By Chris Donnelly

Having said our farewells to friends and family, it was time to embark on this awfully big adventure. The cast were rather delighted to be chauffeured from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to South Bend in a limousine!







For me personally, it was my fourth trip to Notre Dame and, as ever, Scott, Deb, and the new recruit, Jason, made us all feel incredibly welcome, and we were wined and dined in great style…. several times, actually!







Amidst this wonderful socialising, there were various administrative duties and the final tweaking of rehearsals to complete, building up to the actual tour.

Coming to this stage, Lizzie (Katharina) especially was ever-more morphing into her character – she couldn’t even go to a restaurant without full costume!







We’d looked at the play from every angle…









And though there were times when it was almost too painful to continue…









We were almost ready to go!

Once again, I was extremely impressed by the campus and the iconic golden dome therein.









Although none of us were particularly impressed by the foul weather. Coming from England, we have quite enough rain!

However, it didn’t stop our enjoyment. One of the major highlights of our early time on tour was having the opportunity to watch Notre Dame’s ice hockey team play a competitive match in front of over five thousand spectators.


















Unfortunately, I think we proved to be something of a jinx, seeing as the team had been doing extremely well and were indeed at the top of their league. Additionally, their opponents, Michigan State University, were languishing at the bottom. Yet the result was a 4-3 loss. This in no way tarnished the experience, however. The levels of skill, the involvement of the crowd, the organ playing, the marching bands – such a wonderful experience!

However, we all wholeheartedly agreed that the most incredible experience of our time at Notre Dame was when we were fortunate enough to have our only preview of Shrew before approximately one hundred and sixty inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility.






It was, from first to last, a unique and most humbling experience and although I had been there two years previously, I was once again moved to tears as the play ended and the audience instantly rose as one to give us a standing ovation.

As we were packing our one suitcase of props and costumes, one of the chief administrators passed a message from the inmates saying that for a couple of hours, they had been transported in their imaginations out of their life circumstances, and into another world beyond their present confinement.







I remember these moments: the inmates’ total focus on the show, their absolute enjoyment of the comedy, their reaction to the more serious moments, their seeming understanding of the whole story throughout, the light in their eyes. As I remember the huge security and the bars sliding shut tight behind us and the fact that we had the absolute freedom to leave that place and go and enjoy a wonderful meal at our leisure, there is only one word I can think of to encapsulate the myriad of emotions it all elicits – humbling. It was a wholly humbling experience.

It was an experience that Evvy and I had the privilege of repeating the following Friday, when we ran a Shakespeare workshop for a small group of the inmates who are presently part of a college credit programme, instigated and run by Scott Jackson at Notre Dame, pictured with the cast above.

We saw them commit so truthfully their whole being to some seminal Shakespearian speeches. The three hours simply flew by. Then, at the end of the session, one of the inmates shared with us what he felt was so magical about seeing the preview of Shrew. It was the fact that a full range of human emotions were brought to them, many of which are lost in a prison wing.

“You operate with maybe two or three emotions to survive here. But you guys brought everything and that reminds us of what it is to be human and it gives you hope for the future.”

There is little you can say in response to this.

The majority of the second week was dedicated to our workshops for various departments at the university, which were great fun and building to the first three full performances in front of an audience at the Washington Hall theatre space – so wonderful to be performing there again.

As an ensemble, we felt that we didn’t want to shy away from the more difficult themes in the play, but to actively embrace the darker elements and play them to their maximum, be it uncomfortable for an audience or not. I do believe that this decision only serves (we hope) to enhance this fascinating piece of theatre and therefore give a fuller and richer experience to the viewer.

This decision was vindicated by the audience reaction to the shows. They were well received and still with lots of laughter at the high comedy in the play, especially on the final performance.

So, we have left the security of base camp at Notre Dame and are embarking on our travels. Next stop the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Well, that is, after a weekend in Chicago, which I will share little about. But suffice it to say…







…this was the view from my hotel room!

Rehearsing “The Taming of the Shrew” in London

By Chris Donnelly

After the briefest of meetings pre-Christmas for a readthrough, we intrepid theatrical warriors convened at the Karibou Education Centre on Monday, the 15th of January, to begin our epic journey.

I have been fortunate enough to work for this company on three previous occasions and it never ceases to amaze me how this most unique experience manifests itself.

