By Michael Wagg
Here in Georgia, on the Golden Isles, Storm Nicole has skirted passed and today’s classes were all cancelled as a precaution. Storm Ian threatened us in North Carolina a few weeks back, now Nicole, and our thoughts are once again with the people of Florida affected.
On a less serious level it’s a shame, as I was looking forward to seeing which icons my students studying Cultural Power were going to chuck into the boiling pot, in the class I had planned. I had money on the Sony Walkman and the Cornhole sack replacing our fillet of a fenny snake, but that’ll have to wait for another time. We’ve had a really warm welcome from the College of Coastal Georgia this week, particularly from Professor Rob Bleil, who among other brilliant qualities wears a different bow tie for every teaching day of each semester. The class cancellation has meant a bow-less day for Rob, perhaps, and allowed us pause for thought; and so as we near the end of our American adventure I’m glad to have a moment to reflect on some highlights.
We’ve travelled around 20,000 miles and explored eight very different states, collecting tales and encounters that I’m sure we’ll carry with us for years. We’ve met many wonderful, characterful, people – take a bow Fonzo, Hartley, Huk, Dye, Sununu, Panek, Jose, Altmeyer, Kwasny et al. – while performing and working with students on eight university campuses from Hawai’i in the west (or the east depending which way you go) to Georgia in the east. The journey’s not over yet. We’ve a treat next week as we head further east out into the ocean. But frankly, it’s been a blast!
Macbeth has been one of my favourite Shakespeares for a long time (for me only pipped, I think, by Twelfth Night and King Lear) for its urgency and its welcome of the bizarre; and after performing in this production I like it even more. It never fails to grab me and drag me with its kicking and screaming. I’ve done two previous Macbeths, one of them in China so it’s been great to consider these two experiences alongside each other (like a cold war in kilts!) For those not entirely fed up with my musings you can read about my time in China in this piece for The Observer.
In those previous productions I often felt for the actor playing Macduff. A difficult part, perhaps often forgotten, he doesn’t appear until late in act two and almost immediately has to deal with horror, horror, horror. He doesn’t get to be a ghost; has to do a big fight; and most of all, has to receive the most terrible, personal news. I’d never really fancied playing the part, probably because I didn’t think I was up to it, and couldn’t imagine anyone casting me as him anyhow.
But thank you AFTLS & Shakespeare at ND: I’ve surprised myself in loving the challenge of having a go at dear Duff, and others, and in such supportive company too, thanks to Anne, Annabelle, Claire and Roger. I’ve learnt what I probably knew already in theory, but not always in practice, that with such material there is nowhere to hide. The job, as with the travel too I’ve come to know, is about leaving yourself alone and being there. In the end, about trust. The part, in its all too humanness, remains a challenge each time I have a go, and for that I am grateful. And no-one said it was easy!
The other clear highlight of the tour for me – beyond swimming off an Hawai’ian beach, sipping beer in South Bend Brew Werks, and Mavis Staples! – has been the work we’re asked to do in the classrooms. It’s a significant part of our week, the heart of it, and if it’s been anywhere near as fun and rewarding for the students as it has been for me, then we’re on to a winner! I’ve led workshops, most often using the Macbeth text as a springboard, with classes on visual art, architecture, psychology, commedia, literature, theatre, among other studies, and have loved the way the students (for the most part!) are willing to dive into, sometimes scary, waters and have a go. I’m really proud of responses like ‘you gave us the permission to be silly,’ and that which Anne and I got after our recent joint session with acting students at San José: ‘it was a class delivered with love.’
Last night as the storm gathered I offered my other four intrepid actors the chance to chip in with some of their own highlights and, eventually, the floodgates opened! Talking of the show Roger remembered the quality of focus from the audience for our first performance, at Westville prison; while Claire talked of her surprise and delight at being presented with a garland of fresh flowers after our first Hawai’i show. In terms of teaching Claire went on to remember her work with opera students and how one student in particular was committed to continuing the work they’d started together. And Roger will never forget the moment, previously mentioned, when an improvising student said ‘hey buddy, I need your pants.’
We all agreed that the experiences we’ve had as a result of the incredible travel we’ve been afforded are too many to mention. Cherished memories behind every spreadsheet itinerary, hard to single down. But Anne finally landed on her favourite thing: the architecture boat tour along the Chicago River. For ‘the colours, the styles, the history – a day of reflecting on what we’d been doing and on all that was to come – and with a cocktail in hand!’ Claire chipped in, quite rightly, with ‘walking into the most incredible hotel room in Hawai’i and seeing there was loads of free stuff!’
And then Annabelle brought us back to something I think we all agree on wholeheartedly: ‘It has to be the wildlife and all the different micro climates in each state. From turkey vultures in their hundreds in Indiana, to dolphins in Georgia; manta rays, parrots and turtles in Hawai’i; butterflies and aligators in Florida. The list goes on. David Attenborough would be having a field day!’
I don’t know if Sir David is available for the next AFTLS tour; but in any case let’s hope the storms have all passed now as we start to prepare to head back to London Town and the Canada Water Theatre. I’ve a feeling there’s a bit more fun – and rum – to be had before we get there though, as we stop off in a tantalising place on the way; the inspiration for another of Shakespeare’s tales, which starts with a Tempest. Our story starts with thunder too, and When shall we three meet again…
Soon our American connection will cease, cell phones and all, and so if you never hear from us again then we’re probably somewhere near a small island in the Atlantic, between Georgia and Land’s End. In a mythical place, with three angles and three sides. Swimming, no doubt.