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Posts Tagged ‘I am cold’

Fairmont, Minnesota, March 15:

We performed at the Fairmont Opera House, which has the dubious honour of being the (I can safely say) penultimate example of any variety of the Drama of Not Doing a Show. This particular strain of Drama is the same we experienced in Kokomo, Indiana, and the same (albeit with advance notice) that constituted our final Drama, when our Illustrious Tour Manager went on for Evan in Taming of the Shrew and Merchant of Venice during our residency, so that Evan could go to his brother’s wedding. This, the Final Drama, was more dramatic insofar as Aaron performed off-book, and we were all slightly in suspense as to whether or not he would say “You look not well, Signior Bassanio,” (instead of ‘Antonio’), which he did both times we rehearsed the scene. It was less dramatic insofar as Aaron knew he was going to be going on for Evan in those performances since last June.

But in Minnesota, our beloved Chris Seiler fell ill with what he interpreted to be some kind of food poisoning. I believe it was the same Martian Death Flu that wracked Evan and me in Indiana (for the doubtful amongst you, ‘Evan and me’ is correct grammar in this case), because we were all eating the same cereal in the dining hall in Duluth. It would make far more sense that we would get the flu in waves, and food poisoning simultaneously. But regardless of the cause, Chris was incapacitated—I seem to remember him lying behind a table in the backstage area huddled under a blanket that had initially hung as decoration on the wall—Aaron had to go on as Baptista and the Page, and we can log a second example of The drama of doing a show with the World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager stepping into a role vacated by a deathly ill actor. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture this time.

Of course, Aaron could not play the seventy-three different musical instruments that Mr. Seiler commands, so a fair amount of negotiating was needed for the pre-show music. Alisa went on for her fiancée for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” having (I believe) never played ukulele before. It was certainly a Dramatic moment for those of us backstage, because, without Chris Seiler there, Chris Johnston forgot when he usually comes in, and so Johnston and Alisa played the intro for at least three times as long as it is usually played. I think Alisa considers this one of the more shameful moments of her entire tour, but in all honesty it wasn’t bad, and likely, people who had never heard our version of the song before didn’t even notice anything was awry. Plus, it afforded Alisa this following gem of information: it is much easier for men to play the ukulele than women. (Recall that the instrument is held at chest height.)

The show itself went well, with Aaron performing book-in-hand; as we were walking through scenes with him beforehand, it was surprising how little I actually knew of Baptista’s traffic pattern, but could only say things like, ‘Well, he usually ends up here by this point.’ I think Aaron got a lot of that kind of direction, because much of the blocking ended up being completely different. But I love having to make adjustments on the fly, because it makes all choices, old and new, absolutely truthful.

There was no convenient place to watch from backstage, especially as audience members were seated along the sides of the stage in usual ASC fashion. Nevertheless, Aaron made me laugh so hard I practically cried on two separate occasions. The first was when Raffi and I were waiting to make our entrance in the Vincentio/Pedant Confrontation scene, and we heard Aaron say, “What, is the man LYEWnatic?” from the house. Not only did Aaron milk the liquid ‘u’ in ‘lunatic’ for all it was worth, he upped the pitch of this syllable about an octave above both his normal speaking voice and the pitch of Seiler’s usual delivery. Like all of life’s funniest things, not even one-eighteenth of the humour is translated in the retelling, but all I have to say is that it was a good thing that Raffi and I always make that entrance laughing, because if I’d needed to enter weeping, there would have been nothing I could do. I think Raffi was in a similar state, which makes the hilarity all that more impressive, focused actor that he always is.

The second extreme moment of comedy came at the curtain call, which we had all neglected to talk through with Aaron. In consequence, as we all walked to our curtain call marks singing ‘Hit me with your best shot baby etc.’ Aaron kind of shuffled around, looking for a logical opening in the formation. Then, when just Alisa usually sings ‘Fire awaaaay!’ at the end, Aaron continued singing with her, perhaps because he was distracted by not knowing where to go, or perhaps because he also legitimately did not how much the rest of the cast usually sings. Either way, there’s something about someone simultaneously singing ‘fire away’ and shuffling backwards in the most tentative manner that derives true humour from its paradox.