Five virtual strangers walk into a room with nothing but some preconceived ideas of what the play might be and their role(s) within it; a thousand questions and very few answers. Yet five weeks later, these strangers are a functioning ensemble, who have directed, costumed, propped and shaped their many roles and are ready to perform a fully-fledged Shakespearian play.

The clarity of the storytelling is absolutely vital, therefore, in this very specific style and The Taming of the Shrew, I feel, is particularly challenging in this regard, for the following reason. Each actor is playing at least three roles, but some of those characters disguise themselves or swap identities for substantial parts of the play. This added layer of complexity increases tangibly he danger of confusing the audience.

Additionally, especially in light of the ‘Me too movement’ and the identity politics so prevalent in our modern-day society and psyche, the subject matter of the play itself, is it a misogynistic play or a play about misogyny? What was Shakespeare actually wanting to say by this problem play? What did we five want to say?

Immediately, we delved in.







However, these are hefty questions and it wasn’t too long before the strain became too much!







The level of professionalism of the group was such that work was inevitably taken well beyond the rehearsal room…







As I previously stated – many questions, few answers!

However, it was not long before ideas began to galvanize and strands come together…









And now we had found our emblem for the tour, we were well on our way!






Through various trials and errors; the following example being exploring the possibility of using birdsong to create an atmosphere for the beginning of a scene, featuring Bobby Delany, our wonderfully talented composer and musical expert, whom we employed for a few sessions.

Then, through it all – including Carl’s terror of the furniture, borne of the fact he consistently received substantial electric shocks from the furniture! – we arrived at a place of relative readiness!

And we were ready to embark…






On an awfully big adventure!!






Stay tuned for more updates from the road!

Classroom Lessons, Lakeside Relaxation

By Wela Mbusi

Last week, we had the pleasure of being the first international theatre company to participate in a week-long theatre programme with Grace College. The college is a small-sized school ensconced in the heart of the predominately religious state of Indiana.

The classes were very differently from what we were used to, as they were academically led, but it meant clarifying that our approach as actors was performance-based regardless of the text. Luckily, the students were very receptive, and were happy to work on some of the scenes from the play. A lot of the questions about the play were in relation to the religious aspects of it; the moral dilemmas were viewed by the students and the faculty from a very specific Christian framework. Sometimes, as an actor, it’s hard to view the character you’re playing from a single prism, but we did glean some unique perspectives about the world and its motivations.

The audiences in Grace College were amazing — we had full houses for nearly every performance. We hadn’t performed the play for a nearly a full week, and that fueled our need to do it. The beautiful lake of Warsaw became a place we went to regularly, but the town itself was quite conservative, and that meant most outlets were closed by eight in the evening.

Very much looking forward to Tennessee, as that’s our next stop, and hoping to see more of the autumn as the weather begins to change.

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.


Back to Fighting Irish Country

by Wela MbusiIt feels great to be back in Notre Dame this week as this was our first destination at the beginning of the tour. We’re a little under the weather as some of us are plagued with tummy bugs and physical ailments. This week exhaustion has set in as the novelty of hotel hopping has finally ended; but we still manage to find solace in the show and the magnificent reception it’s been receiving here in Notre Dame.

Dominic had not been feeling well all week and immediately put himself on a pharmacopeia of medicines to stave it off for the show in the evenings. The frequent change in beds had finally caught up with my body and suffered from a muscle strain as well. Ben, Anna and Pete also tittering on the edge of throat tickles and feelings of being light headed, but all in all we are still loving the show and the feedback from the audiences has been overwhelming. We’ve had a mixture of Shakespeare aficionados and theatre enthusiasts whose feedback on the clarity and joy we seem to be having on stage, has been very encouraging and great to hear.

Students from the workshops also made up some of the numbers in the audiences and for them to see the show after having explored parts of it in detail, was something they thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. I especially enjoyed working with some of the Accounting students as they were not familiar with the play but using it to work on basic presentation skills was an eye opener for them and for me as well.

The school itself has also been a a bit of a culture shock as Ben recounted one of his classes starting with the Lord’s prayer; something, coming from a predominantly secular London culture we’re not used to. Certainly a lot of the themes from the play have been points of interest for the students as well as the professors.

The change of weather is slowly but surely creeping in as we’ve had a few wet spells, but we’re all looking forward to our prison performance on the weekend as that’ll be a new experience for most of us but one we’re prepared for as a group.