“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #3

Week Three: 12th to 16th of August
By Kaffe Keating

“If music be the food of love, play on…”
– Orsino, Act 1 Scene 1

You know when you have a kid in your family who you don’t see that often? Maybe only two or three times a year? And when you do see them it’s always a shock because they’ve somehow become about a foot taller than you remember? It’s a perfectly normal thing for humans to do, but we never fail to find it impressive. ‘My, how you’ve grown!’ you say, pinching a pudgy cheek between your fingers, ‘When did they get so tall?’ you ask, once the comparatively giant child has escaped your grasp. But their parents don’t seem to have noticed much of a change – save a general awareness that none of their clothes seem to fit them anymore…

I’m starting to realise that this is one of the differences between being an actor and a
director or stage manager during rehearsals. Usually, actors rock up when we’re called -Guardian in one hand and coffee in the other – rehearse our scenes, chat about the play for a bit and then disappear off again when we’re not needed, supposedly to sit and learn lines somewhere. That’s not us being lazy mind you, just having a specific time when we’re on the clock.

Later on in rehearsals, there’s this lovely moment when we get to experience what everyone else has been working on, seeing parts of the story we’re not an active part of telling being brought to life, which until now we’d only read in the script or heard in the read-through. Then during technical rehearsals we finally get to see the set, our finished costumes, the lighting and sound design, and all the props which have been bled over with detail. You step into this world that previously only existed in your imagination and the designer’s miniature model box. You’re the uncle or aunt, standing slack-jawed at the sight of your nephew who is now six foot seven and no longer remotely interested in Legos.

For directors and stage management, however, it’s a different story. They’re the parents. They’ve been there since the beginning; for every new idea, every problem, every averted disaster. The set and costumes and props and lighting, which the actors are standing gawking at as if they’ve appeared out of nowhere, have been meticulously discussed in endless production meetings, often before the actors have even been cast. These members of the team see the production take shape slowly and gradually, like a sculptor chipping away at a piece of marble, not getting to see snapshots that show the progress that has been made, but watching the entire process play out in real time.

With Claire joining us full time this week, we’ve got the whole gang together at last! It’s
been really lovely, finally being able to figure out how exactly we’re going to function as a company of five. We’ve begun working through the play again from the top, going over previous work with a higher bar having been set for what we’ll decide we’re happy with. Scenes – and ideas within scenes – which clear that bar are kept and worked on in more detail, and those that don’t are scrapped and replaced.

The beginning of the play (‘If music be the food of love…’ etc.) seems so long ago that I
couldn’t even remember what we’d done. The old idea of Orsino playing the music himself (which I was helpfully reminded of) ended up getting chucked and we figured out something much better and, importantly, simpler.

We’re not actually taking the play to San Francisco itself, but this process makes me think of the urban legend about the people who are tasked with painting the Golden Gate Bridge; they start at one side, and the thing is so massive that by the time they’re finished the end, where they began, it needs a new coat of paint.

However, some parts of the play leapt back into our brains with pleasantly surprising ease; the sequence for the box-tree scene (feat. umbrellas) had percolated quite nicely, as had most of the slightly more choreographed sections, which was a relief. We set ourselves the slightly ambitious task of getting to the end of the play (and maybe even squeezing in another run) before the end of the week, but by Friday afternoon it became clear that we needed to beat a tactical retreat. The combination of five days’ worth of built-up brain-fatigue and the energy expelled digesting the very tasty (but also very huge) lunch which Frances, who looks after the rehearsal space, had kindly cooked for us had left us in a bit of a fog.

Happily though – after a quick chat about costume and, of course, umbrellas – we rounded out the week with a jam session which might form the basis of our opening and closing numbers. Harmonicas, shaky eggs, a guitar, a ukulele, a bunch of tone bells we found in the show case, a kid’s-sized accordion, and five actors all stood in a semi-circle who have figured out how to play together.

