“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #10

Week Ten: Wellesley College, Massachusetts
By Kaffe Keating

“Live life fully, with gratitude, kindness, determination and joy!”
– Adina Shira Kletter

I need to get these lyrics into my brain. And somehow simultaneously clear my head, just decompress a bit. The vaguely familiar climate and landscape, though still quintessentially American (there are chipmunks), should hopefully help to ease the sensory overload of the last month.

I’m trudging around the serene Lake Woban upon whose banks rests Wellesley College, its towers soaring above the woods which shade and shelter the paths below. It’s a truly beautiful place, and the New England weather makes me feel right at home. Wellesley is historically a women’s college, founded in the year 1875 and which boasts a very impressive alumni. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the one you hear about the most, but I was personally more excited to learn that Norah Ephron went here; I grew up on When Harry Met Sally.

The school song, dedicated to Wellesley’s Alma Mater, is what’s brought me out to the lake. We had the idea back in Brixton to open the second half of the show with Feste, Olivia’s jester, busking for the audience – with the song he plays varying from college to college. In Notre Dame and then Austin it was the respective college football fight songs (which you need to get word perfect, as everyone knows them) and in San Antonio it was the old classic “San Antonio Rose.” Here, it’ll be the aptly named “To Alma Mater;” since Wellesley doesn’t have a college football team, there wasn’t a fight song to learn. It’s instead a song encouraging Wellesley students of past and present to sing about the beauty of their college. It’s quite a nice break to learn a song which isn’t all about destroying people and instead focuses on a much-loved place which has been treasured by generations.

I mutter the lines to myself as I set off on a clockwise route from the College Club where we’re staying (we can walk to our classes from here, which is a dream), pausing every so often in my recital so as to avoid alarming the walkers passing me in the opposite direction. I’m approaching this like I would some Shakespearean verse, and it’s well written enough that the thoughts all make sense in sequence. A general rule of thumb: the better written something is, the easier it is to learn. I’ll marry the lyrics with the guitar part later.

I bump into one of the students walking in the opposite direction, Tati, who’s been helping us out in the theatre. They’re all ferociously intelligent, the women who attend this college; I gather it’s incredibly difficult to get accepted, especially in more recent decades with Wellesley making a conscious effort to attract students from a wider range of backgrounds. Tati’s currently working on the design for the show currently being rehearsed in the studio below the theatre we’ll be playing in in Alumnae Hall. It’s called Stupid Fucking Bird, a modern adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. I love Chekhov, as it’s so different to Shakespeare; in Shakespeare everyone stands and pretty much says what they mean, whereas in Chekhov they hardly ever do. It’s a shame we won’t be here to see Tati’s design on stage.

I have a class with some of the other design students this week, on ‘How to make a play that fits into a suitcase.’ We start with a few exercises to do with saying ‘yes’ and working collaboratively. There’s a relatively simple exercise called ‘Yes, and…’ which is meant to teach people to accept and build on one another’s ideas. First, in a circle, we all tell a story together taking responsibility for a sentence each. The story will inevitably meanders off into somewhere bizarre, as each person feels the pressure to be interesting and to say something more imaginative than what came before. Then you try it again, but this time everyone has to begin their sentence with the words ‘Yes, and…’ and attempt to use the details of what’s come before to move their section of the story forward.

The difference is immediate; where first we had a bizarre and nonsensical story which started off with a main character who disappeared half-way through the plot, the second time through the students all worked together to create a truly touching tale of a young girl who, after discovering a porpoise which had been washed up on a beach, went on to have her first experience facing the concept of mortality. That was on their first go with the ‘yes, and’ rule. It was meant to be a stupid improv game but that’s what they came up with… This sets the students in good stead for the rest of the workshop, which has them using props they’ve brought in to represent completely different items and then using those skills to set their own version of scenes from Twelfth Night. Hilariously, about half of them have brought umbrellas with them to use, which mirrors our play nicely.

I must be about half way round the lake by now. I think I can see where I set off from on the
opposite side, over in the distance. Tati told me the walk should take no longer than an hour and fifteen minutes but I’ve not exactly been rushing. The words are going in but knowing them when you’re rambling around on your own is one thing; knowing them on stage, under lights and in front of a few hundred people is entirely another.

