Posts Tagged ‘Henry V’

Unprecedented Brevity After an Unprecedented Break in Posting

Monmouth, Illinois, March 4:

It would have been appropriate for us to perform Henry V in Monmouth, because Henry, as the Crown Prince of Wales, was known as ‘Harry of Monmouth.’ I think he is also referred to as simply ‘Monmouth’ a couple of times in the Henry IVs. But in a familiar twist of fate, albeit without the element of surprise, we were slated to perform Taming of the Shrew instead. I am proud to say, however, that it could hardly pass without a few Nerdy Shakespearean quips, despite my own flu-induced reticence; someone, as we drove into town (I believe it was Chris Seiler) said over the walkie-talkie, “There’s the river with salmons in it!” (in reference to lines that Fluellen has about Monmouth).

Here are two things I remember about Monmouth, of the Illinois variety:
1. I was sick;
2. It smelled like burned pigs.

The existence of the former of these two memorable facts accounts for the brevity of the list. I was quite delirious on our first day there, and felt a bit queasy for a few days afterwards. Anyone who has read a single post of mine has probably drawn the conclusion that the thing I like best, after Shakespeare, is food. You may not be wrong. Consequently, I almost failed to recognise myself in that I had an utterly negative interest in food for about four days, and ate nothing more than yogurt. I actually had bad dreams in which highly-unappetising-at-the-time foods such as eggs (which I never really love) and salad (which is a normal staple of my diet) would prance around and taunt me. And I still don’t really want to hear about curry, which I had on the night prior to my feverous Merchant in Indianapolis.

The second fact was due to a pig/pork (or pig to pork) processing plant in the town. The smell was a little more intense near our hotel than it was near the theatre, but was fairly pervasive. I was of the opinion that the smell it generated resembled more of a fake-cheese-product smell than that normally associated with any kind of pork or bacon. I assume residents of the town cease to notice it, but we found it pretty nauseating, and not only those of us plagued in their dreams by food.

The theatre space appeared to be a renovated chapel, fully equipped with regular theatre seating and lighting and a balcony, alongside its original stained glass windows and inlaid wood in the ceiling. I find the energies of theatres and of churches to be sympathetic, which I say because I believe theatre is about spiritual truth, not ‘pretend.’ The elements of the church’s architecture made it one of the most beautiful spaces we performed in, and it was also probably the most acoustically live space we saw on tour. Everyone wins! Except for the pigs.

I remember next to nothing about the show (see item 1 on the above list) except for that we had a high school group attending, who sat in the first couple of rows. The majority of these students were girls, and as early as the pre-show Alisa noted that they were laughing at EVERYTHING the boys did. By this point in the tour, we the female troupe members are quite familiar with this phenomenon of girls laughing at boys simply because they are cute. Of course, the boys in the troupe deserve laughter, whether you are using cuteness or comedy as your area of judgment, and I would far prefer that the audience is laughing than that they are not, regardless of their motivation. It just means a different kind of show for the women. Afterwards, one of the men in our troupe said something to the effect of ‘Alisa had an interesting analysis of the audience’—but any woman who has ever performed for high school students knows this is not analysis, but fact.

The other thing I remember about the show is that there was a man sitting in the second row centre who looked like a combination of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, in the best possible way. He was wearing a bow tie. I wanted to be his friend.

We had a Shrew workshop immediately following the show, which of course meant that the people who worked most hard during the show (Ginna, Josh, Scot) had to lead the correspondent workshop. God love them, because the idea of leading a workshop after Merchant sounds exhausting. I remember nothing about the workshop, and you can guess why! If you guessed item 1 on the above list, that is a well-informed, well-precedented guess, but no: I don’t remember anything about it because I was loading out the set and costumes at the time.

A Note on the Month-Long Gap Between Posts, and the Absurdly Outdated Information Now Contained Herein

For those of you who have already pestered me about it, please cease your cajolery. I am well aware of my lapse, but am finding it as hard to keep up with it now that we’re back in performance at the Blackfriars as I did when we were doing A Christmas Carol in December. (You will notice there are few posts for that month.) I had a routine on the road that made me moderately productive, if still belated. As that routine was ‘not having a life,’ my inability to be anything less than verbose was not severely checked by lack of time.  I will try to see if I can both have a life and write, despite my many hypotheses that you can either live life, or think about it, but not both at once.


