The End of the Road: Rice and John Carroll

Rice_MoonWeek Nine: Rice University

Houston, we have a problem…the Chattanooga choo choo did not take us home but in fact propelled us to the moon… Not really. But we did have time to visit NASA while we were in residency Rice University in Houston, our third visit to Texas on our Midsummer double-tour.

Christina Keefe met us at the airport and took us to the ominously addressed Hilton, Medical Plaza. As the address suggested, we were in the heart of Houston’s hospital district. This would’ve been an ideal week for any of us to get sick but, alas, none of us did. Typical. This was probably because we were welcomed with open arms by Christina and the professors at Rice. In particular, we had a rapturous welcome from Dennis Huston who is a living legend and, along with the late Alan Grob, was responsible for the long-standing relationship between AFTLS and Rice. We were lucky enough to experience Dennis’s hospitality before he retires this year. We also met Alan Grob’s wife Shirley Grob and two more generations of the Grob family, Julie and Ava, when they came to watch the show on the Saturday night. It was fantastic to meet and chat with these great patrons of the arts.

We had three performances in Hamman Hall to very warm audiences and a lovely reception after the final show. Thank you so much! Mark helped us with an extremely short and efficient tech (we always appreciate that) and promising students Rob and Catherine ran the show when we were up.

Chris Donnelly, Samuel Collings, and Claire Redcliffe catch some Texas sun in Galveston.

Chris Donnelly, Samuel Collings, and Claire Redcliffe catch some Texas sun in Galveston.

Houston was a great week. The staff and students were excellent, the audiences vocal and intelligent and the weather was warm! There were thundery storms at the beginning of the week but by Sunday we hit the beach at Galveston and took a dip in the gulf of Mexico.

Houston is a brilliant town so there was plenty to do in our down time- in fact there was too much to do so we had to regretfully miss a few things like the rodeo which happened to be in town. We didn’t miss NASA though, or the amazing art in the The Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel and the MFAH. Christina also managed to get comp tickets to see ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ at the newly refurbished Alley Theatre in Downtown Houston. It was a fab show with excellent performances all round. My particular favourite was Jeff Bean, and, like true magpie-like Shakespeareans, moments from their production have made it into ours! One more week to go! Cleveland here we come!

Week Ten: John Carroll University

Administration Building (ca. 2003), John Carroll University

Administration Building, John Carroll University

‘Farewell, sweet play fellow.’ Our final week of this epic job was at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Jean Feerick and Bill met us at the airport and took us straight to the University for the education meeting where we met the delightful faculty and staff that we were working with this week. We were invited to many interesting workshops in many different disciplines and we couldn’t have felt more welcome.

We had excellent hospitality this week from all members of staff. Jean took us out on Saturday with many faculty staff and we had a fantastic time, a few of us staying up all night to catch our early flights. Earlier in the week Bo Smith and Tom Roache took us out for a wonderful meal and we got to find out about their legendary lives. Bo had trained in London at LAMDA, the same drama school that Claire went to, and Tom’s life has taken him all over the world and could probably fill many riveting volumes. On the final performance we all had a hefty gift waiting at our places. It was a signed copy of Tom’s The Faerie Queen which had taken him 20 years to write. What a special momento to take away from this job! Thank you so much Bo and Tom!

Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day, and we made it downtown to the huge parade. Most of our spare time, though was preparing for the end. Patrick and Chris were going back to the UK, Claire went to LA, Sam to New Orleans, and myself to Hong Kong.

The final performance was emotional. This has been all consuming for the last six months and we have all learned, laughed, and longed at various moments along the way. It has been an absolute joy working with the amazing staff we have met week by week, everyone at Shakespeare at Notre Dame who has made this happen, and, of course, the four other extremely talented actors in the company. The individuals on a job like this are so very important and I am so grateful to these particular ones for producing a piece of work to be proud of and great company to explore America with.

The Actors From The London Stage cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream (L-R): Samuel Collings, Patrick Moy, Claire Redcliffe, Chris Donnelly, and Ffion Jolly

The Actors From The London Stage cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (L-R): Samuel Collings, Patrick Moy, Claire Redcliffe, Chris Donnelly, and Ffion Jolly

(Blog posts by Ffion Jolly)

Woo-woo, Chattanooga, there you are!