The audience was kind and receptive, if not as young and rowdy as some of our college-aged groups. I overheard someone who worked at the venue speaking to our stressed tour manager about making sure that the show wasn’t too suggestive, because the audience base was fairly conservative. I recall Aaron replying, “We’ll do what we can, but when Shakespeare writes ‘What, with my tongue in your tail?’ there’s not a lot of leeway.” Aaron was more gracious than I probably would have been under the circumstances, because people getting huffy when Shakespeare is a little dirty really gets my pumpkin pants in a knot. If you play the text, it will not be clean. I’ve seen enough scandalised English teachers on enough high school Shakespeare tours, and it makes me furious that, of all things, the people purporting to TEACH Shakespeare apparently don’t read it closely enough to see that the dick joke is as basic an element of Elizabethan theatre as is the iamb. But I digress, especially since, at the Fairmont Opera House, both audience and staff alike were very friendly and seemed to enjoy the show. As a matter of fact, the venue hosts get extra super bonus points for laying out an entire table of food for us backstage. They will live forever in our hearts, having lived briefly in our stomachs.

It was Raffi’s birthday the night we stayed in Fairmont; unfortunately, we had to rise very early the following morning, because we had the first of two full drive days to get all the way back to Virginia. This did not stop most of us from having a few drinks at the hotel bar, the upshot of which was that, in the morning, Raffi was so late that he met the vans at the gas station across the street. This is only worth noting because Raffi has been unofficially voted Most Likely to Arrive Early to Anything of the Piercing Eloquence Troupe, and so the sight of him wheeling his suitcase across the median may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Unfortunately, none of us had any way of knowing that one of our vans was going to get stuck in the car wash next door, with the garage-style-door literally halfway down on the hood. If we had, we could have let Raffi have another fifteen minutes of sleep. O, touring! The situation comedy of a life on the road is often more situation than comedy.

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Today’s post is made possible by the wifi supplied by the megabus en route from New York to Philadelphia. Thank you, megabus! You are a beacon of free wireless connectivity in a dark ocean of secure networks. Now, if you could only work on not keeping your buses at a temperature set for penguin habitation.

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Before scaling our way up Minnesota to Duluth, we stopped in Minneapolis for several days when performances we were going to have in Iowa fell through. It was wonderful to be in a large city again, and it was also wonderful to have a visit with my friend Aaron, who, in the world of Bardolatry the Blog, famously showed up at a performance of Merchant in Washington D.C. without any forewarning.

Brief reviews of things I visited in Minneapolis, in no order whatsoever:
– The Guthrie’s production of Jane Eyre: Perfectly competent, but not as electrifying as I would have hoped from either the Guthrie (previously unknown to me in more than reputation) and Jane Eyre (previously known to me). The actors were acting to the back walls of the theatre and not to the other actors on stage, at least from the perspective of someone who sitting three-quarters of the way to the back wall of the theatre.
– The Guthrie, as a piece of architecture: Five Stars for Spiffiness, One Star for Ease of Use.
– The Minneapolis Institute of Art: Fantastic! (Though Dan disagreed.) A wealth of art without being too overwhelming. Special notes go to the ‘Period Rooms,’ from Tudor England to French Ballroom to Colonial American, and to a painting by the rather obscure artist Thomas Chambers, about whom my mother is currently publishing a book. I have rarely been so proud of myself as I was this time for recognising an artist’s style from across the room.
– Dim Sum Restaurant Across the Street from our Hotel (not the actual name): Five Stars for Yumminess, Five Stars for Ease of Use.
– The Mall of America: Despite my best intentions to be unswayed by the fact that it’s just a mall, only really big, I got caught up in the mallesque grandeur and actually purchased three items of clothing, thus straining my turquoise Teeny Tiny Travel Suitcase to its uttermost. In my defense, this made for five total items of clothing purchased in the last year, and that’s coming from a woman who owns (in boxes in another state) over forty skirts.
– The Paul Bunyan Ride in the Mall of America: Okay if you hide behind my friend Aaron on the log chute to avoid getting wet. If you are aquaphobic, like myself, I would not attempt it without said friend Aaron or a reasonable substitute.
– The Loring Pasta Bar: Four Stars for Yumminess, Seven Stars (out of Five) for Interior Decoration. No, really, this restaurant is one of the most fantastical interiors I have seen in my life and I have lived in Istanbul, Turkey, and Oxford, England, and visited a good many other places. You can take a look at some pictures on their website, but none of them do it justice. I want to LIVE in this restaurant: the plants, trees, twinkly lights, layers of walls that cut to exposed brick, balconies, vaulted ceiling, curtains, checkerboard floors, and general décor remind me more of Alice in Wonderland than anything I have seen this side of waking. Also I saw a man there who looked like Yeats, but that is purely coincidental and I do not expect, if I ever get to live in the Pasta Bar, that this man will necessarily be included.
– My friend Aaron: Five Stars. It is good to have friends. Touring will teach you that, if naught else.

