Karaoke and other “dark entertainments” | AFTLS at Valpo

Venue No.3 on our tour is back in Indiana, at Valparaiso University —about an hour west of Notre Dame. The vagaries of the timeline system here means that we are now six hours behind the UK, not five. Valparaiso, in Porter County, is a town of about 30,000 people and about 4,000 students (3,000 of them undergraduates) and the name apparently means “Vale of Paradise” in Spanish, so named after David Porter (founder of Porter County), who fought in the 1812 Battle of Valparaiso in Chile. It’s not where the overture comes from, but it obviously meant enough to Mr. Porter. To my mind, it has more echoes of Milton Keynes: it has a roundabout (a great rarity so far on our travels and one that bemused the locals when it was first put in); it has a stillness to it.

Borders, an acclaimed sculpture installation by the noted contemporary Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir

The university has a number of statues around the campus, Antony Gormley-like silver and bronze figures that remind me of Milton Keynes’ finest cows as you enter the town. Learn more about the installation at Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art.

Valparaiso is a regular stop for AFTLS tours, so you can imagine the welcome we got. They were ready for us too, having 35 classes lined up, on subjects ranging from macro-economics to the parables (I knew that hotel Gideon Bible would come in useful one day), from Antigone to community workshops, from nursing to the theological imagination. And yet, to be honest, it’s often the unusual subjects like these that produce surprisingly rewarding results. Jack gave a class to economics students and, immediately realizing that his lesson plan would be difficult to make work in the circumstances, he cleverly came up with a whole new idea on the spot, getting the students to work together to put forward a pitch for their own theatre company, how they would make it work financially and what would be its USP (unique selling proposition), etc.

“…this practical approach to stories and to text often helps the students to look at these works in a new and enlightening way, and it highlights the value of drama and play that goes way beyond only the interests of a theatre major.” — Roger May

When I did my class on the parables, acting out our version of The Prodigal Son, we improvised the story and set it on a present-day ranch. When the younger son left the ranch, taking his share of the family money, his first temptation was, apparently, to head straight for Disney World. Then Epcot. Then, when he was lured to some bars by people interested only in his money, I tried to lead the students to ‘darker entertainments.’ “What could they be?” I asked them. A small group shouted back “Karaoke”! Not exactly what I meant…

By the time we got to the end of the story, we had put flesh on the bare bones of the story in the Bible (albeit with some slight twists) and taken time to examine the characters’ feelings and motivations. And, at the end of the class, a theology major came up to me and said “You know, I’d never stopped to think about how the son felt when he returned home. And it’s made me look at this parable and other parables, in a new way today. Thank you for that.” I say this not to blow my own trumpet (or those in Jericho) but to blow the trumpet of this company; this practical approach to stories and to text often helps the students to look at these works in a new and enlightening way, and it highlights the value of drama and play that goes way beyond only the interests of a theatre major. Funny, though, how often these improvisations seem to lead to Disney, or to Jedi Knights, or to the Kardashians…

There remains, on our travels, a feeling that we are definitely Brits abroad. I am still struggling with the restrooms here. For a start, I was dumbfounded the other day to find a TV in the restroom – previously the only safe haven, pretty much, that I had managed to find in public spaces in America. And then, of course, those automatic flushing toilets. The other night I was sitting down in my cubicle when my phone slid out of my trousers onto the floor. I leant forward to pick it up and, no sooner had I done so than the toilet assumed I had vanished and flushed away. Well, that’s the closest I’ve come to a bidet on my travels, that’s for sure…

The British accent, too, still leads to odd situations. The other day, no sooner had we opened our mouths but the taxi driver said “So, you met the Queen?” And I swear Will was presented with a take-away cup of coffee with a curtsey the other day…

Everywhere we go, we are greeted with “How’s it going?” It took me a while to realise that Americans don’t want an answer to this – it’s really just another way of saying “Hi.” I, of course, take a perverse pleasure in answering as if they genuinely want to know how my life is going. When a hotel desk clerk in Valpo, already in the middle of a conversation with another guest, greeted my return at the front door with “How’s it going?”, I couldn’t resist taking the perverse pleasure of replying. “Not bad, thanks. I’ve just given a class on theological imagination with particular reference to the dead letter. How about you?”. There followed a confused stand-off as nobody quite knew with which conversation to resume.

By the way, for those of you who read last week’s blog, I’m convinced that Timmy has followed us. Not only did I fall through my bed as all the slats fell out but decided against changing rooms when I discovered that Jack’s tap water ran red and Jas and Sarah were sharing their rooms with stink bugs. Thanks Timmy.

The Romeo and Juliet cast with Danny, Valparaiso University Stage Manager

And so to the show. The theatre was very well-equipped and the tech was led by Eric and Danny. Danny, an acting student new to his stage management duties, could not have been more helpful and worked hard to look after us. And the audience were very appreciative—apparently they get professional productions here only rarely and the show was very well-attended.

And it’s a treat to meet some of the audience afterwards. They often come up with the most specific thoughts; on Saturday someone came up and said “I liked the way you paused in the middle of Mercutio’s ‘love was blind’ line; I’ve not seen that before”. It’s impressive when they pick up on details like that. Of course, I’m fully aware that, by talking about it, that moment is now never going to work again. It’s rather like when someone says how well the timing works with a funny line in a play; once thought about, it’s never quite the same…!

Roger May, Sarah Finigan, Jasmeen James, and Jack Whitam catch some sun on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Sorry to be very British here, but we’ve been so lucky with the mild weather, and our day off after Valpo was no different. (I don’t think Punxsutawney Phil knew what he was talking about a couple of weeks back when he predicted another six weeks of winter.) We headed for the Indiana Dunes on the edge of Lake Michigan and stood by the endlessly impressive lake, skimming stones and soaking in the sheer expanse of it all – the northern end of the lake is over 300 miles away. Our skimmers didn’t quite get to the other side.

Next up, Nashville and Vanderbilt University. (Timmy, you’re not invited.)

—Roger May (Wednesday, February 22, 2017)

 

Welcome to America | Bubbles, Bowling, and Buñuel

The Lab Theatre in the University of Notre Dame’s Washington Hall

So. Two weeks done in the US of A. We spent most of week one on the second floor of a campus building, a ‘theater lab’ that acts as our rehearsal space. Occasionally we would wander out to ‘The Huddle,’ a building opposite that houses various eateries and drinkeries that cater for our lunchtime needs. And in the evening, we would wander out to a local bar and chew the cud. But truthfully, we were in a kind of bubble, an other-world consisting of five British actors, a suitcase of props and costumes, and lots of bottles of water. And yet we are still not immune to the spiraling tornado that is emanating from the White House. The TV is awash with experts and questions and rants and fears. And honestly, I’m scared of where this all may lead. Arrests made at JFK Airport, protests, executive orders, closing borders. Strange times.

One of the classes I was asked to teach on was on the subject of rhetoric and great speeches, so I thought I’d work with them on the Mark Antony “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech. Reading over it, this section hit me between the eyes:

“O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.”

Even in our iambic bubble, you can never hide away too far…

Ground transportation is Will Donaldson approved.

In fact, to highlight the surreal in all this we were greeted at Chicago airport, when we landed, with a stretch limousine. “Why?” my daughter demanded jealously when I told her. Well, apparently it was the cheaper option. All I know is that, since Chicago is an hour behind South Bend, Indiana, there was a time when I, sitting at the front and Jack, sitting right at the back, were in different time zones.

Indiana is southeast from Chicago and Lake Michigan. South Bend, the local town, is a low sprawl of highways and chain stores, much like many an American town – with so much space to play with, the architecture is generally low and wide. It’s also pretty featureless.

The University of Notre Dame, meanwhile, is a mix of impressive buildings that seem to be, in a uniformly sand-blasted way, gothic-influenced and money-influenced. For the 8,500 students here, the facilities are palatial. Apparently, many students get scholarships, which is a good job as the annual fee is apparently $61,000. The mind boggles. (You sure you want to take away the cap on the £9,000 annual fee in the UK?) The university has its own fire station, its own police force, its own zip code, and even its own power plant.

We also boggle at adverts and billboards that are so wonderfully unenglish. So far we’ve been enticed by various stores and messages: “Let’s Spoon,” “Femme Fatale” (a gun store), “Don’t Get Caught Dirty,” and a TV advert that promises to “lubricate itself right in the package.” As you can imagine, we play up the stereotype and react in a suitably Downton Abbey manner.

One big highlight this week has been to watch a live ice hockey match – a first for me. At the beginning, Will, Sarah, and I stared incomprehensibly at the high-speed mayhem but, with the help of some hockey moms cheering on their high school kids, by the end of it we were cheering and nodding knowingly at the two-minute penalties and the nuances of stick and puck. Great fun. For the record, Newtrier beat St.Joseph’s 8-2.

The boys have also ventured out to the local bowling alley. It seemed such an unprepossessing place as we drove up to Chippewa Bowl. But inside, an astonishing tardis of striking and unsparing proportions (see what I did there?). Seventy lanes. SEVENTY lanes. I ask you. Probably a good thing, as it meant no-one noticed the spirited but average fare from lane 52…

It’s surprisingly mild for the time of year but finally, in the last few days, the snow has come in. Not a staggering amount, but enough to impress five Brits and give us an excuse to finally unpack those extra Michelin-sponsored layers. Jas’ roller blades will have to wait though. In the meantime, we get our exercise in the hotel gym. I think we all know it won’t last, but we’re pretty keen cyclists, runners, and cross-trainers for this week at least.

Looking out from the stage of Washington Hall.

In the meantime, we rehearsed. Getting into the theatre was a good shock to the system; the space is a lovely two-tiered and quite intimate space (about 500 seats), but it requires a fair amount of work vocally – especially on the consonants – and is quite wide too and a challenge to play to all areas. For English readers, it’s rather like the Rose Theatre, Kingston, or Chichester (before the make-over).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve learnt two things about how to work with a company of five and no director. The first is that you have to try everything. Not only that, but you have to have time to work through each idea. It’s quite time-consuming, but even bad ideas are useful to explore, not only to be sure they don’t work, but also because they often lead to good ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. And the second thing is that you need to be as sensitive as the most sensitive person in the room. Which is not always the same person. Again, this demands a patience and awareness, but that is a useful mindset to get into for an eight-week tour. And it’s turned us into a close-knit group.

The Romeo and Juliet cast (pictured L-R): Jasmeen James, Jack Whitam, Scott Jackson (Shakespeare at Notre Dame Executive Director), Sarah Finigan, Roger May, and William Donaldson.

And so to the show. Finally playing to an audience was just what we needed, and the reception was lovely. There really is a lot of humour in the first half, despite the family feud, and the audience was quick to pick up on that. The biggest challenge is to keep the freshness of a story that everyone knows and the ending that the prologue has forewarned you of (spoiler alert). Over the coming weeks that, I suspect, will be our biggest test.

Apart from taking a class on the acting styles used in the Buñuel film Los Olvidados, possibly. That was a challenge I wasn’t expecting on this tour. In the event, we had great fun with it, storyboarding the opening of Romeo and Juliet in the style of a Buñuel film. It’s important to understand that the students we teach are often not drama students (in this case they were studying Spanish), but their willingness to dive in and participate is both surprising and wonderful. Other classes covered in this first week of teaching have included Henry VIII, the speeches of Lady Macbeth, gang violence and poetry reading.

In my warm-up for a class on rhetoric the other day, I asked the students to face a wall and give only the volume needed for that distance, and then got them to increase tat distance bit by bit. “Do any speech you like”, I said, “or, if you don’t know one, then a poem or lyrics or anything you can repeat a few times”. “Anything?”, one student asked. “Yes, anything”, I confirmed. I think it was a great compliment to the establishment that, on walking round the classroom, I heard three “Hail Marys” and four or five “Lord’s Prayers”…

After the final sold-out show tonight, we head off to Chicago for the weekend, before our next stop at Berea College in Kentucky. I have to say that the hospitality and the generosity we’ve encountered has been terrific. Long may that last on this journey.

— Roger May (2/3/17)

 

[Disclaimer: The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Shakespeare at Notre Dame or the University of Notre Dame.]

‘Trevor Nunn’ is a Verb | Romeo and Juliet in Rehearsal

Whatever your political take, it feels like a strangely apt time to be doing a tour of Romeo and Juliet, a play about divisiveness and intolerance.

With that said, it’s time to pack. We line up our props of flowers and sticks and torches and bowls and curtains and sheets and, looking over them, we can see a representation of the collective maelstrom of our ideas that have bounced off these rehearsal room walls over the last few weeks. To be honest, this way of working (without a director) is an exhausting but invigorating process – if those are not too contradictory words.

William Donaldson (dead) and Jack Whitam fail to ‘Trevor Nunn’ while rehearsing Romeo and Juliet.

We have built up a strange company linguistic shorthand over the last few weeks. For some reason we ‘concur’ a lot, rather than agreeing (think Catch Me If You Can), and ‘Trevor Nunn’ (the name of a prominent theatre director in the UK) seems to be another form of agreement we use – not sure of the derivation of that! But it’s a relief that we ‘concur’ and ‘Trevor Nunn’ pretty frequently through our working day.

We still have some more rehearsal time in Indiana, but yesterday we showed our work (in the form of a run of the whole play) to some of the Associate Directors of the Company. Their feedback was very positive and also gave us some pointers to work on next week.

It’s only by doing a run of the play that you start to get an idea of each actor’s ‘track’ through the play. I think of the term ‘track’ as being from the musicals world, really, (I guess stemming from the fact that, in that world, you often have to understudy a number of other parts to cover for sickness etc, and so you need to learn the track of each one – in other words, the various entrances and exits, as well as your offstage journey to each one, and where you might be in a dancing formation etc. Anyway, it seems an apt word for us here, where we are playing many parts and needing to find out when we enter where, with what prop and as which character. As you can imagine, it’s a confusing route for all of us. This is made harder by the fact that no actor ever exits the stage; if you do leave the scene, you sit on the chairs upstage, as you may (and often will) be needed to contribute sounds or voices to scenes you are not otherwise involved in.

The five member Romeo and Juliet cast walks their tracks.

At the moment, this all seems insurmountable – so far I have 36 different items on my track list – but I’m sure that running the play a few times will make things clearer. So, it’s time to print up travel details, weigh bags, and hopefully all meet on Sunday at Heathrow airport. The journey begins.

Roger May (January 20, 2017 | Brixton)

[Update: our Actors From The London Stage are safe and sound at their American home, Shakespeare at Notre Dame. Their first public performances will be February 1-3. Click HERE for tickets.]

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

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

Richard III, King of the Car Park | AFTLS Tour Blog III

You may not know this (forgive me if you do) but the real King Richard III who ruled England from 1483-1485 was the last English king to die on the battlefield: at Bosworth Field near Leicester.

He is also one of England’s greatest “villains,” mostly because he was deemed responsible for the disappearance of his two young nephews, Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard, Duke of York who went into the Tower of London in the summer of 1483 and were never seen again. They had been proved illegitimate and, though young Edward was due to be crowned, it was his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became king.

Richard III by Andrew Jamieson (courtesy of the Richard III Society)

Richard III by Andrew Jamieson (courtesy of the Richard III Society)

I put “villain” in inverted commas because many people feel even now that he was maligned especially by Shakespeare who concentrated on the wicked and comedic aspects of the man. Indeed, Shakespeare has Richard tell us in his very first speech that he is “determined to prove a villain.” Of course, dramatically, it makes Richard III an even more powerful and classy psychological thriller. It is argued that it was mostly the Tudors that wished to dishonour him.

In 1924, a group of very vehement supporters of Richard III formed a society in his name  to uphold and defend him as an excellent king who passed many good laws (true: a fairer criminal justice system and granting of bail was due to him) and they have members all over the world. The Richard III Society think that Shakespeare vilely slandered Richard, that he had nothing to do with the young princes’ disappearance, and that he certainly did NOT have a curvature of the spine and physical challenges.

In Shakespeare’s play Richard is called “a bunchback’d toad” amongst other horrible names. [Click HERE for a list of the insults hurled in Richard III]

In 2012, Phillipa Langley, a member of the still flourishing Richard III Society, after much research and poring over ancient maps, managed with an historian, John Ashdown-Hill, to persuade Leicester University’s archeological department and Leicester City Council to dig up the council’s car park (parking lot in your parlance) as they both had strong evidence that Greyfriars Monastery was beneath it and that Richard could possibly be buried there. Richard’s body, history told us previously, was taken from the battlefield, stripped naked, thrown and tied over the back of a horse, and ridden around the city of Leicester to prove he was dead. Philippa believed otherwise.

Richard greetings cardThere was money enough to dig two trenches and a film crew shot a documentary about this adventure. One of the first shots is of the rather beautiful and slightly nervy and terribly British Phillipa standing on a seemingly randomly painted letter ‘R’ (some old designated spacing I imagine) saying tremulously: “I don’t know why but I have the most extraordinary feeling that he’s right under here”…and HE WAS! In the very first hours of the very first day of the dig, they found first some legs and then a skull which they assumed (because of its awkward position) was another body on top ,only to discover that it was someone with a severely curved spine. It is worth watching The King in the Car Park solely for Philippa’s reaction as she looks down to the skeleton. You can watch she and the Society’s belief in Richard’s normal physicality shatter on screen. Matt, the lead archeologist of the dig, said that if they had chosen to dig 50 centimetres to the right, they would never have discovered his skeleton. The Home Office had to be called as human bones had been found, but the dig continued. It was later discovered that a descendant of Richard III’s sister, a Canadian cabinet maker living in London called Michael Ibsen, had  exactly the same DNA as the skeleton. They truly had found a “King in a car park,” 527 years after his death.

Richard's ReinterrmentPhillipa is a fantastic woman who doggedly pursued her instincts and who honoured this man, whatever his misdemeanours. She keeps saying all the way through, often weeping, “I just keep thinking about the man, the human being he was.” Two and a half years later he was interred at Leicester cathedral in an absolutely beautiful coffin made by his descendant, Michael Ibsen. Gosh, it’s nearly as thrilling as our play.

Richard-iii-remainsOne more wonderful thing, bearing in mind our gender blind casting and me — a woman — playing Richard, is that when the osteologist was first examining the bones she (for a goodly while) thought it was the skeleton of a woman because the hip bones were slightly larger than a male and the forearms very delicate and “gracile”…just like mine. Hurrah!

— Liz Crowther

BREAKING NEWS — Another King found in a car park just this week! The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has the whole story: Another car park, another King: ‘Henry I’s remains’ found beneath tarmac at Reading Gaol

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

“Midsummer” arrives at Notre Dame

The Midsummer AFTLS cast

“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain!”

We’ve arrived in the land of the free! (In a stretch limo no less; thanks Deb!) [Office note: the limo was the cheapest option to transport our five actors from Chicago to South Bend.] And at the risk of completely adhering to the British stereotype, I am going to talk about the weather. It has been amazing! I hadn’t packed for the beautiful Indian summer here. I have alpaca and cashmere for the winter but very little in the way of shorts and sunscreen, and it’s making me nervous about Texas in a couple of weeks…

Our first week in the US has been fairly slow-moving. We’ve had to do a lot of admin, from filling-in and rehearsing whilst battling the bewildering effects of jet lag. However, it has been a joy to finally meet the wonderful people at the end of all the emails who have also helped us through this week. Deb Gasper is an astonishing lady, organizing everything and conducting herself with the patience of a saint while we set ourselves up for the tour ahead. We have had the pleasure of meeting Becky and Heidi in finance and Peter, Scott, Aaron from Shakespeare at Notre Dame who have all been delightful.

The craft beer list at South Bend's Evil Czech Brewery

The craft beer list at South Bend’s Evil Czech Brewery

Deb, Aaron and Scott very kindly took us out for Taco Tuesday at Evil Czech Brewery where we got to experience the famous American craft beer movement first hand. (Scott’s spicy Porter had a real kick to it!) Joining us with an Irish welcome was Grant Mudge, producing artistic director of Notre Dame’s Shakespeare Festival.

In our rehearsal room this week we have been joined by Anna Kurtz-Kuk who has been a joy! So positive, useful, and insightful. I wish we could have had her with us in London too. She is about to direct a production of The Understudy and it promises to be a fantastic production if her contribution to our Midsummer is anything to go by.

Notre Dame's Golden Dome as seen from our rehearsal space, ND's historic Washington Hall.

The burning sun on the dome at Notre Dame. This picture does not do it justice. I couldn’t look at the dome it was so bright.

Rehearsals were held in Notre Dame’s historic Washington Hall, just steps away from ND’s Golden Dome. We did our second preview on Friday afternoon, a week after the first in London and got some great feedback from the audience. We’ll hopefully get some time this week to work the notes. After notes it was straight on the road to go to Valparaiso, gearing up for our Westville residency.

Saturday was our much needed day off and the day of the England vs Wales Rugby match in the Rugby Union World Cup which is going on back home.

The Indiana Dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan

View of Lake Michigan from the Indiana Dunes

Sam and Chris were keen to catch the match but failed to find anywhere in downtown Valparaiso showing it so ended up heading towards Lake Michigan where Claire, Patrick, and I had already gone to have a dip. My gosh, it was beautiful! And not as cold as the Hampstead ponds in London.

(Blog post by AFTLS actor Ffion Jolly)

Meet the Cast of the Winter’s Tale: Grant Goodman

Grant Goodman (Leontes)

Grant Goodman (Leontes)

Grant Goodman (Leontes, the King of Sicilia) is thrilled to be “back home again in Indiana” to perform at The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival. Off-Broadway credits include: Antony & Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice (Theatre for a New Audience), King Lear, The Iliad (Lincoln Center), Richard II (New York City Center/Pearl Theatre) and Pericles (Red Bull) among others.  Regional credits include extensive work with: Yale Repertory Theatre, Hartford Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company (Washington, D.C.), The Old Globe, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Arizona Theatre Company, PlayMaker’s Repertory Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Syracuse Stage, the Illinois, Kentucky, and Utah Shakespeare Festivals, and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey among many others. Television credits include: As the World Turns and Sex and the City. Training: Graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Grant was recently selected to represent the U.S. in the International Actors’ Fellowship at The Globe Theatre in London this coming fall.


For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame