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As this post is also ridiculously long, I will continue to have headings for a modicum of added clarification and readability. And though I don’t have the excuse that we were there for a week, this visit does contain One of the Longest Days of My Life.

West Hartford, Connecticut, October 30 – November 2:

Foreshadowing

Upon our arrival to the venue, Aaron requested that we be on our very best behaviour, like ones well-studied in a sad ostent to please our grandams. (Those last are, as you might have guessed, Shakespeare’s words, not Aaron’s.) We are generally well-behaved, at least for a group of actors (more on how scary a group of actors is towards the end of the post), so the reasoning behind this request was:

a) the email servers at ASC had been changed over within the last week and consequently Aaron had not received some of the emails from the people at the venue, thus spawning some communication issues and
b) last year two nameless people made a hole in the wall backstage.

Now, let me be clear that neither of these things are the ASC’s fault, nor our fault (Chris Johnston was not involved in the puncturing of the wall), nor Aaron’s fault, who, as Troupe Manager, has an omniscience that borders on the divine. Rather, part a is obviously the fault of the E-mail Demon, to whom we have clearly, as a society, given too much power, and now it is rising up, at last, to eat our first-born emails. Part b is the fault of the wrestling craze that apparently came to our troupe via its predecessor.

Perhaps this is a widespread phenomenon, but I have never before known grown men to start spontaneously wrestling in domestic environments. I remember the first time I was standing in the eastern Beverley house, and two of my troupe members starting wrestling in the hallway, using the banister for leverage and crumpling the carpet whilst lookers-on moved fragile objects on the tables into the next room. I thought, ‘By god, one day I will be forty-five years old, and my life, perhaps, will not be so chaotic, but I will remember that once I was young, itinerant, and the men in my troupe would start wrestling in the kitchen with no apparent notice whatsoever.’ It is less notable to me, now, after five months of witnessing random all-terrain wrestling, and, as the sizeable patching backstage at the theatre in West Hartford attests, it is hardly unique.

If digressing were my job, I’d make more money than I do as an actor (not that it’s a particularly difficult sum to surpass). It’s clear that my brain was made in an age where they paid by the word, and it cannot shake the habit now, despite quite the opposite being true. My point here is that Aaron asked us to be responsible, which evidently triggered our appearance of greatest incompetence thus far.

One of the Longest Days of My Life

On Halloween, a fun-filled Day o’ Revels for youngsters across the country, and also Alisa’s birthday (more on this later), we had a 10 AM full-length Taming of the Shrew, followed swiftly by a 1 PM Merchant workshop, followed less swiftly by a 7.30 Merchant of Venice. I started off this arduous day by waking up precisely three minutes before the van was supposed to be leaving to take us to the theatre. Granted, as I am a champion sleeper, and the van was leaving at 7.20, it was a kind of miracle that I woke up of my own volition at all; but I was mortified, because waking up at the same time that I should already be in the parking lot is not the kind of thing I usually do. But my alarm had not gone off (I discovered later it was the old set-the-alarm-for-6-PM fatal flaw), and so I scrambled desperately to put all of the necessary toiletries in a plastic bag to take with me.

Naturally, I forgot my contacts. Naturally, I also forgot the mandolin, and the kind and long-suffering Chris Johnston had to drive back to the hotel and get it before the show. This was the thanks he got for magically restoring me to semi-health! I would say that my self-loathing was palpable that morning in the dressing room, as I rinsed my hair in the sink, but probably it was not palpable to anyone but my self, the object of loathing.

After the show was over, those of us in the workshop had a little over a half an hour to change out of costume, sprint over to the dining hall, eat, and get back at least five minutes before 1 PM. (We couldn’t eat after the workshop, since the dining hall was only open during certain hours.) Aaron was very good about letting the workshop folk dash after the show; unfortunately, a few other people thought we were all cleared to go, and only a couple of people ended up doing the changeover. Not a big deal, but simply another episode for which the request for our best behaviour is dubbed ‘foreshadowing.’

Furthermore, all the overhead lights in the dining hall had been turned off, so that the dim light from the windows would set a spooky mood, and everything was festooned with Halloween paraphernalia (think spiderwebs over the drink machine). This was, no doubt, great fun for people with plenty of time for lunch, or for those who knew their way around the dining hall, or for Alisa, on her birthday, but I could not help but wish that I could see when I only had twenty minutes to find something edible and then eat it. It felt like the primordial dining hall, in which I’d have to attack the salad bar to survive, never knowing what beasts lurked behind the ice cream cooler.

The workshop went off without disaster. A girl named, I think, Cory, dressed as Willy Wonka, gave the best plot summary of Merchant of Venice that I’ve ever heard.

But as we were preparing for Merchant that evening, Alisa uttered six fateful words:

“I’m going to clean the iron.”  

Now, let it be known that Alisa had previously cleaned the iron in Sheffield, Massachussetts, without a hitch. You can see a picture of it, clearly well-behaved, in the vanishing perspective of The Miracle at Sheffield. Let it also be known that this iron has been somewhat of a talisman of woe for Alisa and me, as the people in charge of all costume-related issues. It was leaving burn marks on clothing, an unattractive trait for which I could have sworn there was a remedy in a tube that the lovely Erin, Costume Goddess, had shown us. I took everything out of the repair bin, and, not finding it, assumed that it had perhaps never existed. I contacted Erin, she assured me that it did exist, and I took everything out of the repair bin again, in search of it. No iron cleaner. So, Alisa and I went to something like a K-Mart or one of those other monstrosities, and bought iron cleaner; Alisa did most of the searching, because I, as the Walking Plague, was only on this side of delirium.

But this time, the iron cleaner made the iron issue forth some smoke, which set off the highly sophisticated fire alarms in the building. Rather than the old-time raaaaraaaraaar which my friend Devin, during high school fire drills, would render the drone of the bagpipes by singing ‘Scotland the Brave’ in its key, the fire alarm here was a computerised male voice saying ‘May I have your attention please. There is a security hazard within this building. Please proceed to the nearest exit in a calm and orderly fashion.’ It was, somehow, much more terrifying, perhaps for the usage of the words ‘security hazard,’ which sounded more like planes crashing into the performing arts center than a misunderstood iron. We all gathered on the lawn outside; Paul was in his masquing robe and mask; finally, the theatre manager, a very nice man named Howard, who was very nice despite the fact that we’d put holes in his walls in past and had now unwittingly summoned the fire department, came out with the iron-cleaning towel like an apprehended felon. I started laughing, helplessly, unable to catch my breath, ostensibly because I mentioned how funny it would be to have a computerised official voice saying, ‘Please proceed to the nearest exit in a frantic and disorderly manner,’ but truly because it had been a rough day, and I was nervous about the show that evening.

I was nervous about the show that evening because my dearest Lewis was driving all the way from Boston to see it; he had roped another of my dear friends, Kevin, into accompanying him, as they had both opened a production of Hamlet that morning. (“We were doing cosmically-aligned Shakespeare this morning,” observed Lewis, “since we both had shows at 10 AM.”) Both gentlemen are, coincidentally enough, mentioned in my post Off-Off-Off-&c. Broadway, and there is a picture of me and Kevin in Pygmalion. There is no picture of me and Lewis so I will put one here, because I enjoy pictures of my friends in nineteenth-century costumes. Here we are in Arcadia:

Ellen Adair as Thomasina and Lewis D. Wheeler as Septimus

I told no one but Alisa that Lewis and Kevin were coming, because I didn’t want everyone else to know that I was nervous, because knowing that they knew that I was nervous would make me more nervous. (Nervousness is a downward spiral in that way; it makes one behave like a silly teenage girl, or use the same word three times in one sentence, which are often one and the same thing.)

I only made this confession to Alisa because Evan heard a rumour at the box office that the show was sold out, which made me apprehensive about my friends getting into the show. We often have audiences of a lovely size, but we had never, in all our touring days, actually ‘sold out’ a venue, so it was surprising. But I was afraid, with the way that the day was going, that the very second time I had people driving from a long way away to see a show, they would indeed be denied entry by some Cruel Whim of the Fates, probably the same Cruel Whim that had been eating Aaron’s email and had set my alarm for 6 PM.

But when I walked out onstage for the pre-show speech, I actually laughed aloud, and Alisa laughed too, knowing the source of my amusement. It was not sold out. It was probably the smallest audience we’ve had for Merchant yet, barring, perhaps, the venue in Valhalla, New York. There could not have been more than seventy or eighty people in the audience; Lewis and Kevin were very plainly sitting in the fourth row of the auditorium, looking somewhat like islands in the Pacific Ocean.

But deciding not to mention to Ginna that I had friends in the audience proved my second, or perhaps my forty-second, fatal flaw that day. Because we were performing at a women’s college, and also because there were no more than eighty people, there was a scant number of potential ‘suitors’ in the audience for Portia and Nerissa’s first scene. So naturally, Ginna used both Lewis, as Faulconbridge, and Kevin, as the Duke of Saxony. It is certainly an odd experience to deliver the lines, “He is a proper man’s picture; but alas, who can converse with a dumb-show?” to one of your favourite people in the world, when a) said person is not in the play with you and b) the person who IS in the play with you has no idea that you know this purportedly Random Audience Member.

