“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #10

Week Ten: Wellesley College, Massachusetts
By Kaffe Keating

“Live life fully, with gratitude, kindness, determination and joy!”
– Adina Shira Kletter

I need to get these lyrics into my brain. And somehow simultaneously clear my head, just decompress a bit. The vaguely familiar climate and landscape, though still quintessentially American (there are chipmunks), should hopefully help to ease the sensory overload of the last month.

I’m trudging around the serene Lake Woban upon whose banks rests Wellesley College, its towers soaring above the woods which shade and shelter the paths below. It’s a truly beautiful place, and the New England weather makes me feel right at home. Wellesley is historically a women’s college, founded in the year 1875 and which boasts a very impressive alumni. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the one you hear about the most, but I was personally more excited to learn that Norah Ephron went here; I grew up on When Harry Met Sally.

The school song, dedicated to Wellesley’s Alma Mater, is what’s brought me out to the lake. We had the idea back in Brixton to open the second half of the show with Feste, Olivia’s jester, busking for the audience – with the song he plays varying from college to college. In Notre Dame and then Austin it was the respective college football fight songs (which you need to get word perfect, as everyone knows them) and in San Antonio it was the old classic “San Antonio Rose.” Here, it’ll be the aptly named “To Alma Mater;” since Wellesley doesn’t have a college football team, there wasn’t a fight song to learn. It’s instead a song encouraging Wellesley students of past and present to sing about the beauty of their college. It’s quite a nice break to learn a song which isn’t all about destroying people and instead focuses on a much-loved place which has been treasured by generations.

I mutter the lines to myself as I set off on a clockwise route from the College Club where we’re staying (we can walk to our classes from here, which is a dream), pausing every so often in my recital so as to avoid alarming the walkers passing me in the opposite direction. I’m approaching this like I would some Shakespearean verse, and it’s well written enough that the thoughts all make sense in sequence. A general rule of thumb: the better written something is, the easier it is to learn. I’ll marry the lyrics with the guitar part later.

I bump into one of the students walking in the opposite direction, Tati, who’s been helping us out in the theatre. They’re all ferociously intelligent, the women who attend this college; I gather it’s incredibly difficult to get accepted, especially in more recent decades with Wellesley making a conscious effort to attract students from a wider range of backgrounds. Tati’s currently working on the design for the show currently being rehearsed in the studio below the theatre we’ll be playing in in Alumnae Hall. It’s called Stupid Fucking Bird, a modern adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. I love Chekhov, as it’s so different to Shakespeare; in Shakespeare everyone stands and pretty much says what they mean, whereas in Chekhov they hardly ever do. It’s a shame we won’t be here to see Tati’s design on stage.

I have a class with some of the other design students this week, on ‘How to make a play that fits into a suitcase.’ We start with a few exercises to do with saying ‘yes’ and working collaboratively. There’s a relatively simple exercise called ‘Yes, and…’ which is meant to teach people to accept and build on one another’s ideas. First, in a circle, we all tell a story together taking responsibility for a sentence each. The story will inevitably meanders off into somewhere bizarre, as each person feels the pressure to be interesting and to say something more imaginative than what came before. Then you try it again, but this time everyone has to begin their sentence with the words ‘Yes, and…’ and attempt to use the details of what’s come before to move their section of the story forward.

The difference is immediate; where first we had a bizarre and nonsensical story which started off with a main character who disappeared half-way through the plot, the second time through the students all worked together to create a truly touching tale of a young girl who, after discovering a porpoise which had been washed up on a beach, went on to have her first experience facing the concept of mortality. That was on their first go with the ‘yes, and’ rule. It was meant to be a stupid improv game but that’s what they came up with… This sets the students in good stead for the rest of the workshop, which has them using props they’ve brought in to represent completely different items and then using those skills to set their own version of scenes from Twelfth Night. Hilariously, about half of them have brought umbrellas with them to use, which mirrors our play nicely.

I must be about half way round the lake by now. I think I can see where I set off from on the
opposite side, over in the distance. Tati told me the walk should take no longer than an hour and fifteen minutes but I’ve not exactly been rushing. The words are going in but knowing them when you’re rambling around on your own is one thing; knowing them on stage, under lights and in front of a few hundred people is entirely another.

