2nd Annual Stanley Wells Lecture

The second public lecture about Shakespeare in a series named in honour of former Shakespeare Institute director Professor Stanley Wells will take place in London on the evening of 5 March 2013. This annual event, which is co-organized by the Shakespeare Institute, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Notre Dame University, was inaugurated in 2012 with a lecture by Professor Wells himself.

The high calibre of speakers will be kept up this year with a lecture by Sir Nicholas Hytner, the artistic director of the National Theatre, whose major productions of Shakespeare have included As You Like It (at the Royal Exchange, Manchester), The Tempest and King Lear (both with John Wood, RSC), Measure for Measure (with Josette Simon, RSC), Twelfth Night (Lincoln Center, New York), and, at the National, The Winter’s Tale (with Alex Jennings), Henry V (with Adrian Lester), Henry IV parts 1 and 2 (with Michael Gambon), Much Ado About Nothing and Timon of Athens (both with Simon Russell Beale).

The event will take place at Notre Dame’s London premises, 1 Suffolk Street, just off Trafalgar Square. Further details on how to book a place will be made available here in due course.

Notre Dame, Michigan City, Lake Shore Drive and My Kind of Town!

Hamlet – Blog 6

Time has blazed by and a lot of US water has flowed under a lot of US bridge: in the last ten days, our tiny footsteps have pattered to and fro across the St Joseph River via N Michigan Street in South Bend, the Chicago River at Du Sable Bridge for one, and only today across the Cumberland River along Woodland Street Bridge in Nashville, Tennessee.

I seem to remember dropping the narrative last Sunday, when the sun was setting on Valparaiso and Terry had returned from owl watching up in Grand Haven. He didn’t see any owls, nevertheless enjoyed crunching through the snowy forest at night, and did see Bald Eagles by day.

First of all, we had the fun of reunion with our AFTLS friends and the tour’s lynchpins at Notre Dame – Ryan, Debra, Scott, Grant, Chuck and Prof Peter Holland. Chuck drove us back from Valparaiso to South Bend across a short stretch of Indiana countryside and was a fine guide, highlighting the old town square at La Porte for one.

We had Washington Hall to look forward to for the show and a great joy it was to hand back the Hamlet prompt copy to Ryan (its creator in the first place), knowing that the lighting design – such at it is – was going to be illuminating us at an all time tour best in his capable hands and, again in the shape of Ryan, we had the one-off luxury of a full time and dedicated Stage Manager.

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Water on the British driver’s side! Lake Shore Drive the road is called and it’ll take you up or down.

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A home in Nashville.

We kicked off the week with a tour of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center with its several plush, beautifully designed performance spaces – each one breathtaking in its own way and breath taken away completely on entering the great Hall with two organs –

Andrew Fallaize preparing for work

Andrew Fallaize preparing for work

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A Horse and Buggy!

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It’s 9:30 AM?

2013-02-13 15.39.30 2013-02-13 15.11.01 one mighty, wood carved wonder at one end and at the other, organ scholar in situ and pressing the keys as we entered, a 16th Century Neopolitan beauty. Gothic Cathedral-like high, triangular ceiling with huge crossbeams.

Then to the Academic meeting to meet Peter Holland and the other professors – Debra, of course, had set out a delicious spread of food and drink and we were still munching and chatting with some of the professors until long after we’d got our lesson briefs, beaming with the warmth of the welcome back and the comfort of the proceedings as administered by the abiding anchor of our entire experience in the US – Debra.

At an early point in the week, Ryan handed Andrew back his robbed-in-week 1-at-7-eleven ten dollars! He’d gone in, evidently laid in with a high moral tone and emerged with the goods. Andrew has been seeking out 7 elevens ever since and was significantly spiritually restored.

Pete found the Fiddlers Hearth in downtown South Bend for a session of Irish music and we followed him there with his violin and drank Guinness, our eyes filling with mist as he joined what we assumed were a family of other fiddlers, drummers, a guitar and a couple of tin whistles.

Another good week of classes: Shuna enjoyed her session with Peter Holland and his group of teachers and Terry took on a back to back pair of sessions on King Lear in breathtaking form with an investigation into the sexuality of ‘the milk of Burgundy’ and ‘the vines of France’ which the Professor took entirely in his stride, beaming all the way through.

