Posts Tagged ‘the drama of not doing a show’

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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Indianapolis, Indiana, February 25 – March 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90-Minute Taming of the Shrew Vol. I

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

Merchant of Venice Courtroom Workshop

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

Henry V, Vol. I

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

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

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

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

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

90-Minute Taming of the Shrew, Vol. II

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merchant of Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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New Martinsville, West Virginia, February 1-3:

Situated on the Ohio river and consequently nestled to the extreme north of West Virginia’s borders, New Martinsville lays claim to a number of titles in regards to this blog.

One of them is ‘New Martinsville: Town of the Twin Buffets,’ because the non-chain restaurants that I found were a surprisingly good Chinese buffet about two minutes from the hotel and a home-style buffet called Quinet’s, which is apparently a town tradition, and which I visited with Mssrs. Evan Hoffmann and Daniel Kennedy. Because the more that I am on tour, the more I get tired of chain restaurants, I ate myself into pain all three days of our visit. The hotel’s gym, which consisted of a treadmill that stopped working every two to three minutes (which rather made me wonder if it operated via cell phone reception), was consequently not on an inverse relationship with the area food, but I think this correlation only works for campuses.

N.B. For anyone wondering, ‘What is a life on tour really like?’ the above paragraph will probably give you a far more accurate view than anything in the rest of this post, and possibly in this entire blog.

New Martinsville’s other title is ‘Town of One and a Half Merchants’ which is probably a more distinctive title than the former. Some of you may be wondering whether this a rather bad idea for a sitcom, in which Antonio, being gay as a tangerine, adopts a scrappy little orphan boy, who may or may not be a girl in disguise. Some of you may be wondering if this is an effect of the troubled economy, in which the two Merchants you previously owned are now only worth one and a half. Some of you may be wondering when I am going to end this paragraph, because it is perfectly obvious what I mean! You win, though all two and a half of you will have to read on to get the full explanation.

We were set to perform Merchant of Venice for an area high school. We therefore woke an ungodly hour, loaded in first in rain and then down a long hallway, and started the show at around 10 AM. For those of you who may have forgotten, our staging of Merchant involves all eleven of us staying on stage during the entire show, seated on benches around the sides of the stage. So, when the principal was trying to signal to Chris Seiler to come off stage in order to talk with her during scene 2.3, Chris (as he narrates it) tried desperately to convey to her that exiting was not a possibility. But eventually he ceded, and shortly afterwards crept around to each of the benches to tell us that we would be pausing the show after this scene.

This would not have seemed quite so surreal with either of our other shows, in part because there would have been people backstage to receive the message, and in part because the fact that we never go backstage creates a spirit of continuity for the show that jars oddly at interruption. (We discovered this when, in our December performance at the Blackfriars, we had an intermission for the first time.) So, when we stopped after the scene, and everyone sat around in silence for a moment, Ginna, who was sitting next to me on the bench, leaned over and said, “Do you hear that sound? …That’s P.J. screaming.”

The principal came forward and announced that, as many of the students had predicted, they were indeed going to be going home. She announced that students would be dismissed by bus, and read off some of the bus numbers that were ready to depart. The performance would resume, and we would do as much as we could before the rest of the busses arrived.

Through all of her announcement, the sheer absurdity of our situation made me grin irrepressibly. There we all were, sitting around on stage, whilst the principal read off bus numbers so that the students could escape an impending catastrophe that I did not understand—after all, it was just raining, not snowing. I’m not sure why my natural response to this kind of adversity is profound amusement, but it has more to do with realising that worrying will get me nowhere than a lack of concern. Also, I should not, in honesty, underestimate my love of a great story, and perhaps my initial curiosity about the drama of not doing a show has brought this upon our heads.


For those of you keeping score at home, we have logged one example of each of the following kinds of drama:
– 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.


And for those of you keeping tabs on this particular sport, the score is as follows:
This means that we are only 3 for 5 with West Virginia High Schools, or perhaps that they are 3 for 5 with us. This is not a shameful score for other sports, but in the theatre, one rather expects to make it to the curtain call. This is not a good track record, West Virginia!

And now, back to the show—in more ways than one. We resumed the performance after the interruption, and made it through another four or five scenes, until the principal somehow communicated to Chris that we needed to stop. (In my mind, because she was always behind me, I see her making signs like a baseball coach, or perhaps communicating via semaphore.) Paul was eternally devastated by the fact that we were cut off right before the Arragon scene, after he had so painstakingly made the costume change, thus prompting him to suggest the following day that we do the Arragon scene first before running through the rest of the show.

We discovered that school had been cancelled due to flooding on many of the area roads, which were becoming increasingly dangerous as more rain fell. But before many of the kids were actually sent home, they were given lunch, and we were also invited to help ourselves to some of the cafeteria food. The kids all gave us rock star treatment as we squeezed into chairs at various tables with the students; I think 90% of the autographs I have signed in my life have been at high schools, where students often mistake us for people who are actually important. These kids were particularly fervent in their adoration, almost as if Shakespeare had played hard-to-get, and was thus more desirable.

One of the finest moments of the day, which was, let’s face it, already pretty distinctive, was when the principal stood in the middle of the dining hall and bellowed something to the effect of “We have guests here with us and you all are acting like a bunch of heathens!” (“You all are acting like a bunch of heathens” is definitely a direct quote.) I found it amusing chiefly because I thought they were actually quite well behaved, for high school students. Dan and I did our part to quietly confound authority during this announcement by poking each other like two children in the back seat of a car. I am not sure if the students with whom we were sitting were more amused or surprised.

The following day, we held a community workshop about Merchant of Venice, which was memorable chiefly because, when we asked for an audience response to part of a scene with Shylock, one of the gentlemen in attendance said that Shylock “was, as we say around here, fixin’ for a five-knuckle introduction.” Most of us agreed that this was the best assessment we had yet heard.

That evening, we performed Merchant at the old Lincoln theatre (est. 1920, yet another thing that happened in the decade in which I was born) in downtown New Martinsville, which was, by report, an old opera house, but reminded me in construction far more of a movie theatre. The reasons for this comparison are as follows: the house had a long shoebox shape, deeply overhung by the balcony; the stage was small, but very high in relation to the house; there was very little space directly backstage, though there were capacious dressing rooms underneath the stage, obviously also est. 1920; and, last, but not least, the acoustics were terrible.

Aaron wisely had us all do a sound-check beforehand, wherein I learned that I needed to feel as though I was screaming at the top of my lungs in order to be heard. I know this is a weakness of mine, stemming from my primary obsession/need for honesty within myself on stage, and my consequent desire to be able to just talk to the people on stage with me. Naturally, this does not mean that I don’t try as hard as I possibly can to be perfectly audible to the person in the last row, but I only hope that I can be honest and be audible to that last person, too. Many actors have articulated this as the challenge of being understood with equal honesty and clarity by the person in the last row and the person in the front row, but I think it goes further than that: one must have equal honesty for the last row and for one’s self. I think this is one of the greatest technical and emotional challenges in stage acting, precisely because it requires a blend of all of one’s technical and emotional skill. For example, I fell in love with Jennifer Garner as Roxane in Cyrano, which I saw from, literally, the second to last row of the top balcony, but my friend who was in the show said (with all due respect) that other friends of his who saw the show from the front rows felt that they could ‘see’ her acting. And God knows, I am a far lesser actress, and I have not yet figured it out.

I think one of the greatest challenges of touring is adapting to different spaces; spatially, I find this a delightful opportunity to be a Theatre Ninja, but vocally, the kind of challenge that takes up space in my brain where I’d rather be thinking only about the scene and what I need from others. For the first few scenes of this performance of Merchant, I felt as if I were speaking unnaturally loudly directly into people’s faces, and this unnaturalness subsequently seemed, from the inside, to infuse everything I did. But after a couple of scenes, the volume became natural, and, furthermore, the acting style fitting to that volume became natural, and I was able to delve deeper into the emotions in the words. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with “You see me Lord Bassanio where I stand;” I felt my body burning throughout the entire speech, which is one way I know I am connected to the deep current of the text. So, if we were performing in that space every evening, I would be used to the kind of honesty necessary in that space, and it would consequently feel natural from the start.

Because the deeper breaths and the increased resonance essentially give emotion fewer places to hide, more things are dredged up: it feels to me like the deep-sea trawling of acting. This fits into a certain style of acting, one that is no less honest, but which is, for lack of a better term, more ‘classical,’ or more ‘Shakespearean.’ I think it has a place in any Shakespeare performance, and if I attend a show, and in an entire performance an actor never goes down to the bottom of their body and pulls their heart out of their throat, when they have been given such poetry with which to do it, I feel a little cheated. But an entire performance of it is exhausting to watch, and then I’m always itching for them to just TALK to each other, for the love of heaven.

For example, the Edward II that many of us in the troupe saw at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. was mostly a whole lot of screaming (except for the man who played Mortimer, who talked occasionally in the second act). They were all very talented actors, but many of their performances verged on using, to my ear, the dread ‘Shakespeare Voice’ (odd especially for Marlowe), and I got the sense from most of the actors that they had been directed to project louder and louder for the new space, past a place that was honest for them. Though I abhor the Voice-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, a deep emotional resonance is a beautiful thing to hear, to see, and to experience, because it shows us something greater; but it is best when used to shape the journey by pointing out the largest emotional moments in the play, or at least, in a scene. An entire play of it is mush.