The show was otherwise adequate; in my experience, my best shows are rarely ones where I have friends in the audience. Afterwards, Lewis, Kevin and I went to a 24-hour diner suggested by Howard the Theater Manager. It was unspeakably wonderful to see them both, though tinged with the surreal, as almost everything is on tour. I was unable to get over the fact that the three of us were riding in Kar (the name Lewis and I gave to his car some time ago) to go to a diner in the middle of Connecticut, and Lewis was similarly flabbergasted when I did not order pancakes. But all too soon, they had to drive back, because they had a show the following morning—as did we.

Morning Shows

We’d never before had a Merchant in the morning, and I was dreading it. Merchant is a tough show for me, and doing shows in the morning is tough for me, and doing anything after the Longest Day of My Life also held the strong possibility of being tough. So I feared that it would be tough, cubed. But instead it was, in my opinion, a fantastic show, probably because I was released from the pressure I’d felt the previous evening, and just enjoyed every single minute of it.

Apparently, I waited for the FOLLOWING morning to crash, because I felt nearly as comatose for that performance of Shrew than I did for the matinee in Canton. I didn’t really wake up until Raffi thoroughly surprised me by whispering something entirely new into my ear during the Latin/Music Lesson scene. Awww, he’s such a heavy suitcase.

Another Dear Friend Travels to Connecticut Because I Happen to Be There

On Friday, I also saw my dear friend Jess, who I’ve been friends with since my freshman year (when she was stage manager for a production of Twelfth Night in which I played Viola), and who I lived with for a couple of years in Boston. Her family lives very near by, so she travelled down to visit them for the weekend, and see me! She’d been hoping to see a show that evening, but we only had a morning show; still, her loss was my gain, because it was more fun to actually get to see her than to simply have her in the audience.

Alisaween!

This week of seeing friends was kicked off in the grandest way imaginable, by Alisa’s Birthday/Halloween party. It was fantastic; Alisa and Chris had purchased all sorts of Halloween decorations at discounted prices, and had put, amongst other things, a skeleton in the shower. There were also three little figurines that made the classic eeeeeEEEEEeeee Halloween sound-effect made popular by motion-sensitive bats across the nation: one was a ghost, one was a pumpkin, and one was Frankenstein’s monster (people who call it ‘Frankenstein’ get my Romantic-Literature-Specialized-English-Major Glare of Annoyance). It was the most fun when we had all three going at once, thus coining the phrase, ‘For god’s sake HIT THE PUMPKIN’ in the troupe vernacular. Alisa has more pictures and a hysterical commentary on her wonderful blog; I have stolen the picture of all of us together to put up here.  It is amazing what costumes people will come up with in a situation when time, money and resources are all scant.

Alisaween

Left-right: Paul as a Banana (or Not-Corn), Ginna as a Princess, Scot as a Malamute With Its Head Stuck in a Toilet, Chris Seiler as Undead in Chris’s Dress Clothes, Ellen as A Return to 1980s Fashion (because it was the scariest thing I could think of), Evan is ‘Awkward’, Josh as a Native American, Alisa as a Sexy Dinosaur, Aaron as Aaron With the Vampire Teeth Alisa Gave Him a Month Ago, Chris Johnston as Vampire Jesse, Daniel as a Halloween Intepretation of a ‘Hot Dog,’ Raffi as Super Cholo.

Some commentary on the costumes:

Alisa, as Sexy Dinosaur: Let it be known that Alisa specifically packed this costume many weeks ago in preparation for this event. I love Alisa for 2.7 billion reasons, one of them being her subversion of the ‘sexy’ costume concept. It is difficult to find costumes for grown women that are not, by description, sexy: Sexy Maid, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Witch, Sexy Bunny, Sexy Medieval Literature Professor, Sexy Waste Management Artisan, etc. In certain circles, I suspect Halloween is actually called Excuse to Dress Like a Slut Without Any Social Stigma Day. But Alisa’s costume was amazing, not the least because she managed to be sexy whilst peeping through a dinosaur’s tonsils. And I say that as a straight, female dinosaur.

Paul, as a Banana, or Not-Corn: When Paul first came in, he said, “I am not corn!” Despite his disapprobation, a number of us continued to think that the absence of corn was a finer costume concept than the existence of a banana, fine though a banana is. It’s like Paul’s excellent No Tomatoes Joke. Think, next Halloween, you can go in anything you’d like, and when someone asks you what you are, you can say, ‘I am not a pirate!’ or ‘I am not a streetlamp!’ or ‘I am not a Sexy Midieval Literature Professor!’ The possibilities are ENDLESS! Plus, not-being is sexy.

Aaron, as Aaron With Vampire Teeth That Alisa Gave Him a Month Ago: Aaron is very funny when he talks with these teeth in. It’s especially great when he says Biondello lines in them.

Chris Johnston, as Vampire Jesse: You really need to be in the troupe to get this one. It was one of the finest costumes of the evening, in my opinion. You may also need to have gone through our rehearsal processes in order to get ‘Super Cholo.’

Scot, as A Malamute Who Got Its Head Stuck in a Toilet: The evolution of this costume is fantastic. Apparently, Alisa has previously told Scot that he reminds her of a malamute, because Scot has very blue eyes. Then once, when we were riding in the van, the following conversation took place:
Scot: So, Alisa, what should I go as for Halloween?
Alisa (after a moment of contemplation) : A toilet.
Scot: A TOILET?!
Alisa: Yeah, it would be a great costume.
Scot: Great. So that’s what you think of me. As a place where people—
Alisa: No, because I was thinking of a malamute, and they’re white, sometimes, and then I was thinking of what else was white, and I saw toilet costumes in the Halloween Store yesterday…

Alisa’s continued explanations were of little avail; Scot continued to fume in a semi-comic way about it, and there was much discussion about whether or not he would Hate Alisa for the Rest of Eternity, which culminated in his edict that he would not be going to Alisa’s birthday party. As his wife and daughter were supposed to be coming that weekend, I too was gullible enough to believe his continued assertions that he would not be going to the party. Thus, it was a great delight for me, Alisa, and any other credulous folk, when Scot showed up (last) at the door in that amazing costume. For anyone who is wondering, YES, that is an actual toilet lid, actually skilfully unscrewed by Mr. Scot Carson from his hotel bathroom, and scrubbed for about three hours.

Josh, as a Native American: You see that correctly, his bow and arrow are hotel hangers.

Chris Seiler, as an Undead in Chris’s Dress Clothes: Chris decided that he wanted to get some mileage out of his dress clothes, which we are required to bring along, but which we have not yet had occasion to use. Then he did a really amazing make-up job on his face and hands, and spiked his hair. He also executed a perfect undead lumber, and the remembrance of him tumbling out of the bathroom door and unevenly striding by the Snack Station is so funny that I honestly can barely type these words. For whatever reason, we eventually decided that he was an Undead Shylock, and discussed how fantastic it would be to do an otherwise perfectly normal production of Merchant, but with Shylock as some kind of ghoul. Then we took turns substituting ‘ghoul’ for ‘Jew’ in all of our lines, which was amusing for a few of us, not just me. Other options on the same theme were explored: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? NO, we don’t! Ahahahaha!”

I’m not sure if the Undead Shylock started this, or if it predates to an earlier time in the party, but we started saying that everything was, in a kind of wobbly Halloween voice, SCAaAaARYyy. For example, ‘This hotel is SCARY,’ or ‘Malted slime balls are SCARY,’ or ‘A roomful of actors is SCARY.’ Scot, as usual, trumped us all with ‘A roomful of actors is A GROUP FULL OF ACTORS.’ The real pay-off to this story is that Alisa said, in the morning Merchant a couple of days later, “I am a JEW’S DAUGHTER,” in the identical SCARY tone, and I laughed so loud, and for so long, that I had to concentrate very hard on something depressing in order to stop.

Ellen, as A Return to 1980s Fashion (because it was the scariest thing I could think of): My ‘costume’ concept was inspired solely by Alisa’s desire to see what my hair would be like if I made it big. Every day I wake up and my hair desperately inquires if it is either 1980 or, preferably, 1809. I tend to comply with its 1809 wishes; it’s fortunate that they are somewhat similar to my own desires, because my hair is the master in our relationship. But on this evening, I said, ‘Okay, 1980 it is,’ and blow-dried it, to please the Birthday Girl. Then I wore a slip, tights, boots, my absurdly-brightly-coloured flowered thermal shirt. I might have come up with more ridiculous attire, had I more than a carry-on-sized suitcase of clothes.

 This is a picture of the last time I dressed up for Halloween.

The Jane Austen Look

 You can see I am complying by my hair’s 1809 wishes. The year previous, I went as Hermione from Harry Potter (not from the Winter’s Tale), also because my hair does the Hermione thing well. Perhaps you are beginning to perceive the truth in the statement, ‘my hair is the master in my relationship.’

I realised that my 80s costume idea might not have been quite as jank as I thought it was when I found out that the Red Sox did it, too, for Curt Schilling’s wife’s birthday. I stole this picture from outincenterfield.com, a blog that I have grown to love for its wit, good nature, and clips of Jonathan Papelbon’s Magical Media Tour.

Yes, I am in love with the man with ridiculous sunglasses.

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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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