The stars at night – are big and bright –

HAMLET hits Texas

Being from London, (where the temperature varies but a very few miserable degrees in late January) I am unable to help myself referring avidly and endlessly to the weather conditions in this mighty country, the latest excitement being the warm balmy air that greeted us in Houston. More British murmurs of delighted approval and a joyous scrunching up of gloves and kicking off of snow boots at the airport. Wow – at 73 degrees it’s HOT! An extremely respectable height-of-summer’s day for us – Roll on Texas.

And our second insight into a stretch of American countryside along the journey to College Station. Our first was the drive from South Bend to Chicago’s airport, but there was thick fog, though I spotted a deer in a field as the snow cover subsided. We’re still very excited when we catch sight of an old wooden house and porch. We have no such thing in England where it’s mostly bricks and being still relatively new to the US these houses strike us with the utmost charm whenever we spy them through the great strips of malls and billboards.

Texas on a sunny day, the rolling stretches of grassland were a revelation. I think I’d anticipated oil fields back to back.

It has taken us a little time to surrender our natural British bent to walk down the street by way of exploring a place. Our eyes comb the freeways for what we call ‘pavements’ but you call sidewalks. There just ain’t none, this neck of the woods and we’re beginning to appreciate that what you do is you get in your large car and you  float along the straight roads and float off them again when you reach your particular destination. What you cannot do is stop and ‘nip’ out to investigate on a whim.

We’ve hit the classrooms. The students are all very friendly and willing and some very capable indeed. A young lad called Caesar comes immediately to mind. A Science student, he shyly took the floor as Polonius to interrogate Ophelia and turns out, unassuming and polite though he was, he simply couldn’t hide the fact that he had the voice of a Roman emperor, resounded like a great bell, really terrific.

We’ve served up a few sessions on ‘ To Be Or Not to Be’, exploring the rhythm of the verse and pushing through the whole of the speech – hopefully – giving the students some kind of insight into the twists and turns of Hamlet’s thought processes. Get up on your feet and change direction at each new thought – the mind has mountains!  A big challenge was what on earth to do with 135 students all stuck on chairs behind rows of desks in a large lecture hall. Mercifully, the hall had two levels and we were able to convince ourselves – loosely and via an urgent plea to 135 imaginations – that this could constitute the battlements of Elsinore’s precipitous castle. We had one brave volunteer, right up the back at the top, cry out the first line of the play, ” Who’s there?” and, some way off and below, a brave colleague cry back, ” Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself!”. Throw in a stormy soundscape created by several creaking desks, hums, hollers, bird screeches and whatnot and we had the makings of a far grander production than our own 5-man version!

A class tomorrow with some students who’ve studied the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Ophelia’s ‘romantic’ death. I shall certainly mention that the poor model who sat for the most famous of all by Millais perished in real life from so many hours in a cold bath. The image of the girl floating rather beautifully downstream with her fingers  clutching soaked flowers has its one and entire Hamlet reference in Gertrude’s speech, “There is a willow grows aslant a brook”. Only 17 and a half lines of verse have given way to a cult of romantic images.  Did Gertrude paint a beautiful lie? Surely if she’d really caught Ophelia at it and seen the branch crack she’d have waded in pronto to give the poor girl a hand?

We made the welcome discovery of downtown Bryan today. A delicious lunch, too and an hour’s interlude in which we forgot about Hamlet and came across the heart of the old town with its very pretty high street lined with old buildings including the Carnegie Library, red brick and white pillars and another red-brick, gracious warehouse building labelled ‘Corn Exchange’. Lunch was homemade and inside the old market hall; we even heard the melancholy moan of a train passing through as it would have done when this place was simply a pit stop between Houston and Dallas.

We open tomorrow. Lord knows what Texas’s A&M students will make of Hamlet. It’s been a long journey to our first audience and probably for many of them an extremely unlikely way of spending a Friday evening. We shall all have to be set our chins to the wind and hope for the best! – Shuna Snow

Editor: Tickets for this week’s performances at Texas A & M may be purchased here.

Who are the players in Hamlet?

Actors From The London Stage presents Hamlet. Five actors playing all of the parts with a breakdown as follows:
·      Terry Wilton – Polonius, Marcellus, 1st Gravedigger, Priest, Osric
·      Shuna Snow – Gertrude, Ophelia, 2nd Player, Sailor
·      Andrew Fallaize –  Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
·      Peter Ashmore – Hamlet, Bernardo, Fortinbras
·      Charles Armstrong – Claudius, Ghost, 1st Player, Francisco, Reynaldo, 2nd Gravedigger

photo credit Peter Ringenberg

Charles Armstrong, Pete Ashmore and Shuna Snow

photo credit: Peter Ringenberg

Pete Ashmore, Andrew Fallaize, Charles Armstrong, Terry Wilton

What Happened at our First Preview?

The snow still falls in South Bend, but our trail to Washington Hall is now very well trodden indeed and yesterday, the culmination of our American week’s rehearsal with our first preview. It seems to the five of us that we’ve been swimming in and out of the thousands of lines of Hamlet for, well, months – when, in fact, we first embarked on Act 1 Scene 1 in mid December. So, it was an important moment to reach, our first performance this side of the pond, in front of our small but erudite audience, the various Notre Dame officials of AFTLS, the gatekeepers, you could say, of the whole project.

It was good, too, to feel the first pump of adrenalin sliding through our veins: we’ve had the play to ourselves and with no director’s guiding eye for so long, and suddenly a row of beady of eyes confronts us and the back stiffens, the throat constricts, the hair practically stands on end – and we’re off! As Pete mentioned, who plays Hamlet, (the longest part in Shakespeare), the play is mighty and inexorable, and one has to steel one’s self at the start for the mountain climb of it, but ‘once you’re in you’re in’ and it carries you forward in the swirls of its language.

Well, a bit of fluffing here and there, the odd chair out of place, the odd breathless entrance – ‘ Heck, we’re here already!’ – but on the whole we were pleased, we’d held it together and, all of us feel that it has its fine moments and the story, at the very least, is unfolding clearly.

Into a circle for a session of notes with Peter Holland, one of the world’s Shakespeare experts and a man whose words are going to be vital and fascinating to take into account. He was gentle with us and gave us all sorts of useful technical and artistic advice. If there were time, I found myself thinking, how interesting it would be to quiz him on so many questions about the play. You could do Hamlet for a lifetime and never get to the end of searching.

Today, we move forward another step and take our pint-sized production (it all fits into a large wheelie suitcase, plus an umbrella, a violin and a ukulele) into the main theatre at Washington Hall for the tech. It’s an absolute beauty – we had a look at the stage on our arrival – and there’ll be a certain amount of adjustment to be made. The theatre has a magnificently generous wide sweep of a forestage, and we’ll be trying to bring ourselves downstage to use it as much as possible. The other luxury is that the entire lip of the stage sinks in steps down into the auditorium, making interplay between the two irresistible – we’ll be sending Hamlet out front on several occasions.
One big question is can we achieve an effective blackout for the opening scene on the battlements without all falling head over heels? Will our little torches adequately light the faces of Barnardo, Francisco and Marcellus (the soldiers, guarding the castle in the dead of night) so that the audience can see them?

Our stage manager, Ryan, has been a tower of strength and at great pains to help at all times. Being Brits, unused to snow and salt, we gaily march all over the rehearsal room floor in our boots so that it has gradually accumulated layers of footprint marks and a distinctly crunchy texture. Ryan went into action and mopped the place from pillar to post, so that by the time our guest audience arrived the place gleamed. He’s been sent out for the said torches (our cheap British ones were all completely inert) and has very probably saved the day by coming up with LED beams to give the torch light a bit of welly. Another triumph has been Debra’s careful anticipation of Social Security delays. Somehow she managed to visit the office in advance, what she said and who she met is a mystery but our visit there was the swiftest in and out you could imagine. Forms and smiles were handed out in minutes and we were back at the coal face before 11am.

Here are some highlights and lowlights of the week so far:

Terry (the distinguished senior member of our crew, plays Polonius, Osric, the gravedigger, Marcellus and a coupla sea captains): Highlight – Ryan cleaning the rehearsal room floor. Lowlight – the note session at the end of our preview

Andrew (Laertes, Horatio, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, Lucianus): Highlight – discovering the ‘very Catholic selection’ of books available to guests in the hotel lobby, particularly the complete Sherlock Holmes. Lowlight – being robbed of $10 in the 7-11 store

Charlie (Claudius, Francisco, the Ghost, Player King, Reynaldo): Highlight – his Reuben sandwich from McAllisters deli. Lowlight – the ghost’s belt just won’t do up

Pete (Hamlet, Barnardo): Highlight – managing to work out how to turn off the Air Conditioning in his room. Doing a 180-degree spin turn in Ryan’s truck.
Lowlight: not managing how to turn off the Air Conditioning in his room.

Shuna (Gertrude, Ophelia): Highlight – walking through the snow in front of the Basilica on the very sunny day. Lowlight – not having the self discipline night after night to get to the swimming pool and drinking Vodka martinis instead.

Ryan (our stage manager): Highlight – meeting the AFTLS actors, watching the process of character development in rehearsals ( both actors and roles?!). Lowlight – Getting the actors’ hirecar out of Hock. It was going to be towed away and Ryan actually went into battle on our behalf – drove his van so it blocked the tow guys truck and called the authorities til they gave the command to leave our car alone.

What’s Happening in Hamlet?

Thursday night, 24th Jan

We started this project – HAMLET – in a church hall in Brixton – a poor, vibrant part of South London, UK. Now we’ve landed in the serene acres of Notre Dame, us 5 Brits – and our faces are set firm against the low Fahrenheit temperatures (unheard of in Britain) and we coo at each other’s brand new boots and coats and hats and scarves, specially purchased for this new cold world. Sure enough, after a slightly tetchy arrival, sweating profusely and overdressed in long johns at the airport on Saturday (What’s going on? They said it was COLD in Indiana? This is easy!), the temperature plummeted and rather pleasingly for us, the snow now lies on the ground, 5 days old, and this morning an astonishing blue sky to light us to Washington Hall, the very pretty late 19th Century theatre building where we rehearse in a well-lit expanse of high roof rafters and sash windows, an attic tennis court of a room where we very happily unpacked all our props and costumes – and rolled up our sleeves to unfold our attempt at Hamlet in America. We’re 5 days into our final rehearsal week, now, here in Notre Dame and it’s an obstacle course of all sorts of different shaped joys and challenges: Shakespeare’s verse we go to bed with and wake up with in our heads, but that’s the least of it. We had a fantastic welcome from Debra, Grant, Scott, Ryan, Ron, – and have dined with them, on several occasions, in a grand style and on feasts of such a magnitude ( by which I mean the size of the servings) that we simply have not come across before! Bison does not come on plates – let alone ‘bites’ in the UK, nor do onion rings resemble, well, cliffs of sandstone.

Meanwhile, we’re pushing on with Hamlet – trying to polish up what we’ve already got and coming across new ideas as we go along. Tomorrow we’ve our first preview and let’s see what happens….we’ve enough props that the stage is in danger of resembling Charles Dicken’s The Old Curiosity Shop – a violin, recorders, handkerchiefs, scarves, spectacles, plastic flowers, goblets, umbrellas, gongs, you name it – even as we try to honour the process of 5 actors without a director and ‘keep it simple’.

Here are some pictures of the joys and strifes….and more soon….

Shuna Snow –

Announcing Auditions for 2013 Festival

AUDITIONS – NOTRE DAME SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Adult Actors (12-2pm) and Young Company (2-5pm)
DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts
University of Notre Dame

Open Auditions for the 2013 NDSF productions of Richard III (The Professional Company) and The Comedy of Errors (The Young Company) will be held Saturday, February 9, from 12-5pm.  The festival is seeking six (6) male and three (3) female actors for Richard III, directed by Laura Gordon and twenty (20) male and female actors, ages 18 and up* for the Young Company, directed by Kevin Asselin. (undergrads and recent grads, playing roles in both shows).

*The NDSF is also casting two (2) roles for children (M or F, ages 10-17) for Richard III, who will be auditioned separately. These two children will portray the sons of Edward IV, heirs to the throne of England.   Please see the contact info below for an appointment, and audition materials.

Actors should prepare one (1) classical monologue under three (3) minutes in length.  (Preferably Shakespeare, but it is more important to have a piece you know well, and with which you can play.)  Actors who sing and those who play musical instruments should prepare a song.  (No accompaniment or instruments are provided.)    To schedule an audition appointment, please contact Company Manager Deb Gasper, either via e-mail at dgasper@nd.edu or by phone at 574-631-2273.

The Professional Company  Professional actors, artists, directors, designers and technicians create live performances in the beautiful DeBartolo Performing Arts Center a the University of Notre Dame.  Young Company performers play supporting roles, providing an opportunity to work and train with some of the best in the business.  Artists have worked in Broadway Theatres, and for Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf and the Goodman, as well as American Players Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, and the Utah, Oregon, New York, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, just to name a few!

The Young Company is a direct outgrowth of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s mission to exploring the works of William Shakespeare and other classical authors through performance for the educational, social, and cultural enrichment of its surrounding communities.  Hailing not only from Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College, Young Company performers come from Oklahoma, Georgia, Colorado and even further afield.  Young Company members have graduated from the program to enjoy careers in acting, design and production all over the country.

Laura Gordon, Director of the Professional Company production of Richard III – In addition to serving eighteen seasons as a member of the resident acting company at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Laura has also directed there on multiple occasions, and for the Utah Shakespearean Festival, American Players Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Renaissance Theatreworks and a production of Twelfth Night for the Optimist Theatre which critics called “stylish, intelligent…” and “a wonderful artistic gift to the city.”

Kevin Asselin, Director of the Young Company production of The Comedy of Errors – 2013 marks Kevin’s seventh year of directing the Young Company, including last year’s remarkable production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  He also has often appeared as an actor in the NDSF Professional Company, playing Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice Iachimo in Cymbeline and other roles in Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Henry V and the ill-fated master swordsman Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet.  His many regional credits include work for the Goodman, Writers’, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, American Players Theatre, and eight seasons with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.  Kevin is currently Assistant Professor of Acting and Movement at Oklahoma City University.

PAUL FERGUSON WINS REGIONAL SHAKESPEARE MONOLOGUE COMPETITION

Competition sponsored by SHAKESPEARE AT NOTRE DAME in collaboration with the English-Speaking Union of the United States

NOTRE DAME, IN – Paul Ferguson’s Hamlet monologue bested an outstanding group of thespians on Sunday, December 9, 2012 to take first place in the High School Division of the fifth-annual Shakespeare at Notre Dame Regional Shakespeare Monologue Competition.

A freshman at Saint Joseph High School, Ferguson performed Hamlet’s Act I, scene 2 monologue from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He now advances to the English-Speaking Union of the United States (ESUUS) State Shakespeare Competition in Indianapolis on March 3, 2013. There he will compete for cash prizes and the opportunity to represent the State of Indiana at the ESU National Competition in New York City.

Forty-four area students competed in this year’s event. The contestants ranged in age from 8-20 and represented 11 schools from across the greater South Bend region. Many of the contestants are part of the Robinson Shakespeare Company as well as freshmen from the University of Notre Dame enrolled in Professor Gary O’Neil’s Writing and Rhetoric class. In an innovative community-based collaboration, each college student was partnered with a member of the Robinson Shakespeare Company.

This year’s competition was held at Washington Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. The judges for the competition were J. Randall Colborn, Associate Dean of Academics at Indiana University South Bend; Grant Mudge, Ryan Producing Artistic Director for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival; and Patty Bird, Director of Marketing at Theatre at the Center.

The winners and runner-up for each division were as follows:

HIGH SCHOOL DIVISION (Grades 9-12)

Winner – Paul Ferguson (Saint Joseph High School)

Runner-up –  Christina Camp (Marian High School)

MIDDLE SCHOOL DIVISION (Grades 6-8)

Winner –  Indonesia Holt (LaSalle Academy)

Runner-up –  Josh Crudup (Peace Lutheran)

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DIVISION (Grades 1-5)

Winner –  Sam Villagra-Stanton (Kennedy School)

Runner-up –  Cameron Pierce (Montessori at Edison Lakes)

COLLEGIATE DIVISION

Winner – Mary Haley (University of Notre Dame)

Runner-up – Olivia Tuck (University of Notre Dame)

“To see such a rich engagement with Shakespeare’s language by students is nothing short of inspirational,” noted Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s Executive Director, Scott Jackson. He adds, “These kids are excelling in an area that few adults would ever imagine possible!”

For further information about the ESUUS’ National Shakespeare monologue Competition can be found at: http://www.esuus.org/esu/programs/shakespeare_competition/

Additional information about Shakespeare at Notre Dame: http://shakespeare.nd.edu

Winners of the 2012 Shakespeare Monologue Competition

Paul Ferguson

Rehearsals are well underway for Hamlet

The cast is well into rehearsals in London. The Shakespeare at

Cast of Hamlet

Notre Dame staff met yesterday and finalized the itinerary for the upcoming tour. We will be working on bringing you some stories from the tour as we progress. The actors will be arriving in South Bend January 19th, so I hope to have you hear from them shortly after that! Happy New Year!