Throughout my personal journey in Shakespeare performance, which, while modest, actually comprises over one-half of my life, I have always oscillated between a desire for allowing the text to carry out the deepest emotional resonances in the body, and a desire for the text to be as plain, as simple, and as colloquial as possible. Within a year, or within a day, I will head one direction or the next; but in the end, I think the only answer can be that both are necessary, and only by the inclusion of both can the beauties and the virtues of both be seen to best advantage. The reason I, in honesty, dislike spaces in which I always need to use my top volume, is because variation is harder to achieve, not because I cannot be loud and honest, both. Variety is the spice of acting.

And now that my Treatise on Volume in Stage Acting has concluded, I can bring my verbosity round to other subjects, such as our actual performance of Merchant of Venice. Some of the fantastic kids from the previous day’s aborted show came to the evening’s performance, which was lovely. One posted a comment on my About Me page expressing his distress at not being able to see the rest of the show, and someone (probably one of our Merchandise/Development folks) reported that he was in attendance. This renewed my faith in both high school students, and the possibility of people actually coming to see your show when they say they will. (One reality of life, as an actor, is that many more people say they will come see your show than actually do.)

Two things remain distinctive about this performance for me. The first was that Dan, the Emperor of Comedy, was unprecedentedly hysterical as Launcelot Gobbo. His speech just gets better each time, though it was in his later scene with Jessica and Lorenzo in which he makes jokes about preparing to go in to dinner, that I was floored with laughter. After each of his jokes, he tucked his head down and made a funny little grin to himself, and it definitely belongs on the list of Top 25 Funniest Things I Have Ever Seen On Stage, if not in the Top 10. Like everything else on these lists, it does not communicate well. Sometimes I wonder if the things I find funniest are funniest because they are unique, and truly had to be experienced at that time. I always find myself trying to explain the genius (previously discussed on this blog) of Michael Aronov leaping across half of the stage in Mauritius, and the story is always about as funny as this sentence. Part of the beauty of Dan’s grin was that I was about two feet from him, and probably had the best view of anyone in the house, assuredly much better than the people way in the back of the telescope of a theatre space. But suffice it to say, I haemorrhaged laughter at Dan’s Gobbo antics, and had to think about something really depressing, like ‘President Huckabee,’ in order to stop.

The other memorable thing about this performance was that the audience, though I am sure they are all lovely people, laughed at every single one of Gratiano’s racist jabs in the courtroom scene, and then actually laughed when he ripped off Shylock’s yarmulke and spit on it. People always laugh at the first few digs, because it breaks the tension of the scene, but never, to my memory, have people laughed at him spitting on the yarmulke. I thought I was going to lose it.

Of course, I had already been pushed to my extreme, with the volume pulling up emotion, and furthermore, watching Chris/Shylock respond to the laughter that had greeted all of Gratiano’s previous anti-Semitic attacks. Chris, as Shylock, has this beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking way of taking in the laughter, as if it were, indeed, a courtroom of hundreds of people set against him. It always moves me, but the larger the laughter, the more terrified Shylock appears, and the greater my pity for him becomes. During this performance, when I have to stop him with “Tarry Jew, / The law hath yet another hold on you,” I am not proud to say that a tear had slipped from my eye; it was awkward because, of course, I had nowhere to hide, and knew that Shylock would see it, but I thought it better not to wipe it away, making it obvious to the entire courtroom and the audience.

So, when they laughed at Gratiano spitting on the yarmulke, it took everything I had not to start crying. It’s hard to watch actors delving into a cruelty dictated by the text, and it’s painful to get caught up in the emotion of the courtroom and deliver the heartless justice that was requested, because they are reminders of the places in all human beings where compassion disappears—but it is a sharper reminder when a whole roomful of people, under no compulsion from a playwright or a storyline, laugh at such misfortunes. But I did not weep, and, oddly enough, I felt that the rest of the scene, in which I try to get Bassanio’s ring, was the best it’s ever been—as if I had to make it extra light just in order to pull myself out of my horror and assume the role of Learned Doctor. I think this is a discovery that might help me with some of the changes I’m trying my best to implement.

West Virginia constituted a tough couple of weeks for me, and for many of us, and for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with our hosts and the kind reception we invariably receive. We were all excited to be heading into Florida’s warmer weather, and, God willing, cell phone reception!

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Today, Bardolatry is sponsoring an opinion poll regarding the title of this post. Is it:
a.  A  play on ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ unfortunately more apt than anything involving Andie MacDowell should be
b.  The beginning of a Paul Reisman joke (“Four shrews and a merchant walk into a bar…eh?”)
c.  A bad title and should be called ‘Piercing Eloquence Episode XXIV: Revenge of the 90-Minute Shrew’
d.  A mere excuse for Ellen to generate an opinion poll when she has been watching too much CNN, and worrying about the futility of her feeling that she would follow Barack Obama even into the ranks of death
As I’m not up to writing the code for an actual poll complete with radio buttons, I ask all three of you who read this blog to please post your vote as a comment.

Fairmont, West Virginia, January 20-28:

To quote my best-beloved Portia, I must be plain with you: I was not particularly enthused by the schedule for our week-long stay in Fairmont even before our vans had set wheel across the West Virginia border. I may not have been alone, because the schedule listed 85 million (hyperbole translator: 15) workshops that week, and some people (because of the kinds of workshops requested) had as many as seven or eight (actual figure). However, I knew I would have no more than two or three, and I always enjoy workshops, myself. No, my enthusiasm failed to reach a fever pitch because we were scheduled to do four 90-minute Taming of the Shrews. Granted, the weekend promised a full-length Shrew and a performance of Merchant of Venice (for those of you doing the math at home and wishing to vote e. Ellen can’t count, because that’s clearly five Shrews, you’ll just have to read more before you judge).

I have long discussed my dislike of the 90-Minute Shrew, which, in a continued spirit of candour, stems from a completely selfish motivation. I like being an actor because I like being in plays, and consequently I dislike the 90-Minute Shrew because the Bianca sub-plot is considerably cut. It’s like a bad dream of the sort where you’re back in high school only it isn’t really your high school, but instead I’m Bianca, but I’m not REALLY Bianca. And the now-you-say-it-now-you-don’t aspect of the cuts is probably bothersome for most of us, simply because it makes for an irregular Shrewniverse (oh no she didn’t).

However, let me be clear that one of these reasons is NOT because it is typically our high school show. Yes, they are generally at inhuman hours in the morning (a redundant phrase, in my case), but despite this, I have done five previous high school tours, precisely because it is God’s work in the vocation of theatre. I believe that high school audiences are actually the most important ones that we play for, and it is precisely because I want to try to communicate to high school students that it saddens me that Bianca must try to communicate with half her usual amount of lines.

Though I still was not excited about four days of getting up in the aforementioned ungodly morning hours in order to do Shrew Lite, I was prepared to change my mind when we were treated to a very nice dinner reception held for us by the college upon our arrival. (See my previous post, and the rest of this blog, for the intimate link between food and actors.) Indeed, the university administrators and professors who hosted the party were extremely friendly and engaging, and I ended up having great conversations with two professors of 18th and 19th century literature. I speculate that they were both kind enough to strike up conversation with me because I actually appear to be somewhat 18th and 19th century myself, a speculation that I brazenly make because they both told me so within roughly five minutes of introduction.

N.B. It is moments like these that make me feel like my claims of being from the nineteenth century are substantiated, and not merely a fever of my own brain. Brent Bussey, the at-home tour manager for the ASC, told me that Erik Curren, the very kind Director of Marketing, saw me during the pre-show for Christmas Carol and said, “She really looks like she walked out of a Jane Austen novel!” Thank you, Mr. Curren! Please tell that to theatres casting Pride and Prejudice nationwide! Or at least to those people who greet my assertions with that familiar look of amused incredulity. As Dave Barry would say, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. As a matter of fact, the more this tour teaches me about how I am wired as a human being, the more I feel that wiring comes from fairly early in the Industrial Revolution, and is thoroughly unlike the motherboards with which most people operate.

But I WOULD be making something up if I did not confess that the consecutive early-morning, truncated, high school shows did not begin to cast gloom over a substantial portion of the cast, though not because they were consecutive, early-morning, or truncated. Well, getting up before the weak winter sun may have had something to do with it; but I took pains to point out that I value high school shows precisely to emphasize that my judgment of the following conditions has no negative bias. Consider, if you will, the following run-down:

The Week of the 90-Minute Shrew

SHOW ONE: Five minutes before we were about to go on for pre-show, the fire alarm went off. One or two schools were already seated in the auditorium, so actors and audience alike put on coats and went down four flights of stairs to wait for the alarm to shut off. In the snow. After a few minutes, the alarms silenced, we trooped back up four flights of stairs, took off our jackets, and began the pre-show. Three-quarters of the way through “Love Comes to Town,” the fire alarm went off again. We put on our coats, went down four flights of stairs, and waited, once more, for the all-clear. Did I mention it was snowing? We went back up four flights of stairs, took off our coats, and then the alarm went off again. This time we were met by building personnel, who told us to stay in place should another alarm go off, because often times it’s triggered by sawdust in the shop. As one would assume that sawdust was a fairly common occurrence in the shop, one might therefore expect we could have been notified earlier; one might even hope that such a potentially-frequent problem might have cause for a permanent remedy. But by this time, the kids’ attention was completely scattered, the show was running late, and the last school had yet to arrive.

SHOW TWO: I cannot recall whether all of the schools arrived at the theatre late, or if it was merely the overwhelming majority. The effect of the substantial delay in the entrance of our audience, however, was that we did almost none of the pre-show and started, I think, fifteen minutes late.