To say I’m regretting going along with this particular choice, of having to learn a new song from scratch and perform it every week, is maybe a bit far, but it’s definitely proving more work than I’d initially thought when we first decided to do this back in the heady days of rehearsals. However, extra work that it is, learning the lyrics of this particular song has given me a deeper appreciation of this campus and the country in which it’s nestled. “Oh changeful sky, bend blue above her” rounds out the first verse, urging the tempestuous New England element to shine kindly down on the college grounds and buildings below.

One such building is a replica of William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon. You’re walking through the campus on the way to a class when you round a corner and there, in the middle of a wood in Massachusetts, is a little Elizabethan cottage. It’s home to Wellesley’s own Shakespeare Society, founded only two years after the college itself. The basement is full of costumes and props and stage swords, with an actual stage installed on the top floor upon which the society puts on plays from Shakespeare’s canon. Despite the traditional setting, the casting of the shows is in direct opposition to Elizabethan tradition; the plays are only performed by students and so the company is always all-female. Again, it’s frustrating to not be able to stick around long enough to see their upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing which sounds like it’s going to be very interesting indeed.

There’s something so unique about this place. Men aren’t exactly absent; there are plenty of male members of staff, but the usual prevalent feeling in the rest of the world of male dominance, male default, certainly is. It’s difficult to tell if it’s just the reprieve from the Texas heat, or the picturesque setting I’ve found myself in that’s bringing this clear sense of calm, but I suspect there’s also something in the feeling of shelter from a world that is governed by the flow of testosterone. How long that will last though, especially when some of the women we’ve met at this college get their go in the world, remains to be seen.

I’ve made it to a bench. I’m pretty sure I’m at least three quarters of the way round now. Looking down, there’s a plaque underneath honouring the memory of a certain Adina Shira Kletter. An epitaph at the bottom reads: “Live life fully, with gratitude, kindness, determination and joy!” I have no idea who Adina Kletter was, but the exclamation mark makes me feel like this is a direct quote of hers. Fine words to live by indeed.

We’ll be here for a few more days and then we’ll be off again. Flying out to another part of this huge country. With only a week in each college, there’s never enough time to truly put down roots, to allow any moss to form before the stone rolls inevitably on to its next brief resting place. We have to make the most of these moments of serenity and calm where we can get them, and there are few better spots for that than this.

But I can’t stay too long, we’ve got a show tonight. I’ll sit here for a bit longer, but then I’ll have to go.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #8

Week Eight: Austin, Texas
By Kaffe Keating

“But shall we make the welkin dance indeed?”
– Sir Toby Belch, Act 2 Scene 3

It’s always tempting to want to think of a piece of work as ‘finished’. When you’ve been slaving away on something for a long time, and you’ve got it to a place where it could conceivably be considered complete, you understandably feel the urge to lean back and put your feet up to think upon a job well done. Or a job done, at least.

This is definitely true with making plays. The marker for when a play is truly up and running is what’s known as ‘Press Night’. The clue’s in the name: it’s the evening when reviewers show up to critique what you’ve done and then write their opinions down in newspapers and blogs. After a show is ‘pressed’, it’s considered to be a finished product. Literally pressed, like the final stage of an assembly line.

It’s not exactly conducive to good theatre, this idea. Unlike film and television, you don’t end up with a finished product at the end of the process that can be repeated over and over and which will always be exactly the same. You don’t have a final draft of a novel, or a finished painting. A piece of theatre is much more transient. Sure, the same things will happen each time – Romeo will always meet Juliet, Konstantin will always give Nina a seagull, Malvolio will always get his tights on – but the way these things happen will, inevitably, always be different. Not just from production to production, but performance to performance. It’s alive, and changing, and each moment only exists then, in that instant. To decide that a piece of theatre is ‘finished’ is an oxymoron that just leads to the life slowly seeping out of the show, like a helium balloon quietly making its way back to earth.

The air hits us with a thwack as we step off the plane. Texas. We’ll be here for the next two weeks; we’ll leave this massive state from San Antonio in a fortnight’s time, but first: Austin. The mind begins to boggle when looking out of the car window on the way to campus and realising we’re still in the same country. The distance we’ve just travelled is about the same as London to Rome, but the flags adorning the poles outside each rest stop haven’t changed. There is another flag next to the more recognisable Star Spangled Banner which has made an appearance, though.

