Halfway through the tour. And so to the house that Vander built. Cornelius Vanderbilt, to be precise. He was a shipping and then rail magnate who donated $1 million to the college in 1873. From what I’ve heard, it was actually his wife who was the driving force behind the project, but he signed the cheques and took the acclaim and it’s his statue at the entrance. ‘Twas ever thus.
Now, we had hoped the more southerly states would be warmer, but none of us (not even Nashvillians) expected, in February, temperatures in the mid 70s (about 23 degrees Celsius, for any Brits) to sigh pleasantly in our faces as we disembarked from the plane, in our four layers of Indiana protection. I should explain that there is a real art to packing for one of these tours. For a start, it’s wise to take as little as possible. 23 kilos is the maximum allowed but, since we are state-hopping every week, and since we are often given a wearable welcome gift on arrival, it’s wise to underpack.
We’ve all had different tactics. Jack, as the most recent tourer with AFTLS, has remembered to travel light. (Also, he’s from Liverpool, where long sleeves only make an appearance with snow apparently, so he doesn’t need much). Having toured with AFTLS 17 years ago, I have had time to forget the art of light packing, and so every Sunday night is a creative juggle between suitcase and rucksack, to avoid extra charges. Will’s tactic is to wear as much as possible on the travel day in an attempt to keep it out of his luggage, so Tennessee quickly produced a ‘Wilting Will’ this Monday. Sarah, meanwhile, is the Carousel Queen; you’ll never fail to miss that bright pink Barbie case at baggage reclaim. Jas’ case consists mainly of two roller blades, which have been very useful for about five minutes of the tour so far.
Despite all that, we made it safely to the Hampton Inn. Three of us in the company have called on reinforcements for the week: Jas has her friend Daniella, Jack has his girlfriend
Sara, and I have my wife and kids waiting in room 524.
There’s something psychological about this choice (half way through the tour) and there’s something practical about this choice (school half-term). Either way, Nashville is a lovely choice, with warm weather and a very friendly downtown, with open windows and open arms, as we bask in the world of country and bluegrass. It’s a tiny tourist area downtown, but we feel welcomed with bar after bar of musicians serenading us along our way. It makes for a warm and inviting atmosphere of bars full of bars, if you see what I mean.
And maybe it was this haze of good feeling that enticed many of us onto the dance floor for a spot of line dancing at the Wildhorse Saloon. That was a night that will live long in the memory.
I also took in some laser quest (Goofy Jr, in retrospect, is not a good fighting name), some margaritas (rude not to) and the opening game of the baseball season for Vanderbilt who, two years ago, won the College World Series. (I’m not sure The Vandy Boys is a great fighting name either, but they play very well and I’m now a committed fan.)
And, bizarrely, Nashville is home to the only full-size replica of the Parthenon. No. I wasn’t expecting that, either.
It’s a sizeable campus here, with a hospital in the middle of it, which attracts a lot of medical students and post grads – and green grass, the first such sighting on our travels. Medical or not, a number of students came to see the two shows on Saturday, and the feedback was very warm. Very different houses for the matinee and the evening – not better or worse than each other, but the afternoon was definitely a quieter house, perhaps less interested in the humour, but very quietly attentive as the tragedy unfolded in front of them. It’s part of the joy of a live medium, where audiences react in different ways and the actors, consciously or subconsciously, adapt to the change in atmosphere.
Come the evening, of course, my children were in, so I was expecting to get some notes.
There were two from Tasha, aged 11:
1) “You were really scary; I didn’t like it. I hope you don’t shout like that at me when I’m older.”
(as Capulet, to daughter Juliet)
2) ” I kept thinking, it must be weird for Sara to watch her boyfriend kissing another girl…”
Also in the audience this week was Hunter, a student whom I had directed in a five-person A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the University of Wyoming in Laramie a couple of years ago, in the AFTLS style. “You know what?” he said after the show. “Having been in one and now seeing one like this, I never want to see Shakespeare done any other way.” Praise indeed.
Apart from the oddity of teaching in Wilson Hall, (rumoured to have its basement taken over by monkeys), the classes passed by with good involvement but little incident. Will and Sarah did a couple of playwriting classes, which gave them the opportunity to be gods, 6-year olds, sci-fi robots, and internet daters. That must have kept them busy.
And to finish off this lovely week, I went dancing in La La Land…no, I mean dancing in the Moonlight…with Warren Beatty. As if I needed something else to remember this week by.
— Roger May (February 28, 2017)