into my ear during the Wedding scene. This was perfect, as my submerged consciousness found it very amusing but not quite as amusing as “Can you feel the love tonight” during a previous performance, which was so funny that my submerged consciousness almost lost it. And this would have somewhat foiled the look of supreme discomfort that I, as Bianca, am trying to cultivate.

4. There was a whacker noodle left on stage for the final scene, as I’m always praying that there will be, and Bianca’s vaguely lewd gesturing with it on “head and horn” and “draw your bow” was the best I’ve ever managed it.

5. Personally, I strove particularly hard to connect with Bianca’s spirit, and made another breakthrough of the kind at Weyers Cave. This was in part because I realised that I want little more on earth than to achieve that connection, because it has been so elusive. And when I feel it, it absolutely makes the show click. Granted, I think it was a great show for everyone—as Ginna and I came off stage from the Sisterly Bondage scene, she whispered to me, “I think that’s the best it’s ever been!” It certainly was for me:  the difference between shows with and without the spirit (for lack of a better term) is quite striking. I find it all the more awe-inspiring because the vast majority of either parts or performances I’ve had within the last four years or so have been with, rather than without, the spirit, and it is amazing how vacant I feel without it. The subject is touchy, both in and of itself and discourse upon it; I get so nervous and almost superstitious in feeling that I shouldn’t talk about it, and in a way I only feel comfortable speaking about it regards to Shrew because it’s been so difficult, because I know I can technically do the show without it. It is such a precious thing, and I often feel with Shrew that I am a kind of damaged vessel trying to coax in a spirit that cannot be upheld, or that I do not deserve.

This comes too near the absurdity of my self. Therefore no more of it! Hear other things.

Our audience was also excellent in so far as the resident Drama Club held a wee reception for us afterwards, with soda and approximately 13.5 petit fours per person. They were lovely to talk to, and real sweethearts for waiting around whilst we finished what seemed to be the longest load-out ever.

The foyer in which the reception was held featured the following sculpture. (Thanks to Alisa Ledyard, who posted this on Facebook.) It depicts a scene from one of the three plays in the Piercing Eloquence Tour’s season. Guess which one it is before you scroll down below the picture to see! If you don’t guess, and peek, Santa Claus will know.

So if you guessed that the bearded gentleman is Princess Katherine of France, you lose. It is none other than the illustrious Courtroom Scene from The Merchant of Venice. The bottom (not appearing in this photograph) reads, “Is it so nominated in the bond?” As this post is a post of lists, and as many excellent things about this sculpture are not visible in the photograph, here are things I love about this sculpture:

1. Bassanio’s gigantic moustache. It looks like the now-absent and much-missed handlebar that Mr. Daniel Kennedy sported this summer.
2. Antonio looks like a Ken doll. Also he looks really happy to be taking his shirt off. Apparently, now that Bassanio is here, he’s hasn’t a care in the world.
3. Portia’s inane expression. She maybe also looks like a Ken doll, or at the very least the Disney version of Portia. In my mind, as she replies, “It is not so expressed, but what of that?” she sounds kind of like those ‘soothing’  female voices used in elevators, GPS systems, airports, and decades of futuristic movies.
4. The random staircase. What courtroom has a staircase in the middle? And why is Portia going up the staircase? It’s like Shylock is saying, “But soft! What light through yonder forfeit breaks,” and Portia is saying, “That which we call a pound of flesh by any other word would smell as sweet!”

Alisa also took a picture of Mr. Scot Carson, Mr. Josh Carpenter, Mr. Chris Seiler and myself, replicating this pose, but without the staircase. I do not include it here out of shame. I am not ashamed that my eyes were crossed, which was an intentional effort to achieve the utterly vacuous expression on the Portia-sculpture’s face. However, I look as if I am with child. As I pointed out on Facebook, this would somewhat revise the line at the bottom from “Is it so nominated in the bond?” to “That’s not a man! He’s pregnant!” And I don’t want to provide any more fodder for those tabloid reporters who are following the American Shakespeare Center On Tour around so persistently, constantly flashing photos of us as we emerge from our motel rooms. No! That’s not a baby bump! Let’s see how you look when you eat at as many fast food establishments as we do!

Read Full Post »