“When you hear the whistles blowing eight to the bar,
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far;
Shovel all the coal in; I gotta keep a-rollin’,
Woo-woo, Chattanooga, there you are!” – Glenn Miller

Chattanooga's Riverfront

Chattanooga’s picturesque riverfront on the beautiful Tennessee River

I always had a good feeling about last week’s residency at The University of Tennesee at Chattanooga. We got off the plane having come from the “Great White North” to a beautifully hot and sunny Tennessee. Things were getting off to a fantastic start. They then got better when we were met by our ray of sunshine, Steve Ray, a UTC theatre professor originally from Alabama who crossed the globe as an actor.

MayorsMansionHe took us to our accommodation, Mayor’s Mansion Inn, a bed and breakfast in the historic district of Fortwood. To say this is a place has character is an understatement. It has more character than us 5 actors in our production of Midsummer. It’s a bit like a trendy boutique hotel without the try-hard effort and with all the ease and hospitality of the American South. Cindy took care of us there. I was extremely happy already and then, during the course of the evening, I found out Chattanooga was the home of Bessie Smith (the Empress of the Blues), Samuel L. Jackson, and Usher! I may never leave Chattanooga!

During the week we worked with fantastic students from both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State and amazing professors from both. Bryan Hampton and Evans Jarnefeldt were key players in getting us there, and we worked closely with them. They made us feel extremely welcome and everything went off smoothly. The students were bright and enthusiastic, and many of them were theatre majors — which is always fun. Some of the students then worked at the Ward Theatre where we were performing and I do have to give a special shout out to our Stage Manager Joseph, our wardrobe mistress Samantha, and Sharkey (Leigh-Ana), who all looked after us so well in the UTC Fine Arts Center.

Clockwise from Left: Sam Collings, asst. professor Evans Jarnefeldt, Claire Redcliffe, Patrick Moy, and Chris Donnelly.

Clockwise from Left: Sam Collings, asst. professor Evans Jarnefeldt, Claire Redcliffe, Patrick Moy, and Chris Donnelly.

In addition to having a wonderful bowling alley, Chattanooga is a great city for outdoor activities

Moccasin Bend

Moccasin Bend

During our spare time, we AFTLS-ers explored Moccasin Bend and Lookout Mountain where there are some trails and some very interesting history relating to the civil war.

Chattanooga was also the start of the Trail of Tears – an event in history when the Cherokee nation were forcibly removed from their lands to present day Oklahoma as part of President Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy.

There was talk of going to Nashville on Sunday but as Chattanooga had been so pleasant we resided there and chose a gentle night on the front porch. The end of the tour is in sight and so “Chattanooga Choo Choo, won’t you take me home?” No! not just yet…Houston (Rice University) and Cleveland (John Carroll University) yet to go…

(Blog post by Ffion Jolly)

AFTLS Throwback Thursday | Autumn’s Midsummer Highlights

The idyllic campus of Stonehill College in Easton, MA

Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts


We had a very exciting (and unusual) week of workshops. Thanks to Stonehill professor and AFTLS residency coordinator Helga Duncan, we were used in a wonderfully wide variety of classes; The History of Musical Mass, Cosmic Perspectives, and Ornithology are but a few examples.

I volunteered to do the Ornithology class. Since Shakespeare uses birds constantly in his writing, we had the whole canon at our disposal. We looked at ravens and owls, larks and nightingales, Cuckoos and cuckolds. Unfortunately, birds do not necessarily behave in the same way as in Europe. North American Cuckoos, for instance, don’t lay their eggs in other birds nests, so a cuckold would have had a very different name had the word originated in America. (Thanks to Assistant Professor Nicholas Block for this tidbit.)

Sam joined a physics class that had been studying planets and dinosaurs and had a very active class within a science lab – no mean feat whilst trying to avoid experiments that had been set up around the room. Patrick went to a Sacred Spaces class, a religious studies class where similarities between theatre and religion were explored.

