Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, Meet me at the Fair.
Don’t tell me the lights are shining, anyplace but there.
For the final week of the tour, Team AYLI headed to St. Louis for the SAA Conference. When we embarked on this tour back at the end of Jan, St Louis seemed like a distant landmark. I remember talking about going to the top of the Arch with Aaron, the Marketing Manager, back in O’Rourkes after the first show in Notre Dame; and wondering if I would be courageous enough to brave both the height and the enclosed space of the tram car. Tuesday morning was D Day and it was a breeze…though also slightly breezy at the top and disconcerting to feel ground swaying beneath me.
It was a great privilege to spend the week working alongside so many eminent scholars of the Bard. It was terrific to once again see Alan Dessen, who was so instrumental in taking care of the company back in the 90s and to meet Audrey Stanley, a wonderful actor, director and scholar who is battling to keep Santa Cruz Shakespeare alive and kicking in their beautiful venue on the West Coast.
I couldn’t help thinking how delighted Will would be to see so many folks, from so many countries, gathered together to share their responses to his work. We had slightly wondered how many of them would be interested enough in the actor’s perspective to come to the workshops and were delighted to see so many throughout the week. As ever, the order of the day was to offer the chance to practically engage with the text. We ran workshops on gender, verse and prose, multi-role playing and collaborative direction and, at each session, our aim was to offer exercises that actively explored these concepts rather than seated discussion.
One of the great joys of Shakespeare is the variety of perspectives, ideas and responses generated by his words. At every point of the Conference, there were multiple seminars happening, covering a multitude of concepts, ideas and interpretations. It is interesting though, that as soon as the words are performed, it is necessary to make a choice: to play the character and the situation as you see them. There is something magical about seeing the choices come alive as ACTION, and we saw that time and again this week. As Dan said in his session, it’s called a “play” for a reason and it was terrific to see so many great minds approach the words with a sense of play and to test ideas and choices with a sense of fun.
Downtown St Louis has its own temple to fun, play and creativity in The City Museum. A treasure trove of caves, climbing, sliding, and spectacle for kids of all ages. I conquered my cowardice for the second time in a week, to tackle the ten story slide and, after two or so hours giving free reign to my inner eight year old the world truly looked a little different.
Inevitably, with the final performances and thinking about the end of our US journey, I began thinking about the characters as they emerge from Arden at the end of the play. As much as it is a place of risk, discomfort and magic, it is also a place of fun. It’s fun and experimentation that’s at the heart of Rosalind’s game with Orlando and, with five actors inhabiting all the roles, our final Act is truly a giddy roundabout of fun with Rob’s unique celebration of Hymen as the ringleader. It seems to me that this sense of fun offers the possibility of change: both for us as actors as we play our way through the multitude of characters, but also for the characters themselves as they conclude the play. As Touchstone says in Act 5 (Alan Dessen’s favourite line in Shakespeare) “Much virtue in If…”
I have had a great three months touring the big and beautiful US of A. Huge thanks to Scott Jackson and Deborah Gasper for their wonderful work and support at Notre Dame and of course to my fellow Arden Travellers. See you in London for As You Like It Uk style other 22nd and 23rd April…the final performance on Shakespeare’s birthday a fitting end to our epic tour.
Proceed, proceed: we will begin these rites,
As we do trust they’ll end, in true delights.
— Duke Senior, Act 5 Sc 4.