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.]

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)

Announcing the 15th Anniversary Season of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival!

This 15th season is also the 150th anniversary of the first Shakespeare play ever performed at the University and the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. We look forward commemorating this momentous convergence of events with the following:

 ShakeScenesJuly 19 & 20, 2014

Young Company | The Merry Wives of WindsorJuly & August, 2014

 Professional Company | Henry IVAugust 19–31, 2014

 Actors From The London Stage | Much Ado About NothingSeptember 17–19, 2014

Explore the power and imagination of Shakespeare’s works, and celebrate a century and a half of the playwright’s influence here at Notre Dame. Join us for the 15th anniversary season of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival.

2014 Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival Season

2014 Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival Season

Goats but no Monkeys

Well what can I say – it feels like we have only just started and now we are off again. Tonight after the show we are being driven to Chicago because we need to be out of the way because something bigger than us is happening! – some kind of football game, I think, not sure what the big fuss is about!!!! – I AM JOKING!!! Of course I know what all the fuss is about – and good luck tomorrow for the game! We will be thinking of you.
We have had a couple of great shows and we are looking forward to another tonight!
Myself and Anna were teaching today at Saint Joseph High School, and it was great to hear the enthusiasm from the students, who had seen the play, it means we are doing our job and makes it all worthwhile!
We are off to San Antonio on Monday, and looking forward to it after a restful party over the weekend!
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Othello on Experience Michiana on WNIT

Anna Wright and Richard Neale joined Gordy Young on Experience Michiana on WNIT last night, Click here to view the clip. Their segment begins at 7:58

 

http://www.wnit.org/expmichiana/e/september-18th-2013.html#segment=3

 

Othello Tour’s first Blog

Well here we are, and very excited to be opening the show tomorrow night! We arrived in Notre Dame last Saturday after 4 weeks of rehearsal in Brixton, it is crazy to think that we only met as a group just over 7 weeks ago – it feels like years!!!!!
We arrived exhausted after the stresses of rehearsals and the flight and went straight back in to rehearsals – after our first full work day here we met this little fellow outside Washington Hall, who basically summed up how we were feeling at the time!!!
However we are now rested and refreshed and ready for our first night!Othello cast candid

How we felt when we hit the States!

How we felt when we hit the States!

Nashville, Vanderbilt and the end of the tour

Hamlet - the album cover

Hamlet – the album cover

Shuna in Nashville

Shuna in Nashville

Elvis has left the building

Elvis has left the building

The Sources of Country Music

The Sources of Country Music

Pete and Charlie

Pete and Charlie

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

2013-02-24 15.33.13 2013-02-24 19.36.34Blog 7 – Hamlet

Nashville did us all proud and was a colourful place indeed to finish our tour. More tales from the Country Music Capital of The World below.

Meanwhile, back to the coal face and this week’s host was Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, founded in 1873 with an uncharacteristically generous $1 million gift from Cornelius Vanderbilt, a rail and shipping magnate who never actually came here and was not generally known for being philanthropic towards the world.

The Neely Auditorium had its own particular, intimate vibe and for the first time we didn’t have to be too wary about projecting our voices, you could whisper and reach the outer shores of the audience effortlessly so it was a charismatic studio space in which we inherited a slightly off-kilter raised stage, that thrust us nearer to the audience than we’ve yet been and served the show beautifully.

The Vanderbilt theatre guys were graceful pros: Philip undertook our lighting plot with mighty aplomb and produced some sophisticated and sinister effects for the ghost scenes; he shone a shaft of light across the hessian cloth ( which we gobbled up from the recent students’ production of The Good Person of Sezchuan ) . Matt, stage-managing, produced custom-built, freshly painted tables in a jiffy and sorted us out for every eventuality with great enthusiasm and wherewithal and student, Laura, ‘called’ both our shows with seamless efficiency. Throughout the tech, Matt’s tiny son, quiet as a mouse and with an ever-fixed smile, played avidly with a set of matchbox cars just at the foot of the stage and only sought his father’s lap during the angrier scenes before returning serenely to his miniature grand prix. We are very grateful to them and it was a smooth technical ride indeed. Houses were good, particularly the evening show, and Jon Hallquist – Co-Director of the theatre – was a real gent as I bumped into him outside the stage door ( I was taking a bit of air under the tree that’s just there), shaking my hand and kindly expressing his compliments after we’d taken our last bow.

Nashville was a most comfortable fusion of all disciplines – teaching, performing and catching a few of the tremendous sights. Perhaps because by now we were all relatively at ease with the prospect of classes, workshops and anything that might be thrown at us, we were able to let our shoulders drop a little and lose ourselves as well in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the bars on Broadway and The Grand Ole Opry as we were to the week’s schedule of classes and ultimately Saturday’s Hamlet double whammy.

Vanderbilt somehow reminded us of England and we never quite worked out why. The buildings, the birdsong , the smell of the place – anyhow, it was a pleasant and easy campus to negotiate as we all strode to our respective classes and the students were impressively bright and knowledgeable about the play and – even those who weren’t theatre majors – supportive of our efforts to get them on their feet and during the series of workshops we did throughout the week, we saw several faces again and again and there was a satisfying crescendo in the dynamic between them.

Our first academic meeting on the Monday was in the theatre around a table covered in choice snacks: Terryl, Jon, Christin, Leah, Emily and Lynn all proved to be both relaxed, welcoming and hopeful about the week ahead. One unusual interlude was our invitation to lunch with literary Professor Ed Friedman and several of his students in the department of Spanish and Portuguese. We all turned up to a graceful, rambling old Faculty building – a former academic’s home in the early 20th Century and very pretty – and found ourselves holding, for one thing, Don Quixote up to the light in conversation with a group of extremely fine minds.

I’ll attempt a round-up of the team’s Nashville adventures via the scene of its Last Supper, the final meal of the US tour enjoyed at our favourite local restaurant, Amerigo’s, just across from our hotel and where we brainstormed the events of the week.

All due care was put into choosing our final meal with the following results:

Terry – Scallops Veneto with parmesan polenta and asparagus
Pete – Lasagna, ‘but wanted you to think he had gone for the Tilapia in angel hair’
Shuna – Pasta pomodoro with shrimps
Andrew – Prime Sirloin Steak
Charlie – 1. Lobster bisque 2. Shrimp Scampi [then disappeared from view behind a] 3. Peanut butter blondie

Terry admitted to ‘a Nashville moment I shall never forget’ when Professor Emily King had quietly approached him at the beginning of class with “ Should I introduce you as Sir Terence or Sir Terry?”

It would have been impossible to avoid, but the team did indeed plunge themselves into the Country Music scene. On the first evening, down we strode to the main drag, Broadway, where neon lights and Stetson-hatted doormen abounded. We managed to resist for forty yards before our first sharp right into the Full Moon Saloon and – Pete emphasized – some excellent violin playing from a group, called ‘Ma Tried’, led by a gritty looking Mother on the base guitar and her curvaceous blonde daughter on vocals. The Full Moon Saloon became our default venue on Broadway and yet it had all the decorative frill of a traditional butcher’s shop, really: moist wooden floor, several old specimens slumped at the bar, cigarette smoke rising from geyser-like clusters of flesh, and nobody else around. The curvaceous daughter encouraged us – we were the only cluster of flesh showing any interest – to make requests, and after a few misses (in that none of us know enough country music to be able to make a request and other more off-country requests they knew but ‘don’t do’). Andrew hit the first jackpot with Tom Petty’s I won’t back down which was agreed to by the hitherto invisible female drummer and delivered to eviscerating effect in her astonishingly skillful, strong and characterful voice. ‘Ma Tried’ packed up in due course and, whilst the hunched drinkers still showed their backs to the stage, we shifted on our stools and dug in for the evening. Along came Megan Ellis, a young woman who proceeded to deliver a four-hour long set, and all of it only to us. She had a good voice, was glamorously dressed, and after some minutes of adjusting various knobs on the sound system, she seemed to settle down and connect, but by God it looked like hard work, singing your heart out to almost nobody for the whole of the evening. Well, we clapped and hollered appreciatively and she managed to sell us her CD, entitled, “Patsy Cline and Me” – announcing it was her very first published album and that she was ‘mighty proud’ that it had been bought by some English people. She did indeed coo at our accents and our willingness to buy her album and seemed very grateful, so much so that she asked us how long we were staying and pressed on Pete her schedule of gigs for the whole week. Looks like a tough life!

I don’t know what it was but we kept finding ourselves in The Full Moon Saloon. The next night we discovered Rory Hoffman, a blind accordionist, saxophonist, harmonica player, table guitarist and sensational singer – his set also included some excellent violin playing by a young woman. Pete was so impressed by his musicianship that he sought him out several times across the week. One piece, called simply Train, was a virtuoso musical rendition of a train – playing on the melancholy moan-like ‘Choooooo’ that the US trains have – and a rollicking stretch of listening ended in a long rhythmical switch-back of crescendos and our own riotous applause.

As none of us were Country Music aficionados, we decided to educate ourselves via a visit to all the Guidebooks’ key Nashville museum, The Country Music Hall of Fame. Here, in a mighty building with the windows drafted into its front wall in the pattern of piano keys, you walk the whole history. There was some fascinating, crackling film footage from way back, for instance from somewhere in the 1920’s, an African American family outside their ramshackle shack of a home – the father on the banjo, the mother sitting bolt upright and completely still in a high-backed wooden chair and seven young children avidly bobbing up and down doing the Charleston. Hymns and songs came with the coalminers who had traipsed to Nashville via the Cumberland Gap – and Cecil Sharp, a British historian did a survey in the 1920’s, of all the folk songs still sung in the Appalachians (and also then came westwards) that had been lost from the repertoire back home. There was a shrine to Patsy Cline that surrounds you as you enter the gallery, one of Elvis’s cars complete with TV and gold seats, and a long line of famous guitars. There was much to learn – all the offshoots such as blue grass, singing cowboys and rock n’ roll itself were detailed in great detail.

One of the week’s highlights for all of us was our visit to the Grand Ole Opry. This was and still is the name of a live broadcast radio show that was performed weekly at the old Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville and now in a mighty modern concert hall of a place just out of town. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Dolly – they all played the Grand Ole Opry.

We were up in the gallery and thoroughly enjoyed the Friday night line-up culminating in the headliners, the Old Crow Medicine Show, who played their violins and guitars at turbo-boost speed and made a sensational sound. Andrew was particularly appreciative, as he’d been introducing himself to some new American music throughout the tour and happened to already have one of their albums. One of the performers was (Andrew’s description:) ‘A clammy sweaty man’ with a generous waistline who insisted on bringing, one after the other, both his daughters up on stage – the second of whom, a robust looking lass, was awarded by Dad a two minute slot to give us a couple of verses of Amazing Grace which she sang extremely robustly. There was a superb bluegrass band, the SteelDrivers and the curtain came down to a quartet of cowboys – cooing their gentle harmonies like out of the 1950’s and the Compere was a white-haired banjoist in dungarees with a dry ole wit.

One extraordinary thing happened to Shuna at The Grand Ole Opry. During the intermission she spotted her brother, his wife and her immediate family, five rows in front! Neither she nor her brother had any idea the other was at that particular point on the planet that Friday night – much hilarity and a few beers at The Full Moon Saloon to celebrate the coincidence.

Andrew explored the music scene further and found more bluegrass at The Station Inn, where he was given a pumpkin muffin and watched a punch-up outside. He was particularly taken with the metal guitars at the Hall of Fame and has, meanwhile, determined to enhance his repertoire on strings (he plays the ukulele) and hit the banjo on his return to the UK.

Nashville has an excellent distribution of bicycle stations (like Boris bikes in London): Shuna and Charlie pedaled a good round via Fort Nashville and over Cumberland Bridge to the quiet, historic neighbourhood of East Nashville where birds sang along very pretty residential streets and beautiful southern houses; Shuna became obsessed with the delights of the American porch, their rocking chairs and swinging seats. Andrew cycled along a railroad track and discovered Germantown and its many churches. Andrew also found Nashville’s supply of Rembrandts at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, a former post office in the grand Art Deco style. Terry enjoyed the Tennessee State Museum’s comprehensive Civil War exhibition.

After Hamlet had closed on the Saturday night and our work in the US was done for this AFTLS tour, we all agreed to spend the final day of our whole adventure together, in Sunday’s sunshine, a short drive out at President Andrew Jackson’s home and plantation – The Hermitage, built in 1804. We spent an hour in the very extensive museum section, coming to terms with this president’s legacy of Indian removals – the Trail of Tears – and the lives of many of his slaves – some of whom long outlived him and became Freed men and women. We walked across some fields to the mighty mansion – such dimensions you just don’t see in England! An enormous house with comparatively few – but huge rooms you could play tennis in. White-haired guides with delicious, old-fashioned accents told us all sorts of stories. The highlight was the hallway with its surviving mural and the gorgeous, wide winding staircase. A long trail wound through the grounds, via the early farmhouse and all the slave quarters.

Sun-kissed, delighted, chastened we returned to Nashville and brushed up for the Last Supper. Shuna attempted to extract definitive tour highlights and lowlights but a certain amount of rambling went on and this is all she collected on the subject:

Highlights/Lowlights

Andrew – highlights:
1. Driving the Mo Fo (tank of a hire car) west into the sunset.
2. The Old Crow Medicine Show at the Grand Ole Opry
Lowlights:
1. Losing a filling and having to rush to a dentist in Chicago
2. Lack of decent tea to drink in the US (so bought huge packet of PG Tips in Wal-Mart and lived off those)

Terry – highlights:
1. Bird watching – e.g. bluebird and scarlet tanager in Tennessee
2. Andrew inadvertently changing ‘blue’ to ‘grey’ during Laertes’ speech;
‘T’oertop old Pelion or the skyish head
Of grey Olympus’
Lowlights:
1. Urban detritus
2. Trying to cross a four lane highway to get a beer

Shuna – highlights
1. Approaching Chicago along Lake Shore Drive whilst listening to the song ‘Lake Shore Drive’
2. The Tennessee accent
3. Fresh snowfall in sunlight, outside Washington Hall, Notre Dame
Lowlights:
1. Strip malls
2. Getting vertigo on the Ferris wheel on the Chicago waterfront

Pete – highlights
1. Chicago
2. Rory Hoffman in The Full Moon Saloon, Nashville
3. Dying, one night, in Horatio’s crotch
Lowlights:
1. The mojito problem
2. Lack of performances of Hamlet
3. You can’t get veg for fries

Charlie – highlights
1. Catching Steppenwolf’s performance in Chicago
2. Cocktails at the top of the John Hancock tower, Chicago
3. Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Dvorjak, Sibelius, Rachmaninov
Lowlights:
1. Being bullied by Terry and Shuna about making the grave in the grave-diggers’ scene
One team highlight has been the fulfillment of teaching classes. There was no need, as it turned out, to be nervous of them at all and teaching both alone and in pairs has been an invigorating joy in all the universities of the tour.
Quote to sum up: ‘ We just can’t stop Charles from teaching!’ (Valparaiso)

Finally, we got a standing ovation at Vanderbilt for our very last show – as if they knew to tell us, ‘You’ve made it!’

It isn’t over, of course, until it’s over and the team now has one last performance of Hamlet, at the Fortune Theatre in London. It won’t be the same facing a British audience and when we set off at 7.30pm on Monday with ‘Who’s there?’ we shall remember how many students and professors and American friends have looked on our efforts with such unremitting interest and enthusiasm. – Shuna

Notre Dame, Michigan City, Lake Shore Drive and My Kind of Town!

