An Audience at Westville

by Wela Mbusi

Westville correctional facility was certainly a unique experience for all of us and definitely left an indelible impression on the cast. Although the facility was an interim holding for prisoners who were about to be released, entering a place that is devoid of all the little mundane things that make up a life, right down to not having privacy when performing your ablutions, always made me wonder what efficacy would mere words performed by actors have there.

Upon arrival we were greeted with an air of enthusiasm, but little did our fragile egos realize that it was not out of anticipation for Shakespeare’s ‘transformative’ words, but due to the anticipation of the new; the unknown; a piece of the outside world they will soon be a part of. After being searched we were told we had to be decently covered and no parts of our body were to be on display.

We were unsure how the presentation of the play and the numerous scenes set in a prison would be received, but they turned out to be the most well received. Due to everyday prison routine we couldn’t stop the production when a large portion of them had to leave for food or roll call but we pushed through until they returned.

The resonance of the play had an effect on how we performed to a certain extent but the idea of staging a production that has immediate relevance to an audience, did add a sense of appreciation for the power of what we do as actors.

For the inmates, the play was their only contact for with the outside and to have been able to bring them that made what we do seem less superfluous.

After the production we got the chance to speak to them and their interest in the play was astounding and questions about the themes were the most surprising, as we thought they wouldn’t want to talk about them.

Such a unique experience which never gets old and one that I would love to do again given the chance.

 

Welcome to Texas

By Wela Mbusi

After a grueling but fantastic last show at Windale, we were welcomed by warm summer showers in San Antonio. At this point it was becoming clear that we were going to have to get used to weekly first nights as it meant having to restage the entire show for the beautiful barn.

We also gleaned the possibility of rediscovering the show every time we restaged it, and this meant gaining a fresh perspective and enjoyment from it every week. A recital hall was our venue this time and the acoustic challenges had become an expected impediment but one we were ready for. The reception by the faculty was amazing as always, and we were treated to a typical San Antonian meal which was quesadillas and a mandatory cocktail.

As the University of Texas at San Antonio doesn’t have a full-time theatre program, the majority of the classes were with English Major students and other technical subjects that required presentational skills. Some of these were very interesting as Ben and I discovered that they touched on basic skills that we as actors take for granted but are the foundational blocks of what we do. The students were very appreciative to be able to explore themselves and how they communicate not only in front of an audience but in everyday life.

The weather was not forgiving as the rain persisted all week but the heat still lingered to no end. I think fatigue on this leg of the tour was starting to set in naturally but knowing we were still going to be revisiting familiar places like Notre Dame, gave us the impetus much needed.

 

Opening Week at Wellesley

by Wela MbusiAs we enter the winding roads of Wellesley College leading us through its bucolic setting, we gradually make our way towards the theatre for our first briefing by the faculty.

As we enter the building with its ornate interior you can’t help but notice the largesse the building exudes. Then, we were immediately met by nearly life-sized portraits of prominent female public figures, strewn strewn across the corridors who once were and still are huge advocates of female empowerment even in the arts.

The faculty were as excited as we were about sharing our experience as actors using Measure for Measure in their classes ranging from the basic tools of speaking text, to utilising art to speak truth to power.

My first lesson was with an English writing class that was interested in how the play can be interpreted through varying cultural spaces and cosmologies, and the best way to do that was to get them on their feet and see if they could shell out possible ways of using or breaking Shakespeare’s form to explore the themes in the text; using not only the language but their bodies, and any other cultural experiences they might have had as it was a class filled with internationals.

The space we were about to perform in was a thousand seater and making dramatic adjustments to our delivery became a reality we just had to embrace. Our first audience was so enthusiastic as it was filled with young Shakespeare aficionados who followed the play intently. We felt lucky and encouraged having such a dedicated audience and couldn’t have asked for a better opening night.

We were also briefly hosted by the Shakespeare society with their unparalleled and enviable dedication to all things Shakes. By our last night, we were starting to enjoy the play and appreciating the freedom we had found with the form of the convention and looked forward to Austin, Texas the city of cowboy boots and hats.

 

Chicago to South Bend and Back

by Wela Mbusi

We’ve landed! Our jet-lagged arrival at Chicago O’Hare airport is ameliorated by a stretch limo waiting to whisk us away to our hotel rooms whilst darting through traffic. LoL. Well…maybe it isn’t actually that glamorous but Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s generosity with Debs’ logistical skills certainly made us feel that way. No rest for the wicked as daily chores had to be fulfilled if we were to have a smooth couple of months.
Our first task was to familiarise ourselves with the rigours of the upcoming schedule with the workshops, followed by a scary but painless tax exemption form filling session and a bank trip to open checking accounts.
Finally the evening was capped off by a wonderful meal at a steakhouse where I had the John Adams special which was an assortment of meats skewered by a sword. It’s stature certainly personified the second president.

We continued with rehearsals through the week but we’re starting to feel the need of an audience and performing to a feedback-giving audience one last time (though necessary) further induced our need for one. Having incorporated notes from the London associates, we felt we needed to prioritise in terms of time and the best use of our energies, as we’d not had a break from rehearsals for nearly five weeks. But we also felt that autonomy was the best cause of action as well, as some of the notes were personal preferences rather than things that would enhance the clarity of the story or AFTLS’s convention of five actors playing all the roles.

We were glad to find a cohesive enough ideology with regards to the notes session from Scott and Peter Holland and the London associates and that solidified our confidence in the show, but at this point we were craving for an audience at Wellesley College, our first stop.
Notre Dame was a phenomenal school and with its strong Catholic roots I couldn’t help but wonder how it would be received when we returned to perform as the themes of the play are palpably resonant.
Leaving those worries for another day, we made our way to Chicago (courtesy of Debs) to try and get some rest, especially as the long-awaited football game between Notre Dame and Georgia was on. The spectacle of military flyovers and marching bands during the run were not enough to intrigue us to stay because the Windy City called.

Ready to Launch

by Wela Mbusi

Week five. Hooray!! The long wait has finally come to an end and the finality of it is solidified by the associate actors sharing their collective notes after our final run in the UK. Our spirits are buoyant but only because we know, that after the seemingly torturous, but necessary, ordeal of receiving notes from them, we will have ascended three thousand feet in two days towards another welcoming collective of practitioners and audiences.

Alas! The notes session proved to be the remedy we needed for the majority of this isolated rehearsal process, as they were very informative coming from an outside perspective. It was also comforting to know that every single one of them had gone through this the same artistic gauntlet as well.

A sense of ownership has been instilled in us having gone through this, and aptly reinforced by Martin, is the idea that what we created can only be understood and given by us with full conviction, as it is a testament of the best of ourselves as artists.