Read Full Post »

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


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.

Read Full Post »

Huntsville, Alabama, February 14-16:

One of the problems with God’s Geographical Reminder That Life is Not Fair (otherwise known as Florida) is the question of why bad weather happens to good people. We drove into a cold front as we moved west, so that when we emerged from the vans in Huntsville, Alabama, the temperature hovered around freezing, and our correspondent attitude hovered around despair. We had not travelled significantly to the north from our previous venue in Georgia, so it was not only a harsh thirty-forty degree drop in temperatures, but a thoroughly unexpected one. “What have we done to deserve this?” wailed Alisa. “We’re good people! Why are we being punished?”

The key is to remember that Florida is a reminder that life is not fair, not a lesson that those who live in Florida are God’s chosen people. It would be even easier, in response, to ascribe to the Elizabethan worldview that everyone travels on Fortune’s wheel (as I pointed out at the end of my post in Islamorada) simply because what goes up must come down, not as retribution for personal behaviour. This argument appears to fall through slightly when you consider that there are plenty of people who get to stay in Florida all winter long, until you remember: hurricanes.

The most distinctive thing about our stay in Huntsville, however, was the fantastic audience. (Also, the University had a great gym.) In addition to a healthy showing from the university student population, the Huntsville Literary Association, which has been bringing the American Shakespeare Center to Huntsville since Shakespeare was a child, populates the audience with a large age range of people. I’ve generally found that a demographically mixed audience is a more responsive audience, because SOMEONE finds all of the jokes funny, which leads to more responsive behaviour overall. (Conversely, our least responsive audiences to date were homogenously comprised of West Virginian high schoolers.) And the responses are not always what one might think: while the college students certainly whooped, the most raucous of audience members were probably the older women in the Literary Association. Bless their hearts.

The performance space abided by the old platform-in-the-middle-of-a-multi-purpose-room set-up made popular by such venues as Orrville, Ohio, Canton, New York, and, most recently, Sarasota, Florida (another place with a slightly more severe, but pleasantly large, demographic spread). The benefit of this arrangement is that it provides us with a true thrust stage rather than a couple of rows of seats in a proscenium theater, though this also means that no audience members are within arm’s harassment. The disadvantage is that these stages have proven to be somewhat hazardous. In Sarasota, there were a number of sharp edges and protruding staples to the platforms; in Canton, the image of Paul/Grumio wiping out during the Wedding Scene is indelibly etched on my memory; and in Huntsville, two pieces of the stage actually slid apart during the middle of a scene, creating an impromptu trap. (The ghost of Marley could not be reached for comment.) The quick-thinking (and amply strong) Mr. Evan Hoffmann leapt off the stage at the end of the scene and shoved the platform back into place. I am glad he was on stage to deal with the problem, because the image of myself, in my petticoat and three-inch high heels, straining fruitlessly against the offending platform, is more comical than the mental-image projectionist in my head can deal with.

Because indeed, we performed Taming of the Shrew on our first night there, which was also Valentine’s Day. This was either fortuitous or good planning, since Shrew is definitely our most Valentine-appropriate show. One could not say the same of all interpretations of Shrew, but ours is definitely more of your romantic comedy, they-hate-each-other-so-much-at-the-beginning-you-know-they’ll-be-kissing-by-the-end-You’ve-Got-Mail variety. With whacker noodles! The audience was the largest this evening, perhaps owing to the holiday, but also due to an enthusiastic high school group who came in to see the show.

The two things I recall about this show are:
1. It was the best delivery I ever gave of “Is it for him that you do envy me so?” and it actually got a huge laugh, thus, I am concluding, expending my entire allotment of laughs for that line;
2. For some reason, when Ginna/Kate threw down the hat in the final scene, it went sliding off the stage. I can’t recall if some other hat-propelling agency was involved, but the extreme journey of the hat added a great deal to the lines that Alisa and I have following. (“What a foolish duty call you THIS?”) Ginna gracefully descended from the stage during her speech to retrieve the hat during her speech, with perfect improvisational skill.