Then we cracked open a bottle of Cava and played some eighties music on the warm-up speaker.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #2

Week Two: 5th to 9th of August
By Kaffe Keating

“This is a practice as full of labour as a wise man’s art, for folly that he wisely shows is fit…”
– Viola, Act 3 Scene 1

Restrictions are interesting. It can be frustrating, not being able to fully realise everything that pings into your imagination. ‘They wouldn’t have to worry about this in a normal production!’ you cry. ‘If we had a budget, we’d be fine!’ you wail. ‘If only we had an extra week to do this!’ you whinge to no-one in particular.

It’s the same on every show, but these perceived roadblocks can be looked at in two ways. You can either stop dead on the road you’re on, flummoxed, or continue walking, leaving the path of least resistance and heading into the forest the road would have cut through, the unknown.

It’s week two of rehearsals and we’ve been joined by a guest star Olivia/Maria. We won’t have Claire full-time until week three, due to some commitments she’d made prior to valiantly jumping into the role, so standing in has been the wonderful Jen Higham. Jen’s been on three tours, one of which was a previous production of Twelfth Night, so she’s been an invaluable presence in the room. A prime example of something that initially might seem like a restriction on our process which has immediately become a massive bonus. We began working through the scenes which feature Olivia and Maria, which we’d had to skip last week, and finally the play has started to stitch itself together in front of us.

Umbrellas have become more and more valuable as toys to play with; forming trees to hide behind, swords to ‘fight’ with, and at one point the wheels for a horse and carriage. (I really like the horses but I’m definitely their most vocal advocate – only time can tell if they’ll end up in the glue factory…).

The umbrellas are a prime example of necessity birthing invention. Since we’ve got to fit everything – props, costume, anything remotely resembling a set – into one suitcase, we’re quite limited in what we can use. We need things that are compact, versatile and which can offer lots of different images. As a result we’ve been forced to be really imaginative with what we have and the results are incredibly joyful.

It does make you wonder about big budget theatre, and how having a huge amount of technical capability and money to spend can actually scupper creativity. ‘We need Olivia to enter in a horse and carriage’ – okay, well, let’s just get one. ‘We need some swords’ – bang, there they are. ‘We’re actually bringing in a real box-tree from Hampton Court’. When you’ve got everything at your disposal, there is no need for imaginative solutions to problems and the muscle will inevitably atrophy. This is not to say that all big budget theatre is devoid of creativity — far from it — but in my opinion theatre which enjoys a hefty financial backing is at its most successful when it retains the spirit of whatever it is that forces an actor to turn an umbrella into a toothbrush in front of your eyes.

Since we now have an Olivia/Maria in the room, we’ve been able to look at two scenes in the play which are particularly tricky and long. Act 3, Scene 4 isn’t so much one scene as a collection of about seventeen which all run into each other, and Act 5, Scene 1 is just a mammoth where all the loose ends (or almost all of them at least) are tied up and all the mistaken identities are revealed. These scenes took an entire day each to work through and roughly set, and left everyone pretty knackered in the old brain department.

Our method of working, which continues to serve us well, of muddling through a scene in its entirety once, then again, then again – each time shaping and moulding a bit more – was a bit more grueling with these longer scenes, as it takes ages to get to the stage where everyone can go ‘Whey, we did it!’. However, brain-soupefying as the two and a half days we spent on these scenes were, I feel like we’ve developed some hard-earned stamina which we will surely make use of going forward.

The week rounded out with a stagger-through. You need to walk before you can run, and you need to stagger before you can walk. And stagger we did; props were in the wrong place, people were in the wrong scenes, I definitely said some lines which weren’t anything close to Shakespeare and one of the umbrellas flew from its telescopic handle and across the rehearsal room during one particularly enthusiastic unsheathing of a sword, thankfully no-one was impaled.

