BLOG 5: Valparaiso
So, back in Indiana – snow storms and now drizzle and a tropical 44 degrees farenheit. A day or two’s acclimatization post Texas, hovering between longjohns and bare legs, snow boots and clogs.
A full-up week of classes with students from assorted majors, some far removed from theatre, and many of whom, quite apart from valiantly turning their hands to Shakespeare’s text with us, are in the midst of the busiest time of their semester. As we’ve packed up our workshop notes and trudged back home to hit the hay (via a line-run of Hamlet from the pillow), they’ve been trotting off to ‘flying’ rehearsals for the Dance Ensemble performance, which we watched on Friday night; or they’ve gone on to rehearse – late into the evening – their upcoming production of Paula Vogel’s How I learned to Drive. They’re a busy bunch and have still managed to find the energy to throw great enthusiasm at our classes and pack out the auditorium for the Saturday evening performance of Hamlet only hours after their own matinee dance extravaganza and having turned up in force to attend our morning workshops.
We’ve enjoyed a rather sparkling social life this week thanks to the university faculty – Lee, Alan, Andy, Ann and Arran – providing us with warm hospitality and our first step across an American threshold. Mr and Mrs Orchard did us proud with fine wine, an assortment of Bourbons that Pete and Andrew sifted through at some length, and a wonderful spread of food in their open-plan wood-raftered living room. Last night, after Hamlet, and having safely stowed the so-called ‘Showbag’ at the hotel (this is the large, battered, sworn at old wheelie suitcase that’s scuffs along at a limping trundle and contains the entire Old Curiosity Shop of our production), we descended on our hosts again, at a downtown bar and proceeded – flushed with the relief of having mounted Hamlet safely after a week’s interval – on getting the right side of a fair few glasses; Beers, bourbons, vodka martinis and wine landed with considerable frequency. Blue-cheese-stuffed olives were taken dripping from Arran’s martini and handed across the table for sampling. More martinis followed as a result and, to cut a long story short, this morning’s planned trip to Amish country was completely abandoned. Nevermind, we’ll approach the Amish towns next week, from South Bend instead.
After a morning – and early afternoon – of deathly quiet at the hotel, Pete, Andrew, Charlie and Shuna managed to put one foot in front of the other by about 5pm and assembled at our favourite American restaurant so far – Pikk’s Tavern in downtown Valparaiso. Here they do fantastic gumbo, lots of delicious giant shrimp and seafood dishes and good steaks. Terry was last seen at Pikk’s cavorting through a San Franciscan seafood stew. He’s left us today, to join friends up in Michigan in Grand Haven for some bracing walks by the lake.
Charlie and Shuna drove up to the lakeshore (Lake Michigan) a couple of days ago and were suitably astounded by the grandeur of the crashing waves and the devastating wind. We had to walk up over the sandy dunes in order to see the lake because between the shoreline and the water were great banks of snow drifts that looked a bit like a strip of glacier and when you stood at sea-level at the edge of the shore you couldn’t see the lake, only the few hundred feet worth of snow drift and the spray against the sky as the lake buffeted against it, blocked from view. We learned from a signpost, that there was a battle here in late 1780 in which a British general got wind of a band of men who had plundered a whole lot of trade fur and chased them through the dunes until they surrendered. Charlie was very taken with the general’s (very un-British) name, and is thinking of changing his stage name in honour of Lieutenant Dagreaux du Quindre.
Terry had his own adventure in downtown Valparaiso where he discovered the town’s museum full of an eclectic array of exhibits including mammoth tusks and some very helpful, whilst eccentric, members of staff. Downtown Valparaiso is a quiet, pleasant place of brick terraced houses and some interesting independent shops. Terry, for instance, found a specialist cake shop and made off with an extremely large, pink box of mega cupcakes for his friends up in Grand Haven.
Andrew has spent a certain amount of time avidly cruising the aisles of Walmart in search of various provisions – it’s the first Walmart we’ve visited in the US and sells everything known to man. Andrew was, however, amongst the breakaway group of three who decided to renounce Walmart one sunny afternoon and head for Sunset Hill Farm County Park, a few miles north of the town. Sun glinting on snow along dappled woodland trails; we talked about cross-country skiing, though not enough snow to do it, and decided not to walk across the frozen pond and fulfill the deathwish. The Park has a few old farm buildings – it used to be a dairy and chicken farm in the 1930’s – and still has some vintage agricultural machinery sitting about in open barns. We fancied ourselves as Country singers modeling for our newest album cover as we posed for photos on the tractors and swathed ourselves on threshing machines. See pictures below.
Pete has been involved in a sort of solitary expressionist maelstrom by dead of night: on leaving the foyer for the walk across to campus one morning, he announced ‘ The Valparaiso sky is the colour of MURDER!’. We all wondered what on earth he was talking about – was playing Hamlet getting to the lusty youth at last? – Pete had been up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and discovered that ‘the sky is mauve and grey and swirly’ and had actually been moved to do a piece to camera on his phone about the phenomenon as it struck him. I overheard some of the footage and it’s a dramatic broadcast of a man grappling with the wonders of the universe. On a more worldly note, Pete is coming to the end of his tether regarding the American mohito. He says he’s giving up and not having another until he returns to the UK or if he went to New York he might attempt one but only if he could talk to the barman first.
Back at the coal face, we’ve had a very satisfying week of classes including a few welcome departures from Shakespeare as we dropped in on evening rehearsals for ‘Learning to Drive’. One session involved so-called ‘hot-seating’ the students in character (asking a character questions about him/herself beyond the play to which they make up the answers) – they were three weeks into rehearsals and well placed to have a go at this exercise. In fact, so completely did they commit themselves imaginatively to the improvisation that their characters blossomed before us and the interviews became too compelling to cut short and we spent a full two hours between the five characters.
It was liberating, too, to spend Saturday morning’s two-hour workshops on fresh ground away from Hamlet. Charlie actually overran his session on Audition techniques by half an hour and Lee came in next door to tell us, ‘ We just can’t stop Charles from teaching!’. Andrew did a session on rhetoric using the Gettysburg Address, Pete and Shuna shared a productive session on physicality and voice which culminated in a detailed Terry masterclass on iambic pentameter which the students appeared to lap up, even towards the end of a long workshop. We all felt pleased and enjoyed a pre-show lunch in the campus canteen, followed by a few hours’ rest and then back to the theatre to mount
We made it through and did a good show, though a week’s break inevitably blunts the wherewithal in certain ways, and you just have to hang on tight. Student and teacher response was very positive, “Good job!’ and Andrew is accumulating a significant fan-club, amongst the young women in particular it seems, for Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. Charlie and Pete had a bit of an entanglement during Claudius’ death, which normally takes place relatively neatly with Charlie swallowing the poison lying across the couple of chairs and silk cloth that make the throne. Last night, Charlie’s demise was more violent still: Pete’s body weight and both the chairs ended up on top of Charlie, whose corpse lay covered messily in the silk cloth and not as visible as usual. Pete then had to feel about in search of the goblet of poison which had got caught in Charlie’s jacket before he could possibly continue with the next bit in which he comes downstage and grapples with Horatio over ‘the cup!’
Back to our old friends in Notre Dame tomorrow for the next part of the adventure. For one thing, we’re very much looking forward to the theatre in Washington Hall. – Shuna