Hamlet – Blog 6
Time has blazed by and a lot of US water has flowed under a lot of US bridge: in the last ten days, our tiny footsteps have pattered to and fro across the St Joseph River via N Michigan Street in South Bend, the Chicago River at Du Sable Bridge for one, and only today across the Cumberland River along Woodland Street Bridge in Nashville, Tennessee.
I seem to remember dropping the narrative last Sunday, when the sun was setting on Valparaiso and Terry had returned from owl watching up in Grand Haven. He didn’t see any owls, nevertheless enjoyed crunching through the snowy forest at night, and did see Bald Eagles by day.
First of all, we had the fun of reunion with our AFTLS friends and the tour’s lynchpins at Notre Dame – Ryan, Debra, Scott, Grant, Chuck and Prof Peter Holland. Chuck drove us back from Valparaiso to South Bend across a short stretch of Indiana countryside and was a fine guide, highlighting the old town square at La Porte for one.
We had Washington Hall to look forward to for the show and a great joy it was to hand back the Hamlet prompt copy to Ryan (its creator in the first place), knowing that the lighting design – such at it is – was going to be illuminating us at an all time tour best in his capable hands and, again in the shape of Ryan, we had the one-off luxury of a full time and dedicated Stage Manager.
We kicked off the week with a tour of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center with its several plush, beautifully designed performance spaces – each one breathtaking in its own way and breath taken away completely on entering the great Hall with two organs –
one mighty, wood carved wonder at one end and at the other, organ scholar in situ and pressing the keys as we entered, a 16th Century Neopolitan beauty. Gothic Cathedral-like high, triangular ceiling with huge crossbeams.
Then to the Academic meeting to meet Peter Holland and the other professors – Debra, of course, had set out a delicious spread of food and drink and we were still munching and chatting with some of the professors until long after we’d got our lesson briefs, beaming with the warmth of the welcome back and the comfort of the proceedings as administered by the abiding anchor of our entire experience in the US – Debra.
At an early point in the week, Ryan handed Andrew back his robbed-in-week 1-at-7-eleven ten dollars! He’d gone in, evidently laid in with a high moral tone and emerged with the goods. Andrew has been seeking out 7 elevens ever since and was significantly spiritually restored.
Pete found the Fiddlers Hearth in downtown South Bend for a session of Irish music and we followed him there with his violin and drank Guinness, our eyes filling with mist as he joined what we assumed were a family of other fiddlers, drummers, a guitar and a couple of tin whistles.
Another good week of classes: Shuna enjoyed her session with Peter Holland and his group of teachers and Terry took on a back to back pair of sessions on King Lear in breathtaking form with an investigation into the sexuality of ‘the milk of Burgundy’ and ‘the vines of France’ which the Professor took entirely in his stride, beaming all the way through.
Pete, Andrew, Shuna and Terry pitched up for the SonnetFest on St Valentine’s Day – we read two each and watched a procession of academics and students reading theirs at the pulpit, as the four hours of sonnets was beamed round the world via internet to any interested parties. Two were read in Chinese, one in Italian and one was sung in opera style by a very impressive Baritone.
This same Baritone was also the Director of Opera Studies and Charlie, meanwhile, had bravely agreed to take a session with his opera students studying a libretto in French. He emerged entirely unshaken and wishing he’d had more time.
Two drives out into Amish Country were a highlight for Shuna, Andrew and Charlie. Graciously laid out homesteads, bright white barns, a nice picnic lunch bought from an Amish deli and a chat with a furniture maker, born and bred on the farm and hoping to make a visit to his ancestral home of Switzerland, when his community take a European tour this year. Yelps of delight and dropping of cameras as we spotted our first horse and buggy. Charlie nearly spent $450 on a beautiful Amish rocking chair, but was defeated, alas, by the cost of shipping.
