Richard III | Mississippi River Run

Photo of St. Louis Skyline by Capt. Timothy Reinhart

AFTLS Quiz Time: I can’t believe this is our last week on the road with Richard III. So, all you Shakespeare pundits. I have a one question quiz for you. Where does this piece of Shakespeare text come from?

To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would fardels bear,
Till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane,

But that the fear of something after death
Murders the innocent sleep, great nature’s second course,
And makes us rather sling the arrows of outrageous fortune
Than fly to others that we know not of.
There’s the respect must give us pause:

Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The law’s delay, and the quietus which his pangs might take,

In the dead waste and middle of the night, when churchyards yawn
In customary suits of solemn black,
But that the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns,

Breathes forth contagion on the world,
And thus the native hue of resolution,
Like the poor cat i’ the adage, is sicklied o’er with care,
And all the clouds that lowered o’er our housetops,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
But soft you, the fair Ophelia:
Ope not thy ponderous and marble jaws,
But get thee to a nunnery—go!

You get two clues…

  1. When I first saw the mighty Mississippi, I laughed like a drain because it reminded me of this brain bender.
  2. It involves a King and a Duke.

Now on to our final two residency weeks, both spent at campuses on the banks of America’s mighty Mississippi River.

Last week, we performed and taught at the University of MissouriSt. Louis, affectionately referred to as UMSL (Um’-Suhl). We all had a blast in class. I taught “Acting for the Camera” to six lovely guys working on scripts written by the brilliant Dr. Niyi Coker Jr. – fantastic contemporary pieces that the young men acted really well. One of them, Dre, turned up in Jacqueline Thompson’s class the next day and knocked me out with his movement, physicalizing some knotty words from RIII.

lizumslI also taught an Honours group who were mostly biochemists, business majors, and athletes in Kim Baldus’s class. They were brave, committed, and lovely to teach. Both Jacqui and Kim did all the exercises along with their students – I do admire that.

hannahHannah went out to the Grand Center Arts Academy, a high school, and part of UMSL’s outreach programme and had a cracking class. We had a 10am matinee on the Friday which was a bit of a shock and had a good talkback after. All of Hannah’s students from the Academy were present and cheered to the rafters when she came out on stage for the talk – just LOVELY.

One of Evvy’s professors sent a message saying, “I’m on FIRE after my AFTLS class.” Not bad, eh?

It’s a strange thing to play just two or three shows a week especially when we all share so much text. We’ve actually only done around 22 performances. Normally, you’d play eight times a week, possibly in repertoire [multiple titles during the same week]. It makes me nervous usually for the first show in a new venue, but we have gradually all become more relaxed and the show has grown and become more textured and nuanced. I think our St. Louis performances were really enjoyed by us AND the audiences. Paul was incredible as he was under-the-weather but soldiered on magnificently. I think audiences are often surprised by how often “the show must go on” does literally happen.

umslmatinee

Our first evening show was interesting as all the motorways got closed down because Vice President Joe Biden was visiting St. Louis, supporting a Democratic senator, and his motorcade drove ALONE down the closed-off highways so many of our audience were stuck and we had to hold the curtain for 15 minutes. What a frightfully glamorous reason. We have been fascinated and often horrified by the lead up to the elections. My brother Nick, a BBC sports journalist did actually suggest that maybe I should have a blonde quaff [wig] as Richard – tempting, very tempting.

The 10-story slide at St. Louis's City Museum

The 10-storey slide at St. Louis’s City Museum

Apart from viewing the magnificent Mississippi, we all visited the St. Louis’s AMAZING City Museum, an adult and child playground (in an old shoe factory) where we all had the guts to brave the slightly hair raising slide and climb some of the contraptions hanging off the roof. Three of us got in those funny pods and went up the Arch, visited the gorgeous Forest Park and also went bowling. Evvy won and Alice got the most-stylish-throwing prize. We were invited to an evening of cocktails by UMSL’s Associate Professor of English (and the driving force of our being invited to UMSL) Kurt Schreyer: he and his wife Kim’s gingerbread house was lovely, and we were thrilled to go to someone’s HOME. A very good week. Read more in this from a post in the UMSL Daily.

My room with a (killer) view at Principia College

The view from our rooms at Principia College

As I write this (and before I tell you the answer to the quiz) I’m sitting in a charming room in Principia College (Elsah, Illinois): a Christian Science college just 45 minutes up the river from UMSL. Set in the most idyllic and peaceful surroundings, Principia has a thriving theatre department led by Jeff and Chrissy Steele who both studied and lived in Stratford on Avon for four years. I taught Jeff’s British Dramaturgy class earlier this week which was great fun and Alice, Hannah, Evvy, and Paul set the acting students alight in acting classes throughout the week. I managed to wangle my way into John O’Hagen’s dance class and Charleston-ed and shim-shammed for 90 minutes. Thanks for letting me join in, John; I just couldn’t resist it.

groupcropYesterday, our full group took full advantage of our surroundings and soared through the trees, reveling in the warmer-than-average autumn weather. Flying over 250′ above the ground, we added a new skill set to our CVs: zipline experts. Hannah outdid the rest of us by taking one run fast enough to flip over our instructor and into local legend.

We’re really looking forward to our last shows tonight and tomorrow where there’s a blinking HUGE church organ on the side of the stage which may HAVE to be used in the persuading of the citizens’ scene; it’s just CRYING out to be included. After this week’s workshops, the small but mighty campus is buzzing for our performances. Thanks Principia for being a brilliant final stop on our US tour.

We return to the UK next week and will perform Richard III in London later this month. See our final two performances at The Cockpit Sunday the 20th (5pm) and Monday the 21st (7:30pm). Tickets are available HERE.