Our Henry V and Merchant of Venice which followed on the next two consecutive nights were equally excellent shows, fed by the superlative audiences—though slightly smaller, they still filled the room, both in terms of occupied seats and generous energy. I remember even fewer distinctive things about these performances than I do our performance of Shrew, in part because they were simply, to my recollection, a couple of the best shows we’ve had. All I really remember about Henry was that afterwards Aaron told me it was the best he had ever seen the Boy’s soliloquy, which made me very happy. I, too, had been feeling less ashamed by it than usual that evening, and I really value Aaron’s opinion.

One specific thing I remember about Merchant was that Ginna picked a very cute boy in a hat on stage-right as the German, and I felt slightly poorly for picking on him later as the “lewd interpreter;” but he gave me no choice, because he had laughed and clapped much louder than anyone else at Ginna’s consistently-brilliant “Why, shall we turn to men?”

I also felt that the Quality of Mercy was perhaps the best it had ever been, or perhaps merely revitalised by my attempts to use a slightly different treatment of the text. As I have discussed before, I think the two main treatments of Shakespearean text are styles I might call ‘simplicity and reasoning’ and ‘deep emotional resonance,’ and I think employment of both makes for the best performance. Naturally, most lines and moments are a blend of the two, but the pull of the extremes of these two styles is always compelling when I see it in other performances. It floors me both when an actor allows his body and the words to be conduit for pure emotion, and when an actor tosses off lines like “What’s the matter?” or “I will go” with colloquial simplicity, and the true power rests in having both. This is perhaps too many words spent on a concept that is not terribly sophisticated: in essence, if everything has equal weight (or, conversely, equal lightness), eventually, nothing is heard. It is certainly too many words spent on the topic of the Quality of Mercy, Huntsville Version; quite simply, I have always approached the speech as one with a greater percentage of ‘deep emotional resonance’ than ‘simplicity and reasoning,’ but this evening it came out slightly favouring ‘simplicity and reasoning’ at something like 55-45%. This pleased me, because I’ve been feeling recently that I need a larger percentage of it in my work, and that it is the dominant texture in most truly great classical work that I’ve seen (and that I see, daily, from my castmates).

Huntsville leisure activities included a viewing of Atonement, my first visit to a Steak & Shake since high school (in my mind’s scrapbook, I recall a photograph of me after a performance of The Boyfriend looking rather as though my milkshake had been spiked), and Dan and Ellen’s Two Attempts and One Successful Visit to a Thai Restaurant. The Shakespearean actor is a simple beast: it rises, it seeks food, it performs Shakespeare, and it goes to sleep. Some breeds, also, watch too much CNN.

The kind people at the Huntsville Literary Association held a dinner for us after our performance of Henry on Friday night; it was delicious. Everyone was very friendly, but one woman lamented to me that I’d only had two scenes, but that I’d done such a good job with the French. I told her that I had five scenes as the Boy (six if you count the “Kill the boys and the luggage” scene), and she gazed at me for a moment before she said, “That was you?” Ha HA! Success.

Read Full Post »

Alternate Title: Death and Rebirth in Islamorada

Islamorada, Florida, February 8-9:

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

And so this concludes this particular blog post.

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

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

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

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

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

The ASC drives to Islamorada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The American Shakespeare Center in Islamorada

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

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

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

A view from the amphitheatre

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

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

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

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

A view from our deck/balcony

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Sarasota, Florida, February 5-6:

Florida appears to me to be God’s geographical reminder that life is not fair. I had never been to Florida in the winter, and, being thus unprepared for the surprise of how warm it actually was, my first thought, as I stepped out of the van, was: “This is not FAIR.” It still seems to me unfathomable that, several days prior, when I was freezing in West Virginia, people in Florida were walking around in sandals and shorts. Furthermore, all seven winters I spent in Boston, with the Holy-Baby-Jesus-Wear-All-Maximum-Layers-of-Warmth wind whipping off the Atlantic and funnelling through the high-rise corridors, there were people in Florida walking around in sandals and shorts! It blows my tiny little mind.