To say I’m regretting going along with this particular choice, of having to learn a new song from scratch and perform it every week, is maybe a bit far, but it’s definitely proving more work than I’d initially thought when we first decided to do this back in the heady days of rehearsals. However, extra work that it is, learning the lyrics of this particular song has given me a deeper appreciation of this campus and the country in which it’s nestled. “Oh changeful sky, bend blue above her” rounds out the first verse, urging the tempestuous New England element to shine kindly down on the college grounds and buildings below.

One such building is a replica of William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon. You’re walking through the campus on the way to a class when you round a corner and there, in the middle of a wood in Massachusetts, is a little Elizabethan cottage. It’s home to Wellesley’s own Shakespeare Society, founded only two years after the college itself. The basement is full of costumes and props and stage swords, with an actual stage installed on the top floor upon which the society puts on plays from Shakespeare’s canon. Despite the traditional setting, the casting of the shows is in direct opposition to Elizabethan tradition; the plays are only performed by students and so the company is always all-female. Again, it’s frustrating to not be able to stick around long enough to see their upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing which sounds like it’s going to be very interesting indeed.

There’s something so unique about this place. Men aren’t exactly absent; there are plenty of male members of staff, but the usual prevalent feeling in the rest of the world of male dominance, male default, certainly is. It’s difficult to tell if it’s just the reprieve from the Texas heat, or the picturesque setting I’ve found myself in that’s bringing this clear sense of calm, but I suspect there’s also something in the feeling of shelter from a world that is governed by the flow of testosterone. How long that will last though, especially when some of the women we’ve met at this college get their go in the world, remains to be seen.

I’ve made it to a bench. I’m pretty sure I’m at least three quarters of the way round now. Looking down, there’s a plaque underneath honouring the memory of a certain Adina Shira Kletter. An epitaph at the bottom reads: “Live life fully, with gratitude, kindness, determination and joy!” I have no idea who Adina Kletter was, but the exclamation mark makes me feel like this is a direct quote of hers. Fine words to live by indeed.

We’ll be here for a few more days and then we’ll be off again. Flying out to another part of this huge country. With only a week in each college, there’s never enough time to truly put down roots, to allow any moss to form before the stone rolls inevitably on to its next brief resting place. We have to make the most of these moments of serenity and calm where we can get them, and there are few better spots for that than this.

But I can’t stay too long, we’ve got a show tonight. I’ll sit here for a bit longer, but then I’ll have to go.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #9

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…

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #8

Week Eight: Austin, Texas
By Kaffe Keating

“But shall we make the welkin dance indeed?”
– Sir Toby Belch, Act 2 Scene 3

It’s always tempting to want to think of a piece of work as ‘finished’. When you’ve been slaving away on something for a long time, and you’ve got it to a place where it could conceivably be considered complete, you understandably feel the urge to lean back and put your feet up to think upon a job well done. Or a job done, at least.

This is definitely true with making plays. The marker for when a play is truly up and running is what’s known as ‘Press Night’. The clue’s in the name: it’s the evening when reviewers show up to critique what you’ve done and then write their opinions down in newspapers and blogs. After a show is ‘pressed’, it’s considered to be a finished product. Literally pressed, like the final stage of an assembly line.

It’s not exactly conducive to good theatre, this idea. Unlike film and television, you don’t end up with a finished product at the end of the process that can be repeated over and over and which will always be exactly the same. You don’t have a final draft of a novel, or a finished painting. A piece of theatre is much more transient. Sure, the same things will happen each time – Romeo will always meet Juliet, Konstantin will always give Nina a seagull, Malvolio will always get his tights on – but the way these things happen will, inevitably, always be different. Not just from production to production, but performance to performance. It’s alive, and changing, and each moment only exists then, in that instant. To decide that a piece of theatre is ‘finished’ is an oxymoron that just leads to the life slowly seeping out of the show, like a helium balloon quietly making its way back to earth.

The air hits us with a thwack as we step off the plane. Texas. We’ll be here for the next two weeks; we’ll leave this massive state from San Antonio in a fortnight’s time, but first: Austin. The mind begins to boggle when looking out of the car window on the way to campus and realising we’re still in the same country. The distance we’ve just travelled is about the same as London to Rome, but the flags adorning the poles outside each rest stop haven’t changed. There is another flag next to the more recognisable Star Spangled Banner which has made an appearance, though.