I haven’t forgotten our quiz: the answer is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for that’s where the two fraudsters – the King and the Duke – decide to perform a night of Shakespeare. They also performed in a small American town on the banks of the Mississippi. Mangled bits of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Richard III make up Twain’s hilarious mishmash of a speech. How wonderful that touring Shakespeare in the US is still such a delight 130 years after that novel was written.

— Liz Crowther (November 4, 2016)

Westward (Ida)ho! | Richard III visits Boise State

boise As we descended into Idaho’s Boise Airport, we all saw the most dramatic and stunning scenery: the Rocky Mountains, creeks, gorges, ravines, and trees, trees, and more trees. Boise is the “City of Trees” and home to the largest Basque population outside Europe. Idaho is the land of the potato and has over three hundred natural hot springs, much wildlife, and incredibly welcoming people. Mac Test and Maya Duratovic met us at the airport and took us back to a meeting of all the teachers whose classes we would teach in at Boise State University.

Paul O'Mahony (far right) leads a workshops for Mac Test's English class at Boise State University.

Paul O’Mahony (far right) leads a workshop for Mac Test’s English class at Boise State University.

We were formally greeted by Richard Klautsch, head of the Theatre Arts Department and delighted to discover that many drama students would be in our classes. As Hannah Barrie said later in the week “It was great to do some more advanced stuff with them.” Some examples are the Guildhall exercise, ‘Look/Move/Speak,’ and ‘New Move/New Thought’ (which plays around with WHEN the thoughts/lines of a play drop in. Her students LOVED IT.

It was good for us this week as we taught in pairs for some of the lessons and I watched in awe as Alice (in Jen Black’s class) sent her students soaring and roaring with laughter at some of her fantastic ideas to experiment with the text of Richmond’s oration to his troops: do it as a political speech (timely, eh?); do it as a nursery school teacher, explaining it super clearly to us, her tiny students, and allowing us to interrupt or giggle when we liked, which we did a LOT; and then as a hellfire Southern preacher. Brilliant!

Evvy gave a masterful masterclass on Saturday, breaking down and physicalizing separate words in Richard’s oration to his troops (a nastier speech altogether) and gave such great notes that I took them all on stage with me on Saturday night, and I swear  the speech lit up as the result of her lesson. We had a  young schoolgirl, Samia, among us (the class was open to all in Boise) whom Evvy encouraged to perform Richard’s speech with us as his army; Samia said she felt empowered by speaking it.

Paul (full of energy and fiercely intelligent observations) and I taught in Linda Marie Zaerr’s   British Literature class and worked on the second wooing scene with Richard and Queen Elizabeth. She wrote us such a lovely mail that I have to quote it:

“You engaged the students powerfully, and you affirmed their ideas and interpretations while leading them to an awareness of an infinity of possibilities.”

We also had a long Q&A session with students and Boise residents with all of us as a group, and Matthew Hansen, who runs an after school program called ‘Shake it Up’ for very young students, asked a lot of interesting questions. He was paramount in getting us to Boise, and we truly had a wonderful week. The show was received very kindly and got tighter, with raised stakes in our storytelling.

We are all serious “foodies,” so a visit to Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro down near the Capitol was a must and the Andalusian eggs (with asparagus and chorizo), the potato/dill omelet, and the corned beef hash were mind-blowingly good. We managed Idaho trout, salmon, and sturgeon, a trip to the Basque Market, where I ate Paella Roll and bought membrillo, the heavenly, solid quince paste to eat with cheese, and downed a fairly generous amount of Boise Brewing’s pumpkin cider. It’s a community owned company and all the original shareholders have their own ceramic pint pot with their name on, hung up on the wall…a veritable sea of pint pots.

bogus-basinWe drove up and up and up to Bogus Basin, biked along the river from the delightful campus, visited the Basque museum which told of Basque sheepherders emigrating here in the early 20th century and being welcomed in Basque run boarding houses all over Idaho maintaining their traditional dances and cuisine. We then had an extraordinary weekend in a proper mountain log cabin, high up in Lowman and belonging to the exceptionally kind Maya Duratovic’s family.

log-cabin

20161023_124828We saw the Milky Way and more stars than I have ever seen in my life, listened to the fast running and crystal clear creek water, and saw not another soul till we drove to Idaho City the next day to see this perfectly preserved town of 500 people founded when the Gold Rush was on and with its original territorial prison and courthouse and much rusting mining equipment. A proper Wild West town. And then, three hours in the hot springs just down the road. Our little group melting, our shoulders sinking and the smiles spreading. Absolute bloody bliss!

–Liz Crowther

Back at the Mothership | Richard III returns to Notre Dame

Well, here we are, back at the Mothership after leaving the heat of San Antonio and the crisp walks round the lake at Wellesley. It’s wonderful to be back to the beauty of leaves falling, to be welcomed by our friends, and to feel familiar with the layout of a university campus, our American home, Shakespeare at Notre Dame.
ndautumn
I did a class yesterday on “Media Stardom and Celebrity Culture” with the lovely Christine Becker, and we all discussed the difference between film performances: locked eternally on celluloid, and theatre: mutable, shifting night to night with that glorious chemical reaction between audiences and cast, cast and cast, and cast and venues. Our Richard III has certainly been changing, and we’re a pretty playful bunch of actors who trust each other deeply and want to explore and mine our text to the limit. For example, in the coronation scene in Act 3 where Richard, newly crowned, tests the princely Buckingham’s loyalty by revealing deep insecurity in his position and the nuisance of having the illegitimate young princes around, I say:

Cousin, thou wert not won’t to be so dull;
Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead;
And I would have it suddenly performed.
What sayest thou? Speak suddenly; be brief.

Alice, who’s playing a mutely obedient Lady Anne, by my side, has started physically empathizing with Evvy’s noble and wavering Buckingham and silently pleading her horror at this thought. It gives greater emphasis to everyone else’s abhorrence of this thought and to my desire, a few moments later, to get shot of [get rid of] her and say to Catesby:

Rumour it abroad
That Anne, my wife, is very grievous sick.

Hannah who, apart from being a brilliant actor and the choreographer for various moments, had some ideas to improve the ghosts by giving them horrible unearthly gasps before each of them, all Richard’s victims, speak. It works beautifully. And Paul’s Queen Elizabeth is now so heartbreaking and vehemently reasoned in her defense of Richard marrying her daughter, that I’m having to adjust accordingly and find other tacks to succeed.

That’s the glory of Shakespeare: the endless possibilities and interpretations and the pleasure of exploring them. The reactions vary too. At Wellesley College, the audible disgust at Richard kissing Elizabeth on the mouth after persuading her to give him her daughter as a new Queen, was amazing.

shakespeare_houseAlso at Wellesley, there is a Shakespeare Society (founded in 1887) that always holds a party for the actors on their first night there. The Shakespeare House (pictured on right) is INCREDIBLE: a Tudor exterior, with its own stage and a basement heaving with endless, ancient copies of Shakespeare: some with prints that I have never seen. There is a costume department worthy of a local regional theatre in Britain. One entire rail just held CLOAKS. And in November they will perform their all-female Henry V for which they have promised a video. I can’t wait.

50wellesley

Wellesley is Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. I wonder if she ever ran naked across Severance green as is suggested on the 50 things to do before you graduate from Wellesley…I hope so.

Here at Notre Dame, we had a lovely response last night and have all had challenging and interesting classes. I worked with Peter Holland’s students on Tuesday exploring the first soliloquy and the insults to Richard. At the end Professor Holland reminded the class that, if in London, they should visit Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, where I am a volunteer (docent in your parlance) and Trustee.

David Garrick and his Wife by his Temple to Shakespeare at Hampton, Johan Zoffany, c. 1762

David Garrick and his Wife by his Temple to Shakespeare at Hampton,
Johan Zoffany, c. 1762

In the eighteenth century, David Garrick made his name, as a 23 year old, playing Richard III. We have a copy of Hogarth’s famous painting of him in the nightmare scene before the battle of Bosworth, as well as Garrick’s commissioned statue of Shakespeare. I was on duty there the week before we started rehearsals on Richard III and had one visitor that day who was intriguing and singular and asked the most informed questions. When I asked him if he was a historian, he said, “No, I work at Kensington Palace; I’m house manager for Richard, Duke of Gloucester.” At this point all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I told him I was about to play one of his boss’s antecedents and he said that the current Duke had been at the real King Richard III’s interment at Leicester Cathedral. Gosh.

Evelyn Miller puts Commedia dell'arte on its feet during a visit to John Welle's "On Humor: Understanding Italy" class during the Notre Dame residency.

Evelyn Miller puts Commedia dell’arte on its feet during a visit to John Welle’s “On Humor: Understanding Italy” class during the Notre Dame residency.

I told some of the Foundations of Theology students in Anthony Pagliarini’s class on Friday about the excellent laws that the real King Richard had passed which I learned of in Leicester Cathedral on a research visit. He ensured new laws were written in English to be understood by all. He helped confirm the place of the jury system, bail for the accused, as well as laws for land ownership and trade protection. We were discussing whether Richard’s path was chosen or determined by fate; I put forward my view that he is validating his invalidity. As Ian McKellen says in the brochure accompanying his and Richard Longcrane’s excellent Richard III film made in 1995 and set in the 1930s: “Richard’s wickedness is an outcome of other people’s disaffection with his physique.” I think that being crowned King is proof to him that he is a whole human being.

pep-rallyAfter finishing that class, I had the thrill of seeing and hearing the “pep rally”…a phrase I’d never heard before. Basically, it was all the accumulated bands of Notre Dame marching to the ground for a home game and rallying their supporters. I love a brass band. I love great big drums thumping out. And when there are over five hundred musicians playing all together, it is truly rousing.

[Learn more about the world-famous Notre Dame Victory March.]

–Liz Crowther

Corpsing and dancing and sticks, oh my! | Rehearsing ‘RIII’

A look back at the final rehearsals of Richard III from AFTLS actress, Hannah Barrie


Since everyone was complaining of sore sides due to the amount of laughing that went on, we knew we had a “good’un.”

We all love spoonerisms, I won’t hear otherwise, and they arrived constantly in the Richard III rehearsal room. One of the reasons for a large amount of corpsing.

Derby instead of asking “What of his heart perceive you in his face?” at the council meeting in Act III asked “What of his f….?” You get the picture.

aftls-richard-iii-074_webWe’ve had furry dragons instead of fiery dragons from Liz. 

And “tyranny for trifle” from Evvy (which made everyone think of a good blancmange).

“My horse I’ll help you to a Lord,” Catesby proclaimed in Act V.

But my favourite was from Paul as Elizabeth in Act IV, “Who has any cause to moon but I?”

And if you don’t like a good spoonerism (shame on you!), please consider Alice as Richmond proudly riding a flatulent horse during a rousing speech. 

Perhaps you needed to be there, but I had to lie on the floor on more than one occasion due to laughing so much. It was a very enjoyable rehearsal process. But we didn’t just say silly things and roll ’round the floor. Our rehearsal weeks were epic. We managed to get to the end of the play with dance, music, drumming, and everyone off book.

Now this line learning business was no mean feat. It was hard. For everyone I think. Not only is the word count huge for all, there’s no one through line — one character journey that you’re creating and exploring — there are six. Unusual? Too right. And then you throw in music, rhythmic scene changes, props, etc. and the brain starts to over heat a little.

dancesteps_v12My final week in rehearsals was dedicated to mapping out my journey for each character throughout the play and the journey for Hannah the actor; exits, entrances, etc. It’s been a complicated dance, and I’m happy to finally feel confident in knowing what I’m doing from moment to moment.

northernbroadsidesBut enough about me. Let’s talk about Conrad Nelson. For any of you who are familiar with the company Northern Broadsides you’ll know the name. This company, based in the north of England (Halifax) produce Shakespeare and other works usually in the northern accent and tour the country with these vibrant shows. Their work is down to earth, accessible, musical, dynamic, and I’m a big fan. Conrad directs, acts, and composes music for them. And we were fortunate to be able to get a session with him which turned out to be far more than the music session it was briefed to be. The tricky thing with the show is how to create drama, tension, a threat, dynamic fast moving scene changes where the energy doesn’t drop, how to create atmosphere out of nowt [nothing]. So we decided that rhythm and song would be our best bet. Conrad came to us with some excellent suggestions. A song to potentially use in the Act I, scene II funeral procession, a ‘Te Deum’ that Con composed himself for the end moment with Richmond after Richard has been killed, and a song to start proceedings with a bang. He’s also a keen Morris dancer and taught us a set dance. I’m a keen Irish dancer, so I’ve used my own knowledge, this dance as inspiration, and my cast mate’s fabulous ideas to choreograph a folky number for the start. I hope you like it. We do. And finally Conrad taught us some rhythm patterns using 5, 4, and 3 that are simple but create great drama and tension. What an inspirational day. Thanks Con!

Now the challenge with this rhythm business is that everything we use has to fit in the suitcase. So sticks are our thing! The cajon was thrown out of the window, luckily the window was open at the time so no damage done. Although we loved the sounds it made and were really excited about the rhythms we were creating we decided it was too cumbersome for our little suitcase, so it had to go. Sorry cajon fans. BUT, we have sticks! aftls-richard-iii-003_cropQuite few of them, as it happens, and they’re great for sustaining the rhythms (and therefore atmosphere) we feel are so important to our production. There’s such a gathering of momentum throughout the play, as first of all Richard’s plots escalate, and then as the rebellion led by Richmond builds to its bloody climax on Bosworth Field. Most companies tackling the play would have large casts, elaborate sets, effects and costumes to create this – so we have had to be extremely imaginative! We’ve found that the sticks make a great sound and can also represent various different objects (knives, swords, etc) so they fit in perfectly with our lo-tech aesthetic/constraint.

One of the exciting challenges is making whole worlds out of almost nothing and the freedom that eventually gives you (plus the lack of tech time when you’re on tour). It’s the essence and beauty of ‘poor theatre’ which then allows there to be almost no divide between the performers and audience, which is a relationship which suits Shakespeare well (soliloquies, asides, etc).

We’ve experimented with different stick options. First of all we used some old broom handles (in fact, many of the items we’ve used in rehearsals have emerged from Liz’s attic) and then moved on to dowel rods. Once we settled on dowels, we then experimented with different lengths and how practical and aurally pleasing they were. We also had to consider the suitcase, so they certainly couldn’t be very long. After much deliberation we’ve settled on varying sizes of sticks. And as I type this, they’re safely nestled in our large blue suitcase surrounded by the costumes and props we’ve decided upon. But there lies another story for another time…

— Hannah Barrie (from September’s London rehearsals)

Richard III Hits the Road

utsa-recital-hallWe’ve been having an amazing tour so far. We opened at the University of Texas at San Antonio tonight performing in their beauteous Recital Hall (pictured) which has glorious acoustics and a mighty organ behind our delineated acting area. As we have no director, stage manager or “techies” with us, it is our job to organize: putting our play in a new space – and boy have we had some different spaces – an exciting challenge.

We first performed at the Westville Correctional Facility in Indiana in a tiny, bare, very hot room with around thirty or so charming men who were hungry for Shakespeare. They take part in a series of weekly workshops run by Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s Scott Jackson. They asked brilliant questions and shared wonderful thoughts about the production. Clarity can be potentially hazardous when you have five actors playing 27 or so roles, but they all seemed to follow the plot really well. We learned, several of the attendees had never been to the theatre before, and all sat in rapt attention. For us, it seemed such an important thing to do, to perform there. The visit to Westville stands as one of my most amazing theatrical experiences.

Our next stop was The University of Texas at Austin, a serene and vast campus full of live oaks, unknown to us in England. We had such enthusiastic audiences (people standing, wow!), a biggish theatre, and our very first classes. This is the first AFLTS tour for three of us – Evvy, Hannah, and Alice – and they were a bit nervous as workshops began. However, after sharing classes with them, I can testify that all three are completely BRILLIANT, and their teaching has received wonderful feedback. Paul is already a seasoned teacher and an exceptionally clever chap, having studied Classics at Oxford; this is his third tour.

The idea for our classroom sessions is to share the actors’ approach to a text. For example: warming up our voices and bodies, physicalizing words, staging short  scenes, thinking about the characters’ emotional and physical states, and, most of all, their intentions. We also touch on the importance of speaking the text OUT LOUD and having a NEED as a character to say these things. For students, this approach is occasionally strange, sometimes truly silly (which is such fun), but always a welcome way in to the text.

classroom_cropI have my classes pair off. In each pair, one becomes a Lancastrian supporter and the other a Yorkist (the two factions in the play). They then push hard against each other’s palms whilst shouting “Dog, cur, and villain.” The physical impetus makes the antipathy much easier (though most people just giggle a lot the first time round). I had a football quarterback in my class yesterday who the teacher said she had never seen so animated!

winedale-historical-centerwinedale_cropOn the Saturday of our Austin residency we drove out to Shakespeare at Winedale and their summer school Shakespeare camp run by the very wonderful Laurel and James Loehlin. I’ve known James for 25 years as he worked at the Orange Tree Theatre in the UK at the same time as me. The Winedale theatre is a converted hay barn, so we adapted to a teeny tiny stage with three additional levels, a lovely and different dynamic. We watched some fantastic child actors beforehand (directed brilliantly by Clayton Stromberger). They performed scenes from Richard III under the trees. I must give a special BRAVO! to the young girl who played a most MAGNIFICENT Queen Margaret. We had added excitement during the performance as a coral snake had to be killed trying to get into to watch our play. Evvy Miller, playing Buckingham, is terrified of snakes and calls them “speedy, small, death machines.” As she was waiting to make an entrance, she was quietly told to “shift quickly as there was a snake on the loose.” We all survived the scare and enjoyed a lovely response to the play. We concluded our Winedale evening star-watching under that dark and huge Texas sky.

broken_spokeWe have managed a few “jollies” (an English word for fun trips out) to the very famous “Broken Spoke” dance hall (pictured), to swim in the creek in Austin, and to watch the nightly exodus of one and a half million bats from under Congress Bridge which was absolutely SPECTACULAR. We have also eaten our body weight in burritos, steaks, tacos, and enchiladas. Luscious!

— Liz Crowther

Inside the King’s Kitchen | Final Rehearsals for Richard III

We spent our last week in London reworking the play in finer detail, sometimes as a group, breaking the script down into sections and marking where we feel there are a strong gear shifts. While working on the second wooing scene with Queen Elizabeth bereft then of her husband and sons — which is a rather horrible and much tougher mirror of the first wooing scene where Richard actually manages to put a ring on the finger of the young widow whose husband he’s helped to kill along with her father-in-law whom he has killed — Evvy [Evelyn Miller] suggested clapping some of the beats to remind us where they were while we were actually playing the scene. It was really helpful and that and playing on the diagonals in the space helped us move forward.

WooedWhile finessing the first wooing scene, it was really interesting that suddenly the only chap in our cast, Paul O’Mahony, seemed to have the most excellent understanding. He told me to be very confident since Richard has definitely decided to marry this woman. Of course Paul would understand; he’s a man. I haven’t done huge amounts of wooing in my life! It’s written like a piece of music with Lady Anne and Richard finishing each other’s sentences or batting back the same rhythm. Similarly, in the scene where Queen Elizabeth, who is played by Paul, comes on having lost her little sons, all us women suddenly had a lot to say.

Usually, whoever is not in the scene or has very little in it gets to sit “out front” and see if we’re making sense and honoring the text. Shakespeare and Richard pull off the absolute impossible at the end of the first wooing scene with Lady Anne melting fatally and momentarily — as she says later – “I grew grossly captive to his honey’d words.” Richard, who says he’s marrying her “not all so much for love” BEFORE the scene, finds himself believing all he says and falling for her. I don’t think he’s had much love in his life at all (though he clearly WORSHIPPED his father). So, when he totally liberates himself by determining to “prove a villain” at the top of the play, he suddenly finds it possible to win a beautiful young woman’s attention. He is so gobsmacked when she leaves that I think he is physically and mentally reeling and even has a strange stab of feeling for her dead husband (Queen Margaret’s son ) Edward. Richard calls him “young ,valiant, wise, and no doubt right royal” and wonders if Anne is fickle for having submitted to him. Of course the wonder of Shakespeare is the multiplicity of choice one has: he could be cynical, sneering, tearful. But you KNOW that he has somehow, with Lady Anne, felt a feeling unknown to himself before that scene. Alice is a heartbreaking Lady Anne.

Later in the week, we found an intriguing way of staging Queen Margaret’s famous curse scene that predicts the demise of practically everyone on stage. She is such a fantastical chorus like creature, this Lancastrian Queen who has been banished on pain of death. AFTLS - Richard III 039_webHannah is using a brass singing bowl which when circled makes an eerie sound that is loud but seems to appear from nowhere. She taps it on each of her curses and we all make these involuntary movements as if being physically compelled towards her. At the beginning Margaret has asides where she is supposed to be unseen. Usually the actress would be high above or below and we played with the idea of her coming through the audience but, on Alice’s suggestion, decided to physically freeze on her asides as if Margaret has such power that she can suspend Time itself. Hannah experimented with long bits of string and silky material that she knotted as she spoke each curse but she has found something wonderfully unnerving crouching on a chair with this brass bowl as a sort of comforter.

The Royal Arms of King Richard lll

The Royal Arms of King Richard lll

She’s very powerful and Shakespeare’s gives her such frightening words. For instance, she addresses Richard as an “elvish mark’d abortive rooting hog.” In Shakespeare’s time, anyone with a physical disability was considered literally marked by elves and God’s revenge for bad deeds. The rooting hog relates to the white boar that was part of Richard’s royal arms (at right). Hannah is also our divine dance captain and chief songstress along with Evvy (our quietly fabulous Buckingham) who has given us some great dynamics for our last ‘Te Deum’ and we’ve managed some rather gorgeous harmonies that the brilliant Conrad Nelson has given us.

This week, we had the very lovely Richard Neale “on the book” for us (i.e. giving lines and prompting). Normally there would be a deputy stage manager from day one, so it was a bit of a shock to realize that some bits had just bedded in WRONG. Usually you bat off people who ask “How do you learn your lines?” but, as we each share a fifth of a two hour fifteen minute Shakespeare play, it has been seriously challenging. The process has been vocally tiring as well — many tired vocal chords and much steaming. We’ve gradually, as we are responsible for ALL our choices, rushed out before rehearsals or in the lunch hour and found our COSTUMES. Paul has some dazzling shoes with an electric blue sole, a rather lovely black fur scarf of my Mum’s for his proud and fiercely intelligent Queen Elizabeth, and a handkerchief for his hilarious sweating and constantly unpunctual Lord Hastings. I’ve gone for culottes and a long waistcoat in pinstripes and a crown made out of garden and picture wire (that needed some serious attention as it kept getting stuck in our hair). Alice has gone for a top hat as Lord Rivers and geeky glasses for the Lord Mayor with a black veil for lady Anne. Hannah has a bright red beret as a female Catesby and fine pieces of cloth for Clarence, King Edward, and Queen Margaret. Evvy uses a flat cap for Lord Derby and a silk cravat for Buckingham. Everything needs to be simple and read INSTANTLY. It also needs to weigh under 23 kilos. We did a run through for ourselves and then the hair-raising Thursday run in front of our Associate Directors but it was actually great to have an audience. Richard needs to have someone with whom to share all his devilish plots. They enjoyed the performance and you will too. America, here we come.

– Liz Crowther

[The tour is currently in residence at the University of Texas at Austin and next week travels 90 minutes south to the University of Texas at San Antonio.]

Making the Cut | AFTLS “Streamlines” Richard III

In just three days, our five actors bring their new adaptation of Richard III to the United States. AFTLS Associate Director, Caroline Devlin, has edited one of Shakespeare’s longest plays into a fast, fierce 2:15 production. Read how she “made the cut” in today’s tour blog.

Folio title pageRichard III is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays. It’s length is justified as it serves not only as a narrative of this famous King, but also as a conclusion to the series of plays we know as Shakespeare’s “History” plays. It can also compete for being one of his most complex plays – in almost every scene we meet a new character! That is a very intricate web of names and faces to confront the audience with. Bear in mind, these names and faces would have been very familiar to Elizabethan audiences, as these plays dealt with their not too distant history, but for contemporary audiences, just keeping up with who’s who is a challenge, let alone investing in the plot and character journeys.

King_Richard_IIIThe main objective has been therefore, not to “cut” the play, so much as “streamline” it to the story surrounding the Duke of Gloucester, his bloody rise to power and his ultimate defeat at Bosworth. Uncut, it is epic with a vast cast of about 45 which I’ve cut down to 27 (excluding messengers and citizens) so quite a few characters have gone. Almost exclusively, any character going has been directly relatable to their importance to the Richard story. Jane Shore is a lovely character, but the mention of her in the play, although deliciously political in nature, doesn’t help the audience unless they are fully versed in her role as court courtesan, therefore, she was a clear contender for being cut.

This is the case with almost all other characters that have been cut. In some places a character has been merged, for example, I’ve merged Ratcliffe into Catesby – simply to avoid meeting another minor character who doesn’t have a story that particularly develops. Also, at this late stage of the play we are already meeting new characters in the shape of Richmond and his followers, so I wanted to keep any new faces and names to an absolute necessity.

In a few places a character has been added, Marquis of Dorset arrives in a scene to replace a messenger. This aids to keep his character alive for the audience, he is a minor character but his relationship to Queen Elizabeth and his timely escape from London to join Richmond is important storytelling, so I wanted to keep this character clear to the audience.

I felt sadly bound to diminish the role of various Priests and Archbishops in the storytelling. In some places these lines have been included but given to other characters. I felt that unless someone was familiar with the role of the Church in State matters in the 1480’s, it could be confusing as to why a member of the clergy may be so essential to State decisions. But ultimately, it again came down to the clarity of storytelling.

Caroline DevlinThe rehearsal script has had numerous readings with Associate Directors and the AFTLS office contributing feedback, and the version has had a successful professional run (albeit with a full cast, not five actors) and was praised for its clarity and pace. I mention this only to re-assure that the cut works!” — Caroline Devlin, AFTLS Associate Director and three-time tour veteran

Richard III will be performing across the United States this fall. To learn about Actors From The London Stage, explore how 27 roles are shared between five actors, and see if AFTLS will be at a university near you, visit our WEBPAGE for more details and a full tour schedule.

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The Richard III cast (pictured L-R): Hannah Barrie, Evelyn Miller, Liz Crowther, Paul O’Mahony, & Alice Haig.

London Calling | Richard in Rehearsal

We’ve just had an absolutely cracking first week’s rehearsal of Richard III. There are five of us: Hannah Barrie, Evelyn Miller, Alice Haig, Paul O’Mahony, and me (Liz Crowther) playing 24 different characters and telling our thrilling story in Shakespeare’s words while persuading our audience than 10 chairs and a bare stage are a palace, a battlefield, a bedroom, and a prison to name but a few of our locations.

The 'Richard III' cast gathers for the first time.

The AFTLS cast of Richard III gathers for the first time. (Pictured L-R: Evelyn Miller, Paul O’Mahony, Alice Haig, Liz Crowther, and Hannah Barrie)

We met briefly three weeks ago for a sit down “read through“ of the play, to make an initial connection, and, I think, to make us realize the fabulous challenge ahead. We have many, many lines to learn between us and are required to be “off book” (i.e. know it all) two weeks into rehearsal.

Props

As there is no director, the five actors determine what props are needed for the production.