Washington Hall did us proud for our shows and Hamlet held together. A good chin wag with Peter and his professor wife, Romana, afterwards. The second and final South Bend performance was packed up in record quick time and we bee-lined, untypically, back to the hotel immediately after it. We were up at the crack the following morning and embarking on Hamlet again less than 12 hours later, 9.30 am kick off at Elston Middle School in Michigan City. Ashen faces gathered in the lobby at dawn….. it was an outlandish experience, but the kids – mostly 12 year-olds and kept under control with iron discipline – apparently lasted the course and gave us a riotous reception. Scott, Ryan, Chuck and Debra all came with us to the school and were invaluable in helping us set up in the huge barn of a theatre. Bleary-eyed but relieved to have got through it, we all piled into two cars and headed for our great treat – the Chicago weekend.
Great excitement in Chuck’s car as we sailed past a heck of a lot of Police barriers and traffic control in anticipation of Obama’s visit that afternoon. Heavy sighs from Scott’s vehicle as they got caught in the mayhem. Chuck, again an excellent guide – and some fascinating stories of his experiences directing The Sound of Music with a very mature Maria. Chuck, a dark horse at the best of times, now pressed play on his iPOD and we zoomed along Lake Shore Drive (along the shore of Lake Michigan) with the astonishing Chicago skyline ahead, listening to the song, Lake Shore Drive, which Shuna has now acquired as a life long reminder of this wide-eyed arrival.
Hurried farewells and sad to say goodbye to Chuck and Scott. Very glad to have had the car journey to chew over some fat.
What a city! A weekend on a different planet and we all came away raving.
Our first slap-up dinner at Terry’s old haunt, Shaw’s Crabhouse after a few Chicago dogs at a tavern near our characterful hotel, The Tremont on W. Chestnut street. Ryan explained what it is that makes a Chicago ‘dog’ so much more distinguished from a common or garden Hotdog – it’s a pickle thing and the quality of the sausage, broadly speaking – and the boys all downed theirs at breakneck speed and approvingly. (Actually, Terry had a Reuben sandwich which he praised as highly). We dined darned well in Chicago (Shuna and Charlie pretty much relentlessly) and even survived The Battle of The Bill at Shaw’s Crabhouse. Charlie, I think, emerged the lightest of all of pocket having splashed out on a couple of nice bottles of wine, and after a slightly blanched twenty minutes of realization at what we’d all spent, everyone bounced back pretty quickly and hurled themselves at the next spending spree with almost psychotic gusto. Such was the allure of everything Chicago.
We all had adventures in all sorts of directions (including UPWARDS – ascents were made of Sears Tower and John Hancock Tower) – Ryan took us in hand and led us to Buddy Guy’s Legends for some late-night blues where the bass guitarist had huge hands. Andrew met a flautist from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who Shuna and Charlie found themselves watching at a concert the next day. Pete and Ryan took photos under the enormous, silver sculpture of a bean, Terry found his beloved Crannach The Elder paintings of Adam and Eve at the Art Institute and Pete, in the same building says he ‘found a nipple’, and showed us a photo of a painting of a girl called ‘Resting’. Shuna and Charlie saw a terrific show by Steppenwolf, The MotherF**ker with the Hat and attended a ‘gospel brunch’ where they ate like hogs and sang Hallelujahs.
We all loved the city and found the people very friendly indeed. Sensational architecture – Art Deco still alive and part of it all – all agreed it would be a fantastic place to try and live. Quote of the day is Terry’s: on asking a man the way to walk to somewhere, the man answered, ‘ Sir, you don’t walk in Chicago you WAAAARK!’
And now Nashville, by Christ! The Tennessee voices are rolling thick and fast – wow, they sound good – and we’ve glugged beer and spent a long evening in a bar cheering along a Country singer with no audience but ourselves for her four hour set.
We had a friendly welcome from Laura and Leah at the airport and have now met the faculty and had our first session on stage – it’s an intimate, studio-style theatre and it’ll be a refreshing change to be in a small space. All sorts of plans for the week and the classes have got off to a good start with very bright, up for it students. Arrived to Spring-like sunshine, but tonight it’s only a couple of degrees above freezing. – Shuna