Pete, Andrew, Shuna and Terry pitched up for the SonnetFest on St Valentine’s Day – we read two each and watched a procession of academics and students reading theirs at the pulpit, as the four hours of sonnets was beamed round the world via internet to any interested parties. Two were read in Chinese, one in Italian and one was sung in opera style by a very impressive Baritone.

This same Baritone was also the Director of Opera Studies and Charlie, meanwhile, had bravely agreed to take a session with his opera students studying a libretto in French. He emerged entirely unshaken and wishing he’d had more time.

Two drives out into Amish Country were a highlight for Shuna, Andrew and Charlie. Graciously laid out homesteads, bright white barns, a nice picnic lunch bought from an Amish deli and a chat with a furniture maker, born and bred on the farm and hoping to make a visit to his ancestral home of Switzerland, when his community take a European tour this year. Yelps of delight and dropping of cameras as we spotted our first horse and buggy. Charlie nearly spent $450 on a beautiful Amish rocking chair, but was defeated, alas, by the cost of shipping.

Washington Hall did us proud for our shows and Hamlet held together. A good chin wag with Peter and his professor wife, Romana, afterwards. The second and final South Bend performance was packed up in record quick time and we bee-lined, untypically, back to the hotel immediately after it. We were up at the crack the following morning and embarking on Hamlet again less than 12 hours later, 9.30 am kick off at Elston Middle School in Michigan City. Ashen faces gathered in the lobby at dawn….. it was an outlandish experience, but the kids – mostly 12 year-olds and kept under control with iron discipline – apparently lasted the course and gave us a riotous reception. Scott, Ryan, Chuck and Debra all came with us to the school and were invaluable in helping us set up in the huge barn of a theatre. Bleary-eyed but relieved to have got through it, we all piled into two cars and headed for our great treat – the Chicago weekend.

Great excitement in Chuck’s car as we sailed past a heck of a lot of Police barriers and traffic control in anticipation of Obama’s visit that afternoon. Heavy sighs from Scott’s vehicle as they got caught in the mayhem. Chuck, again an excellent guide – and some fascinating stories of his experiences directing The Sound of Music with a very mature Maria. Chuck, a dark horse at the best of times, now pressed play on his iPOD and we zoomed along Lake Shore Drive (along the shore of Lake Michigan) with the astonishing Chicago skyline ahead, listening to the song, Lake Shore Drive, which Shuna has now acquired as a life long reminder of this wide-eyed arrival.

Hurried farewells and sad to say goodbye to Chuck and Scott. Very glad to have had the car journey to chew over some fat.

What a city! A weekend on a different planet and we all came away raving.
Our first slap-up dinner at Terry’s old haunt, Shaw’s Crabhouse after a few Chicago dogs at a tavern near our characterful hotel, The Tremont on W. Chestnut street. Ryan explained what it is that makes a Chicago ‘dog’ so much more distinguished from a common or garden Hotdog – it’s a pickle thing and the quality of the sausage, broadly speaking – and the boys all downed theirs at breakneck speed and approvingly. (Actually, Terry had a Reuben sandwich which he praised as highly). We dined darned well in Chicago (Shuna and Charlie pretty much relentlessly) and even survived The Battle of The Bill at Shaw’s Crabhouse. Charlie, I think, emerged the lightest of all of pocket having splashed out on a couple of nice bottles of wine, and after a slightly blanched twenty minutes of realization at what we’d all spent, everyone bounced back pretty quickly and hurled themselves at the next spending spree with almost psychotic gusto. Such was the allure of everything Chicago.

We all had adventures in all sorts of directions (including UPWARDS – ascents were made of Sears Tower and John Hancock Tower) – Ryan took us in hand and led us to Buddy Guy’s Legends for some late-night blues where the bass guitarist had huge hands. Andrew met a flautist from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who Shuna and Charlie found themselves watching at a concert the next day. Pete and Ryan took photos under the enormous, silver sculpture of a bean, Terry found his beloved Crannach The Elder paintings of Adam and Eve at the Art Institute and Pete, in the same building says he ‘found a nipple’, and showed us a photo of a painting of a girl called ‘Resting’. Shuna and Charlie saw a terrific show by Steppenwolf, The MotherF**ker with the Hat and attended a ‘gospel brunch’ where they ate like hogs and sang Hallelujahs.

