By Jonathan Dryden Taylor
When you’re a long way from home, a home from home sure comes in handy, and that’s what we had in Notre Dame. Returning to South Bend after our week in Houston really was a homecoming: familiar friendly faces, a hotel we’d already stayed in, and a campus we already knew how to navigate. It made for a welcome feeling of feeling welcome.
But there were still some things that were unfamiliar, in particular the new home for our show, the auditorium at Washington Hall. We’d spent our previous week at Notre Dame in the smaller rehearsal room upstairs, so this larger, beautifully appointed space presented a few challenges. The acoustics are magnificent, and almost too generous in their reverberance; lose sight of the consonants for a second and even the gentlest line became a wash of sound. It was a real reminder of the importance of technique.
And because the seating in Wash Hall reaches an angle of almost 180 degrees, we had to consider sightlines, too. Any position in the far downstage right or far downstage left area of the stage ran the risk of obscuring any action further towards the upstage centre. But it wasn’t as simple as merely moving upstage from those positions: do that and you ran the risk of creating the dreaded straight lines. Nobody wants to watch a series of bus queues!
These issues safely transposed from major to minor, and the second performance was proceeding smoothly when our cast of five became six for the half an hour that a local bat took up residence in the lighting grid. I was on stage at the time, playing a scene, as can often happen in an AFTLS production, with myself. Hearing a mixture of laughter and incredulity from the audience, I briefly wondered if I was being particularly funny in what is not a funny scene- or if my fly was open- before I realized we had a visitor.
Fortunately, the bat found the lights more interesting than the Shakespeare and stayed in the grid. I always find a beer a more satisfying way to end a show than a rabies shot!
Aside from the shows, there was plenty to fill the days. Ffion took her tarot cards to campus to provide free readings; Tricia gave an interview for local TV which was so compelling that the hotel receptionist was starstruck to recognize her later, and of course there were the classes and workshops to teach.
On a personal level, I was particularly thrilled to work with some of the student opera singers. As a full-on opera obsessive since my teens, as far as I’m concerned these people are trainee superheroes, so I was hugely excited to get to run a workshop with and for them, especially since their usual teacher, Alek Shrader, is a singer I’ve admired for years. It was an unforgettable treat.
As was our final Saturday, when Deb Gasper, the magnificent General Manager of SAND who has made our lives run so smoothly, was kind enough to invite us into her home. Deb’s husband Matt made the best pot roast we’d ever tasted, marketing guru Jason and his wife Jenna brought a baked brie that was picked clean in seconds, and our wonderful stage manager Stephanie provided a dessert so moreish that I may have had five slices. And when I say I may have had five, I mean I definitely had six.
The best acting companies feel like a family: but when you’re made to feel part of an actual family while on tour, that’s special. There’s no place like home from home.