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Posts Tagged ‘Taming of the Shrew’

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.

A Word from Our Sponsors

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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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.

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Indianapolis, Indiana, February 25 – March 2:

The Piercing Eloquence troupe spent a week in Indianapolis, but I did very little exploring of the state’s capital, chiefly because I partly grew up in Indiana, and my father still lives in Bloomington. That’s right: I may originally be from Philadelphia, I may have spent the last seven years of my life in Boston, and I may currently reside in a series of hotel rooms, but this itinerant actor is part-Hoosier.

N.B. For those of you who don’t know, or cannot extrapolate, a ‘Hoosier’ is a person from Indiana. I recall having a conversation with Aaron, our tour manager, back in December, in which he expressed doubt that people from Indiana actually called themselves Hoosiers, and probably called themselves ‘Indianians’ instead. “They certainly called themselves Hoosiers when I lived there,” I said, and the proposition of ‘Indianians’ probably gives you an idea as to why. What the kind people of Indiana never revealed to me is the origin of the word ‘Hoosier.’ I reject the cheap ‘Whoo’s-yer daddy’ derivation. Dave Barry says it is from the sound that pigs make when they sneeze, which is as compelling an explanation as I have found.

Discussion Questions
1. Is the name for people from your state a little awkward? ‘New Yorker’ is fine, as is ‘Californian,’ ‘Floridian,’ ‘Oregonian,’ ‘Virginian’ and others. But Pennsylvanian is not a whole lot better than Indianian. Is that what we call ourselves?! I feel as though I’ve rarely heard it actually applied. Which brings me to our next discussion question:
2. With Massachusettsian under consideration (whch I KNOW I’ve never heard), is ‘Masshole’ actually the state-recognised term?

So I spent more time exploring the hour’s drive between Indianapolis and Bloomington whenever I could, in order to visit my papa. It is quite a disorienting experience to be an itinerant actor and, at the same time, be in a house generally associated with Christmas vacation and the occasional summer, but also just about the best thing in the world. It’s just particularly difficult to go back to hotel rooms afterwards. It was unspeakably wonderful to see my papa, and Pravina, and I also got to visit with my high school friends Devin and Gwyn (I hadn’t seen Gwyn in over two years, because she’d been in China)! My dearest Frave, who is called ‘Melissa’ by most people, also came down from Chicago over the weekend with her husband and his parents, and I got to play with her for most of Saturday. In essence, it was the best week I’ve had on tour!

But, that being said, I’m not quite sure what the Indianapolis ‘touring’ experience was like, since it was more of a ‘home’ experience for me. It may have been similar experience for Evan, who is originally from Indiana; though I lived in Indiana a little longer than he did, he can actually claim to be a Hoosier by birth. Dan, Evan, and Chris Johnston also had wives/fiancées/girlfriends (respectively) visit them in Indy, so I think it was a special venue for a number of people in the troupe.

The theater that we performed in for most of the week was quite nice, and every day I meant to bring my camera to take some pictures, and every day I forgot, like the sharp-minded genius that I am (I remember having my first ‘senior moment’ in, quite literally, pre-school). It was essentially a thrust stage, but on a curved semi-circle rather than a rectangle; the first row was positioned right at the lip of the stage, making it easy to speak directly to audience members. Furthermore, the rows of seats were on a very steep rake, so that it was possible to make connections with audience members seated in the very last row. I imagine that the steep rake also made for clear viewing from the audience’s perspective, regardless of the seat. Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is to compare its format to that of an ancient Greek semi-circular amphitheatre, only, naturally, indoors, as we were not in Islamorada anymore. Toto.

In the attempt to make my Les Bardolatables-sized posts on week-long venues slightly more digestible, I will continue the tradition, as with Canton and Fairmont, of using headings for the separate shows.

90-Minute Taming of the Shrew Vol. I

Apparently, I am at the point in the tour where shows blend together and I can’t remember anything remarkable about them. Such is the case for this 90-Minute Shrew. I have a recollection of it happening, but that’s about all. The fact that the show took place prior to noon and consequently I was not truly awake may have something to do with it.

Merchant of Venice Courtroom Workshop

I became Verbosity XTreme in discussing this workshop, the question-and-answer that followed, and the nature of criticism in our society. Thus, in an unprecedented move, I have created a separate blog post about this workshop, to clean up the post on our week in Indianapolis a bit, which God and yourself can witness, needs cleaning. You may find it here, or you may also scroll down. Don’t let my wordiness scare you away from it, as it is actually a far more interesting post (in my opinion) than the usual endless recital of theatre spaces and eating establishments. However, if you are terrified by wordiness, you have probably already made your cursor run away, screaming in its little pointy manner, to lolcats or some suitable antidote. MANY WORDZ ABOUT SHAKSPER, I HAS DEM.