We all loved the city and found the people very friendly indeed. Sensational architecture – Art Deco still alive and part of it all – all agreed it would be a fantastic place to try and live. Quote of the day is Terry’s: on asking a man the way to walk to somewhere, the man answered, ‘ Sir, you don’t walk in Chicago you WAAAARK!’

And now Nashville, by Christ! The Tennessee voices are rolling thick and fast – wow, they sound good – and we’ve glugged beer and spent a long evening in a bar cheering along a Country singer with no audience but ourselves for her four hour set.

We had a friendly welcome from Laura and Leah at the airport and have now met the faculty and had our first session on stage – it’s an intimate, studio-style theatre and it’ll be a refreshing change to be in a small space. All sorts of plans for the week and the classes have got off to a good start with very bright, up for it students. Arrived to Spring-like sunshine, but tonight it’s only a couple of degrees above freezing. – Shuna

How I learned to drive in Valparaiso?

BLOG 5: Valparaiso

So, back in Indiana – snow storms and now drizzle and a tropical 44 degrees farenheit. A day or two’s acclimatization post Texas, hovering between longjohns and bare legs, snow boots and clogs.

A full-up week of classes with students from assorted majors, some far removed from theatre, and many of whom, quite apart from valiantly turning their hands to Shakespeare’s text with us, are in the midst of the busiest time of their semester. As we’ve packed up our workshop notes and trudged back home to hit the hay (via a line-run of Hamlet from the pillow), they’ve been trotting off to ‘flying’ rehearsals for the Dance Ensemble performance, which we watched on Friday night; or they’ve gone on to rehearse – late into the evening – their upcoming production of Paula Vogel’s How I learned to Drive. They’re a busy bunch and have still managed to find the energy to throw great enthusiasm at our classes and pack out the auditorium for the Saturday evening performance of Hamlet only hours after their own matinee dance extravaganza and having turned up in force to attend our morning workshops.

We’ve enjoyed a rather sparkling social life this week thanks to the university faculty – Lee, Alan, Andy, Ann and Arran – providing us with warm hospitality and our first step across an American threshold. Mr and Mrs Orchard did us proud with fine wine, an assortment of Bourbons that Pete and Andrew sifted through at some length, and a wonderful spread of food in their open-plan wood-raftered living room. Last night, after Hamlet, and having safely stowed the so-called ‘Showbag’ at the hotel (this is the large, battered, sworn at old wheelie suitcase that’s scuffs along at a limping trundle and contains the entire Old Curiosity Shop of our production), we descended on our hosts again, at a downtown bar and proceeded – flushed with the relief of having mounted Hamlet safely after a week’s interval – on getting the right side of a fair few glasses; Beers, bourbons, vodka martinis and wine landed with considerable frequency. Blue-cheese-stuffed olives were taken dripping from Arran’s martini and handed across the table for sampling. More martinis followed as a result and, to cut a long story short, this morning’s planned trip to Amish country was completely abandoned. Nevermind, we’ll approach the Amish towns next week, from South Bend instead.

After a morning – and early afternoon – of deathly quiet at the hotel, Pete, Andrew, Charlie and Shuna managed to put one foot in front of the other by about 5pm and assembled at our favourite American restaurant so far – Pikk’s Tavern in downtown Valparaiso. Here they do fantastic gumbo, lots of delicious giant shrimp and seafood dishes and good steaks. Terry was last seen at Pikk’s cavorting through a San Franciscan seafood stew. He’s left us today, to join friends up in Michigan in Grand Haven for some bracing walks by the lake.