Hamlet – Blog 6

Time has blazed by and a lot of US water has flowed under a lot of US bridge: in the last ten days, our tiny footsteps have pattered to and fro across the St Joseph River via N Michigan Street in South Bend, the Chicago River at Du Sable Bridge for one, and only today across the Cumberland River along Woodland Street Bridge in Nashville, Tennessee.

I seem to remember dropping the narrative last Sunday, when the sun was setting on Valparaiso and Terry had returned from owl watching up in Grand Haven. He didn’t see any owls, nevertheless enjoyed crunching through the snowy forest at night, and did see Bald Eagles by day.

First of all, we had the fun of reunion with our AFTLS friends and the tour’s lynchpins at Notre Dame – Ryan, Debra, Scott, Grant, Chuck and Prof Peter Holland. Chuck drove us back from Valparaiso to South Bend across a short stretch of Indiana countryside and was a fine guide, highlighting the old town square at La Porte for one.

We had Washington Hall to look forward to for the show and a great joy it was to hand back the Hamlet prompt copy to Ryan (its creator in the first place), knowing that the lighting design – such at it is – was going to be illuminating us at an all time tour best in his capable hands and, again in the shape of Ryan, we had the one-off luxury of a full time and dedicated Stage Manager.

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Water on the British driver’s side! Lake Shore Drive the road is called and it’ll take you up or down.

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A home in Nashville.

We kicked off the week with a tour of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center with its several plush, beautifully designed performance spaces – each one breathtaking in its own way and breath taken away completely on entering the great Hall with two organs –

Andrew Fallaize preparing for work

Andrew Fallaize preparing for work

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A Horse and Buggy!

2013-02-15 09.08.43

It’s 9:30 AM?

2013-02-13 15.39.30 2013-02-13 15.11.01 one mighty, wood carved wonder at one end and at the other, organ scholar in situ and pressing the keys as we entered, a 16th Century Neopolitan beauty. Gothic Cathedral-like high, triangular ceiling with huge crossbeams.

Then to the Academic meeting to meet Peter Holland and the other professors – Debra, of course, had set out a delicious spread of food and drink and we were still munching and chatting with some of the professors until long after we’d got our lesson briefs, beaming with the warmth of the welcome back and the comfort of the proceedings as administered by the abiding anchor of our entire experience in the US – Debra.

At an early point in the week, Ryan handed Andrew back his robbed-in-week 1-at-7-eleven ten dollars! He’d gone in, evidently laid in with a high moral tone and emerged with the goods. Andrew has been seeking out 7 elevens ever since and was significantly spiritually restored.

Pete found the Fiddlers Hearth in downtown South Bend for a session of Irish music and we followed him there with his violin and drank Guinness, our eyes filling with mist as he joined what we assumed were a family of other fiddlers, drummers, a guitar and a couple of tin whistles.

Another good week of classes: Shuna enjoyed her session with Peter Holland and his group of teachers and Terry took on a back to back pair of sessions on King Lear in breathtaking form with an investigation into the sexuality of ‘the milk of Burgundy’ and ‘the vines of France’ which the Professor took entirely in his stride, beaming all the way through.

Pete, Andrew, Shuna and Terry pitched up for the SonnetFest on St Valentine’s Day – we read two each and watched a procession of academics and students reading theirs at the pulpit, as the four hours of sonnets was beamed round the world via internet to any interested parties. Two were read in Chinese, one in Italian and one was sung in opera style by a very impressive Baritone.

This same Baritone was also the Director of Opera Studies and Charlie, meanwhile, had bravely agreed to take a session with his opera students studying a libretto in French. He emerged entirely unshaken and wishing he’d had more time.

Two drives out into Amish Country were a highlight for Shuna, Andrew and Charlie. Graciously laid out homesteads, bright white barns, a nice picnic lunch bought from an Amish deli and a chat with a furniture maker, born and bred on the farm and hoping to make a visit to his ancestral home of Switzerland, when his community take a European tour this year. Yelps of delight and dropping of cameras as we spotted our first horse and buggy. Charlie nearly spent $450 on a beautiful Amish rocking chair, but was defeated, alas, by the cost of shipping.

Washington Hall did us proud for our shows and Hamlet held together. A good chin wag with Peter and his professor wife, Romana, afterwards. The second and final South Bend performance was packed up in record quick time and we bee-lined, untypically, back to the hotel immediately after it. We were up at the crack the following morning and embarking on Hamlet again less than 12 hours later, 9.30 am kick off at Elston Middle School in Michigan City. Ashen faces gathered in the lobby at dawn….. it was an outlandish experience, but the kids – mostly 12 year-olds and kept under control with iron discipline – apparently lasted the course and gave us a riotous reception. Scott, Ryan, Chuck and Debra all came with us to the school and were invaluable in helping us set up in the huge barn of a theatre. Bleary-eyed but relieved to have got through it, we all piled into two cars and headed for our great treat – the Chicago weekend.

Great excitement in Chuck’s car as we sailed past a heck of a lot of Police barriers and traffic control in anticipation of Obama’s visit that afternoon. Heavy sighs from Scott’s vehicle as they got caught in the mayhem. Chuck, again an excellent guide – and some fascinating stories of his experiences directing The Sound of Music with a very mature Maria. Chuck, a dark horse at the best of times, now pressed play on his iPOD and we zoomed along Lake Shore Drive (along the shore of Lake Michigan) with the astonishing Chicago skyline ahead, listening to the song, Lake Shore Drive, which Shuna has now acquired as a life long reminder of this wide-eyed arrival.

Hurried farewells and sad to say goodbye to Chuck and Scott. Very glad to have had the car journey to chew over some fat.

What a city! A weekend on a different planet and we all came away raving.
Our first slap-up dinner at Terry’s old haunt, Shaw’s Crabhouse after a few Chicago dogs at a tavern near our characterful hotel, The Tremont on W. Chestnut street. Ryan explained what it is that makes a Chicago ‘dog’ so much more distinguished from a common or garden Hotdog – it’s a pickle thing and the quality of the sausage, broadly speaking – and the boys all downed theirs at breakneck speed and approvingly. (Actually, Terry had a Reuben sandwich which he praised as highly). We dined darned well in Chicago (Shuna and Charlie pretty much relentlessly) and even survived The Battle of The Bill at Shaw’s Crabhouse. Charlie, I think, emerged the lightest of all of pocket having splashed out on a couple of nice bottles of wine, and after a slightly blanched twenty minutes of realization at what we’d all spent, everyone bounced back pretty quickly and hurled themselves at the next spending spree with almost psychotic gusto. Such was the allure of everything Chicago.

We all had adventures in all sorts of directions (including UPWARDS – ascents were made of Sears Tower and John Hancock Tower) – Ryan took us in hand and led us to Buddy Guy’s Legends for some late-night blues where the bass guitarist had huge hands. Andrew met a flautist from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who Shuna and Charlie found themselves watching at a concert the next day. Pete and Ryan took photos under the enormous, silver sculpture of a bean, Terry found his beloved Crannach The Elder paintings of Adam and Eve at the Art Institute and Pete, in the same building says he ‘found a nipple’, and showed us a photo of a painting of a girl called ‘Resting’. Shuna and Charlie saw a terrific show by Steppenwolf, The MotherF**ker with the Hat and attended a ‘gospel brunch’ where they ate like hogs and sang Hallelujahs.

We all loved the city and found the people very friendly indeed. Sensational architecture – Art Deco still alive and part of it all – all agreed it would be a fantastic place to try and live. Quote of the day is Terry’s: on asking a man the way to walk to somewhere, the man answered, ‘ Sir, you don’t walk in Chicago you WAAAARK!’

And now Nashville, by Christ! The Tennessee voices are rolling thick and fast – wow, they sound good – and we’ve glugged beer and spent a long evening in a bar cheering along a Country singer with no audience but ourselves for her four hour set.

We had a friendly welcome from Laura and Leah at the airport and have now met the faculty and had our first session on stage – it’s an intimate, studio-style theatre and it’ll be a refreshing change to be in a small space. All sorts of plans for the week and the classes have got off to a good start with very bright, up for it students. Arrived to Spring-like sunshine, but tonight it’s only a couple of degrees above freezing. – Shuna

How I learned to drive in Valparaiso?

BLOG 5: Valparaiso

So, back in Indiana – snow storms and now drizzle and a tropical 44 degrees farenheit. A day or two’s acclimatization post Texas, hovering between longjohns and bare legs, snow boots and clogs.

A full-up week of classes with students from assorted majors, some far removed from theatre, and many of whom, quite apart from valiantly turning their hands to Shakespeare’s text with us, are in the midst of the busiest time of their semester. As we’ve packed up our workshop notes and trudged back home to hit the hay (via a line-run of Hamlet from the pillow), they’ve been trotting off to ‘flying’ rehearsals for the Dance Ensemble performance, which we watched on Friday night; or they’ve gone on to rehearse – late into the evening – their upcoming production of Paula Vogel’s How I learned to Drive. They’re a busy bunch and have still managed to find the energy to throw great enthusiasm at our classes and pack out the auditorium for the Saturday evening performance of Hamlet only hours after their own matinee dance extravaganza and having turned up in force to attend our morning workshops.

We’ve enjoyed a rather sparkling social life this week thanks to the university faculty – Lee, Alan, Andy, Ann and Arran – providing us with warm hospitality and our first step across an American threshold. Mr and Mrs Orchard did us proud with fine wine, an assortment of Bourbons that Pete and Andrew sifted through at some length, and a wonderful spread of food in their open-plan wood-raftered living room. Last night, after Hamlet, and having safely stowed the so-called ‘Showbag’ at the hotel (this is the large, battered, sworn at old wheelie suitcase that’s scuffs along at a limping trundle and contains the entire Old Curiosity Shop of our production), we descended on our hosts again, at a downtown bar and proceeded – flushed with the relief of having mounted Hamlet safely after a week’s interval – on getting the right side of a fair few glasses; Beers, bourbons, vodka martinis and wine landed with considerable frequency. Blue-cheese-stuffed olives were taken dripping from Arran’s martini and handed across the table for sampling. More martinis followed as a result and, to cut a long story short, this morning’s planned trip to Amish country was completely abandoned. Nevermind, we’ll approach the Amish towns next week, from South Bend instead.

After a morning – and early afternoon – of deathly quiet at the hotel, Pete, Andrew, Charlie and Shuna managed to put one foot in front of the other by about 5pm and assembled at our favourite American restaurant so far – Pikk’s Tavern in downtown Valparaiso. Here they do fantastic gumbo, lots of delicious giant shrimp and seafood dishes and good steaks. Terry was last seen at Pikk’s cavorting through a San Franciscan seafood stew. He’s left us today, to join friends up in Michigan in Grand Haven for some bracing walks by the lake.

Charlie and Shuna drove up to the lakeshore (Lake Michigan) a couple of days ago and were suitably astounded by the grandeur of the crashing waves and the devastating wind. We had to walk up over the sandy dunes in order to see the lake because between the shoreline and the water were great banks of snow drifts that looked a bit like a strip of glacier and when you stood at sea-level at the edge of the shore you couldn’t see the lake, only the few hundred feet worth of snow drift and the spray against the sky as the lake buffeted against it, blocked from view. We learned from a signpost, that there was a battle here in late 1780 in which a British general got wind of a band of men who had plundered a whole lot of trade fur and chased them through the dunes until they surrendered. Charlie was very taken with the general’s (very un-British) name, and is thinking of changing his stage name in honour of Lieutenant Dagreaux du Quindre.

Terry had his own adventure in downtown Valparaiso where he discovered the town’s museum full of an eclectic array of exhibits including mammoth tusks and some very helpful, whilst eccentric, members of staff. Downtown Valparaiso is a quiet, pleasant place of brick terraced houses and some interesting independent shops. Terry, for instance, found a specialist cake shop and made off with an extremely large, pink box of mega cupcakes for his friends up in Grand Haven.

Andrew has spent a certain amount of time avidly cruising the aisles of Walmart in search of various provisions – it’s the first Walmart we’ve visited in the US and sells everything known to man. Andrew was, however, amongst the breakaway group of three who decided to renounce Walmart one sunny afternoon and head for Sunset Hill Farm County Park, a few miles north of the town. Sun glinting on snow along dappled woodland trails; we talked about cross-country skiing, though not enough snow to do it, and decided not to walk across the frozen pond and fulfill the deathwish. The Park has a few old farm buildings – it used to be a dairy and chicken farm in the 1930’s – and still has some vintage agricultural machinery sitting about in open barns. We fancied ourselves as Country singers modeling for our newest album cover as we posed for photos on the tractors and swathed ourselves on threshing machines. See pictures below.

Pete has been involved in a sort of solitary expressionist maelstrom by dead of night: on leaving the foyer for the walk across to campus one morning, he announced ‘ The Valparaiso sky is the colour of MURDER!’. We all wondered what on earth he was talking about – was playing Hamlet getting to the lusty youth at last? – Pete had been up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and discovered that ‘the sky is mauve and grey and swirly’ and had actually been moved to do a piece to camera on his phone about the phenomenon as it struck him. I overheard some of the footage and it’s a dramatic broadcast of a man grappling with the wonders of the universe. On a more worldly note, Pete is coming to the end of his tether regarding the American mohito. He says he’s giving up and not having another until he returns to the UK or if he went to New York he might attempt one but only if he could talk to the barman first.

Back at the coal face, we’ve had a very satisfying week of classes including a few welcome departures from Shakespeare as we dropped in on evening rehearsals for ‘Learning to Drive’. One session involved so-called ‘hot-seating’ the students in character (asking a character questions about him/herself beyond the play to which they make up the answers) – they were three weeks into rehearsals and well placed to have a go at this exercise. In fact, so completely did they commit themselves imaginatively to the improvisation that their characters blossomed before us and the interviews became too compelling to cut short and we spent a full two hours between the five characters.

It was liberating, too, to spend Saturday morning’s two-hour workshops on fresh ground away from Hamlet. Charlie actually overran his session on Audition techniques by half an hour and Lee came in next door to tell us, ‘ We just can’t stop Charles from teaching!’. Andrew did a session on rhetoric using the Gettysburg Address, Pete and Shuna shared a productive session on physicality and voice which culminated in a detailed Terry masterclass on iambic pentameter which the students appeared to lap up, even towards the end of a long workshop. We all felt pleased and enjoyed a pre-show lunch in the campus canteen, followed by a few hours’ rest and then back to the theatre to mount

.

We made it through and did a good show, though a week’s break inevitably blunts the wherewithal in certain ways, and you just have to hang on tight. Student and teacher response was very positive, “Good job!’ and Andrew is accumulating a significant fan-club, amongst the young women in particular it seems, for Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. Charlie and Pete had a bit of an entanglement during Claudius’ death, which normally takes place relatively neatly with Charlie swallowing the poison lying across the couple of chairs and silk cloth that make the throne. Last night, Charlie’s demise was more violent still: Pete’s body weight and both the chairs ended up on top of Charlie, whose corpse lay covered messily in the silk cloth and not as visible as usual. Pete then had to feel about in search of the goblet of poison which had got caught in Charlie’s jacket before he could possibly continue with the next bit in which he comes downstage and grapples with Horatio over ‘the cup!’

Back to our old friends in Notre Dame tomorrow for the next part of the adventure. For one thing, we’re very much looking forward to the theatre in Washington Hall. – Shuna