In consequence, I could not shake the feeling that we had travelled in time, rather than in space. I would see signs for events happening in February, and think, ‘Wow, that sign is really old. How is it that they can possibly be so lax as to have signs for February up in June?’ It may seem illogical of me to find time travel more realistic than warm weather in the winter, but consider the following Syllogism of Ellen’s Life:

Cold = Misery
Winter = Cold,
or conversely:
Lack of Misery = Lack of Cold
Lack of Cold = Lack of Winter
and thus:
Lack of Misery = Lack of Winter

The only other time I’ve travelled to a significantly southern place in the middle of winter was when the first time I went to Bangladesh, but it makes a little more emotional sense when it’s halfway around the world, and everything else is different, too. Also, I didn’t have as much life experience with being cold at that point. Anyone who knows me, or anyone who doesn’t know me but has read blog posts such as those on Maine and upstate New York, will know that I spend 85% of my life being cold, and cold is consequently my primary adversary in life. I also spend about 0.023% of my life being actually hot, and so Florida’s trade-off of having really quite sticky summers seems like a perfectly decent price to pay for this lack of misery.

N.B. People who are frequently hot and consequently despise being hot are always telling me that being cold is better than being hot because you can always put more clothes on, whereas you cannot always take more clothes off. They do not understand. I am aware that this is probably true for them, but in the winter, it is physically impossible for me to put on enough clothes to be actually warm. This is not for a lack of trying, because I wear, on average, six or seven layers to go out of doors. That is not a hyperbolic number. I may be a freak, but that doesn’t make my perpetual coldness any less a fact.

Apropos of me being a freak, somewhere around one-half to three-quarters of the cast got sunburns on our first full day in Sarasota, and most have gotten some kind of colour since then. I avoided this, for the most part, by wearing SPF 50, as I do every day of my life. Now I appear even more white, by contrast, than I usually do. As I walked into a CVS in Islamorada (our subsequent stop), the nice woman at the counter said, “Now, I know you’re not from around here because you’re too white.” Thank you, Irish ancestry.

We performed in a large room with a constructed stage and chairs set up in a nice thrust, similar to the set-up we had in Orville and in Canton. The stage, and particularly the stairs attached to it, were a bit rickety; I noticed this most when I was lying on the ground as the dead version of the Boy in Henry V, and the ground shook like mad when Henry and his retinue came in for “I was not angry since I came to France.” It was both impressive and probably the most fun that I’ve had as a dead person, as usually the most exciting thing that happens is that I might get accidentally spit upon by Chris Seiler and his excellent diction.

N.B. Let us add that last sentence to our collection of Only a Life in the Theatre phrases.

We performed Henry V the first night, and Taming of the Shrew the second; both shows had absolutely fantastic and responsive audiences. Demographically, they were an interesting mix of college students and retirees, a logical conclusion of the surrounding population. (It may be a stereotype, but sweet biscuits, if I could retire to Florida, I would. But this is probably not a possibility, unless I end up doing some unforeseen and currently inconceivable thing with my life. I set much store by the saying that old actors don’t retire, they die.) The effect of having the audience less dominated by young people was, it seemed to me, that more people laughed at different kinds of things, especially in Henry. There was one particularly nice man who sat on the stage right side both times, and laughed at everything, including things that I do, and even things I did as Bianca, which shows him to be either brimming with good will or lacking in judgment, or possibly both.

It had been so nice to reach a level of comfort with Henry early in this half of the tour, but unfortunately, I think a few of us felt some of this ease had dissolved over the last fortnight of not doing the show. A highlight of the show for me was the Boy’s soliloquy, which I felt less poorly about than I usually do—probably aided by the fact that the generous audience laughed at all of the jokes.