Charlie and Shuna drove up to the lakeshore (Lake Michigan) a couple of days ago and were suitably astounded by the grandeur of the crashing waves and the devastating wind. We had to walk up over the sandy dunes in order to see the lake because between the shoreline and the water were great banks of snow drifts that looked a bit like a strip of glacier and when you stood at sea-level at the edge of the shore you couldn’t see the lake, only the few hundred feet worth of snow drift and the spray against the sky as the lake buffeted against it, blocked from view. We learned from a signpost, that there was a battle here in late 1780 in which a British general got wind of a band of men who had plundered a whole lot of trade fur and chased them through the dunes until they surrendered. Charlie was very taken with the general’s (very un-British) name, and is thinking of changing his stage name in honour of Lieutenant Dagreaux du Quindre.

Terry had his own adventure in downtown Valparaiso where he discovered the town’s museum full of an eclectic array of exhibits including mammoth tusks and some very helpful, whilst eccentric, members of staff. Downtown Valparaiso is a quiet, pleasant place of brick terraced houses and some interesting independent shops. Terry, for instance, found a specialist cake shop and made off with an extremely large, pink box of mega cupcakes for his friends up in Grand Haven.

Andrew has spent a certain amount of time avidly cruising the aisles of Walmart in search of various provisions – it’s the first Walmart we’ve visited in the US and sells everything known to man. Andrew was, however, amongst the breakaway group of three who decided to renounce Walmart one sunny afternoon and head for Sunset Hill Farm County Park, a few miles north of the town. Sun glinting on snow along dappled woodland trails; we talked about cross-country skiing, though not enough snow to do it, and decided not to walk across the frozen pond and fulfill the deathwish. The Park has a few old farm buildings – it used to be a dairy and chicken farm in the 1930’s – and still has some vintage agricultural machinery sitting about in open barns. We fancied ourselves as Country singers modeling for our newest album cover as we posed for photos on the tractors and swathed ourselves on threshing machines. See pictures below.

Pete has been involved in a sort of solitary expressionist maelstrom by dead of night: on leaving the foyer for the walk across to campus one morning, he announced ‘ The Valparaiso sky is the colour of MURDER!’. We all wondered what on earth he was talking about – was playing Hamlet getting to the lusty youth at last? – Pete had been up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and discovered that ‘the sky is mauve and grey and swirly’ and had actually been moved to do a piece to camera on his phone about the phenomenon as it struck him. I overheard some of the footage and it’s a dramatic broadcast of a man grappling with the wonders of the universe. On a more worldly note, Pete is coming to the end of his tether regarding the American mohito. He says he’s giving up and not having another until he returns to the UK or if he went to New York he might attempt one but only if he could talk to the barman first.

Back at the coal face, we’ve had a very satisfying week of classes including a few welcome departures from Shakespeare as we dropped in on evening rehearsals for ‘Learning to Drive’. One session involved so-called ‘hot-seating’ the students in character (asking a character questions about him/herself beyond the play to which they make up the answers) – they were three weeks into rehearsals and well placed to have a go at this exercise. In fact, so completely did they commit themselves imaginatively to the improvisation that their characters blossomed before us and the interviews became too compelling to cut short and we spent a full two hours between the five characters.

It was liberating, too, to spend Saturday morning’s two-hour workshops on fresh ground away from Hamlet. Charlie actually overran his session on Audition techniques by half an hour and Lee came in next door to tell us, ‘ We just can’t stop Charles from teaching!’. Andrew did a session on rhetoric using the Gettysburg Address, Pete and Shuna shared a productive session on physicality and voice which culminated in a detailed Terry masterclass on iambic pentameter which the students appeared to lap up, even towards the end of a long workshop. We all felt pleased and enjoyed a pre-show lunch in the campus canteen, followed by a few hours’ rest and then back to the theatre to mount

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We made it through and did a good show, though a week’s break inevitably blunts the wherewithal in certain ways, and you just have to hang on tight. Student and teacher response was very positive, “Good job!’ and Andrew is accumulating a significant fan-club, amongst the young women in particular it seems, for Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. Charlie and Pete had a bit of an entanglement during Claudius’ death, which normally takes place relatively neatly with Charlie swallowing the poison lying across the couple of chairs and silk cloth that make the throne. Last night, Charlie’s demise was more violent still: Pete’s body weight and both the chairs ended up on top of Charlie, whose corpse lay covered messily in the silk cloth and not as visible as usual. Pete then had to feel about in search of the goblet of poison which had got caught in Charlie’s jacket before he could possibly continue with the next bit in which he comes downstage and grapples with Horatio over ‘the cup!’