Duluth, Minnesota, March 13:

The question (dear reader) that has no doubt been gnawing at your mind since you realised that we’d be travelling to the United States’ Arctic North is: Did it snow when we were in Duluth? I am pleased to say that yes, it did, and looked quite beautiful falling through the pines, thus giving us a the proper visual Duluthian experience (this may not be the adjective for ‘of or pertaining to Duluth,’ but I’ve given up worrying about it with deference to the more seriously problematic place name adjectives discussed in my post on Indianapolis).

I sincerely hope, however, that the question of whether or not I was cold was not also fretting your consciousness, as you should know that OF COURSE I was cold. I am cold when I stay for too long on the back porch of the Bev House at night in May. However, I was not that Holy Mary Mother of God Please Make It Stop level of cold (my dear friend Lewis also called this Sweet Baby Jesus Wear All Possible Layers of Warmth level of cold), because we brought a warm front along with us from Missouri, rendering the daytime temperature somewhere in the mid-twenties. My friend Aaron will witness that not a day before we arrived in Minneapolis, the temperatures were certainly in the below-ten region. Those are certainly the kinds of temperatures (and I have known them, in Boston) at which my brain molecules apparently stop bumping around and I lose all coherent thought. Think of it, if you will, as the Absolute Zero of my intelligence.

Just when you think I can’t get any nerdier, I do.

The college at which we were performing was architecturally dominated by a large stone castle-like building that sat impressively atop the hill of the campus grounds. As we rounded the driveway to the college, it looked like Hogwarts or a grey-stone version of the meadow façade of Christ Church at Oxford (which, let’s face it, are nearly the same thing, since parts of Christ Church were used in the Harry Potter films…and, just when you think I can’t get any nerdier, I do). I regret to say that once next to it, it looked more like some kind of Disneyland castle; something about the extreme irregularity and chunkiness of the stone looked more like ‘Hey, let’s build this to make it look like a castle!’ than ‘Hey, let’s build a castle!’ —always an important distinction amongst castle-builders. ‘Method’ castle-builders are quite peeved whenever anyone mentions the story about the famous old architect who said to his young co-worker, “My dear boy, why not just make it look like a castle?”

(Ten Ellen Points to anyone who names the story to which I’m making reference—God knows enough different people have quoted it to me in my life that it must be common knowledge. Ellen Points are redeemable for overly large stuffed animals in the afterlife.)

The auditorium in which we performed was in the castle-like building, and I would guess it usually serves as more of a music hall than theatrical space. The only way offstage was through two doors in the wood-panelled stage left and stage right walls, and the stage was so wide that our pipe-and-drape system could not actually stretch its full length. This left a small gap between the door and the start of the draped ‘backstage,’ so that in order to make any entrances, one had to employ that physicality dreaded by many an actor, the Neutral Walk. I ended up staying in this backstage area for most of the show—especially on the road, I enjoyed listening to and ‘staying with’ the show—but the thought of the Neutral Walk proved more annoying than the actual execution of it. Though I’m not sure how Neutral I really was in those three-inch turquoise high heels.