“We used to be our own country,” says James in what I can now joyfully identify as a real-life Texas drawl. He’s one of the faculty members at the University, who also runs the Shakespeare program at Winedale, a converted theatre barn out in the country where we’ll be performing at the end of the week. “Texas is definitely identifies very clearly as its own state.” The Texas flag is one of the most recognisable state flags in the US, the single star against a blue background with the single red and white stripe. If you were to zoom in to the right bit of the US flag, you’d end up with the Texan one; definitely part of something bigger, but also standing out on its own.

The campus at UT is beautiful. Orbiting around a central tower, the style of the buildings feels much more Mediterranean than in our previous campus. While Notre Dame, with its Irish influence, felt like it was responding much more to Trinity College in Dublin or even Oxford’s dreaming spires, the Austin campus brings to mind Italian, Renaissance architecture. It makes sense, I guess; it’s much hotter down here, and if you’re going to ape a style, choose one with a climate that suits where you are.

We’re coming to the end of this week’s Faculty Meeting, where we meet all of the professors whose classes we’ll be visiting to chat through what bizarre things we’ll be getting their students to do, when there’s an announcement. Two students will be performing a section of Twelfth Night for us. They’ll be doing the scene when Olivia first falls for Cesario, not realising that he is in fact Viola dressed as a boy. In honour of the play’s foray into gender, Austin (“Whey, and we’re in Austin!” Poor guy must get that all the time…) is playing Olivia, and Zoe is playing Cesario. It’s great, and a very fun surprise for us to watch a scene we’ve heard so many times now being played out with different voices, and with a different take. They’re both alumni of the Winedale program we’ve been hearing so much about.

We tech the show on campus, adjusting to a new space. To new faces too. Heather, who is in charge of all of our lighting cues needs a little more help than we’re used to, but through no fault of her own. ‘I can’t hear anything back here!’ she tells us. We’re performing in a concert hall rather than a traditional theatre space, so the lighting options are more geared towards musical recitals than plays, and are thus much more basic. Also the wings are soundproofed; great if you want a piano concerto which is uninterrupted by offstage noise, not so great when the person operating the lights can’t hear any of the cues. Luckily we don’t have many, partly because the whole point of the show is that it doesn’t rely hugely on tech, and also that we knew we’d be visiting some venues where options would be limited. This is what’s so great about this kind of show, you can do it pretty much anywhere.

We’re able to re-jig the cues so that Heather can figure out when she needs to make changes based on what she can see on the fuzzy monitor showing a live feed of the stage. The only other issue is that she’s not able to hold the soundproof doors open and reach the little lighting pad at the same time. The only point where this could be an issue is at the end of the first half, when Katherine is left on stage after the rest of us have whooped our way off after gulling Malvolio in the box tree scene. Someone will need remember to hold the door open for her to leave the stage while Heather brings the house lights up.

‘I’ll do it.’ I say, I’ll definitely remember to do that. Definitely.

I don’t, of course, and the interval for our opening night in Austin begins with Katherine desperately clawing her way off the stage as the heavy soundproof door swings shut in front of her.

The show has grown a fair bit over the past couple of weeks. It’s good; it’s becoming its own living being with a bit of a mind of its own. It does, however, like an apple tree that’s growing a bit beyond its trunk, need a bit of pruning. This is totally normal, and something a director would be keeping an eye on at this stage in a play’s life-cycle. But obviously this is a job we need to do ourselves. It’s still something we’re figuring out, how to give each other notes now that we’re no longer in the bubble of the rehearsal room. Since we’re all on stage the whole time, all notes need to be logged mentally as we can’t exactly sit at the back of the stage with a notepad. You’ll be sitting in the pub when suddenly something will jog someone’s memory, and you’ll find yourself receiving extremely detailed advice about how to make that gag with the hat work.

Our final performance was not on campus, but at the Winedale Historical Center. It’s a barn which has been converted into a beautiful, semi-outdoor theatre where, every summer, a bunch of students put on productions of Shakespeare plays. Because it gets so hot in the midsummer days, they rehearse in the early morning and retreat into the air-conditioned out buildings when the Sun is at its height. We have no such luxury, however, as we scramble around in the barn-turned-theatre at two in the afternoon, trying to figure out how to morph our show, the one we’ve only really just learned how to do, into a totally different space for the evening’s performance. ‘Be careful of the beams,’ we’re warned by Liz, another one of the UT faculty who’s directed here a lot, ‘This summer was a big one for concussions…’

The whole day is incredibly special from beginning to end. A highlight for all of us was watching the Winedale Outreach Players, who must have been aged between nine and twelve and led by the inspirational Clayton Stormberger, performing some selected scenes from Twelfth Night.