“We used to be our own country,” says James in what I can now joyfully identify as a real-life Texas drawl. He’s one of the faculty members at the University, who also runs the Shakespeare program at Winedale, a converted theatre barn out in the country where we’ll be performing at the end of the week. “Texas is definitely identifies very clearly as its own state.” The Texas flag is one of the most recognisable state flags in the US, the single star against a blue background with the single red and white stripe. If you were to zoom in to the right bit of the US flag, you’d end up with the Texan one; definitely part of something bigger, but also standing out on its own.

The campus at UT is beautiful. Orbiting around a central tower, the style of the buildings feels much more Mediterranean than in our previous campus. While Notre Dame, with its Irish influence, felt like it was responding much more to Trinity College in Dublin or even Oxford’s dreaming spires, the Austin campus brings to mind Italian, Renaissance architecture. It makes sense, I guess; it’s much hotter down here, and if you’re going to ape a style, choose one with a climate that suits where you are.

We’re coming to the end of this week’s Faculty Meeting, where we meet all of the professors whose classes we’ll be visiting to chat through what bizarre things we’ll be getting their students to do, when there’s an announcement. Two students will be performing a section of Twelfth Night for us. They’ll be doing the scene when Olivia first falls for Cesario, not realising that he is in fact Viola dressed as a boy. In honour of the play’s foray into gender, Austin (“Whey, and we’re in Austin!” Poor guy must get that all the time…) is playing Olivia, and Zoe is playing Cesario. It’s great, and a very fun surprise for us to watch a scene we’ve heard so many times now being played out with different voices, and with a different take. They’re both alumni of the Winedale program we’ve been hearing so much about.

We tech the show on campus, adjusting to a new space. To new faces too. Heather, who is in charge of all of our lighting cues needs a little more help than we’re used to, but through no fault of her own. ‘I can’t hear anything back here!’ she tells us. We’re performing in a concert hall rather than a traditional theatre space, so the lighting options are more geared towards musical recitals than plays, and are thus much more basic. Also the wings are soundproofed; great if you want a piano concerto which is uninterrupted by offstage noise, not so great when the person operating the lights can’t hear any of the cues. Luckily we don’t have many, partly because the whole point of the show is that it doesn’t rely hugely on tech, and also that we knew we’d be visiting some venues where options would be limited. This is what’s so great about this kind of show, you can do it pretty much anywhere.

We’re able to re-jig the cues so that Heather can figure out when she needs to make changes based on what she can see on the fuzzy monitor showing a live feed of the stage. The only other issue is that she’s not able to hold the soundproof doors open and reach the little lighting pad at the same time. The only point where this could be an issue is at the end of the first half, when Katherine is left on stage after the rest of us have whooped our way off after gulling Malvolio in the box tree scene. Someone will need remember to hold the door open for her to leave the stage while Heather brings the house lights up.

‘I’ll do it.’ I say, I’ll definitely remember to do that. Definitely.

I don’t, of course, and the interval for our opening night in Austin begins with Katherine desperately clawing her way off the stage as the heavy soundproof door swings shut in front of her.

The show has grown a fair bit over the past couple of weeks. It’s good; it’s becoming its own living being with a bit of a mind of its own. It does, however, like an apple tree that’s growing a bit beyond its trunk, need a bit of pruning. This is totally normal, and something a director would be keeping an eye on at this stage in a play’s life-cycle. But obviously this is a job we need to do ourselves. It’s still something we’re figuring out, how to give each other notes now that we’re no longer in the bubble of the rehearsal room. Since we’re all on stage the whole time, all notes need to be logged mentally as we can’t exactly sit at the back of the stage with a notepad. You’ll be sitting in the pub when suddenly something will jog someone’s memory, and you’ll find yourself receiving extremely detailed advice about how to make that gag with the hat work.

Our final performance was not on campus, but at the Winedale Historical Center. It’s a barn which has been converted into a beautiful, semi-outdoor theatre where, every summer, a bunch of students put on productions of Shakespeare plays. Because it gets so hot in the midsummer days, they rehearse in the early morning and retreat into the air-conditioned out buildings when the Sun is at its height. We have no such luxury, however, as we scramble around in the barn-turned-theatre at two in the afternoon, trying to figure out how to morph our show, the one we’ve only really just learned how to do, into a totally different space for the evening’s performance. ‘Be careful of the beams,’ we’re warned by Liz, another one of the UT faculty who’s directed here a lot, ‘This summer was a big one for concussions…’

The whole day is incredibly special from beginning to end. A highlight for all of us was watching the Winedale Outreach Players, who must have been aged between nine and twelve and led by the inspirational Clayton Stormberger, performing some selected scenes from Twelfth Night.

‘Oh that’s sweet isn’t it? Kids doing Shakespeare…’ I think to myself as I sit down to watch them perform in a shaded space in front of the barn. They give us a run for our money. The quality is truly excellent, and the joy that these young actors are clearly revelling in as they speak these words written by someone from the other side of the world, four hundred years before they were born, is contagious. It spills into our own rendition of the play, and the kids join us at the end to take a bow.

We end the evening on our backs, staring up at the stars in an unpolluted night-sky with coyotes calling in the distance. I have never felt more like a real-life cowboy.

Aside from the show and our classes, we’ve stolen time to head out into Austin itself. It’s really very cool. We were treated to a trip out to The Broken Spoke, a Texan dance hall where women in dresses spin to the sound of a pedal steel guitar and literally everyone’s wearing Stetsons. We took a trip down Rainey Street, Heather driving through downtown with the five of us in the back of her pick-up, where a bunch of houses have been opened up and converted into bars. On our last evening in Austin we waited with the crowds who gathered on top of and under Congress Avenue Bridge, which a colony of bats have made their home and which all take off to feed at once in a swarm as dusk descends, like a scene from Batman Begins. We rounded out our time at The Continental Club, the five of us and Clayton all dancing in a circle like maniacs to some of the best live music I’ve ever heard.

I’m sad to leave this wonderful city, and the wonderful people who’ve welcomed us here. But our Texan journey continues, to the home of the Alamo itself: San Antonio.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #7

Week Seven: Notre Dame, Indiana/Chicago, Illinois
By Kaffe Keating

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me to untie.”
– Viola, Act 2 Scene 2.

I feel like I haven’t written one of these in ages. Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun, but simultaneously I think it’s true that time stretches when you fill it with stimuli; the more you do the longer things seem to last. And this week feels like it’s taken ages.

Monday brought our first proper visit to Washington Hall, the theatre on campus where we’ll do our first three performances of the show to a full audience. God, we need it. We’re now long past the point where we know the show well enough to no longer be surprised by the gags, and therefore we’ve stopped laughing audibly at them. It’s probably just as well; when your priority becomes making the other actors in the company laugh, you’re heading for trouble.

You might think it’s more tiring performing to a full audience than an empty house; that speaking your lines to nothing but the golden seat number plaques blinking back at you requires less focus and effort than when there are actually people sitting in the seats watching, but the reverse is actually true. When there’s an audience in the room your energy is going somewhere, it’s being absorbed and bounced back at you – when theatre is live it’s, well, live. Performing to an empty space is like shouting into a hole. Producers like full houses because that means lots of money from ticket sales; actors like full houses because we have more people to talk to.

And we will soon! We open on Wednesday. But the show is currently running long. We’re performing the play completely uncut. Unlike a lot of other Shakespeare plays (cough, Hamlet, cough), Twelfth Night is short enough that you can do the whole thing without everyone having to sit there for 4 hours, but we’re still taking longer than we need to. We need to shave off about 5 minutes from each half. Maybe doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a difference.

I always think it’s more about how long a play feels than how long it actually is. I’ve watched three-hour epics with two intervals that have breezed by and fifteen minute shorts which have lasted eons. Time does not fly at all when you’re watching something boring. However, cutting fat is always good. If time isn’t being spent on something interesting then it shouldn’t be being spent at all.

There are two ways to shave a show: speed up, or cut. Cutting at this stage would be seriously tricky, not only would we need to basically relearn our lines, but the timings we’ve worked out for set-pieces and quick changes would be totally thrown off. So speed it is then: thinking on the line, driving through longer sections of text, and not dropping props or forgetting that, actually, you are in this scene and everyone’s waiting for your entrance while you sit, staring at them from the back.

Not only is this our first week of performances, but our first week of classes too. And the first class that Al, Katherine and I are going to be running is not going to be on the Notre Dame campus or indeed for Notre Dame students. Instead, our workshop will be held at the Westville Correctional Facility, Medium Security Wing.

Many of the students on the program at Westville have transferred there specifically to take this course. They are required to have at least 2 years before their release date in order to take part, giving them time to get the qualifications required to get their bachelors’ degree. Ricky Klee, one of the teachers on the program, picks us up from our hotel and drives us out to the facility. He tells us some pretty astounding statistics. Of all the people who enter Westville, 30% will usually return. Of the people on this program however, that number drops to 3%. “The power of education,” Ricky says, as he walks us across the forecourt between the medium and minimum security wings.

We’ve left all our belongings in the car, bringing only our ID, one unopened bottle of water each, and a few sheets with some Shakespeare text on for the workshop. The students have been working through Twelfth Night, and later on will be performing sections of it themselves. The ones we’ll be working with today are only in the first two weeks of their course, and don’t know each other that well yet, so we’ve decided to spend the first half of the workshop on ensemble exercises and games – the sort you’d play in the first week of rehearsal to get a company spirit forming.

I’m nervous. We all are. We’ve been told that the students are really excited to meet us. That, normally, the only people who come in to talk to them are coming from a relatively fundamentalist religious perspective so this is a breath of fresh air for them. But still, it’s impossible to know what to expect.

But the nerves dissipate within minutes. They’re so up for it, so willing to join in, to play the stupid games we ask them to. They’re exactly what you want from a group of people to teach.

The focus is incredibly impressive. There’s a game I like to play which requires everyone in the circle to complete a simple task in sequence, but working together as a group. As the group gets better at each sequence, you add more sequences until everyone is walking around, throwing balls to each other, calling out each other’s names. It requires a real zen-like focus from everyone involved and this group picked it up faster than most companies of professional actors I’ve worked with.

Katherine led a game of Grandmother’s footsteps, when everyone tries to get hold of an item being guarded by ‘Grandma’. When she’s turned away, you can move but if she turns back and you’re not standing dead still, she’ll send you back to the start. One student, William (who must have been about six-foot-three), performed what can only be described as a swan dive, sliding across the floor to grab hold of Katherine’s scarf before she had time to turn around and spot him. Commitment you’d rarely get in a rehearsal room full of actors in week one who are still digesting their breakfast.

After the workshop, we said goodbye to the students and left the way we came in. That sound that you’ve got in your head of a prison door slamming? Yes, that one. The one you’ve heard on TV. It sounds exactly like that, and it pleases the ear a lot more when you’re on your way out. After hearing Ricky’s statistics and getting to work with the students themselves, I’m hopeful that most of the men we met today will only have to hear that sound one more time.

We tech the show. Technical rehearsals are usually very long affairs, featuring lots of people sat in a dark room for hours on end trying to figure out how to get that piece of scenery on, or making sure that that lighting cue is coming at the right time. Everyone usually goes a bit mad in tech, but luckily, since this show all fits in a suitcase and we’ve got hardly any lighting cues, that side of things is relatively painless.

We treat the tech as a dress rehearsal, and run the show like we would if we had an audience in. Except, of course, we don’t. Yelling once more into the void. We run long again, we need to pick up the pace if we’re going to avoid having to cut.

It’s late and we’re tired, but we’ve got the theatre for a few more hours and we all want to make use of this time. The idea is floated to do a speed run of just the text. No umbrellas, no staging, just the five of us (and Sidney, our lovely and, sadly, temporary stage manager) sat in a circle on stage powering through the story as quickly, but also clearly, as we can.

It’s exactly what we needed. There have been two types of pausing going on: The first is when we feel like we need to take time over a moment for dramatic reasons. We almost always don’t, and these are eradicated with a vengeance. The second type of pause comes when we’re dodgy on our lines and we’re trying to pass it off as type one. These too, are run over and over until they’re tight.

We open to a lovely audience. They’re warm, friendly, and up for joining us on our slightly mad trip through Illyria. Immediately we breathe a sigh of relief as a company, there’s someone to talk to! And the show goes down a treat. Especially the carriage. Those horses have escaped the knacker’s yard for good. And we’ve shaved off the time we needed to! If you don’t count the additional couple of minutes for audience laughter, which I don’t…

This weekend Notre Dame are playing at home, so the entire campus is ramping up to go fully
football crazy. We perform our last performance at Washington Hall, say fond goodbyes to the
wonderful Notre Dame team, and pack up our case to hit the road again for a weekend off in

What a city. We’re blessed with uncharacteristically wonderful weather – supposedly their summer has been a bit of a washout, we can sympathise – and we explore as much as we can. The big bean in Millennium Park, a river cruise with an incredibly thorough tour guide, cocktails on top of a skyscraper and real Chicago blues, played live. Also, Chicago has a beach – who knew?

We were only there for two days, but blimey did we squeeze a lot in. Time flew, but it does feel like there was a lot of it.

Now we’re flying again too, from Chicago down to Austin, where the tour really begins. We’ve left our home in Indiana and are venturing out on our own; just the five of us, a suitcase full of umbrellas and a couple of imaginary horses.

“Twelfth Night” Fall 2019 Tour: Entry #6

Week Six: Notre Dame, Indiana
By Kaffe Keating

“What country, friends, is this?”
– Viola, Act 1 Scene 2.

We are, ostensibly, in America. We all met at Heathrow, put the suitcase with our show in it onto a plane, and flew it to the other side of the world. I’m certain that this definitely happened, but I still don’t quite feel like we’ve landed yet.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been made to feel very welcome. As I write this I’m wearing one of the extraordinarily comfortable Notre Dame jumpers, which our brilliant Company Manager Deb had very kindly left waiting to welcome us in our hotel rooms on the day we arrived. It’s been lovely meeting the Notre Dame team and finally putting email addresses to faces.

It’s more to do with the fact that we’ve basically picked up this fun, silly, and progressively bizarre bubble the five of us have been bouncing around in while making this show, and simply plonked it down somewhere else.

Despite being almost 4,000 miles away from London, our daily routine hasn’t really changed that much: get up, shower, eat breakfast, go to rehearsal, play foursquare, muck around with a four-hundred year old play for a bit, go to the pub, go to bed, repeat. Except breakfast is waffles which you cook yourself in a waffle iron (I, erm, struggled slightly with this…) and the pub isn’t really a pub but an Irish themed bar where everyone who works there wears matching uniforms, and all the veggie options come with extra chicken if you want. And instead of getting the tube to rehearsals, we all pile in to the BIGGEST CAR I HAVE EVER SEEN, drive through the beautiful Notre Dame campus to our space in Washington Hall, and then spend twenty minutes trying to park the thing.

The car is a perfect metaphor for what’s really struck me as one of the differences between the US and UK, by the way: similar, but everything is bigger and if something can be automatic, it is. Apart from the waffle iron. For that, you’re on your own. Here’s me trying to figure it out. If you don’t know, the waffles are definitely not supposed to be burnt to the top of the iron like that…






Despite these new experiences however, the full realisation that I am actually here continues to elude me. I’m sure there will be a moment, maybe next week when there should be a bit more time to breathe, when something will finally drop in and I’ll suddenly find myself yelling “The Star Spangled Banner” in the middle of a 7/11.

Rehearsals have continued to be fun, interesting, and tricky. It’s a bit like putting up a tent in a
rainstorm; as soon as it feels like one section is pulled tight and pegged down, something else we’ve neglected starts flapping about wildly in the wind. We’re definitely making good progress though, and the show is at the stages where it requires its final bits of finessing. We performed the show for our American associates (still a relatively nerve-wracking experience, but with generally less scribbling than the London associates’ showing) and, again, received a hunk of useful notes afterwards.

Something we hadn’t even considered was what Scott Jackson, our resident AFTLS guru, referred to as the ‘atmosphere’ of each scene. What are the sights, smells, sounds of each place? What’s just happened there? What might be about to happen? Is there danger? These aren’t things that need to be made clear to an audience necessarily – they’re not something you as an actor can actually play most of the time – but they are vital when attempting to make sure that everyone on stage feels like they’re in the same place. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. In a regular production, this stuff is usually all decided for you ahead of time by the designer and director, but with this work we need to find the varying atmospheres of the many parts of Illyria which the play visits ourselves.

‘So, where actually are we then?’ That’s a question we’re asking ourselves both in and out of the rehearsal room for the next few days. Hopefully by opening night next week, we’ll have a clearer idea.