Though the auditorium was fairly large with a moderate rake, the performance was made more intimate by the fact that the stage was only a step or two above the area preceding the front row, and the step ran along the entire length of the stage. This meant that it was very easy for people to pull things out into the audience, and a few people used the area between the stage and the front row as an alternate acting space.

It was an important show for me personally, because it was the show in which I took the first steps towards the work that finally made Bianca coalesce for me, or, in slightly more moderate terms, finished the Bianca cake by finally putting the icing on. This metaphor is apt not only because of my history with food metaphors, but also because these finishing touches are inspired by that which may be seen as cloyingly sweet. Here’s what I realised: Bianca should be more like a Disney Princess, and to that end, I began watching some clips from that endless font of time expenditure, YouTube, and incorporating Disney Princess Gesture into the part.

Of course, what really made me realise this were my fellow actors, and, in particular, Mr. Raffi Barsoumian. He did such brilliant physical work in all three shows, but in watching his physical work on Lucentio, I thought that perhaps I would feel better about place in the unique world of our Shrew if I tried to be more the girl version of Raffi’s Lucentio. For a long time this, and my fantastic dress, led me to a kind of 1950s housewife physicality that was certainly appropriate, but didn’t feel to me to be quite enough to fully integrate me into the world of physical specificity brought to the show by people like Dan, Evan, Alisa, Paul, and Raffi. Part of my struggle with Bianca, too, for the entire year, had been seeking ways in which to make the Daddy’s Girl comedic bits come from a positive, rather than a negative choice. I had no interest in employing any of our society’s stupid cheerleader/spoiled rich girl physical templates, in part because I feel there ought to be something more timeless about Bianca—she says “Old fashions please me best,” after all, and I couldn’t agree more with THAT.

The Disney Princess idea came to me in a flash, and I’m so happy with it; though they’re maybe a bit cloying and absurd when we watch them as adults, they are basically sweet, well-intentioned girls. And taking notes from their physicalities was a fun process. Watch Sleeping Beauty: her arms are always held out a RIDICULOUSLY long way from her sides. And I think it was ultimately effective; when we returned to the Blackfriars, Jim gave me the note, “Wow! You seem so much more comfortable in Bianca’s body.” (Yes, I DO love Jim so much that I have unwittingly memorised every nice thing he’s said to me.) And just think: it only took me nine months of doing the show to make it work. Bianca had the same gestation period as a true human baby! I think Portia sprung out of my forehead, Athena-style, during the Ren Run, which has caused all the more complications thereafter.

I also spoke to two very nice sisters who saw Shrew in the spring—both are aspiring actresses and came up to talk to me while I was at that infamous theatrical hangout, the Stonewall Jackson bar—and they were very particular about loving the little gestures that I used. It was flattering in part because I really used them to please myself and to blend in with the play’s world better, not because I thought anybody except for perhaps the show’s director might notice them, when there is such fantastic physical comedy going on elsewhere on stage. I told the young women that I never thought anyone noticed, but they said they both remarked together that I used the ‘Glinda Foot,’ because apparently Glinda in Wicked cocks out her foot in the same manner. I’ve never seen Wicked, but from what I know of it, I think the Glinda-Bianca comparison may be generally apt, and furthermore, if it’s good enough for Kristin Chenoweth, it’s surely good enough for me.

Meanwhile, back in Duluth, Minnesota: the only other distinctive quality of the college campus that I recall was the fact that both sufficient visitor parking and the dining hall were so difficult to find that it almost seemed they trying to hide their dining hall from enemy detection. Note to enemy spies: THE DINING HALL IS NOT WORTH INFILTRATING. The cereal was the most consistently edible offering.