SHOW THREE: Apparently the universe wanted to make up for our lack of pre-show the previous day, without actually allowing us to start a show within a quarter of an hour of the intended curtain. Over half of the audience had arrived by our second song, but as we finished all the Shrew pre-show songs and the last school had yet to arrive, our stage management and music directing powers (Evan and the Chrises) decided that we should play “Peace, Love and Understanding.” It ended; the school had still not arrived. So we played “London Calling.” And then “Losing my Religion.” And then “Fortunate Son.” Alisa suggested we do the Christmas Carol Mega-Mix, and though the absurdity factor was attractive to me, I cannot say it was my favourite thing about Christmas Carol. But the school finally arrived, the question was put to rest, and the show commenced. Twenty minutes late.

Now, I understand that teenagers are one of God’s most difficult substances to transport, but I have never known school shows to be so late, especially not three shows in a row. If something were such a statistical regularity (like, for instance, the existence of sawdust in the shop), one would THINK that the schools might take preventative measures, and leave a little earlier.

Furthermore, we might have been a little more cheerful about the delays if the kids had seemed excited to be there, or if they had seemed conscious. Let me stress again, I have seen a fair number of high school audiences, probably somewhere around two hundred, and I have never in my life seen ones quite as comatose as these. And let the record show that when we had feisty audiences, I said I preferred them to sleeping ones. What I’d like to add, now, is that I prefer audiences who are blatantly slumped over and sleeping to those who are awake and appear lobotomized. Because I was practically narcoleptic in high school, I understand; it had a lot more to do with being stationary and with getting up at 6 AM than it had to do with being bored. Consequently, even sleeping high school students don’t depress me the way that ones who stare back at me as if I were a television showing test patterns do. If you’re asleep, there is a logical explanation for why you don’t laugh at “What, with my tongue in your tail?” aided by the visual image of a Petruchio actually poised beneath a Katherine who is bending over. But if you are awake, there is no excuse.

Of course, my castmates and I refuse to ‘give up,’ ever, on a high school audience, in the hope that there are students who might be enjoying the show—but it was a hope, only. I couldn’t hear much of anyone enjoying themselves, and they didn’t look as though they recognized that we were speaking English.

All of this culminated in SHOW FOUR, which was cancelled due to a two-hour snow delay for all area schools. Naturally, we did not find this out until we had arrived and begun setting up things for the show, though the Ever-Astute Alisa had already ascertained that all area schools were on a two-hour delay and that we were unlikely to have a true conclusion to such the fantastic Week of the 90-Minute Shrew. And I finally experienced the drama of NOT doing a show, having had my curiosity piqued by stories about Georgetown, and having notched up the drama of doing a DIFFERENT show than planned the previous week. The answer is: it was not very dramatic, though perhaps the fact that it was 8 AM dulled my sense of drama.

We Are Crankypants

We were also, by that point, becoming cranky for various reasons that had nothing to do with shows, or the lack thereof. The dining hall buttered every vegetable that it saw within an inch of its life, and it never met a piece of meat that it didn’t fry (unless it was a hamburger). On the plus side, the campus gym was matched in excellence only by the gym in Canton, which was probably a necessity for the student body (no pun intended, really) to combat what was coming out of the dining hall. But the main issues were those of communications; some people couldn’t get internet at the hotel, the entire area was a ‘roaming’ area for my cell phone, and I got very little cell phone reception, of any sort, at the hotel. I got just enough to occasionally place a call, hear it ring, and sometimes talk for about fifteen seconds before the reception cut out—and that was if I did not move a muscle and breathed very shallowly. These are the kinds of things that one can easily shrug off for a day or two, but make everyone a crankypants during a week-long stay.

Shrew IV 

But our audience for our Taming of the Shrew on Saturday was fantastic, and included Dan’s lovely wife Alex, Scot’s equally-lovely wife Kate and daughter Ella, and a three-year-old boy with a fauxhawk who sat in the front row and laughed through the whole thing. I had so much fun during the entire show, as I always do after released from the seeming chains of the 90-Minute Shrew; my delight was not even substantially dampened by the two little flubs I made, both related to scenes or part of scenes cut during the 90-minute version. I quite simply forgot that I was supposed to give Raffi the ring before the Music/Latin Lesson scene for the delightful new business that we had only done once before at our Taming of the Shrew SURPRISE! the week before, in part because we rehearsed the bit beforehand with his own ring. Then I inserted an involuntary pause in the part of the See How Beastly She Doth Court Him scene that is cut in the 90-minute version, because I was (honestly) too busy thinking about how cute Lucentio was, and only realised I had a line just as Raffi tried to save me. He gets so many points for putting up with me.