Henry V, Vol. I

My father, who is coincidentally also Henry the Fifth in our familial line, came to see our Thursday Henry V along with our family friend John. Another John who teaches at the Folklore Department with my father was also in attendance with his wife, though they had no idea that I was in the show; they are simply fans of the American Shakespeare Center, having seen a show at the Blackfriars, and so sought out an opportunity to see the company in their home state! Evan also had about fifteen family members attending. I use ‘about’ as genuine approximation, not as a licence for exaggeration, because I believe there were actually an upwards of a dozen Hoffmann family members in the audience, including many (as Evan reports it) who had never seen him act before.

Happily for Evan’s family and my father, I thought it was a good performance. Evan sounded like he was on fire as I listened from backstage. I really enjoy listening to Henry, in part because it’s still a bit of a novelty since we do it less often, and also because it’s really my favourite Shakespeare play. I love it because it has a little bit of everything in it, so I’m not forced to chose a comedy or tragedy as my Absolute Favourite. Additionally, it holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Shakespeare play to which I was ever exposed. In case I have not narrated this story on this blog before, the very same Henry the Fifth in attendance that evening took me to see the Kenneth Branagh film version when I was seven years old. I loved it so much that I made my parents take me to see it again. Four more times. I also wrote to the movie theatre asking for one of the movie posters when they were finished with it. They granted my request, as I imagine they did not have too many other seven-year-olds clamouring for them. I still own the poster, which is quite battered and torn, and bears childish writing at the bottom which reads, ‘I SAW HENRY V FIVE TIMES.’

This is why I am weird. You have my parents to blame. And/or thank, should you be in the rare predicament of needing a Shakespeare Nerd.

In any case, I had a good show: I continued to be less-ashamed of the Boy’s soliloquy, as I had in Alabama. I was able to capitalise on parts of the amphitheatre-space, scrambling up into the seating, and borrowing someone’s program to hide behind. In the English Lesson scene, Ginna and I got the dress twisted around the wrong way when I was putting it on; it’s only happened once before, but fortunately it HAD happened once before, and so I already had the experience of improvising French for the problem, and could pull out the same sentence. As I have discussed before, I take a secret delight in small obstacles of that sort, because they keep me on my toes. Meanwhile, the person that I used for ‘de ande’ at the end of the scene had a nice ring on, and I said, ‘Ooo!’ The Le Fer scene was one of the most fun ever; everything went well until the final wooing scene, which  I thought was simply not at its best. Ginna, however, was surprised to learn this afterwards, and I admitted that because I felt it hadn’t been going optimally, I decided to change some things up.

After the show, we had to drive straight to Kokomo, Indiana; originally, we were going to be performing in Kokomo, and in her generosity our contact incorporated the high school show we were originally supposed to have there into our contract. So we stayed for about seven hours (again, approximate and not hyperbolic figure) in a hotel in Kokomo in order to be fresh and ready for the following morning’s:

90-Minute Taming of the Shrew, Vol. II

This was a historic performance because Evan thought he got some kind of food poisoning and was nearly incapacitated. He had spent the entire night evacuating his stomach, and was only capable of lying down in utter surrender or sitting with an expression on his face that looked as though someone was treading on his intestines, which may actually be a kind assessment of the pain. Ginna served as the stage manager for the show, bless her heart; Evan roused himself to play the Lord in the Induction, and then the one, the only, World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager Aaron Hochhalter went on as Biondello. Here is a picture of him in the Biondello costume:

He that has the two fair daughters, is't he you mean?

You can see how excited he is! Biondello has few enough lines that Aaron was able to stow the script in his pocket whenever he went on stage and perform off-book. It was pretty amazing to see him mimic the Biondello Surfer Dude physicality. I stood unabashedly in the wings (and ergo possibly in view of the people seated on stage) and watched whenever I could. Aaron took a modest, just-doing-my-job attitude about the whole endeavour, consequently leaving me, I speculate, to balance the universal energy by finding it really exciting. Because you know this means it’s time for another

DRAMA RUNDOWN!

