Classroom Lessons, Lakeside Relaxation

By Wela Mbusi

Last week, we had the pleasure of being the first international theatre company to participate in a week-long theatre programme with Grace College. The college is a small-sized school ensconced in the heart of the predominately religious state of Indiana.

The classes were very differently from what we were used to, as they were academically led, but it meant clarifying that our approach as actors was performance-based regardless of the text. Luckily, the students were very receptive, and were happy to work on some of the scenes from the play. A lot of the questions about the play were in relation to the religious aspects of it; the moral dilemmas were viewed by the students and the faculty from a very specific Christian framework. Sometimes, as an actor, it’s hard to view the character you’re playing from a single prism, but we did glean some unique perspectives about the world and its motivations.

The audiences in Grace College were amazing — we had full houses for nearly every performance. We hadn’t performed the play for a nearly a full week, and that fueled our need to do it. The beautiful lake of Warsaw became a place we went to regularly, but the town itself was quite conservative, and that meant most outlets were closed by eight in the evening.

Very much looking forward to Tennessee, as that’s our next stop, and hoping to see more of the autumn as the weather begins to change.

An Audience at Westville

by Wela Mbusi

Westville correctional facility was certainly a unique experience for all of us and definitely left an indelible impression on the cast. Although the facility was an interim holding for prisoners who were about to be released, entering a place that is devoid of all the little mundane things that make up a life, right down to not having privacy when performing your ablutions, always made me wonder what efficacy would mere words performed by actors have there.

Upon arrival we were greeted with an air of enthusiasm, but little did our fragile egos realize that it was not out of anticipation for Shakespeare’s ‘transformative’ words, but due to the anticipation of the new; the unknown; a piece of the outside world they will soon be a part of. After being searched we were told we had to be decently covered and no parts of our body were to be on display.

We were unsure how the presentation of the play and the numerous scenes set in a prison would be received, but they turned out to be the most well received. Due to everyday prison routine we couldn’t stop the production when a large portion of them had to leave for food or roll call but we pushed through until they returned.

The resonance of the play had an effect on how we performed to a certain extent but the idea of staging a production that has immediate relevance to an audience, did add a sense of appreciation for the power of what we do as actors.

For the inmates, the play was their only contact for with the outside and to have been able to bring them that made what we do seem less superfluous.

After the production we got the chance to speak to them and their interest in the play was astounding and questions about the themes were the most surprising, as we thought they wouldn’t want to talk about them.

Such a unique experience which never gets old and one that I would love to do again given the chance.


Back to Fighting Irish Country

by Wela MbusiIt feels great to be back in Notre Dame this week as this was our first destination at the beginning of the tour. We’re a little under the weather as some of us are plagued with tummy bugs and physical ailments. This week exhaustion has set in as the novelty of hotel hopping has finally ended; but we still manage to find solace in the show and the magnificent reception it’s been receiving here in Notre Dame.

Dominic had not been feeling well all week and immediately put himself on a pharmacopeia of medicines to stave it off for the show in the evenings. The frequent change in beds had finally caught up with my body and suffered from a muscle strain as well. Ben, Anna and Pete also tittering on the edge of throat tickles and feelings of being light headed, but all in all we are still loving the show and the feedback from the audiences has been overwhelming. We’ve had a mixture of Shakespeare aficionados and theatre enthusiasts whose feedback on the clarity and joy we seem to be having on stage, has been very encouraging and great to hear.

Students from the workshops also made up some of the numbers in the audiences and for them to see the show after having explored parts of it in detail, was something they thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. I especially enjoyed working with some of the Accounting students as they were not familiar with the play but using it to work on basic presentation skills was an eye opener for them and for me as well.

The school itself has also been a a bit of a culture shock as Ben recounted one of his classes starting with the Lord’s prayer; something, coming from a predominantly secular London culture we’re not used to. Certainly a lot of the themes from the play have been points of interest for the students as well as the professors.

The change of weather is slowly but surely creeping in as we’ve had a few wet spells, but we’re all looking forward to our prison performance on the weekend as that’ll be a new experience for most of us but one we’re prepared for as a group.


Welcome to Texas

By Wela Mbusi

After a grueling but fantastic last show at Windale, we were welcomed by warm summer showers in San Antonio. At this point it was becoming clear that we were going to have to get used to weekly first nights as it meant having to restage the entire show for the beautiful barn.

We also gleaned the possibility of rediscovering the show every time we restaged it, and this meant gaining a fresh perspective and enjoyment from it every week. A recital hall was our venue this time and the acoustic challenges had become an expected impediment but one we were ready for. The reception by the faculty was amazing as always, and we were treated to a typical San Antonian meal which was quesadillas and a mandatory cocktail.

As the University of Texas at San Antonio doesn’t have a full-time theatre program, the majority of the classes were with English Major students and other technical subjects that required presentational skills. Some of these were very interesting as Ben and I discovered that they touched on basic skills that we as actors take for granted but are the foundational blocks of what we do. The students were very appreciative to be able to explore themselves and how they communicate not only in front of an audience but in everyday life.

The weather was not forgiving as the rain persisted all week but the heat still lingered to no end. I think fatigue on this leg of the tour was starting to set in naturally but knowing we were still going to be revisiting familiar places like Notre Dame, gave us the impetus much needed.


Opening Week at Wellesley

by Wela MbusiAs we enter the winding roads of Wellesley College leading us through its bucolic setting, we gradually make our way towards the theatre for our first briefing by the faculty.

As we enter the building with its ornate interior you can’t help but notice the largesse the building exudes. Then, we were immediately met by nearly life-sized portraits of prominent female public figures, strewn strewn across the corridors who once were and still are huge advocates of female empowerment even in the arts.

The faculty were as excited as we were about sharing our experience as actors using Measure for Measure in their classes ranging from the basic tools of speaking text, to utilising art to speak truth to power.

My first lesson was with an English writing class that was interested in how the play can be interpreted through varying cultural spaces and cosmologies, and the best way to do that was to get them on their feet and see if they could shell out possible ways of using or breaking Shakespeare’s form to explore the themes in the text; using not only the language but their bodies, and any other cultural experiences they might have had as it was a class filled with internationals.

The space we were about to perform in was a thousand seater and making dramatic adjustments to our delivery became a reality we just had to embrace. Our first audience was so enthusiastic as it was filled with young Shakespeare aficionados who followed the play intently. We felt lucky and encouraged having such a dedicated audience and couldn’t have asked for a better opening night.

We were also briefly hosted by the Shakespeare society with their unparalleled and enviable dedication to all things Shakes. By our last night, we were starting to enjoy the play and appreciating the freedom we had found with the form of the convention and looked forward to Austin, Texas the city of cowboy boots and hats.