But that’s fine. The point of a stagger through is to be rubbish and to have happened. And happen it did. We have a play. It’s messy and mad and surely doesn’t remotely resemble what it will eventually look like when it emerges, undoubtedly resplendent of course, from its chrysalis in Notre Dame. It’s currently a fuzzy, weird looking caterpillar.

But that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

The Journey Begins


by Wela Mbusi

An epic journey is underway for five actors creating a magical piece of theatre from scratch; using nothing but our skills, imagination, and the love of theatre. Did I also mention without the all seeing eye of a director?


The first two weeks of rehearsals have been about shelling out the play for its meaning, not only for clarity of storytelling, but for us to really grasp such a complex and rich play as Measure for Measure. After the initial shock of being left alone in the room with nothing but the text and our collective training, we managed to slowly, but surely, decipher the scenes one unit at a time. It has been a tremendous learning curve for all of us in the company so far as we’re coming to terms with different ways of working. On top of that, there’s the added responsibility of being all of the other figureheads responsible for the creation of a piece of theatre. However, not having the constant objective eye of a director, it has also meant enjoying the freedom of playing with the text in many ways that a ‘normal’ rehearsal wouldn’t allow us to. We’ve been paraphrasing our lines together and that has helped us not only understand our own lines but the other actors as well.

The breadth and depth of understanding that the process has given us has and hopefully will continue to enrich the play. Foursquare seems to be a regular pre-rehearsal pressure reliever and we are constantly enthused by the epic journey that we’re about to take in the States.

Blizzards, blobs, and beer | Ursinus welcomes AFTLS

And so we reach our final week, heading for Collegeville, Pennsylvania and Ursinus College. The college, pronounced Yer-sigh’-nus, was founded in 1869 and is located 30 miles from Philadelphia. It’s the first time we have even got near to a coast – unless you count Lake Michigan, which does indeed look like an ocean. It’s a bit of a shock, this two-flight journey, as we go from 25 degrees Celsius to -4 (77 to 25F). The frisbee will not be coming out again. Actually we get here just in time; by Monday evening Winter Storm Stella has arrived, bringing with it 18 inches of snow. We were warned about this and there was a quick panic-buy trip to the supermarket when we arrived. Beer, cereal, crisps, all those essentials, you understand…

It also means I’m back in electric shock land. I’m not quite sure why, but Will and I seem to be more susceptible to the shocks, in colder weather, from light switches, from door handles, from each other sometimes. A couple of days ago Jas looked accusingly at me after I had made her jump, as if I was suddenly Marvel’s new creation of Electric Shock Man and doing it just for my own amusement. I’m getting scared to turn the light off at bedtime…

The Kaleidoscope, home of Ursinus College’s departments of Theater and Dance.

Tuesday saw a late start because of the snow, and Sarah and I had to dig the car out of the hotel car park to make it to the first class. We were asked to go in a directors’ class and do a couple of mock auditions for them. So Sarah went in as Nervous-Auditioner, stumbling and drying [click HERE to learn all about “drying”] her way through a speech, and I followed that with Mr. Know-It-All, who refused to redo his speech when asked to try it more melodramatically. “You don’t understand,” I spat back, “I’ve just played this part at the Royal Shakespeare Company!” Thankfully, Sarah and I got a chance to go back in (this time as Ms. Couldn’t-Care-Less and Mr. Couldn’t-Care-More) and make them realize that we weren’t really like that. Honest.

Meanwhile, on Friday, after we had done our first show the previous evening, Will went in to do his class and was promptly asked four times, by different people, to give a rendition of one of our songs in the round, “Rose, Rose, Rose, Red” – I think, having agreed to sing it the first time, it was hard to get out of it after that. Arise Jukebox Willy. Interesting how popular the use of song in the show has been over here.