HemingwayWhen it came to the show, we put into the very capable hands of Jim Petty. We had great fun adapting the play to Stonehill’s Hemingway Theatre, which had the set of the current student production installed. This gave us lots of levels to work with and Chris took great delight in leaping all across the stage whilst playing Demetrius with me as Helena following. The audiences were fantastic and, as it was a small space, we got to enjoy great intimacy with the audience. The entire campus came together around the residency, which was not surprising, since Stonehill’s student body is only about 2400.

DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana


DePauw’s Ron Dye met us at the airport. An English professor (as well as a talented musician and composer), Ron was extremely welcoming and got us settled for our residency in Greencastle.

It was a quiet week with only one performance on the Tuesday to a very vocal and intelligent audience. Our workshops focused on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the students were unfazed by getting up and taking part practically.

IWPDePauw, just like Notre Dame, has a relationship with the local prisons and Sam and I went to Indiana Women’s Prison (IWP) to run a workshop with the women there. IWP is the oldest women’s prison in the US and it was the extraordinary Kelsey Kauffman who invited us there. She is a bit of a celebrity within the prison system having been involved for many years, starting as a prison officer and now acting as the voluntary director of the Higher Education Program at IWP. Her enthusiasm and positivity was infectious.

At the weekend, we moved closer to Indianapolis to an area near Broad Ripple which was a lively, fun, electric town where some of us wowed audiences with Karaoke…but I won’t tell you who.

Hope College in Holland, Michigan

Hope College in Holland, Michigan


We embark on the final week of the first half of our double tour. Holland, Michigan’s Hope College is a land of tulips, windmills, black squirrels, and has been a grand finale to the fall tour. Sara Wielenga was our first port of call from the college, and she looked after us extremely well. Derek Emerson was responsible for inviting us and the Hope’s technical team did a fantastic job lighting the show with a very exciting cyclorama in the Knickerbocker Theatre.

knickHope is a very friendly college on the shores of Lake Michigan. The week brought with it a wintery chill, but the people were extremely warm. We had two performances and the audiences were vocal and appreciative.

This tour has already been a great adventure. We’ve travelled the length of the country and visited places that we would never have visited as tourists. We’ve also met some extraordinary people along the way, from the professors, to the students, to the organizers. It’s been a privilege.

We’ll be back in 2016 for Shakespeare’s 400 Legacy Celebration and a ten-week tour. #SHX400

(Blog posts by Ffion Jolly)

Two Weeks in Texas – Part One: Austin

Austin PostcardMy small and charming creature of delight,
We are alone; you need not look so flush
About your ears. For under pale moonlight,
We can afford to breathe and not to rush.

There is time yet to tell me how you feel,
To see if you can match the things I’ve said,
Inform me how your injuries I heal
But, silly friend, you opt to swim instead.

University of Texas Austin campus at sunset-dusk - aerial view

I sigh and lightly nap till your return,
Your neck stretched out to steal a furtive kiss.
My eyes blink open, and your red ears burn.
You tuck your head away in bashful bliss.

But even when you hide, I know you well:
My green and pretty turtle in his shell.

– UT Austin student, Austin Hanna

Greetings from Austin! We’ve had a fabulous week here. It’s been extremely busy but that is to be expected; The University of Texas in Austin has approximately 50,000 students. Twenty(!) of these students volunteered to help us actors get around campus. Austin Hanna was Chris’ guide and he wrote the sonnet above. I mentioned to him that I had seen a turtle for the first time and he recited this. The guides, all UT students, have extraordinary talents and have been invaluable sources of local knowledge. My guides – Amanda Rodriguez, Bryson Kisner, Jonathan Vineyard, and Drew Orland – introduced me to the delights of Texan-style queso and the traditional Texan Barbecue, a culinary experience I shall never forget.

