Week Nine: San Antonio, Texas
By Kaffe Keating
“How now? Even so quickly may one catch the plague?”
– Olivia, Act 1, Scene 5
Texas is hot. In London at this time of year it’s usually getting cold on the street, and the little blasts of heat you get from the open door of a shop give you a brief reprieve from the chill. Here, it’s the opposite; the sun beats down and you’re grateful for the jets of cool, conditioned air which stream out of bars and cafés and stores as you melt along. Then a bloke in jeans and cowboy boots walks past you, not a bead of sweat to be seen. The mind boggles.
We sit on a sliding scale of heat-appreciation in this company. Claire, who will happily sit by the hotel pool under the midday sun for hours and who would surreptitiously turn off the fans in the sweltering rehearsal room in Brixton, and Katherine, who has been known to physically celebrate at the smallest sign of rain and the ensuing promise of a dip in temperature, are at opposing ends of the spectrum. I, along with Al and Jono, seem to sit more comfortably in the middle, although we’re all avoiding having the air con on in our rooms overnight. Dries the throat, darling. Also, constantly moving from warm to hot air is bound to make us ill…
This week is slightly unusual in a really exciting way. Instead of doing all three of our performances on the university campus, we’ll be performing for one night at the Empire Theatre, downtown in the heart of the city. This is the first time AFTLS will have had the opportunity to play this theatre and hopefully, if it goes well (and if it sells!), it could potentially become a permanent fixture of the tour in years to come.
San Antonio is a gorgeous city. Home to the Alamo and several other old Spanish missions, there’s a lot of history here. There’s also the River Walk, a series of walkways on each side of the San Antonio River, which snakes through the city below street level. As cars pass over bridges above, you’re free to wander along its man-made banks. There are, of course, sections which get quite touristy and the peace will occasionally be broken by a guide’s amplified voice as they describe certain historical intricacies to the passengers of their tour boat, but if you wander a little further on there’s a unique beauty to be enjoyed. A highlight for us was stumbling upon the Arneson River Theatre, where amphitheatre seating has been carved into the bank on one side of the river, and a stage laid out on the other. Conversation quickly turned to all the possibilities this could offer: “You could do The Tempest, and actually have the first scene on a ship in the river!” “Yeah, but you’d have to watch out for tour boats though…”
We’re walking around, seeing the sights, when Katherine mentions that her legs are beginning to feel like lead, that she’s feeling faint and that she’s probably going to need to find somewhere with some air-con. It is very warm. We eventually duck into a comparatively frigid Starbucks, which seems to do the trick. We put the odd spell down to the heat, and the fact that we’re all now beginning to feel the long-term fatigue of a job like this. Moving every week from city to city, from hotel room to hotel room, while being exciting and stimulating, is also tiring and physically draining, and unless we really look after ourselves we’ll inevitably get run down.
It’s the next day, the day of the show at the Empire, when Katherine gives us some bad news. She’s been feeling feverish and she’s got white spots on the back of her throat, the tell-tale signs of an infection. We all take turns shoving our heads in her mouth with our phone flashes on to take a good look, each providing our own amateur diagnosis as we do. The word ‘Tonsillitis’, the actor’s nightmare, does the rounds. No wonder she was feeling terrible yesterday; for someone who isn’t a fan of the heat, a bacteria-driven temperature in the Texas sun isn’t going to be a fun experience.
We’re all checking our own throats now (“No, but look at mine now, can you see any spots?”), but a nasty cough Al’s been fighting off and Claire’s ruby tinge of sunburn (about which she is in firm denial) aside, the rest of us seem to be in the clear. For Katherine, simultaneously performing two meaty roles in a Shakespeare play with a throat infection is not ideal, but the show must go on. We pack into the car – Katherine bravely popping a few paracetamol and ibuprofen – and trundle down to the Empire to tech the show in the space.
We’re welcomed warmly by Rob and the other stage-hands at the Empire’s stage door. They ask us if we need them to open the loading dock so we can bring in our set. We tell them we’ll be fine, as we pop the trunk and lift out our blue wheelie suitcase full of umbrellas, hats and fake bits of garlic.
The Empire is a lovely theatre. It marries the grandeur of a West End-style proscenium arch with the intimacy of a smaller auditorium. We learn we’ve sold around 500 tickets, brilliant news, more than enough to make this space hum nicely with energy. Luckily, we don’t have the task of filling the theatre next door, to which the Empire is connected by a short corridor: the aptly named ‘Majestic’. We’re treated to being able to look around the bigger of the two brothers. It’s massive, seating over 2,500 at maximum capacity, and decorated with incredible detail.
“What about that upper balcony, is that in use?” one of us asks Rob, noticing the highest seating area, which is almost impossible to spot from the stage.
“No, not any more. It’s the old segregation section.” He replies, shaking his head slightly. We stare blankly at him, so he continues. “It’s got its own entrance and doesn’t connect to the rest of the auditorium. It’s not been used since the 50s.” A relic of past racism, threaded into the very design of the theatre. Here, then, this kind of discrimination was so far entrenched as to dictate the actual architecture of the building.
Still, the journey that that realisation sends you on notwithstanding, it’s a beautiful theatre. Here’s a quick video Al made from both stages to give you an idea. If you look closely, you’ll catch a view of the now defunct balcony in the top reaches of the Majestic.
After the swiftest of techs, we had a few hours to spare before needing to be back in time for the show itself. Rather than heading out into the San Antonio sunshine, we instead chose to stay in the theatre and work through the play, beginning to end, to tease out the notes that have been building up in all of our heads. This is what we’ve needed – a trim here, a zeroing-in there – and the show is all the better for it. With the much-praised ‘Doctor Theatre’ tending to our walking wounded, the performance at the Empire goes down wonderfully. We pack up the case and head home to fight another day.
The day dawns and it’s clear that Katherine’s throat isn’t going to improve on its own. Thankfully neither of us have classes scheduled for today, so we’re free to head out in search of someone who’ll hopefully prescribe some antibiotics. We’ve been told that the place to go is an ‘Urgent Care Centre’, similar to a walk-in clinic in the UK, where we’ll hopefully be able to get a doctor’s appointment. A cursory search in Google Maps yields lots of options, all with different names, so we drive to the nearest one.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have a service provider in today so we’re not able to see any patients,” says the person behind the counter. ‘Service Provider’ means doctor, apparently. She helpfully suggests another clinic down the road that could help us. I’ve spotted a closer one on my map though. “Oh, no, I’d avoid that one. If you look, you can see it’s only got 3.5 stars, and this one’s got 4.7”. Right.
We drive to the 4.7 star place and we’re seen very quickly, but before Katherine is able to even be seen by a doctor she needs to fulfil what’s referred to euphemistically as her ‘Patient Responsibility’. Namely $109.00, paid up front. Before you even see a doctor. What you do if you’re unable to pay and if you’re not, like us, lucky enough to be covered by insurance is beyond me. Just hope it goes away on its own?
I knew that healthcare worked differently here, I know how immeasurably lucky we are in the UK to still have the NHS, but this was my first experience of how the other half live, first-hand. The urgent care centre we were standing in was on a strip-mall, nestled between a Starbucks and a Japanese takeaway. All businesses, with customers to serve.
The antibiotics the doctor prescribed Katherine have already kicked in by the time we’re performing the final show of our residency, back at the recital hall on the UTSA campus. And what a final show it was, probably our warmest audience yet – and the notes from the previous day at the Empire fully bedding themselves in.
Our two weeks in Texas have come to an end and, although we’ve only seen a tiny fraction of what this vast and stretching state has to offer, many of my previous thoughts about this place have been revealed to be guided by stereotypes and assumptions. In the times we’re living in, there are certain judgments that a woolly London liberal might make about a place like Texas. But from what I’ve seen of the people we’ve met, and the places we’ve visited, it’s clear that the range of opinions and viewpoints in this state is as big as the state itself. I’ll miss it here. Especially the hats.
Tomorrow, we leave for Massachusetts (which I have resigned to never being able to spell correctly on the first go) and a week at the prestigious Wellesley College.
The temperature there is due to be a cool nineteen degrees Celsius (or 66.2 Farenheit). I expect Katherine’s looking forward to that; not too sure about Claire, though…