However, the English Lesson scene, normally a point of comfort for me (as it’s almost identical to the way that Ginna and I did it in the Renaissance Run), was suddenly bizarre. I’ve been asked several times if I find acting in French to be difficult, and I have always responded that no, it doesn’t feel particularly more challenging. (Improvising in French would be more difficult, but fortunately, I’ve only had to do that once, and, come to think of it, it was easier than trying to improvise iambic pentameter.) But, in this performance, as I uttered my first phrase, my sentences suddenly felt like mere sounds. I went through most of the scene praying that my body knew the sounds well enough to continue, because my mind felt disconnected. My body’s memory pulled through, but it was probably my least favourite time I’ve ever done that scene, which is usually a high point for me.

Fortunately, the final wooing scene was especially good, though the talented Mr. Hoffmann, as Henry, has far more to do with that than I do. Ginna does such a beautiful job as Alice, and I have yet to acknowledge the brilliance of her taking the line “I do not know what is ‘baiser’ en Anglish” to the audience, because 99% of the time, a few people shout back, ‘To kiss!’ The first time Ginna did that was our December performance in the Blackfriars, but the fact that people respond no matter where we go demonstrates, in a nutshell, what is truly fantastic about the American Shakespeare Center.

Everyone had a lot of fun with the following evening’s Shrew, not the least of which was the audience; the show ran very long, but when I was on stage, I felt it was more due to people laughing at everything than lack of cue pick-ups. The most distinctive aspect of both of these shows for me personally was a particularly strong and joyful presence of my characters backstage. I can’t quite explain it, but what I remember most clearly was coming off stage after my first Bianca entrance and being SO EXCITED that I just got new jewellery. I can’t say honestly say I’ve ever been very excited about them before, in part because they are stupendously hideous. The gigantic lime-green necklace probably reads a little better from stage, but the Gremio bracelet, which is a sort of quasi-cloisonné double-headed tiger (a great name for a band, by the way), actually wins the Delightfully Ugly competition. I remember having a conversation with Jim in June in which I said that I preferred the slightly more tasteful rehearsal prop necklace and bracelets, but quickly followed it up with the assertion that BIANCA liked whichever ones Jim liked better, thus garnering a laugh from Jim. Today, this was truly a reality. I came backstage and literally jumped up and down and clapped my hands. Josh and Paul laughed at me, and laughed even harder when, having been still in Bianca mode, I knocked over one of the tall silver goblets with my incredibly wide petticoat. Poor Bianca, she’s a graceful girl trapped in a klutzy actor’s body. I clutched the offending petticoat and grinned an apology to the nearest person, conveniently Chris/Baptista. I was having too much fun to stop.

Our hotel was very nice, complete with outdoor pool, hot tub, and complimentary cookies, which were very exciting for some, but would have been more exciting for me had they been complimentary boxes of raisins. Other Sarasota events included a viewing of There Will Be Blood, which Dan and I had been trying to see since Fairmont; I scarcely breathed throughout the entire thing. Super Tuesday also happened everywhere else whilst we were in Sarasota; I scarcely breathed through that, either.

Read Full Post »

Weyers Cave, Virginia, January 18:

Weyers Cave was one of the first places we visited on the first leg of our tour, and it was nice to return to do Henry V, having done Taming of the Shrew in the fall. It was nice to do Henry, at all, in order to satisfy our interrupted expectations two nights prior, and our previous performance of Shrew made us fairly certain that they weren’t going to ask us to do Shrew instead.

Both shows at this venue were excellent; the audiences were friendly, engaged, and quick to laugh, and the true thrust stage set up in their lovely black box theatre is one of my favourite environments for involving the audience, and, thus, for Shakespeare. Our Shrew last September was one of my, say, five favourite Shrew performances so far, and this Henry was, from my vantage point, also one of our best Henry performances so far. I felt freed from some of the things that have been continually constraining my performance as the Boy, and it seemed that all of my continually-brilliant castmates had a similar energy in their performances. Ginna did a particularly beautiful job with the Hostess’s monologue, and all of the ‘Low Life’ scenes, which we’d worked on during our rehearsals that week, seemed fresher.

Alisa was particularly excited to see that they had installed mirrors in the dressing room, because they were not yet installed when we inaugurated the new space in the fall. The lack of mirrors was particularly noticible because the partitions set up between each seat, reminiscent of desks found in libraries—as if the management were afraid of actors copying other actors’ make-up—neatly framed twelve rectangles of blank wall.

