By Chris Donnelly
Perhaps because this was AFTLS’s first visit to the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) and therefore we were something of an unknown quantity, the houses for our two shows were (relatively) small, but perfectly formed! Although by no means full in the lovely University theatre (sorry, theater – I’ve never gotten used to it!), there was a very positive response to the show and they certainly latched on to the comedic elements with alacrity. Similarly, we five could tangibly feel the atmosphere changing in the more serious moments, which told us that they were absolutely with us from beginning to end and that the storytelling in our production must therefore be clear. This was vindicated by the extremely positive feedback.
Our final performance on Saturday, the 10th, was at a different venue – the theatre (oops, did it again) within the Brown County library.
Our lovely residence organiser, Emily Ransom – who, incidentally, gained her Ph.D. at Notre Dame, which we were all very impressed with – voiced her slight concern with regard to whether there would be much uptake in the town, being relatively new to Green Bay herself and taking into account that only nine tickets had been sold in advance of the show.
This, potentially, could have been a slightly anticlimactic ending to what had proved to be a very lovely week. Nevertheless I feel that we approached it with our usual level of professionalism, as can be seen from the following footage taken backstage approximately forty minutes before curtain up!
However, we were delighted to find that there were well over a hundred in the audience and they were a wonderful house, including two of the lovely children who had attended a workshop with the cast that very morning! Which is a smooth segue into the other major aspect of our touring – the workshops.
As I started previously, the university was new to AFTLS and this can manifest itself in different ways. On this particular occasion, based on the assumption that the studentship hopefully might have an experience unlike anything they had formerly had at the university, but without knowing exactly in what way, the tutors took a leap of faith and there was a huge uptake – I believe we were virtually at the capacity that we were contractually allowed to do in a week. Indeed, there was a waiting list and the subject range was broad, ranging from the more standard exploration of scenes from Shrew for English and/or drama students, to course titles such as Real Estate Principals, International Finance and Business Management, Humans and Nature, and Politics and Sports!
Regarding the Humans and Nature class, this was a workshop Carl and I shared because there was a very large number of students assigned to the class. As is often the case with workshops with young adults who don’t necessarily have a background in drama, there was an initial reticence, but by the end of the class there were at least twenty of them standing on the desk bellowing King Lear’s famous lines when he is raging against the elements on the heath, whilst the rest of the group drummed on the desk to simulate the sound of the storm! The lovely lecturer was extremely pleased and stated the following:
“I’ve never seen this class so animated. They were standing on the desks. I was standing on the desk!”
The picture below bears witness to that fact!
My favourite workshop, however, was the Politics and Sports class, whereby the wonderful tutor, Katia, had suggested that I try and make something happen in the room, perhaps based around stage combat.
I decided to explore the scene from Troilus and Cressida, when Achilles and Hector confront one another. It is one of the most rewarding things imaginable to hear the students read aloud Shakespeare’s words, initially say that they couldn’t understand any of it, and then see them change when some context is added and the scene is then put up on its feet.
I had two friends from the basketball team play the two great opponents and when they grasped on to what was going on, they used the language so brilliantly and created such a palpable tension and antipathy between them, that the whole of the class, who were now on one side or the other, Greek or Trojan, were laughing, whooping, jeering and generally totally engrossed.
These are merely my memories and for each one I have, I know that all my fellow cast members have as many. I cannot convey how much it means to think that you have might have gone some way to breaking down a barrier between Shakespeare’s magnificent words and a class of students in 2018 in Wisconsin!
This feeling was created again on the Saturday morning, when the whole cast joined some young aspiring actors in a workshop run by Carl. They were a brave group anyway, but by the end of the session…well, I will let the video clip speak for itself…!
And now on to New Jersey!