‘Oh that’s sweet isn’t it? Kids doing Shakespeare…’ I think to myself as I sit down to watch them perform in a shaded space in front of the barn. They give us a run for our money. The quality is truly excellent, and the joy that these young actors are clearly revelling in as they speak these words written by someone from the other side of the world, four hundred years before they were born, is contagious. It spills into our own rendition of the play, and the kids join us at the end to take a bow.

We end the evening on our backs, staring up at the stars in an unpolluted night-sky with coyotes calling in the distance. I have never felt more like a real-life cowboy.

Aside from the show and our classes, we’ve stolen time to head out into Austin itself. It’s really very cool. We were treated to a trip out to The Broken Spoke, a Texan dance hall where women in dresses spin to the sound of a pedal steel guitar and literally everyone’s wearing Stetsons. We took a trip down Rainey Street, Heather driving through downtown with the five of us in the back of her pick-up, where a bunch of houses have been opened up and converted into bars. On our last evening in Austin we waited with the crowds who gathered on top of and under Congress Avenue Bridge, which a colony of bats have made their home and which all take off to feed at once in a swarm as dusk descends, like a scene from Batman Begins. We rounded out our time at The Continental Club, the five of us and Clayton all dancing in a circle like maniacs to some of the best live music I’ve ever heard.

I’m sad to leave this wonderful city, and the wonderful people who’ve welcomed us here. But our Texan journey continues, to the home of the Alamo itself: San Antonio.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #7

Week Seven: Notre Dame, Indiana/Chicago, Illinois
By Kaffe Keating

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me to untie.”
– Viola, Act 2 Scene 2.

I feel like I haven’t written one of these in ages. Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun, but simultaneously I think it’s true that time stretches when you fill it with stimuli; the more you do the longer things seem to last. And this week feels like it’s taken ages.

Monday brought our first proper visit to Washington Hall, the theatre on campus where we’ll do our first three performances of the show to a full audience. God, we need it. We’re now long past the point where we know the show well enough to no longer be surprised by the gags, and therefore we’ve stopped laughing audibly at them. It’s probably just as well; when your priority becomes making the other actors in the company laugh, you’re heading for trouble.

You might think it’s more tiring performing to a full audience than an empty house; that speaking your lines to nothing but the golden seat number plaques blinking back at you requires less focus and effort than when there are actually people sitting in the seats watching, but the reverse is actually true. When there’s an audience in the room your energy is going somewhere, it’s being absorbed and bounced back at you – when theatre is live it’s, well, live. Performing to an empty space is like shouting into a hole. Producers like full houses because that means lots of money from ticket sales; actors like full houses because we have more people to talk to.

And we will soon! We open on Wednesday. But the show is currently running long. We’re performing the play completely uncut. Unlike a lot of other Shakespeare plays (cough, Hamlet, cough), Twelfth Night is short enough that you can do the whole thing without everyone having to sit there for 4 hours, but we’re still taking longer than we need to. We need to shave off about 5 minutes from each half. Maybe doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a difference.

I always think it’s more about how long a play feels than how long it actually is. I’ve watched three-hour epics with two intervals that have breezed by and fifteen minute shorts which have lasted eons. Time does not fly at all when you’re watching something boring. However, cutting fat is always good. If time isn’t being spent on something interesting then it shouldn’t be being spent at all.

There are two ways to shave a show: speed up, or cut. Cutting at this stage would be seriously tricky, not only would we need to basically relearn our lines, but the timings we’ve worked out for set-pieces and quick changes would be totally thrown off. So speed it is then: thinking on the line, driving through longer sections of text, and not dropping props or forgetting that, actually, you are in this scene and everyone’s waiting for your entrance while you sit, staring at them from the back.

Not only is this our first week of performances, but our first week of classes too. And the first class that Al, Katherine and I are going to be running is not going to be on the Notre Dame campus or indeed for Notre Dame students. Instead, our workshop will be held at the Westville Correctional Facility, Medium Security Wing.

Many of the students on the program at Westville have transferred there specifically to take this course. They are required to have at least 2 years before their release date in order to take part, giving them time to get the qualifications required to get their bachelors’ degree. Ricky Klee, one of the teachers on the program, picks us up from our hotel and drives us out to the facility. He tells us some pretty astounding statistics. Of all the people who enter Westville, 30% will usually return. Of the people on this program however, that number drops to 3%. “The power of education,” Ricky says, as he walks us across the forecourt between the medium and minimum security wings.