I have to say that my three favourite parts of this show were all things that the audience could not hear to appreciate. Chris Johnston/Hortensio whispered to me during the Wedding Scene, “You wanna see my clef and two notes? My notes are the size of cantelope…!” And as we were backstage waiting to go on for the final scene, and Paul was doing some Paulesque antics with his Vincentio cane, Raffi whispered to me, “Sorry about my father,” at the identical moment that I whispered to him, “Your father’s a little weird sometimes.” My personal favourite was during the final scene, when Evan/Biondello comes around and pours us air out of a bottle into our wine glasses. During one of the week’s shows, I had said to Raffi/Lucentio, “This stuff goes straight to my head!” and in a similarly flirtatious Bianca spirit, I whispered to him, “I want to get SMASHED!” Raffi, God bless him, perfectly in character, said with great hesitation, “…Okay…” Let me say, it was beautiful to feel as if I could actually see Lucentio learning a bit more about his new wife, since normally I am prancing around with a whacker noodle or off-stage during these realizations.

Naturally, I don’t think of this as an inconsistency with Bianca’s character, since during the conversations that Ginna and I have as Kate and Bianca after we go off-stage because we think Petruchio is not coming for the wedding, we have often discussed going off to drink all of the wedding champagne as consolation. As a matter of fact, during this particular performance, Ginna mentioned what a great idea for a play it would be to show the scene with Kate and Bianca getting drunk on the wedding champagne and commiserating. I suggested that you could also have the parlour scene at the end of the play with Kate, Bianca, and the Widow, with interruptions as Grumio tries to get them to return to their husbands. The scene in which Kate initially ties Bianca up might also be amusing, though perhaps I think so simply because our backstage version usually is. I think it should probably be in prose; you could call it Katherine and Bianca Are Wed. What would be tough about this play would be the temptation (which some might view as ‘need’) to ‘say’ something with it, when I think the most interesting thing would be to have these women be human beings, rather than put some other spin on it. Perhaps I say this because I would bet five dollars (I’m an actor; that’s a lot) that almost anyone besides myself would be tempted to take the ‘Bianca is the real shrew’ tactic. Everyone I meet seems to espouse this view, no doubt because they think they are being So Original, whereas they are instead completely in line with every production I have ever seen, and 98% of the people to whom I speak. It wears me out.

The Merchant of Shame

It was fortunate that the Shrew was so much fun, because the following day’s Merchant was, in deep apology to the citizens of Fairmont, West Virginia, my least favourite Merchant performance of all time. Mostly, I was struggling with the alterations I was supposed to make in the show, which may have seemed minor from, say, a directorial point of view, but had a major impact on my internal journey. And walking around on stage without a clear sense of my journey felt kind of like walking around without a head: it was awful.

I was, in all honesty, happy with the beautiful show that we had by November, but am also, in all honesty, happy to be making these changes, since I see the strengths in both. But regardless of my intellectual opinion, it is one of the most difficult things I have done in my professional life. I said early in this contract that I would walk across a bed of hot coals on my knees for Jim Warren, and I absolutely stand by that, which is why I’m striving as best I can to knee my way over these hot coals. It’s unlike making changes during the rehearsal process because during rehearsal an emotional course hasn’t already made its way into the body. And for a role like Portia, where the work is (for me) more emotional than technical, it feels more like trying to un-know something, rather than merely making a change. I fear that this makes me an inferior actor, to have difficulty in turning on a dime, but the difficulty comes from the fact that I have to BELIEVE everything that I do: otherwise, I feel as if it is not worth doing.

Admittedly, the show may have been fine (though no one would mistake it for great), and I may have felt more like a bombed landscape than I seemed. Much of my dismay may have come from the stress of knowing that, as Jim said, I “drive the show,” and so am responsible for driving the changes. The fact that we hadn’t touched the show in an entire month didn’t help, either. I momentarily went up on a line in the first scene, and covered for it with only middling success; that moment when one’s brain draws a blank is just about the worst feeling in the world, and because I never in my life went up on anything before this contract, it additionally makes me feel like some kind of sham of my former, responsible self. In my defense, I went over all my lines three times that week, once the day before, and once that morning; also, I saved someone else who will remain nameless when he completely forgot a line; and Paul, as Aragon, said “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” rather than “shall get as much as he deserves,” when choosing the silver casket. But although Aragon said he chose the right casket, he still opened the silver one, and thus apparently lost because he was unable to distinguish the caskets; I bet my father’s will wanted to weed out those kinds of people, too.

The final blow to this performance was my awareness that I probably wasn’t speaking loudly enough, because the acoustics in the theatre were awful. The nature of the kinds of scenes in Shrew, the fact that I have about 15% of the lines in Shrew that I do in Merchant, and the fact that I’m wearing a corset in Merchant that constricts my breathing capacity by about 50%, all compound to make volume much harder to keep up in the latter show. I also know that one of my main weaknesses as an actor (I remember writing this on a questionnaire that ASC sent us prior to our arrival) is my tendency to let volume slip when I’m thinking really hard about anything else, such as, say, trying to change my character arc five months into the run of a show, or making sure I remember all 600 of my lines when we haven’t spoken it aloud together in a month. Never before have I felt that, were I a samurai, I would be honour-bound to kill myself for a performance, but this was the closest I’ve come.