As for outings this week, the weather put paid to the first half of the week, and I’m afraid none of us made it to the Liberty Bell – the closest I got, in fact, was a full-size replica back in Houston. Interesting that it and the original were both made in London. Sarah and Waggy (her husband, who came out to join us this week, along with Jas’ boyfriend Kieran) did get to Philadelphia on Friday and visited such oddities as the Mütter Museum (shown on the right), a collection of medical artefacts and brains and colons, apparently. I think I might have been even more scared to turn the light off after that…

I did make it as far as Phoenixville, a small town nearby, which has a peaceful charm about it, a few streets of Victorian wooden-slatted houses made all the more picturesque by the snow and the clear blue skies. I stopped to help a man in a very little car get out of a very lot of snow and just enjoyed the chance to wander and take in the numerous iconic yellow school buses dotted about the place, all ready to chug into action. It was less peaceful downtown, where Molly Maguire’s was already doing a roaring trade at 3pm on St. Patrick’s Day. I squeezed my way in past the kilts, the bagpipes, the fiddlers and the sea of green that covered all three floors, and sipped a little Guinness. One has to fit in, don’t you know…

One oddity about Phoenixville: it has a cinema there, the Colonial, where a famous scene from The Blob, a horror B-movie starring Steve McQueen, took place. Apparently in June they hold a BlobFest every year, where they recreate that scene. Look, I’ve told you, I’m scared enough about turning the light out as it is…

There’s been a bit of reminiscing in the hotel bar this week. The line dancing, the snow, Mission Control, Indian Forest Mountain, the Hancock Tower, skimming stones on Lake Michigan; all in all we feel pretty lucky. Not only that, but I it’s been a rewarding challenge, both in the classrooms and out. We seem to be in a time, on both sides of the Atlantic, of Arts funding cuts and pushing the money into more quantifiable, more headline-grabbing areas. All I would say is that I know, by seeing it on students’ faces and from feedback from them and their professors, that we have made a difference here – for some of them, a tangible and long-lasting difference. That is the joy of this job, and long may it continue. I know, by seeing it on students’ faces and from feedback from them and their professors, that we have made a difference here – for some of them, a tangible and long-lasting difference. That is the joy of this job, and long may it continue.

So tomorrow the adventure comes to an end. Well, sort of; we will be doing two performances of the show in London on April 2nd (5pm) and April 3rd (7.30pm), so please do come to the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone if you can. We’d love to see you.

And now it really is time to turn the light off. Thank you America. Good night and good luck.

— Roger May (March 19, 2017)

Shakespeare at Notre Dame to host First Folio in 2016

First Folio Title Page

The title page of Shakespeare’s First Folio published in 1623 and coming to Notre Dame in January 2016.

One of the world’s rarest and most treasured books, the First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It will be displayed in the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame January 4 through January 29 during a nationwide traveling exhibition entitled “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare,” sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association and hosted by Shakespeare at Notre Dame.

The exhibition, announced by the Folger Shakespeare Library on Thursday (April 23), Shakespeare’s 451st birthday, is one of numerous events planned worldwide for 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

“We are honored to partner with the Hesburgh Library’s Rare Books Collection and the Folger Shakespeare Library in serving as the sole Indiana venue for the First Folio exhibition,” said Scott Jackson, executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame. “Our mission is to directly engage our audiences with the works of Shakespeare both on the page and on the stage. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the First Folio in a venue as iconic as Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library will provide the wider Michiana community with an entirely new way to experience one of the world’s greatest dramatists.”

When it was published in 1623, the First Folio could be purchased for 20 shillings, roughly $200 today. Since then it has become one of the most valuable printed books in the world; a First Folio sold for $6.2 million in 2001 at Christie’s and another one for $5.2 million in 2006 in London.

ToBe_FirstFolio_smallIn the Notre Dame exhibition of the First Folio, the book’s pages will be opened to the most familiar of all Shakespearean lines; “To be or not to be” from Hamlet’s soliloquy. The exhibition will include digital and interactive features on Shakespeare’s life, times and work, and several public events presented by Shakespeare at Notre Dame.