We’ve left all our belongings in the car, bringing only our ID, one unopened bottle of water each, and a few sheets with some Shakespeare text on for the workshop. The students have been working through Twelfth Night, and later on will be performing sections of it themselves. The ones we’ll be working with today are only in the first two weeks of their course, and don’t know each other that well yet, so we’ve decided to spend the first half of the workshop on ensemble exercises and games – the sort you’d play in the first week of rehearsal to get a company spirit forming.

I’m nervous. We all are. We’ve been told that the students are really excited to meet us. That, normally, the only people who come in to talk to them are coming from a relatively fundamentalist religious perspective so this is a breath of fresh air for them. But still, it’s impossible to know what to expect.

But the nerves dissipate within minutes. They’re so up for it, so willing to join in, to play the stupid games we ask them to. They’re exactly what you want from a group of people to teach.

The focus is incredibly impressive. There’s a game I like to play which requires everyone in the circle to complete a simple task in sequence, but working together as a group. As the group gets better at each sequence, you add more sequences until everyone is walking around, throwing balls to each other, calling out each other’s names. It requires a real zen-like focus from everyone involved and this group picked it up faster than most companies of professional actors I’ve worked with.

Katherine led a game of Grandmother’s footsteps, when everyone tries to get hold of an item being guarded by ‘Grandma’. When she’s turned away, you can move but if she turns back and you’re not standing dead still, she’ll send you back to the start. One student, William (who must have been about six-foot-three), performed what can only be described as a swan dive, sliding across the floor to grab hold of Katherine’s scarf before she had time to turn around and spot him. Commitment you’d rarely get in a rehearsal room full of actors in week one who are still digesting their breakfast.

After the workshop, we said goodbye to the students and left the way we came in. That sound that you’ve got in your head of a prison door slamming? Yes, that one. The one you’ve heard on TV. It sounds exactly like that, and it pleases the ear a lot more when you’re on your way out. After hearing Ricky’s statistics and getting to work with the students themselves, I’m hopeful that most of the men we met today will only have to hear that sound one more time.

We tech the show. Technical rehearsals are usually very long affairs, featuring lots of people sat in a dark room for hours on end trying to figure out how to get that piece of scenery on, or making sure that that lighting cue is coming at the right time. Everyone usually goes a bit mad in tech, but luckily, since this show all fits in a suitcase and we’ve got hardly any lighting cues, that side of things is relatively painless.

We treat the tech as a dress rehearsal, and run the show like we would if we had an audience in. Except, of course, we don’t. Yelling once more into the void. We run long again, we need to pick up the pace if we’re going to avoid having to cut.

It’s late and we’re tired, but we’ve got the theatre for a few more hours and we all want to make use of this time. The idea is floated to do a speed run of just the text. No umbrellas, no staging, just the five of us (and Sidney, our lovely and, sadly, temporary stage manager) sat in a circle on stage powering through the story as quickly, but also clearly, as we can.

It’s exactly what we needed. There have been two types of pausing going on: The first is when we feel like we need to take time over a moment for dramatic reasons. We almost always don’t, and these are eradicated with a vengeance. The second type of pause comes when we’re dodgy on our lines and we’re trying to pass it off as type one. These too, are run over and over until they’re tight.

We open to a lovely audience. They’re warm, friendly, and up for joining us on our slightly mad trip through Illyria. Immediately we breathe a sigh of relief as a company, there’s someone to talk to! And the show goes down a treat. Especially the carriage. Those horses have escaped the knacker’s yard for good. And we’ve shaved off the time we needed to! If you don’t count the additional couple of minutes for audience laughter, which I don’t…

This weekend Notre Dame are playing at home, so the entire campus is ramping up to go fully
football crazy. We perform our last performance at Washington Hall, say fond goodbyes to the
wonderful Notre Dame team, and pack up our case to hit the road again for a weekend off in
Chicago.

What a city. We’re blessed with uncharacteristically wonderful weather – supposedly their summer has been a bit of a washout, we can sympathise – and we explore as much as we can. The big bean in Millennium Park, a river cruise with an incredibly thorough tour guide, cocktails on top of a skyscraper and real Chicago blues, played live. Also, Chicago has a beach – who knew?

We were only there for two days, but blimey did we squeeze a lot in. Time flew, but it does feel like there was a lot of it.