More Words on More Belatedness:

I do not currently have any internet connection, and so must steal the odd wireless signal from the ether in order to get anything done at all. As the internet is also required, in this age, for any amount of job- and house-seeking, my internet time is hugely pressed. It’s nearly impossible to function in today’s society without the internet, and living without access is more frustrating than this sometime-luddite would like to confess. In any case, I actually have a few posts waiting in my computer to be brought to the internet’s light, and will make an effort to get those up sometime before the presidential elections.

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 Sub-title: Also, it snowed.

Sub-sub-title: Also, we had these Shakespeare plays we did.

Dayton, Ohio, February 21-22:

On the American Shakespeare Center On Tour Weather Map, we can see the vans moving up here while this front of snowy misery moves down from the artic north like the Assyrian coming down like a wolf on the fold and smashes into the poor actors in their frail caravan. Do you see this, Jeff? It’s really a mess in here, where all this green is swirling around. And over here, on the What References to Romantic Poets is Ellen Making TODAY Bulletin, we can see that said Assyrian is from George Gordon, Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” Back to you.

We had avoided much in the way of accumulating snow on tour (and, to a certain extent, in Staunton, with the exception of the snowfall that lead to the Great Snow Seige of the Beverley Houses), including in roughly parallel states that we have travelled to since our stay in Ohio. Thus, an animal bred in captivity on tour would believe that it only really snowed in Ohio, provided it had an understanding of geographical concepts such as states. I found snow to be a major set-back on tour, because neither of my two pairs of shoes are equipped for it; it’s hard to pack snow boots, or other snow attire, into the Teeny Tiny Travel Suitcase. Chris and Alisa, natives of Ohio (as is Ginna), lamented the fact that the group now has an image of Ohio’s winters as being distinctively miserable, which might make people cranky about Ohio. But I am not cranky about Ohio because it was a Kingdom of Ice and Snow. I am cranky because of Ohio’s showing in the primaries. Thankfully, I was several states away by the time those rolled around, and so couldn’t even think about going around the streets saying, “Come ON, people!” On the negative side, Obama was in Dayton THE DAY after we left. O cruel fate.

The image rendered in the opening weather map is fairly accurate, except that snow isn’t green in real life: we hit a snow storm as we were driving up from Alabama, which naturally made for a difficult drive. Before the weather complications, however, we came across one of the most fantastic examples of Highway Irony I have ever witnessed, about sixty miles south of Louisville on I-65. On one side of the highway, a large black billboard proclaimed: HELL IS REAL. Directly opposite, an equally large billboard advertised the ADULT SUPERSTORE sitting directly beneath it. Dan noticed it initially, and since I could not get my camera out in time, he suggested I put it in my blog. So here it is! Immortalised for all time. Provided that the internet goes on for all time, and does not eventually implode from all the unweight of the staggering numbers of unprinted words accumulating daily into an impalpable entity.

The University of Dayton is so pretty, especially when it's not snowing

I did not take this picture of the University of Dayton, as is evidenced by the fact that it is clearly green in this photo, and not submersed in snow. But the campus was so pretty, I wanted to supply a picture. Photo credit goes to this random website. Although I imagine they also did not take the picture themselves.

The University of Dayton’s theater is as lovely as its campus (which is, as is evidenced above, quite lovely): the distinguishing feature of its standard (but very nice) proscenium theater was an orchestra pit that moved up and down the length of the story between the stage and loading dock/dressing rooms. I label this distinguishing because a) it meant we did not have to carry all of our set pieces up the stairs; b) the kind gentleman and tech student moved it up and down by means of a long metal pole inserted in the floor, so that, as he stood grasping the pole as it descended or rose, he looked something like Gandalf (having made reference to Harry Potter a couple of posts ago, my Nerdom is now complete); and c) riding on it was equally as cool, as it reminded me of the scene in Gladiator where Maximus and Commodus ascend into the Coliseum on a platform (okay, maybe my Nerdom is complete now). Naturally, all this truly proves is that I am Easily Amused, which my yearbook mentor in Middle School suggested were the actual words behind my intitials.

Our first night, we performed Taming of the Shrew. My greatest memory of this performance was that it was one of the best Kate/Bianca Bound scenes ever, in my opinion. Much of this had to do with the pre-beat between Ginna and myself, which was so feisty and amusing (to jog my memory in future years, I will call it the Modern Dance/I’m Going to Get Your Nose pre-beat) that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to stop laughing in order to enter. Another benefit was that the knot around my hands slipped a bit within the first few lines of the scene to a position that actually hurt slightly when Kate pulled on it. I wish I could figure out how to do that every time, because I always prefer not acting when possible (i.e. the Heavy Suitcase proposition).

We had a Merchant of Venice the following night, and it was not the best Merchant (nor the worst); sometimes, after a particularly excellent show like the one we had in Huntsville, it feels a little lacklustre for simply being average. For the first half of the show (which is a little lighter for me), I couldn’t shake the feeling that, quite simply, this was not the first time I was speaking these lines, and that it wasn’t the first time my castmates were speaking the lines either. This sensation happens very rarely to me (it happened a little more often during Christmas Carol‘s twelve show weeks), and it always makes me feel poorly. The only truly distinctive thing I recall about the performance was that Ginna’s parents and some of her friends attended.

But what made Dayton truly memorable were the fantastic students that we met. We were treated in a princely manner by the University, who provided for us a vat of trail mix and a fruit assortment of a size generally associated with pictures of cornucopias. But EVEN NICER was getting to meet the theatre and tech students thus conscripted to help us, who were kind enough to perform tasks beneath their abilities, i.e. lugging the cart with snacks, focusing lights, elevating the pit like Gandalf, etc. We usually have someone who helps us with these things at the theatres, but usually it is a singular tech director, not a squadron of students.

Some of these students came to our shows (and sat on stage), but others had shows themselves the two evenings that we were there, but were hanging out in the theatre beforehand. In this manner, I re-met (it’s the best way I can describe it) a woman named Rebecca who went to my High School, though she was a Freshman the year after I graduated! We met only a couple of months before, when we were both part of the Bloomington High School North Alumni Cabaret over the New Year’s break; she organised a comedy sketch for everyone to open the show, and I did a scene from As You Like It with the amazing actress and my oldest friend, Lynn Downey. Rebecca was one of the students in the simultaneous shows at Dayton, but whether or not people in that predicament could see the show was of less importance to us than the fact that we actually got to converse with students from the university, which is far more of a rarity than one might expect.

As I have named these the ‘True Confessions’ of a life on tour, I must continue my commitment to honesty, at the risk of losing all the glamour (ha) that adheres to the title ‘Shakespeare Nerd:’ when I envisioned touring from town to town, I envisioned a lot more parties. Perhaps this misconception was fuelled in the summer by Chris Johnston’s insistence to our handsome representatives at the merchandise table that they were responsible for finding out where ‘the parties’ were. Consequently, I assumed that there were, in fact, parties. After all, Mr. Johnston had been on tour the year before, and must, I reasoned, have some prior knowledge. Now, I am sure that parties do exist on the campuses we visited, I just haven’t heard about any in all of our months of touring. I am open to the possibility that people found out about parties last year, or that a couple people this year have found parties and I have not heard about them, since I make a poor wingman, as I am not, after all, a man.

So you have to understand how Monumental an Event it was that Evan overheard a couple of the theatre students talking about a party and asked if we could crash. As kind souls to whom I shall be eternally grateful, they welcomed Evan’s suggestion, and Evan, Dan, Raffi, Paul, Josh and I went over to the campus house after the show. All of the people at the party were great fun, with witty conversation, good dance moves, and beer games I had never seen before. Theatre students! They just don’t make anything else like ‘em. It was so great to go to a party with such fun people and feel like a normal human being, that I lost all track of time; at one point, Evan came up to me and said, “We probably ought to go soon.” “Why?” I responded. “Because it’s 4:30 in the morning,” he said. Ah.

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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.

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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’

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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.

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