As of this performance, we have the following notches on our collective Drama Belt, which much be very large indeed to encompass the entire cast:
– The drama of thinking we might not do a show, but in the end performing as planned;
– The drama of doing a different show than the one we were planning to do;
– The drama of not doing a show;
– The drama of doing one-half of a show;
– The drama of doing a show with the World’s Most Omniscient Tour Manager stepping into a role vacated by a deathly ill actor.

After the show, the kind folks at IU-Kokomo provided us with a sandwich buffet lunch, which we all enjoyed. Except for the man whose stomach was in a vise.

Henry V, Vol. II Part B The Sequel Revenge of Black Boxes and Red Poles

My father came to see Henry again, this time accompanied by Pravina; Frave (‘Melissa’), her husband Peter, and his parents Ken and Laura were also there. We had a larger audience, though we’d had a nice house on Thursday, too. I personally did not have as good of a show, except for the final wooing scene, which I thought was better. My father said he did not notice a difference in quality, only the natural variation that occurs if actors are trying to be honest and responsive, which just goes to show that actors’ perception of their work is probably out of proportion to the visible difference to audience members.

It was a kind of wonky-mouthed show, however, albeit not in a way that audience members could discern. There was one gentleman in the third or fourth row who was following along in the script, so he may have noticed; on the other hand, so many things are consciously cut or vary from edition to edition, that these tiny blunders may have not even seemed to be as such to someone following a full version of the script. A number of people simply slipped out a different word by accident (for example, the ever-excellent Chris Seiler as Fluellen said “his prawls and his prabbles and his indigestions,” instead of “indignations,” which almost made me laugh as the dead body of the Boy and consequently bring new meaning to the term ‘corpsing’); once, I heard from backstage a couple of lines seamlessly dropped from the middle of a speech; I accidentally said ‘nails’ instead of ‘mails’ the time that Ginna/Alice is supposed to correct me (but she, the excellent actor that she is, simply didn’t correct me, and didn’t even bat an eye).

The English Lesson scene ended quite nicely, however. There were a great number of children in the audience, and several seated in the curved front row. The young boy whom I first approached when naming body parts started to ascend to the stage when I took his hand, which was so charming that I was sorry to cut his stage time short with “Oh, mais non, merci!” In the centre of the first row sat the kind professor whom I’d met at the Merchant workshop, and had told me that he and his young daughter would do bits from the scene before she went to bed. As I came around, I saw that he was lifting his daughter up, so I made sure to get to her and pointed to her beautiful sparkly shoes by the time I got to ‘de foote.’ I had promised her father on Tuesday that I would be more than happy to meet her after the show, which I did. She is, by all appearances, younger than I was when I first saw Branagh’s Henry V, which bodes well for the future of Shakespeare Nerds. It’s nice to see that there are always a few children are being messed up in the same manner that I was. If I have in any way helped water the seed of Shakespeare in her young mind, that it might one day bloom into the kind of blind nostalgic adoration that most people of my generation associated with ‘Thundercats,’ I can die in peace. Now, before I outlive Keats!

Also on the plus side, Evan gave a particularly good Crispin’s Day speech. Sometimes it’s really hard not to cry, and I have to remind myself to try to be brave and manly. Even people who don’t love it with blind nostalgic adoration admit to weeping because it’s such a beautiful speech, and I think it’s doubly difficult for me.

Another odd thing about the performance was that the folks at the venue decided they wanted an intermission. We don’t normally have an intermission on the road, though we will when we return for our residency in the Blackfriars, a fact which I am not anticipating with glee. Unless I have to go to the bathroom or change a costume, I hate intermissions. It makes it very easy for the spirit of the play to break, and I cherish remaining within its energy, whether I am on or off the stage. And unless I have to go the bathroom, I don’t like intermissions as an audience member either. Of course they’re necessary: there are concessions to be vended and merchandise to be hawked. But most of the time, I would just rather that the play continue.

Merchant of Venice

I woke up the following morning with the ‘food poisoning’ that Evan had, which is the reason that I phrased it ambiguously as ‘Evan thought he got some kind of food poisoning,’ and also the reason that I was able to discuss the pain in such specific terms. Four of us in the troupe have had a similar affliction by this point, albeit with slight variations in symptoms, which makes me believe that it is probably the flu, and not a rash of food poisoning from evenly spaced dining establishments. My version was also accompanied by fever, chills and dizziness, so I think flu is a safe bet, especially since, as Katherine, I kissed Henry/Evan a couple of times on Thursday night, when his flu was probably incubating.