Day One: Eunice and Richard, our experienced AFTLS leaders, came to welcome us to prep us for our US Embassy visit and to bring us THE SUITCASE. This is our equivalent of a touring theatre’s pantechnicon (a large van for transporting furniture) full of costumes, props, scenery, and wigs (30 tons in Evelyn’s last production King and Country that toured to China…and that was just the props). Our production’s single case will contain all we need for our show and must not exceed 23 kilos (50 pounds).

During this first rehearsal, Eunice gave us a fantastic tip: “Make sure each character you play has a different silhouette.” This is valuable advice as the speed which we change roles leaves no time for anything other than something brief and instantly readable. For example, a crown is a great help for King Edward. Hannah Barrie who plays King Edward also plays both the Duke of Clarence who is in prison AND his gaoler (jailer) Brackenbury. More of this later. Evelyn had prepared a wonderful Family Tree of the actual House of Plantagenet to help us all be on the same page with who is who. Richard III is based on true English history with Shakespeare’s own slant and time compression. Our play has two Richards, three Edwards, and some characters, like the aforementioned Duke of Clarence, who is sometimes called by his first name George and sometimes Clarence. With this in mind, another of our tasks ahead is to fashion an introduction to the play at the very beginning to help our audience out. It is also one of the absolute joys for the audience of an AFTLS production — seeing actors switch from role to role.

A cajon drum box

A cajon drum box

We discussed various aspects of the play briefly, uncertain how to start. Two of us have done the play before and know it well: Hannah (at the RSC as part of their 2008 Histories Season) and Paul. They talked about the general arc of the play, about it being a play of factions. We talked about when to set it and we all agreed on doing it now. The very first word spoken in the play is “Now.“ Hannah discussed possible music and soundscapes and we all thought, since drums are mentioned, they would be a good way forward and could be used in an amazing variety of ways. Eva said she’d bring in a cajon (pictured right). We’re allowed two experts to support us (i.e. a choreographer and a fight director) and she agreed to contact a musician chum about coming in to help. We discussed disability at the time the play was written and now and the practical challenges of playing a man with curvature of the spine, a damaged arm and legs of unequal length. Actors have to be incredibly careful of hurting themselves when rehearsing and performing for months on end. We talked about whether to have real letters, swords, or mimed props. Alice talked about the importance of the visual dynamics when staging it, standing on chairs, lying on the floor and then suggested (since we were all slightly floundering wondering how to properly BEGIN) something the director Michael Longhurst had done at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse when she worked with him which was to just all stand up and do the WHOLE play all the way through from beginning to end. It was brilliant as we all dived in together, all felt vulnerable together, all heard those incredible words again — but standing up! — so could actually do so much more vocally and physically than seated. It also united us in our terror!

CombatThe rest of the week we’ve ploughed on. We discussed our characters in depth. Is Buckingham a man of solid integrity or a dodgier character? How much pain does Richard feel? How liberating is it for him to decide to be a villain? How does Queen Margaret’s chilling curse manifest itself physically? We read/talk/do with each scene, sorting out knotty words, the focus and speedily getting something up on its feet. We decided to start each day with a thorough vocal and physical warm up. This is standard practice in a rehearsal room. You need immense stamina and vocal power for Shakespeare’s plays, and we have delighted in each actor’s contribution. Evelyn kicked us off with glorious stretches. Paul has given us some fiendishly difficult clapping sequences where we clap different rhythms against each other. I still haven’t cracked that one. Alice has taught us a one to ten singing sequence where you feel your lungs may burst by the end and Hannah revealed the most incredible Irish dancing talent with sounds that create an instant battlefield. I led the vocal warm up with the silliest sounds, blowing out like a horse and doing a very strange exercise sticking your tongue out, holding your chin down and flexing it making “yah, yah” sounds. (Tell the truth; you just tried it, didn’t you?)

GroupWe’ve solved some space changes…well for the moment, anyway. For example in the prison (the Tower of London) in Act One, scene four we created narrow, dark corridors just by the way we walk and then a wider space for Clarence. All my fellow actors have proved astonishing in switching characters. Evvy has a great challenge in having just a light start then an absolutely HEAVY Act Three when Buckingham comes on though she may also be the only one to play three people in the space of five lines in Act Two!

With multi roles, we’ve found it useful if one person is seated or lying down or in a very clearly defined space so that the other character that the actor is playing can have an eye-line to that chair or crouch over them on the floor, etc. We’ve discovered that slowing this down is much finer that rushing it. We’ve decided to use cloth of different sizes to delineate different characters (headscarves for example). Short bits of bamboo may possibly serve as daggers. None of this is concrete but a fluid process.

We managed to get to the end of Act Three by Friday. It’s all too easy to leave the last act or two in a play to late on in rehearsals if you don’t manage your time well. Friday was a lovely day. I had great help with some of my soliloquies at the start of the day. People interjecting randomly in speeches is a good way to help an actor who’s having difficulty. We explored just saying the end word of each line and that was extraordinarily insightful. We discussed the role of the audience and getting them onside in Richard’s case. I felt less like an old record when we’d finished. Everyone had useful input and I think we’re very accepting of each other’s contribution. We’ve also laughed a LOT.

— Liz Crowther

Much Ado Actor Blog: Utah Saints

On a sweltering Tuesday morning, myself and Jack Whitam trundled up to the campus at Brigham Young University to tech into the outdoor space. The first thing we had to do was get them to move all the seats about four foot closer to the stage, as they were laid out as if we were there to play a pop concert. That done, I wandered off into the campus to get myself a coffee. Two hours later, shaking with deprivation, it finally occurred to me that the Mormons don’t touch caffeine and this being a Mormon campus there was no coffee to be had. A campus without coffee. Hard to imagine, but there it is.

Our first night was sold out and we played in the calm warm evening to a lovely generous crowd. The second night they had brought in loads more chairs, and without any warning we found ourselves playing more or less completely in the round. Lovely to feel sought after like that. And fascinating to be forced to take in such a wide audience having built the show with an end on crowd in mind. The clouds were louring upon us though, and sure enough as the first half drew to a close the opening drops of a full on downpour were just beginning to pitterpatter onto our noses. The floodlights they had rented for us were the kind that explode when wet, so it made sense to move indoors. We were thrown into the second half end on in an unfamiliar theatre, contemplating a completely full house and a different acoustic. Of course we smashed it, and for the first time in America they forced us back on for an extra bow. All this enthusiasm is too much for our English brains to compute. But it’s certainly delightful. And by the time we had finished the last matinee on Saturday, sold out again, we were all a little bit in love with the Mormons.

Owing to the magic of social media, a man who I occasionally geek out about Homer with on twitter invited me to speak to his class about Shakespeare. So I found myself at Karl G Maeser prep school, talking to a class full of smart and enthusiastic kids. At the end one of the teachers said “Show us some of your quality.” A little confrontational, I thought, but ok. Fine. Being a geek and fond of adrenaline I said “Which play do you want me to do a bit from then?” DangerAl. He could’ve stitched me up by saying Timon of Athens. But he said Merchant of Venice. SCORE. I could then cheekily ask, “Do you want a prose speech or a verse speech?” He said prose. I did about half of the old Shylock “if you prick us”, although I forgot a chunk. Then full of adrenaline I said “I’ll do a verse one too from the same play, and then smashed Shylock’s long response to Antonio on the Rialto. Being a geek is handy sometimes. Here we all are after the lesson. I disguised myself as an academic.

Karl G Maeser

The teacher that put me on the spot is so fond of Shakespeare he had a Shakespeare tie, a Shakespeare shirt, and an array of Shakespeare badges. Another academic I met later at Brigham Young said “I like to call him Bill.” I almost responded with ” I think the evidence points to him preferring to be called Will, actually, hem hem”. I managed to stop myself by the skin of my teeth, so am saying it here instead. But generally, they love Shakespeare in Utah. There’s a Shakespeare festival, a replica Elizabethan theatre down south, and someone even thrusting some copies of their play “Much Ado About Love” into my hands after a show. It calls itself “A romantic comedy in Shakespeare’s verse.” A Frankenspeare’s monster of a play. We are going to read it later. Actually it seems rather lovely. (Edit: Having read it now, it is an extraordinary labour of love.)

I did the bulk of my teaching on the final day, running some voice classes with the acting students, and trying to give them a simple basis of connection with the breath through text use. They were smart and responsive, and brave. This is the first time AFTLS has been to Brigham Young, but if this visit is anything to go by, it won’t be the last. And it’s been the perfect friendly start to our touring section. Next week, University of Texas, San Antonio, October the 1st, 3rd and 4th at 7.30 in the Recital Hall.

(And because I grew up in the nineties, I give you the hilarious mawkish dance track that has been on my mind the whole week, by Utah Saints. Who are from Harrogate, Yorkshire: http://youtu.be/XF4EJvfNQcs )

Much Ado Actor Blog: Run at Notre Dame

Paul and the ghost light.

Our opening nights at Notre Dame take place in Washington Hall. The Hall is an old building, with bats in the rafters, but it was modernised in the 1950s. The stage is more recent than that I think and the lighting rig is good. The interior of the theatre itself is a little sparse. When I comment on that, Kathleen, who works front of house, tells me that there used to be some lovely murals of George Washington, Shakespeare, Molière, Mozart, Beethoven etc. Semi randomised great artists and the president. They were whitewashed in the 50’s, when everyone was so zealous about being austere. I ask out of curiosity if perhaps they were grotesquely badly painted. “Perhaps it’s a mercy that we are spared them”. Kathleen insists that they were quite lovely. In which case, what a shame.

And our run begins in earnest. Three nights only, and a packed house on the third, with good audiences on the first two. The show is still breathing, moments are changing, landing differently. We are surprising each other. It feels right. Specific where it needs to be and free where it needs to be. The Notre Dame audiences are reactive and vocal, and despite being a little further away from them we still feel able to include them in our world, and play to, for and with them. On the first night a small child is laughing throughout the show. On every night, the upper and lower floors stand at the end. American audiences are generous like that. Scott encourages us to hold our hands out wide to, essentially, imitate Fonzy as we take the bow. “You’re all so humble and … English.” We attempt to allow ourselves such indulgence.

On the final night, a bat comes out in the interval, and panics at all the people panicking at it. As it circles the hall, we are drawn to the monitor just in time to see it fly right onto the stage accompanied by an audible gasp, and shoot up into the rafters above the playing space. It remains there for the rest of the show, and I find myself wondering how / if we might have been able to incorporate it had it done that while we had been on stage. And also whether or not it is going to bring guano into Messina, and make Messina that little bit messier. Thankfully that’s he last we see of it.

Since we have arrived in America, we have cut over 200 lines of dialogue. It feels leaner for it, and we wonder why we ever tried to do it complete. As a group we are coming together more and more, learning to trust each other and play off each other. It’s only going to tighten and deepen over time. Notre Dame has been a delightful place to start our run. A family. A home. As we all head to Chicago in a taxi full of bags, we realise that now the tour begins in earnest. Our friends in the room, in the lighting box, in O’Rourkes afterwards, on and around the campus, they all stay there. Hereafter it’s just the five of us and the friends we make on the way. Next stop Utah. But first, a weekend in CHICAGO!

(By Al Barclay)