I Am a Nerd

The best part of my week was Friday evening, when one of the professors, Deborah, whom I met at our lovely introductory dinner, invited me to her house to watch some Jane Austen movies, apropos of one of our conversations. Another of her fellow-English-professors, Maggy, came over, too, and we had a grand time talking, eating brie and bread, roasted chicken and potatoes, salad and strawberries, playing with their dogs, and watching, and occasionally mocking, a 1979 version of Pride and Prejudice.

STUDIO AUDIENCE (in unison): You are a nerd!

That’s right. Some things never change. Like me writing Shakespeare Shrugged for every entry, for example.

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Warrentown, Virginia, January 16:

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

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

There were two Pinteresque beats of silence in the car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Washington, D.C., November 15:

Over generations of touring troupes at the American Shakespeare Center, Georgetown has acquired notoriety for being one of the least welcoming venues on the tour. And by ‘least welcoming’ I do not mean that they have set walls with broken glass around their perimeters, nor do they spit upon our actor gabardines as we pass; obviously, they’re still paying for us to come. Rather, they seem for the most part indifferent to our coming, thus leading to the occasional problems on past tours of not having set up a room for us to perform in, and a more frequent problem of not having dressing rooms. They have beautiful theatre spaces in the college (so I hear), but they often put our performance in a side room, and one year they stuck the troupe in a kind of warehouse room, with stuff strewn all about, and no seats set up. In protest, the actors that year simply left the haphazard boxes and other objects where they lay, set up chairs randomly around the space, and performed a kind of guerrilla theatre Twelfth Night.

As something like this is an actual breach of contract—if a theatre or a college is going to have us perform, they are required to give us a certain amount of clean playing space, with a certain amount of seats—and as there were a number of other issues which I do not think it most fit to write here, Aaron had been given clearance, should there be any breach of contract in our provisions this year, to turn right around and not do the show. (The ASC has continued to go, despite previous problems, because the actual professor who brings us in is a nice man, and furthermore a friend to the ASC.)  I confess, I harboured a little excitement about the possibility of us not doing the show. Not because I didn’t want to do the show; on the contrary, there’s perhaps nothing else on earth I’d rather be doing than Merchant of Venice. But rather, I simply thought it would be a dramatic turn of events: I am quite used to the drama of doing a show, but I am unacquainted with the drama of NOT doing a show.

We were held in suspense for some time even once we arrived on campus. Aaron told us we could stay in the vans whilst he wandered around looking for our contact or the performance space. Let it be a little indicative of Georgetown’s indifference that it took him at least 30 minutes to locate whichever of these things an intrepid Tour Manager needs to locate in order for us to begin load-in. The path for load-in itself was fairly lengthy, bending through an outdoor courtyard, and when, as we stepped out of the vans, it began to rain, the night seemed likely to become Dark and Stormy.

But we had a tidy room waiting for us, with chairs set up on all four sides, and our contact helped us rearrange them into our traditional thrust staging. The seats nevertheless numbered no more than 75, which makes it the smallest capacity we’ve played for by a sizeable margin. It was a blessing that we were performing Merchant, because the only sets of doors were set in the same wall, which does not provide much in the way of dynamics exits and entrances. Fortunately, we’re all on stage for the duration of the show! Problem solved. Naturally, we’re all theatre ninjas, and I’m sure we could’ve made even Henry work in the space. Granted, it would have required some major re-adaptations, because one of our two set elements (the red poles) would not have fit in the low ceiling of the room. Thus the battle between the red poles and the black boxes, famously chronicled in the True History of King Henry the Fifth, would have been seen as a full black-box domination.

As we were waiting in a room across the hallway for pre-show to begin (there were no mirrors and the doors locked behind us if we closed them, but it beats changing in the hallway!), Chris Johnston came in from the foyer with a bouquet of flowers and handed them to me. I was about as surprised as I would have been had I thought Chris himself to be the spontaneous originator of the flowers, and perhaps moreso, because I at least knew that Chris was going to be at the show. But I was not expecting anyone to come to the show, much less send me flowers.

The card attached had only my name and a quote from Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.” I immediately had suspicions about who might be sweet enough, stealthy enough, and Wordsworth-enthusiast enough to come to the play out of the blue, but I wasn’t sure. For one thing, none of the applicable people, as far as I knew, lived in Washington D.C. Secondly, I admit I’ve been a bit of a Romantic Poet floozy—not, alas, in the same manner as Claire Clairmont, but insofar as I have shared my love for Romantic poets with so many friends that the inclusion of a Wordsworth quote does not narrow the possibilities down as much as one might suppose.

