Posts Tagged ‘Scotland the Brave’

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

West Hartford, Connecticut, October 30 – November 2:


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

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

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

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

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

One of the Longest Days of My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m going to clean the iron.”  

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

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

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

Ellen Adair as Thomasina and Lewis D. Wheeler as Septimus

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Shows

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

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

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

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


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


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

Some commentary on the costumes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jane Austen Look

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

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

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


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