And so, in this state, I had to do Merchant of Venice. Fortunately, I think my worst day was the Monday following, because when I woke up on that Sunday my first thought was ‘O no, not today!’ and my second thought was a command to my body: ‘Not today, body. Wait about five hours, and you can be as sick as you want.’ Because not going on was not an option, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there is no one to go on for any of the women, as much as I know Aaron wants to play Portia. Secondly, a whole slew of people I knew were coming to the show: my father, Pravina, Melissa, Peter, Ken, Laura, two of my best friends from high school: Devin and Gwyn, the mother of another of my best friends, Lynn (mentioned in the last post) and her friend, family friends John, Karen, her boyfriend Jim, the entire McDowell family including another old old friend of mine, Michael, and Robert Neal, the man who directed me in my very first Shakespeare play. That is eighteen people. I had to do the show, despite my body.

As I get sick at least a couple of times a year, and I have been doing shows back-to-back-to-back-to-etc. without any breaks since I graduated college, I have amassed a small amount of experience in doing shows whilst sick. Even earlier this year, I had a comparatively tame cold whilst we were in Sheffield, Massachusetts, but I only did Shrew and Henry under its influence. Being able to go backstage is always helpful; I did a performance of Midsummer once in which I almost threw up on Lysander’s face when anointing his eyes, and was only able to hold on until I went backstage. But of course, we don’t go backstage during our production of Merchant. Ha ha!

On the positive side, I would much rather be onstage with a flu than with a sore throat which mangles my voice. There were about four performances of Diary of Anne Frank in which I actually sounded like a frog, and you can’t leave the stage for that one, either. A voice distorted by illness is a real obstacle, because every time I speak I am reminded that I am not well. The key, in my experience, to performing when sick is to think: ‘The character is not sick.’ It is either a testament to my faith in the presence of the character, or, more scientifically, the testament to how faith is capable of affecting the body, that I’ve found this works pretty well. I don’t believe that one can delay illness indefinitely by forcing your mind to reject your body’s messages; that is, I believe that illness IS in the body, not just in the mind. But the body will do a job required of it, so long you allow yourself to crash afterwards.

Consequently, I only felt real waves of nausea pass over me when I was sitting on the benches during other scenes, and only then did I feel considerable chills or the painful sensitivity of skin that accompanies flu. I’ll be honest and say that there were a few moments, sitting on stage, when I was so cold that I thought my blood would congeal if I didn’t move. However, once I stood up to do a scene, I felt my consciousness enveloped by the circumstance of the play, as if anything extraneous had been burned up in my fever. I simply didn’t have the extra energy to waste on anything but doing the show. My awareness may not have been at its best, but I think I had a good show; and my modest, young experience tells me that lack of awareness as to my own performance (coupled, naturally, with vital awareness of the scene and your partners) may yield some of the best performances.

On the other hand, I would not classify it as my very best performance, but in that it was not a mess it was a kind of success. I was also struggling to make sure I kept my volume up, because Aaron told me that my lowest volume is consistently difficult to hear. I confess I’d been taking advantage of what I thought was an acoustically easy space by using my lowest volume in intimate moments, because variety is the spice of acting. Apparently, I misjudged the space. It shames me that I have this problem: it shames me so utterly that I’m not sure why I write about it. I suppose it is because I am committed to honestly reporting the trials of this particular actor, since I cannot speak for any other. But I was able to keep volume up, as Aaron said afterwards that there were no problems.

Many of my castmates did not think it was our best show, however, because we were distracted by a woman with two very young children sitting in the first row. The woman had also sat in the front row with one of the children for the previous evening’s Henry, and you would think she would have learned that it was difficult to control her child during the show. I didn’t notice him too often during Henry, because I didn’t spend the entire show onstage; he stood up and started talking at the beginning of my Boy soliloquy, but I just acknowledged him, his mother made him sit down, and I didn’t think about it again. During Merchant, I found them not to be too distracting when I was doing a scene, because I had to bend all my thought on being a healthy Portia. But when I was sitting on the sides watching the other scenes, I take no compunction to say that they were infuriating. You have to recall, of course, that from the sides of the stage we were effectively watching the action of the other scenes against the backdrop of these squirming children, and so people in the centre of the audience, directly behind them, may not have had the same view. But I’m certain that people on the side could see them, too, because they were doing things like putting their hands and legs ON THE STAGE (which was, as I said before, within hands-and-legs length of the first row), flopping around, and throwing around a water bottle.