But when I went into the performance room for the pre-show speech, and saw my friend Aaron Devine sitting in the audience, I grinned irrepressibly. I hadn’t seen him since the summer of 2005, chiefly because shortly thereafter he travelled around Central and South America for about a year and a half, and had only returned to the U.S. this past summer. As far as I knew, he was living in Minnesota—which he is, but he was making a tour of places on the east coast where he used to live, including good ole Boston and Washington D.C.! It was a true delight to see him, all the more so because it was a complete and utter surprise.

And so, children, the moral of the story is: never wish for the drama of NOT doing a show, because you never know if that’s when a friend that you haven’t seen in two years might drop in unexpectedly and bring you flowers.

I suppose the moral could also be: if you are so desperately in need of variation in life that you would even contemplate not-doing your favourite thing in the world, the universe may send you a far more pleasant, and thoroughly surprising, variation.

I think the first one might be more of a hard-and-fast rule than the second.

Fortunately for my friend Aaron, who had travelled so far, with such sweet scheming, I think we had a good show. Evan’s lovely mother was also in the audience, as were some of Raffi’s friends. The audience also sported a couple of people who were so heartily responsive that I assumed they were actors from a past tour (they were not), and a little girl who kept on standing on her chair to gain a better vantage-point and conferring with her father on points of the play. I loved that the intimacy that we generally share with the people on-stage we were able to share with the entire audience, because we were in this room about the size of many stages on which we’ve performed. I love Black Box Shakespeare, as an actor and as an audience member, because it allows for a greater merging of the audience’s experience and the actors’ experience: each is immersed in the other. Naturally, this is the heart of Elizabethan theatre, and, I think, what companies like the American Shakespeare Center aim to achieve. But, for example, when I saw Coriolanus from the third balcony in the Globe in London, I did not feel immersed in a thing, and consequently I went down and stood in the pit. And as much as I, on tour, strive to reach the last person sitting in the last row in some of the cavernous theatres we’ve performed in, it always feels more like striving than it does simply letting them in.

So we spent the show exploring the gift of the small space, making our performances smaller and subtler in the confidence that the back row was only three rows away. In Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard, I think Fred Kimball (though I’m not certain and don’t want to falsely attribute) talks about how wonderful Shakespeare on film can be, because the actor can speak no louder than he needs to allow the potency of the words to affect him. Of course, though this was a concept that moved me, it would be deadly on stage, and I find the idea of doing Shakespeare on film—without an audience—an odd and somewhat barren prospect. However, when the audience is so near that consciousness of the self is equal to consciousness of the audience, we became able to speak simply to ourselves and at the same time be speaking to them, too.

The evening was not free, however, from the Hijinks of Irregular Repertory, as we hadn’t done Merchant in a couple of weeks. As I have mentioned before, I say a number of quite similar things in the courtroom scene; one line is “Why this bond is forfeit” and the VERY NEXT LINE is “Why then thus it is.” During this performance, I said “Why then thus it is” instead of “Why this bond is forfeit,” and immediately froze, because the words that my body knew to follow “Why then thus it is” were not the lines about the bond. Consequently, I made something up. I’m fairly certain I said, “A pound of flesh is here awarded to Shylock—a pound of flesh to be by him cut off nearest the merchant’s heart,” because, thank God, the latter phrase is written on the bond and I knew it was part of the line, and was subsequently able to get back on track. My impression of how I felt whilst saying that, however, was, “Ah…um….Shylock wins!” It couldn’t have been so bad, though, because my friend Aaron did not notice, and Alisa said she only noticed because normally I call him ‘the Jew’ in that line and not ‘Shylock.’ In point of fact, I do call him ‘Shylock’ in the line immediately previous, but it was comforting to know that, when forced to improvise, I clearly think of him as ‘Shylock,’ and not ‘the Jew.’

But all in all, it was a success, and may go down in Touring Troupe history as one of the more positive Georgetown experiences—it was certainly a great experience for me. Afterwards, a woman came up to me and told me that it was the most believable she had ever seen the love story between Bassanio and Portia, and that she liked my performance better than Judi Dench’s. I find this absolutely impossible to believe, as Judi Dench is, as a matter of fact, either superhuman or semi-divine, but even as a lie it is flattering to be compared to an actress whom I worship. It was like the time when someone asked me for my autograph after a performance of Arms and the Man, saying, “Now that I have Paula Plum’s autograph, I want yours, too.” Both times I almost died. In a Keatsian, ‘no yet still steadfast, still unchangeable’ let-me-die-now-while-it’s-good way. Thank you, Georgetown, for giving us a beautiful performance space.

 A NOTE FROM THE PRODUCERS: We apologise to anyone frightened by the rampant alliteration in the title. For anyone frightened by references to Romantic poets, we apologise for paragraphs 6 and 14 and, let’s face it, Ellen’s entire existence. Thank you.

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