By Chris Donnelly

Perhaps because this was AFTLS’s first visit to the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) and therefore we were something of an unknown quantity, the houses for our two shows were (relatively) small, but perfectly formed! Although by no means full in the lovely University theatre (sorry, theater – I’ve never gotten used to it!), there was a very positive response to the show and they certainly latched on to the comedic elements with alacrity. Similarly, we five could tangibly feel the atmosphere changing in the more serious moments, which told us that they were absolutely with us from beginning to end and that the storytelling in our production must therefore be clear. This was vindicated by the extremely positive feedback.

Our final performance on Saturday, the 10th, was at a different venue – the theatre (oops, did it again) within the Brown County library.

Our lovely residence organiser, Emily Ransom – who, incidentally, gained her Ph.D. at Notre Dame, which we were all very impressed with – voiced her slight concern with regard to whether there would be much uptake in the town, being relatively new to Green Bay herself and taking into account that only nine tickets had been sold in advance of the show.
This, potentially, could have been a slightly anticlimactic ending to what had proved to be a very lovely week. Nevertheless I feel that we approached it with our usual level of professionalism, as can be seen from the following footage taken backstage approximately forty minutes before curtain up!

However, we were delighted to find that there were well over a hundred in the audience and they were a wonderful house, including two of the lovely children who had attended a workshop with the cast that very morning! Which is a smooth segue into the other major aspect of our touring – the workshops.

As I started previously, the university was new to AFTLS and this can manifest itself in different ways. On this particular occasion, based on the assumption that the studentship hopefully might have an experience unlike anything they had formerly had at the university, but without knowing exactly in what way, the tutors took a leap of faith and there was a huge uptake – I believe we were virtually at the capacity that we were contractually allowed to do in a week. Indeed, there was a waiting list and the subject range was broad, ranging from the more standard exploration of scenes from Shrew for English and/or drama students, to course titles such as Real Estate Principals, International Finance and Business Management, Humans and Nature, and Politics and Sports!

Regarding the Humans and Nature class, this was a workshop Carl and I shared because there was a very large number of students assigned to the class. As is often the case with workshops with young adults who don’t necessarily have a background in drama, there was an initial reticence, but by the end of the class there were at least twenty of them standing on the desk bellowing King Lear’s famous lines when he is raging against the elements on the heath, whilst the rest of the group drummed on the desk to simulate the sound of the storm! The lovely lecturer was extremely pleased and stated the following:

“I’ve never seen this class so animated. They were standing on the desks. I was standing on the desk!”

The picture below bears witness to that fact!






My favourite workshop, however, was the Politics and Sports class, whereby the wonderful tutor, Katia, had suggested that I try and make something happen in the room, perhaps based around stage combat.

I decided to explore the scene from Troilus and Cressida, when Achilles and Hector confront one another. It is one of the most rewarding things imaginable to hear the students read aloud Shakespeare’s words, initially say that they couldn’t understand any of it, and then see them change when some context is added and the scene is then put up on its feet.

I had two friends from the basketball team play the two great opponents and when they grasped on to what was going on, they used the language so brilliantly and created such a palpable tension and antipathy between them, that the whole of the class, who were now on one side or the other, Greek or Trojan, were laughing, whooping, jeering and generally totally engrossed.

These are merely my memories and for each one I have, I know that all my fellow cast members have as many. I cannot convey how much it means to think that you have might have gone some way to breaking down a barrier between Shakespeare’s magnificent words and a class of students in 2018 in Wisconsin!

This feeling was created again on the Saturday morning, when the whole cast joined some young aspiring actors in a workshop run by Carl. They were a brave group anyway, but by the end of the session…well, I will let the video clip speak for itself…!

And now on to New Jersey!


By Chris Donnelly

Having said our farewells to friends and family, it was time to embark on this awfully big adventure. The cast were rather delighted to be chauffeured from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to South Bend in a limousine!







For me personally, it was my fourth trip to Notre Dame and, as ever, Scott, Deb, and the new recruit, Jason, made us all feel incredibly welcome, and we were wined and dined in great style…. several times, actually!







Amidst this wonderful socialising, there were various administrative duties and the final tweaking of rehearsals to complete, building up to the actual tour.

Coming to this stage, Lizzie (Katharina) especially was ever-more morphing into her character – she couldn’t even go to a restaurant without full costume!







We’d looked at the play from every angle…









And though there were times when it was almost too painful to continue…









We were almost ready to go!

Once again, I was extremely impressed by the campus and the iconic golden dome therein.









Although none of us were particularly impressed by the foul weather. Coming from England, we have quite enough rain!

However, it didn’t stop our enjoyment. One of the major highlights of our early time on tour was having the opportunity to watch Notre Dame’s ice hockey team play a competitive match in front of over five thousand spectators.


















Unfortunately, I think we proved to be something of a jinx, seeing as the team had been doing extremely well and were indeed at the top of their league. Additionally, their opponents, Michigan State University, were languishing at the bottom. Yet the result was a 4-3 loss. This in no way tarnished the experience, however. The levels of skill, the involvement of the crowd, the organ playing, the marching bands – such a wonderful experience!

However, we all wholeheartedly agreed that the most incredible experience of our time at Notre Dame was when we were fortunate enough to have our only preview of Shrew before approximately one hundred and sixty inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility.






It was, from first to last, a unique and most humbling experience and although I had been there two years previously, I was once again moved to tears as the play ended and the audience instantly rose as one to give us a standing ovation.

As we were packing our one suitcase of props and costumes, one of the chief administrators passed a message from the inmates saying that for a couple of hours, they had been transported in their imaginations out of their life circumstances, and into another world beyond their present confinement.







I remember these moments: the inmates’ total focus on the show, their absolute enjoyment of the comedy, their reaction to the more serious moments, their seeming understanding of the whole story throughout, the light in their eyes. As I remember the huge security and the bars sliding shut tight behind us and the fact that we had the absolute freedom to leave that place and go and enjoy a wonderful meal at our leisure, there is only one word I can think of to encapsulate the myriad of emotions it all elicits – humbling. It was a wholly humbling experience.

It was an experience that Evvy and I had the privilege of repeating the following Friday, when we ran a Shakespeare workshop for a small group of the inmates who are presently part of a college credit programme, instigated and run by Scott Jackson at Notre Dame, pictured with the cast above.

We saw them commit so truthfully their whole being to some seminal Shakespearian speeches. The three hours simply flew by. Then, at the end of the session, one of the inmates shared with us what he felt was so magical about seeing the preview of Shrew. It was the fact that a full range of human emotions were brought to them, many of which are lost in a prison wing.

“You operate with maybe two or three emotions to survive here. But you guys brought everything and that reminds us of what it is to be human and it gives you hope for the future.”

There is little you can say in response to this.

The majority of the second week was dedicated to our workshops for various departments at the university, which were great fun and building to the first three full performances in front of an audience at the Washington Hall theatre space – so wonderful to be performing there again.

As an ensemble, we felt that we didn’t want to shy away from the more difficult themes in the play, but to actively embrace the darker elements and play them to their maximum, be it uncomfortable for an audience or not. I do believe that this decision only serves (we hope) to enhance this fascinating piece of theatre and therefore give a fuller and richer experience to the viewer.

This decision was vindicated by the audience reaction to the shows. They were well received and still with lots of laughter at the high comedy in the play, especially on the final performance.

So, we have left the security of base camp at Notre Dame and are embarking on our travels. Next stop the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Well, that is, after a weekend in Chicago, which I will share little about. But suffice it to say…







…this was the view from my hotel room!

Rehearsing “The Taming of the Shrew” in London

By Chris Donnelly

After the briefest of meetings pre-Christmas for a readthrough, we intrepid theatrical warriors convened at the Karibou Education Centre on Monday, the 15th of January, to begin our epic journey.

I have been fortunate enough to work for this company on three previous occasions and it never ceases to amaze me how this most unique experience manifests itself.

Five virtual strangers walk into a room with nothing but some preconceived ideas of what the play might be and their role(s) within it; a thousand questions and very few answers. Yet five weeks later, these strangers are a functioning ensemble, who have directed, costumed, propped and shaped their many roles and are ready to perform a fully-fledged Shakespearian play.

The clarity of the storytelling is absolutely vital, therefore, in this very specific style and The Taming of the Shrew, I feel, is particularly challenging in this regard, for the following reason. Each actor is playing at least three roles, but some of those characters disguise themselves or swap identities for substantial parts of the play. This added layer of complexity increases tangibly he danger of confusing the audience.

Additionally, especially in light of the ‘Me too movement’ and the identity politics so prevalent in our modern-day society and psyche, the subject matter of the play itself, is it a misogynistic play or a play about misogyny? What was Shakespeare actually wanting to say by this problem play? What did we five want to say?

Immediately, we delved in.







However, these are hefty questions and it wasn’t too long before the strain became too much!







The level of professionalism of the group was such that work was inevitably taken well beyond the rehearsal room…







As I previously stated – many questions, few answers!

However, it was not long before ideas began to galvanize and strands come together…









And now we had found our emblem for the tour, we were well on our way!






Through various trials and errors; the following example being exploring the possibility of using birdsong to create an atmosphere for the beginning of a scene, featuring Bobby Delany, our wonderfully talented composer and musical expert, whom we employed for a few sessions.

Then, through it all – including Carl’s terror of the furniture, borne of the fact he consistently received substantial electric shocks from the furniture! – we arrived at a place of relative readiness!

And we were ready to embark…






On an awfully big adventure!!






Stay tuned for more updates from the road!