Now we’re flying again too, from Chicago down to Austin, where the tour really begins. We’ve left our home in Indiana and are venturing out on our own; just the five of us, a suitcase full of umbrellas and a couple of imaginary horses.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #6

Week Six: Notre Dame, Indiana
By Kaffe Keating

“What country, friends, is this?”
– Viola, Act 1 Scene 2.

We are, ostensibly, in America. We all met at Heathrow, put the suitcase with our show in it onto a plane, and flew it to the other side of the world. I’m certain that this definitely happened, but I still don’t quite feel like we’ve landed yet.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been made to feel very welcome. As I write this I’m wearing one of the extraordinarily comfortable Notre Dame jumpers, which our brilliant Company Manager Deb had very kindly left waiting to welcome us in our hotel rooms on the day we arrived. It’s been lovely meeting the Notre Dame team and finally putting email addresses to faces.

It’s more to do with the fact that we’ve basically picked up this fun, silly, and progressively bizarre bubble the five of us have been bouncing around in while making this show, and simply plonked it down somewhere else.

Despite being almost 4,000 miles away from London, our daily routine hasn’t really changed that much: get up, shower, eat breakfast, go to rehearsal, play foursquare, muck around with a four-hundred year old play for a bit, go to the pub, go to bed, repeat. Except breakfast is waffles which you cook yourself in a waffle iron (I, erm, struggled slightly with this…) and the pub isn’t really a pub but an Irish themed bar where everyone who works there wears matching uniforms, and all the veggie options come with extra chicken if you want. And instead of getting the tube to rehearsals, we all pile in to the BIGGEST CAR I HAVE EVER SEEN, drive through the beautiful Notre Dame campus to our space in Washington Hall, and then spend twenty minutes trying to park the thing.

The car is a perfect metaphor for what’s really struck me as one of the differences between the US and UK, by the way: similar, but everything is bigger and if something can be automatic, it is. Apart from the waffle iron. For that, you’re on your own. Here’s me trying to figure it out. If you don’t know, the waffles are definitely not supposed to be burnt to the top of the iron like that…

 

 

 

 

 

Despite these new experiences however, the full realisation that I am actually here continues to elude me. I’m sure there will be a moment, maybe next week when there should be a bit more time to breathe, when something will finally drop in and I’ll suddenly find myself yelling “The Star Spangled Banner” in the middle of a 7/11.

Rehearsals have continued to be fun, interesting, and tricky. It’s a bit like putting up a tent in a
rainstorm; as soon as it feels like one section is pulled tight and pegged down, something else we’ve neglected starts flapping about wildly in the wind. We’re definitely making good progress though, and the show is at the stages where it requires its final bits of finessing. We performed the show for our American associates (still a relatively nerve-wracking experience, but with generally less scribbling than the London associates’ showing) and, again, received a hunk of useful notes afterwards.

Something we hadn’t even considered was what Scott Jackson, our resident AFTLS guru, referred to as the ‘atmosphere’ of each scene. What are the sights, smells, sounds of each place? What’s just happened there? What might be about to happen? Is there danger? These aren’t things that need to be made clear to an audience necessarily – they’re not something you as an actor can actually play most of the time – but they are vital when attempting to make sure that everyone on stage feels like they’re in the same place. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. In a regular production, this stuff is usually all decided for you ahead of time by the designer and director, but with this work we need to find the varying atmospheres of the many parts of Illyria which the play visits ourselves.

‘So, where actually are we then?’ That’s a question we’re asking ourselves both in and out of the rehearsal room for the next few days. Hopefully by opening night next week, we’ll have a clearer idea.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #5

Week Five: 27th to 30th of August
By Kaffe Keating

“Get your rocks off, get your rocks off, honey.”
– Primal Scream, Rocks

Pressure is an interesting element when it comes to being creative. Depending on the situation, it can all get a bit sink or swim. It can serve as a catalyst, pushing you on to the next idea until something actually works or it can create a wall around you, stopping you from being able to move freely and blinkering you into a singular focus.

It’s the final week of rehearsals in London. We definitely have a show. It exists. You can start doing it at the beginning and it will eventually finish. So that’s good. But at the end of this week we have the ‘Associates’ Showing’ when previous members of AFTLS productions from years gone by come to see what we’ve done. They’ll be giving us notes, which are doubtlessly going to be helpful, but also present the worrying prospect that we’ll be told that everything we’ve been working so hard on is just a bit pants.