Student Drew Orland at the top of the UT-Austin Bell Tower

Drew at the top of the UT-Austin Bell Tower

We were all extremely fortunate to be invited by Drew to the top of the bell tower of the main building where he is one of a handful of people granted access because he plays the bells. He played the British national anthem in our honour.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a very handsome woman called Liz Fisher who got us to the hotel where we met Alan Friedman and David Kornhaber. They presented us with an enormous goody bag full of food. Austin is a foodie city and Liz knows the best spots. She showed us where to get all the best nosh over the week. Alan is the professor who invited us and made us feel very welcome. He had organized a performance of Pyramus and Thisbie by the students on the evening we arrived after which we met all the professors that we would be working with over the week. Between the five of us we did a number of varying classes from Jane Austen to public speaking for chemical engineers as well as going off campus into local high schools and elementary schools. We did have our work cut out, but we worked hard and played hard and ate really well.

The Winedale stage

On the final day of our residency, we drove an hour and a half outside the city to a barn in the middle of nowhere called Winedale; it was a magical place. It’s dedicated to performing Shakespeare plays and there are summer schools held there every year. We arrived in the day and re-rehearsed the show to allow for entrances and exits and exploring the new levels which was great fun. Then from 6pm people started arriving in their cars with picnics. Earlier in the week, we had great audiences at the massive B. Iden Payne Theatre on campus at UT. Winedale is much more intimate with only 200 seats or so; therefore, the relationship between the actors and audience can be closer too.

Chris Donnelly and Sam Collings walking into the Sunset at Barton Springs

Chris Donnelly and Sam Collings walking into the sunset at Barton Springs

After such a busy week with the fantastic climax at Winedale we felt we’d earned a good rest, so we spent Sunday in the sun at Barton Springs, just delightful!

San Antonio next…

All’s Well in Wellesley

Aerial photo of Wellesley College
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” – Hillary Clinton

There is no fear that the women of Wellesley College (Hillary Clinton’s alma mater) will fail to make their mark in the world. Nora HusseyWellesley College Theatre Director, invited us to Wellesley and she runs a wonderful department with the help of the exquisite Charlotte Peed, a flame haired, feisty southerner with alabaster skin, looking after us. Aside from the incredible women in the department we also met so many students who are most certainly going to be the future leaders of this country. The students are all women of course, as this a single-sex college, but please let us not forget the wonderful men that have also helped us hugely. David TowlunTheatre Production Manager, has been wonderful on the technical side. Given this was our first week performing in a theatre, that help was invaluable. Besides the great company, we also had beautiful surroundings. Lake Waban at Wellesley CollegeWellesley must be one of the most beautiful settings for an educational institution. Lake Waban is surrounded by the Wellesley campus and is spectacular in the autumn with the changing leaves and chipmunks running around.

This week we settled into what will be the normal stride of the tour. It felt like we were a big family this week as we were staying in a big house near the Campus rather than a hotel. We made friends with our neighbor, Sherry, who also happens to be a golf professor and she very kindly gave us all a golf lesson. Patrick seems to be a natural golfer while Sam struggles not to turn the golf club into a baseball bat. Fun was had by all, and we now know much more about golf.

This week saw us doing individual workshops with the incredibly bright students at Wellesley. Our job in the workshops is to offer an alternative approach to learning rather than simply the cerebral academic approach. The workshops on the whole focus on an actor’s approach to Shakespeare, and in particular A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but we do get invited to some more unusual workshops too. Claire took a workshop with a group of students doing scenic design, while I joined class entitled ‘Spirit of Spain in the middle ages’ – this is a class in Spanish, which I do not speak. When I first read Shakespeare it may as well have been another language but working on text practically can really enhance the understanding of it.

Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre at Wellesley College

Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre at Wellesley College

We had three performances in a row, which was great as we haven’t had many bashes at the show as yet. The audiences were fabulous! There was a particularly lively crowd there on Friday night and we were extremely heartened by their vocal response.

Our hosts spoilt us rotten and we had invitations to dinners and drinks most nights after the show. One night we were invited to Shakespeare House which the Shakespeare Society use for plays. They are about to put on Twelfth Night, so, if you are in the area, do try and check it out.

Sam in BostonWe did have some spare time too. Sam and I went to Boston, just 40 minutes east of Wellesley, MA.

Onwards to Texas…our next two residencies will be back-to-back weeks at The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas at San Antonio.