“The Tempest” Spring 2020 Tour: Entry #3

By David Rubin

A rather cold and snowy week in South Bend, back at the University of Notre Dame – but full of very warm receptions… even at the Social Security office, where some of us had to go, for to be issued our Social Security numbers, that we might continue our work here.

So, then…

Multiple workshops variously delivered, plus three more performances of our company devised ‘Tempest’ – this week on the slightly ‘thrust’ stage of Washington Hall, on campus. Each night’s audience was larger and more enthusiastic than the last’s.

Deb, Jason, Scott, Sidney and Peter were on hand with help throughout the week.

The show itself certainly found more of its… groove, I’d say. It’s rhythmically finding itself. We’re still tinkering on bits. And there’ve been some little lapses of memory or liberties with lines. Molly gets top honours for rescuing one of my moments by summoning herself with “Come hither, Spirit”.- me then legging it, late, to where we usually hither it to, ha ha ha!….ish.

We had some fun filming some Shakespeare educational material, this week at Notre Dame, too.

It’s Sunday evening now, and I’m in a nice Chicago hotel after a two day holiday here, courtesy of our Notre Dame hosts, whom we left on Friday night, straight after the evening’s show.

We’ve all had a great time here in Chicago.

Much imbibement and many hours of music.

Saturday night, Noel and I went to Dick’s Last Resort to watch ‘dueling pianos,’ which also included alternating drummers (the pianists) accompanying said pianos. So Noel and I ended up playing drums for them for most of the night. We then went on to Howl At The Moon to watch another band – along with some of the band from the Dick’s gig. Then Molly and Arthur joined us at the second gig, too, for what was a very jolly night all round. Will reported as much of his night carousing, too.

Yes to Chicago. But like South Bend, it’s cold here, too.

And Chicago, of course, is also… mighty pretty.

Chicago’s Institute of Art contains much to muse. Including loads of really well-known works. I spent a few hours there Saturday afternoon. So many Picassos!

And before that, in the morning, after a walk around downtown, I had reveled, together with hundreds of others, in and around Anish Kapoors’s superb Cloud Gate at Millennium Park, near the Lake shore. An amazing piece bringing vibrant community and joy. Much more time here needed to fully appreciate it, I feel.

But it was a lovely break and a good snapshot of the city for us.

I’ve just watched the Oscars. I can’t help loving the fact that the Academy President – who keeps getting namechecked – is also David Rubin! I hope all my actor friends and directors etc. looked twice or fell out of their seats on hearing me announced to make a speech on the stage! And I’m very pleased that Renee Zellweger got the Best Actress Oscar for Judy. Now I’ve been in an Oscar-winning film! [I had previously been in an Oscar-nominated film… ’Brooms’ by Stomp, in the Best Live Action category, but it didn’t win.] But enough about me…

Actually, no, it’s my blog… so maybe just a little more about me… and yes, possibly something wondrous about the tour and the play, too…

But that’ll all be next week.

For now, please enjoy thousands of words painted for you in a few of my pictures.

“The Tempest” Spring 2020 Tour: Entry #2

By David Rubin

Ah! Blog #2…which is a little late due to some car trouble in New Jersey.

Long story short : I visited one Mr. Tom Miscia, at his home in New Jersey (not seen him for 33 years – he came over on a Performance Arts exchange visit from Montclair Uni to Middlesex Poly in ’87)…but I got locked out of our hire vehicle as I was about to head back to our hotel on Long Island and I ended up getting back there very, very late.

Next day we ended our week at Molloy College with a flight back to Notre Dame for Week 2 of the tour. We all arrived rather tired.

So. Week 1 saw us present our play before an audience for the first time.

Three performances at The Madison Theatre – having also run a series of workshops for students from Molloy College. There was a Q&A after the first showing, which was very informative. Again, the craving for ‘outside eyes’ was upon us.

We’ve now re-tweaked our opening storm. Less is more. We’re able to speak most of it now instead of the slight shout fest it was when fully accompanied/underscored.

And we’ve improved some of the transitions between characters that we have to make when playing more than one character in a scene.

Molly’s clear and brilliant portrayal of each of her 5 characters brought huge praise from the audience. “She’s like the anchor of the piece.”

A few of the audience said we “moved like dancers through the space” and loved the “physicalisations.”

The play itself went down very well, though the audiences were quite small (about 80-100 in a 500-seater)… and there was a reverence from them that it was good to see broken down as the play went on. There’s a section where the Spirit Goddesses of the island are summoned by Prospero to perform, and we include the audience in this, which proves to be a real breakthrough moment.

My personal thanks to Arthur for now keeping my Antonio alive throughout a scene where I’m also playing Prospero. It looks like one hell of an arm ache to me…he holds my hat in his outstretched arm for a quite unreasonable number of minutes to ‘keep Antonio present’ when I duck out of it to play Prospero. I do duck back into it to speak as Antonio again, eventually.

So we were in the state of New York and therefore made many visits into Manhattan to see friends, plays, sights and pizza parlours. Molloy College itself is situated on Long Island, about 35 miles from the Big Apple.

It brought back many memories for me, being where we were, in Hempstead, Long Island… Some 35 years ago my best friend Mark Nathan and I lived in Manhattan (on East 60th Street under the Queensboro Bridge) during our gap year – and we spent much of our time canvassing towns on Long Island, selling memberships for Greenpeace. We were part of the team that set up the first Greenpeace NYC office in 1984.

And now we’re back at Notre Dame. We’re expecting much bigger audiences here. It’s the Company’s “home.” We’re very well looked after everywhere we go, and with just five of us in the company, we very much enjoy each week’s encounters with the different students and staff.

Tune in next week to see how it’s gone!

PS I miss my girlfriend, Sally…

“The Tempest” Spring 2020 Tour: Entry #1

By David Rubin

Hello and welcome to this blog. I will be writing a weekly update about our tour of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. We are a company of 5 actors, each playing multiple roles in the production, which is a full text version that we have devised ourselves, with no director.

We are Actors From The London Stage, and the company was founded 45 years ago, Sir Patrick Stewart being one of the two founding members, along with Dr. Homer Swander.

Our tour lasts eight weeks and visits eight different Universities across North America. Our producers are from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, where we have spent the last week preparing for Week One of the tour in New York…

Beginning next week!

I’m David Rubin and I play Prospero – and also his wicked brother Antonio.
William Donaldson plays Alonso, Stephano, Juno and The Master/Captain.
Molly Vevers plays Miranda, Ariel, Adrian, The Boatswain and Ceres.
Arthur Wilson plays Ferdinand, Trinculo and Sebastian.
Noel White plays Caliban, Gonzalo and Iris.

L to R: David Rubin, Noel White, Arthur Wilson, Molly Vevers, William Donaldson.

We are just about ready!

The first public performance is this Thursday, January 30th. In the days leading up to that we will be running workshops at Molloy College, NY. We also have two more dress rehearsals scheduled in before Thursday, so by then we will, we’re sure, be ready…

Our final week of rehearsal, here at Notre Dame, was a good one.

It followed 5 weeks of rehearsals in Brixton, London, during which we wrangled our way through this unique ‘no director’ set up. The process requires much negotiation. I think I speak for all five of us when I say we are pleased with what we have devised and are very much looking forward to a live audience reaction.

Rehearsals in London.

Rehearsals in London continue.

Snacking and chatting.

During this last week we did have the benefit of a few pairs of ‘outside eyes’ seeing our work before it goes public: lecturers and professors from the English and Theatre Departments at Notre Dame.

It has proved very useful. We’ve tightened the ship, and are ready for The Tempest to begin.

Rehearsing at Notre Dame.

So many discoveries already. So many more to come.

It’s an amazing play. The language and themes, the characters, the ideas and the images conjured are all, true to Shakespeare at his best, endlessly fascinating and explorable. And incredibly, the play still has great relevance 410 years after being written.

If you have the chance, do come and see the production for yourself,

Thank you, Notre Dame. We are back here for Week Two of the tour.

“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.