I am not faulting their behaviour as children, because both boys had to be less than five years old. Some five-year-olds can watch two hours of Shakespeare in a well-behaved manner, like Scot’s adorable daughter Ella, or the daughter of the professor who came to see Henry V, or my niece Carly, who sat through a Twelfth Night I did in college with great delight when she was only THREE. But not all children can do this, and it is the responsibility of the parent to know whether or not your child can handle it. And then it is the responsibility of the parent NOT TO SIT IN THE FRONT ROW. I’m willing to make allowances: maybe the mother was a student, maybe she had to see these shows, maybe she couldn’t find a babysitter. But for the love of all that’s holy, when you have seen that your child behaves like a four-year-old, being, after all, four years old, and cannot sit quietly for two hours, DO NOT SIT IN THE FRONT ROW. Because when you leave to take both children to the bathroom—TWICE—you have to walk in front of everybody in the entire theatre. The woman and the two children returned from the bathroom the second time during Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech, so Chris was speaking into the audience whilst the two children dawdled and were dragged down the amphitheatre-style stairs. Of course, as a proud devotee of the American Shakespeare Center aesthetic, I’m a firm believer in acknowledging whatever is going on in the house, but I don’t know quite how you’re supposed to acknowledge that and stay within such a vitally serious moment as that. Chris dealt with it admirably, but I was completely incensed. As you can no doubt tell, since here I am, three weeks later, writing two gargantuan paragraphs about it.

Other things that I recall about the show include two of the suitors that Ginna chose. She chose the perfect man, right in the front row, for the French Lord, M. Le Bon; when she pointed him out, he made a gesture as brushing hair away from both of this temples and gave me a kind of Gilderoy-Lockhart grin. I walked the length of the stage towards him before I responded, “God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.” I gave his hair-tossing gesture back to him on the line “He is every man in no man:” I always love it when the audience gives me something very specific to play with. Then, Ginna picked my best friend from High School, Devin, as the German suitor. I know I couldn’t help but smile for an instant, rather than immediately give way to the standard shock-and-indignation that accompanies the proposal of such a drunk. Every time I have had male friends come to a performance of Merchant, Ginna has managed to pick them as one of the suitors, despite the fact that I have never told her to pick any of them, or even that they are attending. I suppose it is because they look like nice chaps, being, after all, nice chaps.

A rather terrifying moment occurred when Raffi, as the Duke, fell as he descended from what we see as presiding over the courtroom, but may be put in more plain terms as sitting on a chair on two tables on a pile of slippery money. I did not see the actual event, as I was picking up Shylock’s yarmulke at the time, but I felt my inattention all the more acutely when I said “I humbly do desire your grace of pardon.” Raffi/Duke was fine by that point, but it didn’t stop me from running over to him like a fool and consequently scrambling up the blocking for the ring business at the end of that scene, which, with all due respect, is some of the most awkward blocking in the show. Or maybe I just always feel like Mr. (Miss) Awkward at the time because of the nature of the scene.

Afterwards, I greeted all eighteen people who had come to the show on my behalf. I began by announcing to them that I probably shouldn’t hug them, lest they get my Martian Death Flu, but ended up hugging everyone anyway. (If any of you got the Martian Death Flu in a timely manner after this hug, please post your blame as a comment.) I was much happier to see everyone than I could muster the strength to express, as my flu tried to reclaim its lost time. My father, hugging me as I felt the energy in my body going into utter collapse, said quietly to me that it was “a triumph.” He meant that it was a triumph to have simply survived through the show, which it was.

The rest of the cast was picked up from the hotel in limousines and taken out to dinner by a gentleman whose company handles some aspect of audience services or public relations for the ASC. It was a lovely time, by all accounts, but I was glad that I was able to dine on Sprite alone and sit slumped in the company of family and friends. I had been looking forward to this week far more than our sojourn in Florida, and I would have traded a wilderness of limousines to stay near a kind of home for a few more days. But as it was, I and my flu had a few more hotel rooms in a few more strip-mall suburbs to visit instead.

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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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Whilst we were in Georgia and I was on a picture-taking spree, I took the following pictures of Life as Bianca:

Bianca
Bianca’s self-portrait

More Bianca
Bianca and the angle of the petticoat


This is what it looks like to be Bianca. You will notice that my feet are not visible.


Hellloooo feet! I am reminded of the bit in Alice and Wonderland where Alice has eaten the cake and now worries that she will have to send presents to them for holidays. This is me sticking my foot out so far that I almost lost my balance.


These are the reasons that it was not easy to keep my balance with my foot stuck out far enough to be visible. The one, the only, three-inch turquoise high heels.

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