Midsummer in December

By Grant Mudge

The December full moon arrives at 12:12am on 12/12, known as the Full Cold Moon. It’s the same date we selected for Lavina Jadhwani’s master class, in anticipation of her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The class will run from 7-9pm.

It’s known also as the Long Night’s Moon, and both names have roots in First Nation or Native American traditions, occurring as it does on or near the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, this year the 21st. It’s also called the Moon Before Yule, the Oak Moon, and the Bitter Moon.

Naturally, this had me thinking of the Moon in Midsummer. Some of you may know Earth’s satellite plays a special role in my house.

There’s even a hint of direct reference in the play, though Theseus here is speaking more about Chastity than Winter, and contrasting with more Earthly fruitfulness:

“Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires;
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether, if you yield not to your father’s choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew’d,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill’d,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness. ” I.i

It’s a distillation of the fertile growth of summer living on, perhaps in progeny. Like a flower distilled into perfume outliving the blossom itself.

The cycles of the Moon and the Seasons of course are often tied to fertility rites, marriages, and festivals whether of high summer, deep winter, or harvest. In the very first sentence of Shakespeare’s play, Theseus bemoans the slow approach of a new Moon, whose pace and chastity “lingers his desires.” Hippolyta assures him that the time will quickly pass and that the Moon will arrive in four days, “like to a silver bow/ New-bent in Heaven.” She will “behold the night of our solemnities.” One assumes chaste Diana will occasionally look away.

Moments later in the same scene, Egeus decries Lysander’s singing of feigning verses to Hermia “by moonlight” and of course the Queen of the Fairies herself proclaims the Moon to be “pale in her anger,” who “washes all the air that rheumatic diseases do abound,” among other disastrous climate changes. The speech is a key reason I’ve selected Midsummer for 2020.

The troupe of workmen rehearsing a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s royal marriage need moonlight in their play because, “you know, Pyramus and Thisbe meet by moonlight.” Nick Bottom later greets the actor presenting Moonshine with “Sweet Moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams.”

Even Cupid’s arrows are “quenched in the chaste beams of the watery Moon,” and after forty-seven other references, it is not Theseus who speaks the final mention of the Moon, as the Dream fades into morning, but Puck:

“Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the Moon.”

I’m intrigued and delighted to see that as we reach the antipodal solstice of our coming 20th Anniversary NDSF Season, the full Moon will usher in some winter cheer on the 12th day of December. Maybe we’ll howl at the Full Cold Moon.

It should be a terrific occasion and I look forward to everyone meeting Lavina Jadhwani.

See you then.






“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #15

Week Fifteen: United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado
By Kaffe Keating

“But that’s all one, our play is done.”
– Feste, Act 5 Scene 1

And after what feels like a lifetime and no time at all, we’re arriving at our final destination, Colorado Springs. Where the Rocky Mountains rear up on one side, and the plains of middle America on the other.

We’re finishing off our tour at another military academy. This time we’ll be the guests of the US Air Force. The United States Air Force Academy, or USAFA for short (think of Simba’s dad and you’ll get the pronunciation), sits high above the city of Colorado Springs, nestled within the mountains themselves.

My grandfather was an RAF pilot who got picked to be part of an exchange to the US and so flew with the US Air Force during his training. It’s funny to think that I’ll be teaching in some of the classrooms where officers he would have known received their own education.

Our flight from Indianapolis takes us into Denver, known as the Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile, or 5280 feet, above sea level. An hour and a half later we climb a bit higher and arrive at Colorado Springs (6035 feet) and our hotel, with its incredible mountain view.

We’re met by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Lee, who’s one of the instructors at USAFA and who’s
organised the residency. He’s the one who first lets us know that the altitude may be more of a factor in our week than we thought…

“Oh, by the way, you’ll need to drink a lot more water than you usually do. You don’t want to get altitude sickness.”

Altitude sickness. Brilliant. I suppose it’s fitting that the cadets here train at altitude; I know that
marathon runners often train at higher elevations so that their bodies can adapt to the thinner air. Then they’re able to use all the extra red blood cells they’ve made to carry extra oxygen to their muscles for the race itself.

We, however, are doing the opposite. We’ve been in Indiana for a fortnight. If you’ve been to
Indiana, you know that altitude sickness is probably the last thing you’d need to worry about.
Warsaw, where we were last week stands at a modest 823 feet.

“Drink lots of water. And maybe lay off the booze for the first few days,” says Bill. The academy, which we can see from our hotel window, is even higher than Colorado Springs itself, 7258 feet up in the air.

The problem with altitude is that the air gets thinner the higher you go, meaning that there’s less oxygen available for stuff like, you know, moving around. This can cause fatigue (because god knows we need more of that), nausea and, the Shakespearean actor’s favourite, shortness of breath. You also start vomiting and stuff when it gets really bad. I decide to heed Bill’s advice, lay off the beers and drink enough water that I’m in search of a restroom every half hour.

It’s AFTLS’ first time at USAFA (we decided that the fight over who could get the most letters into an acronym should end in a draw), and we’re aware of the importance of making a good first impression on the way to our final faculty meeting, where we meet the tutors whose classes we’ll be commandeering. But, as ever, everyone is incredibly friendly and inviting and it promises to be an interesting week of teaching.

We’ve only got the one show at USAFA, which will be our final US performance. Our burgeoning outcry is quashed, however, when we learn about the size of the theatre. Arnold Hall, the theatre on base, seats over 2700 people – we’re not going to need more than one performance in a space that big. It’s absolutely massive, more than twenty times bigger than Grace College’s Little Theatre. In the space of two weeks we will have performed in the smallest and biggest auditoria of the tour, one after the other. Talk about adapt or die…

On one of the days we were treated to lunch with the cadets, who all eat together in the vast Mitchell Hall. Just like at the Naval Academy, the cadets are required to march in in sections to the sound of the academy brass band playing the Air Force song, before sitting down to eat.

“They call this the longest table in the world,” Colonel Kathleen Harrington, who runs the English department, tells us as we survey the cadets all chowing down. “Because the freshman sit at one end of the table, and at the other end of the table is a senior. It’s the longest table, because it takes four years to get from one end to the other.” The cadets sit not in year groups, but in squadrons with the older, more experienced cadets guiding, and in some cases policing, the younger ones.







The academy itself is quite different to what I imagined. I suppose after visiting the Naval Academy and walking around their yard, I was expecting architecture of the same mid-1800s feel. But the Air Force, of course, is a much younger branch of the military; the academy was founded over a hundred years later and thus has a more modern, functional design. The standout, however, is the incredible chapel, which was, unfortunately, closed for renovation for the next four years. I guess they’ll just have to have us back then so we can check it out…









Bill, along with an ex-student of the academy, Captain Kelly Griffith, was kind enough to take us of a tour of the campus, talking us through the various traditions which the students observe after graduating. Freshman have to run everywhere in straight lines, everybody jumps in a fountain after they graduate, and every graduating year group has its own unique insignia. Kelly pointed out the one for 2013 which featured a pig’s snout on a nose of a plane. This was because that year, during their basic training, about a third of the cadets contracted swine flu. There’s a joke about pigs flying in there somewhere, but I won’t put you through that.

We rocket through the week until we arrive at our first and final performance, on a chilly Colorado evening. It’s abundantly clear how much breath we’re going to need. Big spaces like this always require a lot of diaphragm in order to both be heard and avoid damaging your vocal cords in the process. But here we’ve got the added element of being up in the mountains, 7000 feet above sea level. Bill was kind enough to buy us a couple of mini oxygen tanks, the sort I guess you’d use when climbing Everest, and we kept one behind the chairs on stage just in case.

It turned out to be a wonderful show, and a fitting end to our time both at USAFA and in the United States itself. We had been told to expect roughly 200 cadets, but we were greeted on stage by an audience of about 600 – not a bad turnout at any stretch.

After the show, walking to the cadet’s SU bar, Bill told us about two big wins. One of his students, who had been struggling to understand the play in class, came up to him after the show and simply said: “I get it.” This is precisely what we’re trying to do. There’s loads of incredible stuff you can do when studying Shakespeare in the classroom, there’s no denying it. Loads of interesting, clever stuff. But what is so often overlooked, so often forgotten or shied away from, is reading it and hearing it aloud. That was always the way it was intended to be received; through the ears, not the eyes. Words hit us in a different place that way. The second win was that another of Bill’s students preferred our version to the filmed performance at the Globe from a few years ago. Eat it, Rylance.

In one of her classes with some seniors, one of Katherine’s students told her that in the military, they spent so much time having to play a role – living up to whatever their duties demanded of them – that it was a rare treat to spend some time actually being themselves. Oddly, that’s sort of what theatre’s all about, I think. Not so much putting on a mask, as showing people what you really, truly look like when you take your mask off, and then encouraging them to do the same.

With the tour over and the final US performance done, all that remains are the two final
performances back in London at the John Lyons Theatre at the end of November. In the meantime, our group of five will temporarily diverge, some continuing to explore this incredible, beautiful country, and some heading back to the country we call home.

It’s been an incredible ten weeks. I’ve started to feel at home here, finally. This huge, sprawling land with its giant cars, self-flushing toilets, cowboy boots, fall colours, marines and sailors, giant redwoods, generous townsfolk, Amish settlements, and stretching mountain ranges.

Cheerio, America. We’re off to that little island you had that barney with a few hundred years ago, but we’ll be back. Thanks for having us.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #14

Week Fourteen: Grace College, Indiana
By Kaffe Keating

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!”
– Hebrews, 13:2 NLT (Printed on a small piece of card which was given to me after being read out at the end of one of my classes.)

Our final week in Indiana, and the penultimate week of the tour is upon us. We’re at Grace College, an evangelical Christian college near the town of Warsaw, a place assumedly settled by some Polish people at some point in history. We’ve actually completed a long and elaborate loop on our journey, as we’re now only a forty-five minute drive from South Bend and our home base of the University of Notre Dame.

I’ve taken to not wearing my Notre Dame jumper out in public. Not out of shame, you understand, but out of personal safety. On a flight a couple of weeks ago, we had a crew who struck up a particularly boisterous relationship with the passengers, a member of which stopped at our row when making sure we all had our seatbelts done up.

“Now, can we make sure that someone has been assigned to help the Penn State guy with his oxygen mask?” he grins down at us. “And remember to fit your own mask first before you help him out.”

The guy on the other side of the aisle in the Penn State hoody is half smiling, just riding this
particular part of his day out until it’s over. I grin too, I have no idea what the joke is as the
intricacies of college football rivalries are lost on me, but these are the people in charge of giving out the pretzels and free wine.

“Now, of course I’d say the same thing about the Notre Dame guy,” he says, pointing at me in my comfy, anti-air-con jumper, my grin now becoming more nervous, “but that would mean I’d want him to survive.” Now, at no point did I actually feel like a member of the air crew was actively hoping for my demise based on my apparent college football loyalties, but I relegated the Notre Dame sweater to my hotel room all the same.

“Oh no, you’re fine here.” says Lauren Rich, Ph.D, Chair of the Department of Languages, Literature and Communication when I recount my tale. “Grace doesn’t have a football team, and Notre Dame isn’t very far from here.” We’re on home turf again, it seems, and it’s good to be back.

Lauren is responsible for bringing us to Grace and, following in the footsteps of many of the other wonderful and generous people we’ve been lucky enough to meet so far, will be taking care of us this week. She actually attended grad school at Notre Dame, and so can surely be counted on as an ally against any would-be jumper-shamers.

Grace is a small college; there are between 1,500 and 2,000 students here. Notre Dame, by
comparison, has about 8,000 students and UT-Austin dwarfs them both with over 50,000. So that gives you a bit of a clue. The auditorium where we’ll be performing the show is literally called ‘The Little Theatre’, and seats about 120 people. It’s perfect for our show. While we’ll happily rear up on our hind legs, and diaphragm our way through the bigger spaces, a smaller venue like this allows for an intimacy and closeness that is really special.

Not many shows left now… We’ve got three scheduled for this week, just the one next week in Colorado, and the two performances we’ll do in London after we get back for friends, family and agents. We’re really beginning to find things now. The very first performances, up the road in South Bend back in September, were just about getting through the thing. Surviving an entire performance without skipping a massive chunk or killing someone with a rogue umbrella. Later, once we had a real handle on it (the show, although handles falling off on stage has been a problem with the umbrellas), it became about keeping it alive, not allowing our new-found and hard-won ease lull us into switching on the autopilot. Now, as the sun starts to set on our time in America and Illyria, we’re really beginning to feel like we can play, to allow the scenes to breathe on their own, rather than having to breathe life into them ourselves or, as in some cases, administer full-on CPR.