Sweet Briar, Virginia, January 19:

The promise of three Henry shows in as many days was indeed too good to be true, but the universe allowed two consecutive performances with no further complications. Though I myself did not have quite as good of a show as the previous evening, Sweet Briar played host to one of the most outgoing and enthusiastic audiences for Henry we’ve had outside of the Blackfriars. (A couple of people got exit applause, including Ginna and myself for the English Lesson scene!)

The large auditorium had weak lighting for the house, which made it difficult to see specific people in the audience. Because I’ve always felt that to a particularly painful blow in my struggle to do the Boy’s soliloquy with any kind of passing professionalism, I decided to alter the blocking a little in order to be able to talk directly to people. Fortunately, there were wings to the stage, projecting like runways along the side walls; I scrambled over there to hide when Fluellen stormed out, consequently putting myself in a place where I could see the audience more easily. Not only was it helpful to me to be able to jump off the runway into the auditorium, but it was also an opportunity to be a Theatre Ninja, which always delights me.

Our reception at Sweet Briar was extraordinarily hospitable, especially for a venue that we were only visiting for one night. The way to actors’ hearts is frequently through their stomachs (my friend Stephanie observed to me that the two things I always talk about on this blog are theatre and food), and the lovely people at Sweet Briar provided us with an entire panoply of snacks for the afternoon, and THEN held a reception for us afterwards! It made us feel well-loved and well-fed, or perhaps (as I posit) well-loved because well-fed.

I extend my warm thanks to the staff and the superlatively friendly audience not only because they deserve our gratitude, but also to emphasize that I have nothing but good will for them despite the fact that this women’s college has a truly terrible motto. We were eating lunch in the campus dining hall, when someone noticed that the napkin dispensers contained a bright pink piece of paper that read


After much deliberation, we determined that they were attempting to play off of the idea ‘Pink is for girls,’ but I don’t think that is a strong enough concept to be worthy of subversion, at all, especially when its product employs a verbal acuity reminiscent of Tarzan. The fact that “think” is so wildly ungrammatical, compounded with use of the word “girls” rather than, say, “women,” gives it, to my ear, a kind of insulting tone. (The latter reminds me of my friend Devin, jokingly saying to his friend Becky who scored a letter grade higher than him on a high-school Spanish test, “Gee, Becky, you did well on that test…for a GIRL.”)

Consequently, THINK about it! With both ‘think’ and ‘girls’ being slightly promblematic, the only decent words are ‘is’ and ‘for,’ thus rendering a full 50% of the motto potentially offensive. In conclusion, I am struck by the irony of having a motto encouraging thinking that apparently involved so little mental activity itself.

Many people suggested revisions, of varying political correctness; my favourite was Mr. Paul Reisman’s:



Read Full Post »

Warrentown, Virginia, January 16:

We kicked off the second half of our tour with three day trips within a couple hours’ drive of Staunton. All three performances were slated to be Henry V, which is statistically dissimilar to the general bookings for the three shows; in the fall, Taming of the Shrew seemed to account for roughly 45-50% of our shows, Merchant of Venice for 35-40% and Henry V for 10-20%. (Those numbers may not quite add up, but straining all of my mathematic faculties upon the problem, I have come to the conclusion that some numbers within those ranges probably do.) In preparation for our Henry trifecta, we did an Italian run-through (an extreme speed-through with blocking) of the play earlier in the week, yielding the verbal gems, ‘He that shall see this day, and live old age / Will yearly on the vigil fist his neighbors’ and ‘Here, uncle Exeter, fill this glove with clowns.’ In short, we were prepared!

As our vans were pulling into the driveway at the theatre in Warrentown, Josh said, “That sign says, ‘Tonight: Taming of the Shrew.’”

There were two Pinteresque beats of silence in the car.

Then came the crackle of the walkie-talkie, and Evan’s voice, from the other van, asked, “Did anybody see that sign?”

(For full appreciation of this dialogue, recall that Josh plays Petruchio, and Evan plays Henry.)

“Well, Ellen, here’s that drama you wanted at Georgetown,” said Ginna.

A well-placed phone call ascertained that we were, in fact, expected to do Taming of the Shrew. Subsequent emotions were as follows:

DESPAIR that we had not packed all of the instruments needed for Shrew; followed by INCREDIBLE IMPROVISATION by rockstars Chris and Chris;

RELIEF that we had packed costumes for all three shows, despite the best efforts of some of the troupe members to dissuade Aaron, the World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager, who was bent on this course of action; followed by SPECULATION about how in the world we would’ve done Shrew with only the Henry costumes;

HAIR ANXIETY from Ginna that she had not washed her hair or brought the necessary accoutrements to achieve her Kate Hair; and, HAIR RESIGNATION from me, as I had packed all of my hair away flat to my head as I have to do for Henry, and wouldn’t be able to change it to Bianca hair without a shower and some gel. (As I have stated previously, my hair is the master in our relationship.) Alisa, Ginna and I also shared a moment about the fact that we were all three sporting the kind of undergarments we wear for Henry, and not for Shrew. I am not certain if any of the boys had this same problem.

DENIAL, ANGER, BARGAINING, DEPRESSION, and finally ACCEPTANCE of the death of that evening’s Henry; or perhaps merely ACCEPTANCE, followed several weeks later by ATTEMPTS TO INCORPORATE INTO THIS BLOG WHAT I LEARNED IN PSYCHOLOGY 101 IN COLLEGE.

Paul very much wanted to take a picture of a drooping Evan next to the sign announcing Taming of the Shrew, followed by a picture of Paul and Josh popping up from behind the sign ‘like muppets’ (those were his very words). But as Paul did not take the picture, and since I am the verbal co-Historian to Paul’s pictorial Historian, I must be responsible to record the idea of the picture here. Thus finally putting an answer to how many words a theoretical but untaken picture is worth: approximately 42.

Instead, when we were running “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for music call, Evan sang:

You can’t always do the play you want
No, you can’t always do the play you want
I said, you can’t always do the play you want
But if you try sometimes
You might do Shrew
Oh yeah, always doin’ Shrew
And sometimes Merchant

I died from laughing, and am only here because the custodians of the afterlife sent me back, that I might finish my earthly business of recording this event.

It was not, perhaps, the best Shrew ever, but it was notable to me because it was the first time that we tried out a new piece of business in the Latin/Music Lesson scene, in which Lucentio presents Bianca with a ring. Raffi thought of it some time ago, because he is a continually inventive actor, whom, consequently, I could not admire more; however, we were unable to figure out what I should do with the ring, since I should neither put it on at that point in the story, nor do I have any pockets. (The front of my dress is also a little too loose to use it for storage. Believe me: I tried it, and the ring got lost in my voluminous petticoat.) Anyway, we talked about it with Jim and realised that I could simply give the ring back to him, not as a refusal, but because Licio is watching. So, though we had not expected to try it out that evening, we did! Though it ended up affecting me a little differently in the moment than it did when we had practiced, I hope it stays, because it charges up the rest of the scene, and, for me, the rest of the play.

In the end, our ability to do a different show than the one for which we had been mentally preparing amounted to a kind of triumph. Josh pointed out that it makes us more like touring companies of old, who would have performed whatever the lord of the house requested (“Can you play the Murder of Gonzago?”). And, he said, it was nice to know that if someone said, ‘We will give you $10,000 to do Henry the Fifth right now,’ we would be tired, but we would be able to do it. Naturally, we couldn’t do one hundred different plays, as they might have done in Shakespeare’s day (“Can you play the Murder of Gonzago?” “Uh, no, my lord. How about the Taming of the Shrew?” “O, vengeance!”), and so our Shakespeare On Demand capabilities are somewhat limited. But something in this may explain why, for months, I have been having a recurring dream in which we are suddenly supposed to do Romeo and Juliet, which is a difficult but not thoroughly ludicrous proposition for my brain to make, since I have played Juliet, in some capacity, thrice. Perhaps the most disturbing thing that this dream says about my brain is that I generally end up just dreaming, in extraordinary clarity, about whole chunks of Romeo and Juliet text.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »