“Romeo and Juliet” Spring 2023 Tour: Entry #3

By Jonathan Oldfield

Residency at Rice University, Houston Texas. 

We gripped tight, knuckles white, to the steering wheel of our white Dodge Charger. 6am in Utah means snow, ice, sleet, the lot. Bound for Salt Lake City Airport at the end of our residency in Provo, we were dreaming of warmer climates: Houston, Texas. 

“We’ve got unprecedented cold weather here in Houston, y’all,” says smiley Christina, our contact for the week at Rice. We sigh. We were hoping for some sun. 

“It’ll get better towards the end of the week.” She reassures, as we stare up at the grey. “Welcome to Houston!”

Undeterred, the tone for our week in Houston was set by Howard, who drove us from the airport to the rental car pickup. A short five minute journey, he managed to give us a snapshot of Houston itself – 4th largest city in the United States and one of the most diverse. Houston is a cultural melting pot known for its food, culture and (as we came to see first hand) large medical sector. A city that was formed after a coastal disaster moved people in-land. Then they found Oil and Gas, and the fortunes of the city changed. Now it just keeps growing and growing. COVID-19 brought a new wave of people looking for space, and Houston is now threatening to become the 3rd largest city in the country. 

Howard is an ex-marine, he passed through Houston 20 years ago and never left. 

“We’re actors, here performing Romeo and Juliet and working at Rice University for a week”.

“You’re actors?! No way! I don’t believe you!”. Howard laughed and smiled wide. He preceded to tell us an (almost) unbelievable tale of when his ex-girlfriend introduced him to her family. As he nervously waited in the front room for them to enter, in walks…Sidney Poitier! 

“I’m honoured to meet you guys,” he says. We’re not quite Sidney, but we’re flattered. 

We take his email, promising to send him details of our shows this week. Who knows, maybe he’ll come along…!

Our hotel is situated across the road from the medical centre of the city. A complex of hospitals, labs, emergency rooms, university spaces, spilling into each other, forming one of the foremost centres for cancer treatment in the United States. The edge of this medical centre backs onto the Rice University campus itself, and it’s a world of difference. Residential roads lined with leafy oaks, that bow over the cars as they cruise by. Runners with dogs, runners without dogs, dogs without runners roaming free. Almost all the students live on campus for 3 out of the 4 years, so it’s got a very strong community feel to it, as well as a kid of grandness: dusty red brick buildings with archways, emblems and names of alumni adorned on top. 

Rice Village – the spillover neighbourhood built to clothe and feed the staff and students of the university – is not far away. Boutique shops, yoga studios, coffee houses and an Italian restaurant called Prego where Professor Logan Browning took us out for dinner. Logan (who tells us he sometimes goes by Falstaff to his Shakespearean colleagues) has been watching AFTLS shows for years, and it was such a delight to get to know him and his wife and friends over a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine (or two…). 

As the sun began to shine on Houston later in the week, our brilliant host Christina sadly got struck down with COVID, but not before we had our first shows and warm drinks reception at Hamman Hall. The theatre itself is a great space that, I’m told, used to be a lecture hall, and all of the crew and building staff were extremely kind and helpful – southern hospitality proving it’s infamy! Grace’s partner Ned joined us from the UK, briefly becoming the 6th member of our cast, and whilst we couldn’t find a part for him in the show, he was a diligent audience member across our Houston run. 

Houston in the sun is a whole different city – our heavy winter coats stuffed away in our hotel rooms, we strolled through Montrose checking out the vintage shops, nipped into the Rothko Chapel and had ourselves a Mexican brunch at Hugo’s. The show is firmly in our hands now, and we relished the opportunity to showcase our work to Houston audiences who were generous and attentive. As the lights came down on our final show, the rush of applause was punctuated by a familiar face – Howard! He’d bought his daughter and family along to see the show, and rounded off our week perfectly. 

Just before hopping on a plane to Kansas there were two things on our list that we had to tick off. We simply weren’t allowed to leave Texas without: 

A) going to the NASA museum (‘Houston we have a problem’ needed to be seen first hand)

B) getting ourselves some Texas BBQ.

Both adventures had been earmarked for our day off, Sunday. And as Houston made its way out of the cold, we took a trip to outer space. NASA is a full day trip that, for a reasonable price, gets you unbelievable access to the site and the history of the USA’s lunar and interstellar exploration. We were blown away, or…. blasted off. Either way, the experience was ‘out of this world’. Ahem. 

Newly acquired NASA hats on our heads, we drove straight to Goode Company BBQ in the city where our tired legs were much replenished by cold beer, smoked meat and pecan pie. Apart from Kaffe, the only vegetarian among us, who graciously tucked into potato salad.

Houston, goodbye! We’re clicking our heels and heading to…KANSAS.

“Romeo and Juliet” Spring 2023 Tour: Entry #1

By Jonathan Oldfield

Hello there! Welcome to the AFTLS blog 2023. I’m Jonathan and I’m very excited to be bringing you updates about our tour, travels, adventures and mishaps for Romeo and Juliet. As well as some pictures and some words, I’m going to be bringing together a few audio snap-shots of our experiences, so you’ll be able to hear from myself, and the other actors, all about the trip.

Kicking off our first blog entry you’ll hear from two cast members, Hillary and Thomas, who will be chatting about our very first week in the USA: rehearsals in South Bend, the campus of Notre Dame and our weekend trip to Chicago!

“Macbeth” Fall 2022 Tour: Entry #10

By Michael Wagg

I’d intended last week’s blog to be the last, and to leave it lost in Barry Manilow’s Bermuda Triangle. But having had a couple of days rest I found myself scribbling this, which I hope you’ll take as a light-hearted farewell from my angle. Mr Tucker was our taxi driver for most of the last week. Thanks for reading.

Mr Tucker

Mr Tucker took us
wide eyed from St George’s
through Tucker’s Town and Devon
to Fourways, Georgia heavy
on our suitcase minds
Mr Tucker took us

Mr Tucker took us
bleary eyed to prison,
wide Sargasso Sea behind the walls
where the waiting young perform
the beach scene in their minds
Mr Tucker took us

Through Somerset and Southampton
to Dockyard, big ships sailing in,
grabbing rum and shorts and out again,
filling Horseshoe bay
like ducks on a hurricane
Mr Tucker took us

Mr Tucker took us
back to school, learning Shakespeare’s
new minted words:
baseless, barefaced, bump
countless, critic, swagger
Knock, knock – who’s there?

Mr Tucker
took us to the stage and back
shouting in the evening
over tree frog chorus,
lamentings heard i’ th’ air where
Mr Tucker took us

To a Bermuda beach
breaking our toes in electric blue
washing our wounds in pink sand,
the gift of the parrot fish
and the weight of the road
Mr Tucker took us home –

Indiana, Texas and North Carolina,
Hawai’i, California, Florida and Georgia,
from the Swizzle Inn
where we swaggered out again
to Canada Water,
Mr Tucker took us.

“Macbeth” Fall 2022 Tour: Entry #9

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.