Actors’ Blog – Week Three
First performances, more snow, farewell South Bend, hello Chicago!
As You Like It is now officially up and running. We opened on Wednesday and it was great to have a run of three shows and finally play with the audience and take them on the journey with us. It’s a source of great excitement and satisfaction to me how each show is so very different as the audience gives it shape. I firmly believe that’s how it should always be; it’s what sets Theatre apart from Film or TV as a storytelling medium. It’s like a chemical reaction each time, but in this work the audience are so active in following all the transitions that it seems to highlight their presence even further. The story is the same each night, and we play the same characters but the audience casts a different light on the journey, so when we’re receptive to them and connect to what they are feeding us, the mood of the play is wildly different.
I think As You Like It explores this as a play too. We’ve been told, and indeed we’ve all felt from time to time, that it is one of Shakespeare’s ‘harder’ plays. There are long and dense pieces of prose and the balance is definitely tipped towards words rather than action in the traditional sense. But the words are active in themselves, they are the tool by which the characters explore and define who they are. As we’re all playing so many characters (some of whom are also in disguise at various points in the play!), as the set is merely a hat-stand and 8 chairs, the words become even more active as the tools for defining who we are and for engaging the audience with those characters. Everything is heightened. The risk is, of course, that the audience gets lost and can’t follow who is who, or don’t have the opportunity to invest their empathy in each character because we are constantly switching roles. It’s our job to make sure this doesn’t happen, to find the ‘Touchstone’ (pardon the pun!) for each character that helps us to bring them alive.
One of the other great joys of the job is the chance to get out, meet and work with some of our audience members in the form of workshops. This week we attended classes on everything from Shakespeare, to Opera, to Philosophy. On Thursday, I joined freshman students for a class on J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and the idea of childhood and found this wonderful quote:
“I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still….On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles [simple boat]. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more”
As we explored the characters in Peter Pan using these ideas of imagination and memory, it struck me that this description of Neverland as a place of imagination could equally be applied to Arden. There’s a point in the play I’ve always struggled with, a moment where Celia watches her friend grow up, and become a woman (even though she is disguised as a man). I’d always found the loss of that moment difficult to bring to life, but thinking about childhood and memory and watching students faces change as they experienced this themselves really struck a chord with me.
This was our last week in South Bend before hitting the road. We will miss our wonderful colleagues in the ND Office and look forward to seeing them at various points over the coming weeks and in St. Louis – our final stop. Saturday morning the team caught the South Shore train to Chicago for a two day pit-stop before heading to Rensselaer, IN next week. Jen and I had a wonderful night at Blue Chicago on Saturday – a special shout out must go to Essex (named after the county of my birth because that’s where his father was born!) who gave us such a wonderful show. We saw the wonderful Chicago ‘Bean’, ate wonderful Chicago pizzas and wandered around in (yet more!) snow. Next stop St. Joseph’s College…reputed to be one of the most haunted colleges in Indiana…yikes.