It’s a funny way of working, without a director. In the absence of a true, full-time outside eye, we can never be completely sure that something works. That an audience will understand the goal a character is trying to achieve, or that using this prop will make sense as that item, or that that particular gag is actually funny. Of course, even in a traditional production (although saying that, in old Billy Shakes’ day they only worked with actor-directors, so this method is arguably more traditional than most) you can’t ever be truly sure until you have an audience. It’s just that if some grand concept doesn’t work it’s not the actors’ fault; it’s the director’s. No such luxury this time.

My training as an actor focused on continually offering ideas and possibilities to the director, giving them an infinite number of toys to play with. If they didn’t like something you did, no matter, you just do something else. Offer, offer, offer. We were taught to not focus too much on what other actors were doing, to make sure that you were bringing everything you could to a rehearsal room. ‘Trust the director’ was the golden rule. It’s not your job as an actor to decide how the story is told, how an audience should be receiving something; that way madness and demonstration and needless emoting lies. Your job is to serve the writing as well as you can, to remember your lines and avoid bumping into the furniture where possible.

But in this process I am the director. As is everyone else. We all think the horse and carriage works really well now (that’s the party line, at least), we all think that umbrellas with the metal handles extended will read as swords. Of course we do, we made them. But now all those things I’d been trained for years to stop worrying about – ‘Will the audience like the show, the ideas, me?’ – are now beginning to creep into minds.

As the days until the showing evaporate into the mist, I’m reminded (probably inappropriately, you be the judge) of a character in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Spoiler alert, but if you haven’t read it then stop reading this immediately and go and pick up a copy. Giles Corey, who has been accused of witchcraft, is having a confession literally pressed out of him with rocks being added to a board that’s been placed on top of his body. Instead of a confession, all he says to his captors is ‘More weight’ until the end. Now, I’m not saying I now know how he felt or anything, but with each day it feels like we’re being pressed under a little more weight than before.

Then Thursday rolls around. Showtime. Costumes on, props checked, instruments tuned. In troop our audience, some very friendly faces who know exactly how we’re feeling and have generously given up their afternoon to help us out. They do all have notepads though. Totally understandable, notes are the entire reason they’re here, but I just hadn’t predicted the notepads…

We do the show. It’s good! It happens. As always it’s a brilliant opportunity to really see where the creases are, what needs tightening; the things that have been working for a while now are completely taken for granted in my brain, whereas the things that aren’t blare like air horns. We get to the end. It’s quicker again than the last run, and there’s still minutes and minutes to be shaved off yet. Our audience thanks us and retreat downstairs with Jen and Jack, our TA’s and guiding lights, to consolidate their notes.

We’re not really sure what to do. Peel off the sweat-sodden costumes. Play a bit of foursquare. Have a cup of tea. Wait for the white smoke meeting that’s happening downstairs to be over. Finally Jen and Jack return, and reveal that the response is really positive! We’re taken through the associates’ notes in turn. Some really, really helpful stuff. One note that really sticks in my memory is the question of when the ‘ping of love’ happens for each of the characters. Beautifully put, and a helpful, interesting thing to consider that we hadn’t even thought about before.

Friday is the final day of rehearsal in London. We’re going to work through some bits and then get the showcase packed (please, Jove, let it weigh less than 23 kilograms). We start working and we’re suddenly solving things left, right and centre. Ideas are popping into our heads from nowhere, long standing issues are being solved in minutes, breakthroughs are happening all over the shop.

With the pressure lifted, with the rocks removed, we’re able to breathe again. It’s now becoming clear how the prospect of showing our work to outside eyes had been affecting us, like when you only notice the air conditioning was on at all after it’s been turned off.

We have our final home-cooked lunch from the lovely Frances (I’ll miss those, and her!) and troop upstairs to pack the case. Thankfully, everything fits! And we’re just under the weight limit. With a collective sigh of relief, we take up the tape that’s been marking our playing space and foursquare court (R.I.P) and pack the room away. It now looks just the same as it did on our first day, ready for the next company of five to start their rehearsals. And also for the people who do Tai Chi on Tuesday evenings.

Now we have suitcases of our own to pack. One day to buy accordion gig-bags, make last ditch attempts to find people to sub-let our rooms, and to say final goodbyes to friends and family. Then we fly on Sunday.

Next stop, Indiana!