Back to our old friends in Notre Dame tomorrow for the next part of the adventure. For one thing, we’re very much looking forward to the theatre in Washington Hall. – Shuna

A Texas-size Standing Ovation!

HAMLET BLOG NUMBER 4

All sorts of developments in the last few days, on and off the AFTLS beaten track: not least is that we’ve opened Hamlet at last and, by God, we’ve done it in the sultry February heat of the Lone Star State, the strange and exotic planet that’s Texas.

We had an audience pushing 600 on opening night in the Rudder Theatre and a healthy standing ovation. It pushed 700 the second night and a flurry of students that we’d taught during the week came up onto stage for autographs, chats and all smiling – we felt relieved and that the show had been appreciated – enjoyed even! – and over a slap-up dinner in Café Eccel thanks to Kirstin, our Texas A&M producer, she admitted that on the back of the show and audience turnout she’ll be inviting AFTLS back to the university next year. “Only 3 walkouts, I’m telling ya’ that’s a triumph!”

Some smaller classes this week, thrown in with the crowd-management variety in the lecture halls, but they were all satisfying. We tried getting the students doing some physical tableaus alongside Gertrude’s ‘willow’ speech: one person speaks the speech, one molds and one is the clay, and by the end of the class, when prompted, ‘So, what can you remember now that we’ve taken back the scripts?’ there was a flood of recall and Gertrude’s speech almost entirely reconstituted itself from all the corners of the room! Terry used his ‘good/bad angel’ technique for cracking open ‘To be or not to be’, we had them cantering about with iambic pentameter and had some fun with the Ghost scene as the students experimented with the spatial relationship between Hamlet and the old ghoul to make the scene as dramatic as possible.

What is hairy, and also very exciting, about this tour is the amount of time we have between shows and hence the job of keeping what’s a very substantial play in performable shape. We worked our way into a crescendo at Notre Dame – our ‘final’ week’s rehearsal culminating in the run in front of the faculty. The following day was a tech in Washington Hall and then, tantalizingly, just as you would normally expect to kick off into an opening night, and just as we’d fallen in love with that stage – we fly off, land and spend several days out of a theatre space and limited to going through the lines in our hotel rooms. Then as opening night suddenly arrives, we have to urgently lift the thing back into the shape it was in when we left off in the course of a single tech session. It’s a most irregular way of performing a play as big as this one – I think if we’d had a chance to ‘run it in’, it would be slightly less hairy – but, hey ho, this way of working brings positive possibilities, too: even as our hair stands on end at the thought of another show the other side of 6 days off (gulp!), we’ll certainly be able to keep it ‘in the moment’ and, um, as you might say, ‘fresh’.

But back to Texas: We like the big sky here and the evening light. We’ve enjoyed floating about in our Mo Fo white tank of a car, our first dally into the massive HEB supermarket, nodding donkeys, Stetsons, the accent, the temperature, some excellent TexMex, hanging out in Austin, driving through the landscape, surviving our first two shows, the military cadet uniforms, their gun-spinning skills on the campus greens, grackles making a right racket in the Austin trees, the Capitol building’s State rooms and staircases, Lone Star beer, horses, cattle….here’s wishin’ we could head on out to Hill Country, meet some cowboys, head right off the beaten track.

Highlights and lowlights from the team in an attempt to scour every nook and cranny of the adventure:

Andrew: Highlight – 1. spotting small, horse-herding boy in a field by the freeway en route to Austin. The little boy waved his small white Stetson round and round, got the horses into a gallop then stopped, put it back on and walked back in the other direction. 2. Finding excellent croissants in the Whole Food emporium, Austin. (he bought ‘em back for his grateful colleagues).

I should mention at this point – four of us , let’s call us Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet and Rozencrantz – we shot off to Austin our day off. Andrew managed to find us a so-called ‘Air B & B’ – which turned out to be long, blond haired Aaron’s comfortable free-spirited bungalow on the outskirts of Austin – we had a porch which gave onto a slope with a trampoline, a swing and a hammock – all be it overlooking what the freeway. Traffic noise aside, we all landed here and stared happily at the sky. It was a relief to sit on a stoop – there was a rocking chair – and relax and let Hamlet slide out of our veins for a day and a night.