It’s always the way. It’s often not until the week following a final performance of a show when I finally realise what a line really meant, or how a moment could have been played. It’s a good thing. It means that the work you’re doing isn’t ever really ‘finished’; there’s always more to do, and all you can do at the time is the best you can.

After our final show of the week, Lauren was kind enough to take us out to a Mexican restaurant that sold beer and was a short walk from our hotel, it being a rare treat not having to moot out a designated driver. At this point in the tour, I can safely say that I have stayed in enough hotels on the side of freeways to last me a lifetime – just saying.

Lauren brought her kids to the show, who apparently had a good time. Her son, Jonah, was playing around after they got home from the performance, and she was able to snap a photo of him holding up a hat, in true AFTLS style, to represent an invisible character in the story he was creating.









“Ah, look out. He’s going to end up being an actor if you’re not careful,” we warn her. “Sorry if we’ve given him the bug…” Lauren assures us, however, that the condition was pre-existing, and that Jonah is already well into his theatre, poor lad. At least there’s no need for us to hold ourselves too responsible if his stageyness does end up developing into acute, full-blown thespianism. It’s often a hereditary affliction but it’s also highly contagious, so watch yourself.

On our day off Al, Katherine and I decided to take a trip to one of the Amish settlements which are scattered around this part of Indiana. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Amish are a group of people who have chosen to reject modern technology for religious reasons, and who live in their own sheltered societies which retain a much more traditional way of life. They grow their own food, and tend their own animals. They don’t drive cars, instead riding from place to place on horse-drawn buggies.

The men, once married, don’t shave their beards except for their top lip – a tradition which stems from a silent protest against the typically mustachioed German Army, who persecuted the Swiss-German Anabaptist ancestors of the Amish who live in America today. The women wear a bonnet on their head – all day, every day – which is coloured black when they’re unmarried and white once they tie the knot. Amish people don’t wear wedding rings, as jewelry is thought to be an unnecessary extravagance. Most surprising to me, is their complete rejection of electricity; no power lines will run into an Amish home.

To a Western, city-dwelling millennial like myself, a life without electricity is unthinkable. No laptops, phones, or TV. But also no electric light, certainly no air conditioning to ease the baking sun and no plug-in heater to warm a bitter, cold night. Al made the salient point that, if society as we know it does arrive at its oft-threatened conclusion, the Amish would be absolutely fine. They don’t need power, they grow their own food, and they keep their own goats. They plant flowers next to their vegetables to distract insects which act as a natural pesticide, and if a barn burns down, Amish men and women from all over the country will flock to the settlement to rebuild it in one day.

Saying this, we also learnt of a man who lost his wife to typhoid fever after she drank from an
unclean well. The man then remarried only to have his second wife die in the exact same way after drinking from the exact same well. So maybe some technology is good. The man in question lived to the ripe old age of 98, by the way, which begs the question: where was he getting his drinking water?

We didn’t actually meet any Amish people as, it being a Sunday, they would all be visiting friends or family to worship. Thus ended our final day off of the tour, with imagined apocalypses and ideas about a way of life starkly different to our own.

One more week to go, and one more blog after this. I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me thus far. Especially you, Kathleen Glen of Corby. Your niece, Katherine (whom, by the way, I have failed thus far to credit for all of the fantastic photos I’ve been using on these), says hello!

Our tour of this vast and fascinating country will conclude in the picturesque Colorado Springs, nestled in the Rocky Mountains and home to the US Air Force Academy. After having such a great time with the Navy a few weeks ago, I’m very excited to see what’s coming our way.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #13

Week Thirteen: DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana
By Kaffe Keating

“Would you have a love song, or a song of good life?”
– Feste, Act 2 Scene 3

Small town America. After the buzz and bustle of Silicon Valley, we couldn’t be somewhere more different. DePauw University is situated in the town of Greencastle, about a 45 minute drive from the state capital of Indianapolis. It’s small, and it’s very pretty – both the town and the college.

It’s getting to the point now where we all need haircuts. Al’s beard is now so long and thick that he’s had to go and buy some frankincense-infused beard oil. Jono, who’s let his hair grow out since day one of rehearsals (and who is capable of producing an enviable mane) went and got a trim on our first full day in Greencastle.

“You’ll never guess what his name was,” he grins from under his slightly neater but still sweeping fringe. “Sweeney. Frank Sweeney. He even used a cut-throat razor.”

I’ve been wanting a haircut for ages but just haven’t found the time. When my hair gets too long it starts to sprout out at the sides, rendering me with a look more befitting of Doc Brown than Orsino, Duke of Illyria. So the following day I head off into Greencastle to seek the services of the Demon Barber of Indianapolis Street myself.

The barbershop is a pretty simple affair, a line of mirrors down one side of the room with the classic revolving chairs, sat in one of which is a man in his late sixties or early seventies. There’s also a full-size canoe mounted on the wall.

“You need a haircut?” the man asks. I respond in the affirmative. “Well,” he says, lifting himself out of the seat and offering it to me, “we have them here.” I take my jacket off and sit down, and we get to chatting. His name is Wayne – Frank Sweeney isn’t working today (I’m oddly relieved) – and after hearing my accent he asks if I’m Australian, which is a mistake that occurs more often than you’d think. I reveal my English heritage and talk turns to visiting Europe. He tells me that he spent six months in Germany and Austria as part of the Marine Corps, and I tell him how we’d recently visited USNA in Annapolis.

“Ah, it’s pretty there.” He croons, over the chugging of a pair of clippers which I suspect have seen better days. It turns out that after his time in Europe, he was stationed in Vietnam for a year and a half. There’s a beat. I’m doing maths in my head.

“That must have been difficult.” He nods. He was there in 1968, during the Tet Offensive. I
remember learning about it in History GCSE. It was a series of surprise attacks by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army on many cities, towns and villages in South Vietnam and is thought by many to be a turning point in the war. It must have been a horrific thing to experience. I don’t push Wayne any further on the subject.

“There’s a student who comes in here, Tan,” he says. “He’s from Vietnam. From Da Nang. Now I haven’t been there since 1968, and I was there for a different reason than cutting hair. But apparently it’s very different now. It’s like an American city, at least that’s what he says.” The irony hangs in the air.

The bell above the door rings in the entrance of another customer, I’m guessing in his fifties and powerfully built, after a haircut of his own. “Hello there, young man,” says Wayne. “This is Roy. He’s a good old boy, he’s an ex-marine too.”

The three of us talk for a while. Roy, after his time in the Marines then transferred to the Army. After learning of the bitter rivalry (at least when it comes to football) between the two services at the Naval Academy, I remark that that must have been an interesting change.

“Oh, we’re just the bastard son of the Navy,” says Wayne.

“They’re our taxi-cab!” adds Roy.

The three of us chat away over the buzz of Wayne’s clippers, (my previous concern completely evaporated; the man certainly knows how to cut a short back and sides) and I tell them about where we’ve been so far and where we’re going to. I’m told Colorado Springs is lovely, but apparently Denver has become a ‘pothead city’ since the state legalised cannabis. Wayne tells me of a friend of his who works in Silicon Valley and hates it. We talk about Austin, and what a great city it is. I also learn a surprising amount about carp fishing. Roy’s an avid carp fisherman, there are competitions apparently, and he thanks me on behalf of all Americans for the British system of fishing for carp by setting alarms and just waiting for them to go off. I know precisely nothing about fishing, but I accept his thanks on behalf of my people all the same.

Wayne’s taking off my apron. “That’s twelve bucks,” he says.

“Sure thing. Do you take card?” I ask, a Londoner through and through.

“No, we don’t have a card machine here.”

Ah. I’m concocting a plan wherein I can leave Wayne my phone or something as collateral while I run off into Greencastle to find an ATM, when Roy gets out of his chair.

“I’ve gotcha.” He says, smiling down at me as he pulls out his wallet.

I protest wildly, but Roy’s having none of it. He presses the notes into Wayne’s hand, who’s perfectly happy with the arrangement. “American hospitality.” I sense that any further argument from me would now become ingratitude, so I thank them both and retrieve my jacket from the hook.

I tell Roy that if I see him around, I’ll buy him a beer (“He’s a marine, he’ll hold you to that,” calls
Wayne) and I leave the barbershop. The kindness of strangers.

And that’s the story of how a Marine bought me a haircut. It’s not the only random act of kindness that occurred this week. Jono, an intrepid explorer to the end, after walking so far away from our hotel that he wouldn’t be able to get back in time before dark approached two strangers in a parking lot. They happened to be heading not only the same direction as him, but to the hotel itself and offered him a ride. Not only that, but once they got arrived, they insisted on buying him a beer.

People are just incredibly friendly in this state. We found this last time we were here at the very beginning of the tour but now, closer to the end, I have much more to compare it to. It’s completely lovely and something I will miss dearly upon my return to London; we Londoners pride ourselves on our devotion to the avoidance of human eye contact.

On Saturday night, after the week’s teaching and performing was done, we were treated to tickets to see Post Modern Jukebox who were passing through on their national tour. Post Modern Jukebox are a band (whose total membership boasts over fifty different musicians) who perform covers of well-known songs with a jazzy or bluesy twist. They’re excellent; have a gander on YouTube. Just stick it on in the background while you read this.

The first half is great. The band are clearly exceptional musicians and the each of the singers could melt chocolate by singing at it. While we’re waiting for the band to come back after their break, the lights in the auditorium in all go off at once and the interval music dies. We’re now sitting under the stark half-light of emergency lighting, powered by the back-up generator. People in black t-shirts and headsets start running around, always a sign that something’s gone wrong. Performances are like flights; you don’t need to worry until the crew starts to look worried.

We wait. The time when the show should have restarted comes and goes. People are moving things around on the stage. Are they packing up? Is that it? Are they going to tell us anything? It seems like the evening is over when the big electric piano the band was using is wheeled off. I guess they’re giving up the ghost, how can they continue while the power’s out?

But, hang on. They’re wheeling on a grand piano from the wings. An announcement is made, the band are going to perform an acoustic set for the second half. The singers are more than skilled enough to fill a room this size unamplified, especially as the band are trading their electric instruments for quieter, acoustic ones.

They finish off the set like this, a pared-down but no less spectacular version of their show bathed in the light from the phone torches held up by the audience.







It makes me wonder what we’d do if that happened to us. Probably something similar, we’ve got a couple of torches in the show, we’re already contained in a square of fairy lights, we’d figure it out. As Post Modern Jukebox’s MC said as they began their unplanned unplugged second half: The show must go on.

And go on we do, three hours upstate to Grace College in Warsaw Indiana. Our penultimate week. The days of staring at my shoes on the tube, valiantly ignoring anyone I remotely come into contact with, are creeping ever closer…

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #12

 Week Twelve: San Jose State University, California
By Kaffe Keating

“And tell them, there thy fixéd foot shall grow till thou have audience.”
– Orsino, Act 1 Scene 4

The Hammer Theatre building, as it’s now known, in downtown San Jose used to be the home of the San Jose Rep. Founded in 1980, the San Jose Rep achieved international fame and produced many critically acclaimed productions. However, just like so many repertory theatres in the UK over the years, the company was no longer able to financially support itself and declared bankruptcy in 2014.

‘The Rep’ used to be everywhere in Britain. For many actors it was an alternative to classical training at drama school; you’d just learn on the job. You’d be performing one play in the evening and rehearsing the next one during the day, one company of actors all playing alongside each other in a wide range of parts. Some Repertory theatres still exist today but, with the advent of television and stories being brought into people’s living rooms, the model is no way near as sustainable as it once was.

After the San Jose Rep left, the building stayed empty for a year and a half. Someone would just come in every so often to make sure the toilets still flushed. Then, thankfully, San Jose State University won a bid to take the building over and give it a new life as The Hammer, named for former mayor Susan Hammer and her husband Phil who were both instrumental in the theatre being built in the first place. It’s on its way now to becoming a cultural hub in the heart of the city, bringing in both touring companies from around the world and also providing the students of San Jose State with a professional performance space.

At the heart of the project is Lisa Laymon, an ex-member of the Silicon Valley workforce who has now turned her talents to helping run a theatre. Her daughter is in the business too, currently living and working in Manhattan as a stage manager, so it’s clearly in the blood. O for a stage manager, that would ascend the brightest heaven of organisation…

We’re over the half-way point now and we’re feeling it. London and life after the tour is waiting
loudly around a corner towards which we’re now beginning to hurtle. The built-up fatigue is also starting to take its toll, it feels like we’ve finally learnt not to settle fully anywhere; our bodies now used to the idea that there’s no point gathering moss if the stone’s just going to start rolling along again any second. It makes the inevitable uprooting every Monday somewhat easier, but it also makes it difficult to ever fully rest.

Our classes this week are a slightly different affair than what we’re used to. Usually we’ve been brought in by an English Department, and a typical class involves sweeping the desks to the side of the room, getting everyone on their feet, and encouraging the students to read the text out loud and try to mean what they say; activating a part of their brains which is less analytical and more instinctive. They’re always good fun, but here we’ve been working with a lot more students who already have a grounding in performance. It’s been a fun change of pace, meaning we’ve been able to dust off a different set of exercises, and invent a few too.

The classes aren’t the only difference this week. We’re in a much more intimate performance space in the form of ‘Hammer 4’, the studio theatre at the top of the building. We’ve played a huge range of auditoria so far, from the more traditional in Notre Dame, Wellesley and USNA, to concert halls in Texas and a converted barn in Winedale, but this is the first time we’ve played in a smaller, black-box space.

Not only that, but we’ve got matinees! Two of them! One at 11am for local high school students (an ungodly hour to be performing anything, let alone Shakespeare…) and another at the more civilised time of 2pm on Saturday. This is also means we’ll have our first and only two-show day – standard fare on a regular job but not something we’ve had to do before.

The shows turn out to be great fun, the intimate space providing a whole new spin on the
performance. Although, by the end of the Saturday afternoon show, I for one am absolutely
knackered. We’ve done three shows in just over twenty-four hours, something that’s usually only topped by crazy Christmas panto schedules. Good fun though, and it’s always good to feel like you’ve worked hard.

After packing up the case after final show on Saturday afternoon, we head over to the University’s football stadium to cheer on the San Jose Spartans in a face off against the San Diego Aztecs. Lisa was kind enough to sort us out the tickets and we join her and her husband Alex in the stands.

“So I’m guessing there’s a big rivalry here then? San Jose and San Diego?” I presume.

“Not really…” says Alex, “San Diego’s about 600 miles away.”

Of course. This country is so massive, how am I still being surprised by that? That’s like thinking Bournemouth and Rangers are close enough to each other to have developed a local rivalry. And we get annoyed when everyone thinks we know the Queen…

The game, although small scale by national college football standards, is a feast of colour and sound. Between each stoppage of play (of which there are lots) the big brass band up in the stands starts playing, cheerleaders are thrown into the air in sequence, and we get to watch a slow motion replay of a young man in protective gear fall on his neck again and again. It was a brilliant experience and I’m finally starting to get a handle on the rules…







On Sunday, Lisa had offered to take us on a hike to see some of the famed Giant Redwoods. They are truly magnificent. I’m standing, goggling at a bunch of them all growing in a circle as Lisa gives us a bit more information.

“These aren’t even the big ones, you know.”

“What do you mean?” I gawp. These trees are taller than some blocks of flats I’ve lived in.

“These are what’s called ‘second growth’. They’re probably two or three-hundred years old. You see how they’re all growing in a circle? There would have been a much bigger tree in the centre which they would have all sprouted from.”

“What happened to it?” I ask, my mind boggling.

“Cut down. They used to be everywhere here, but they were cut down and used for timber to build San Francisco during the Gold Rush.” I can’t imagine what a forest of first growths must look like, the first Europeans to come across them must have lost their minds with wonder. Before, you know, proceeding to chop them all down of course.

There was, however, one surviving giant left. Named ‘Methuselah’, after the oldest man in the Bible, Lisa drove us up the hill to take a look. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Over fourteen feet in diameter, and over 1800 years old, it’s like discovering something straight out of a Tolkien novel. Here’s a picture of Al giving it a hug for scale.









And just like that, as soon our roots get a solid grasp on the ground, it falls away beneath us once more. We’re heading East again (the weird direction for jet-lag), back to the familiarity of Indiana and DePauw University.

DePauw, which is situated in the small town of Greencastle, promises a somewhat slower pace than the rushing, traffic-laden Silicon Valley. After the intensity of the last few months, spending some time with Methuselah has helped me realise that a bit of peace and quiet may be just what we need…