Andrew’s lowlight: swallowing the prong of a plastic fork and thereby risking multiple internal ruptures. (By Sunday brunch in Austin we had all but eliminated this worst-case scenario and his pizza seemed to slide down uninterrupted).

A visit to Austin’s Capitol building. On the eve of our departure back up to Indiana and freezing temperatures, we loafed about the park in Spring-like sunshine, a terrific statue of a cowboy and his horse in full bucking throes, and into the building – the House of Representatives and the House of Congress – two bright and majestic rooms, none of the pomposity of the English Parliament – comfortable and democratic and elegant were words we found. Huge oil paiting of the surrender of Santa Anna in all its full-blown propaganda glory.

Terry, meanwhile, had a gentle and different sort of meditative weekend, walking the local-to-College-Station Lick Creek Country Park. He spotted Scarlet Tanagers and heard bullfrogs. Cardinals, too, of course. His highlight was Washington-on-Braxos and this airey house where the ladies once sat out on the porch sewing detailed cotton embroidered bonnets and all sorts of pretty things.

Terry’s lowlight was launching a Cajun chicken mistakenly across the floor of HEB supermarket. It slid several yards across the floor after he upended it, apparently. The good news is that, chickens akimbo, he nevertheless bumped into a parent of one of the students at Texas A & M who told him, “ You’ve turned my 12 year old onto Shakespeare!”.

Charlie’s highlight was the Austin hammock and swing. I attach a photo. Therein you see a man relaxing. He also enjoyed our Irish coffee in Austin’s Driskill Hotel. We couldn’t help ourselves. It was wonderfully grand, all marble pillars and high ceilings and shining stone floors and magnificent architectural comfort, mind you we marched through the grand hall and into the bar at the back to find a full-blown country concert with fiddle and Stetsons – and luxuriant, generous American leather furnishings, paintings and bison’s horns and decided we’d never find anywhere in England so welcoming and relaxed.

Charlie’s lowlight was getting pulled over by the police because our hire car didn’t have a front license plate. (Actually, he admits it was rather fun). The policeman was very friendly, explained that State rules in Texas are different to elsewhere regarding license plates and didn’t book us. We nodded, said we were ‘terribly sorry’ and were absolutely thrilled.

Pete, alas, is still searching for a decent Mohito but admits to getting nearer. His highlight was setting off from our freeway bound bungalow – for a morning run – along the Townlake trail to Austin and merging with crowds of likeminded Texan joggers along the way.

Shuna’s got a few things to add to our AFTLS Nature Notes:

Grackles we all discovered shrieking in the trees of Austin. Also she noticed bright orange and yellow butterflies flitting about when we went up a rocky outcrop by the Colorado River and surveyed the view of the city. Also, she’s been looking at all the beautiful, gnarled species of Oak Trees that cover the Texas landscape. Various big hawks with white heads – we need Terry to tell us.

Meanwhile, we’re newly landed in Valparaiso and a lovely welcome – a so-called ‘coloquium’ with the students this evening, a kind of Q & A about the acting profession and our own particular trails into it. Snow and longjohns again. All sorts of classes ahead this week, we’ll be pulled away from Shakespeare to eg. Paula Vogel’s ‘ How I learned to Drive’ and some scene work with students who are already some way into their rehearsal process.

Thanks to Jessica and Mike for seeing us off at Houston – and to Jessica for all her hard work in accommodating us in College Station.

Lee, Andy, Alan and Betsy have given us a warm landing in Valpo and are as keen as we are for a fulfilling week ahead.

Pretty, brick buildings downtown here where we spent the evening chewing the fat with this close-knit and passionate Theatre Faculty over Guinness, Merlot and Jameson and a really good Gumbo. Brave driving from Lee in getting us out of a snow drift earlier to hit the pub. The Dance Ensemble and Bach’s Mass in B Minor are all abroad in the theatres so Hamlet has been valiantly slotted into a height of semester hive of activity. We look forward to working amongst it all. – Shuna