By Michael Wagg
Everything this week has come in the shape of the state of Texas. On Tuesday morning at the breakfast bar my waffle was the shape of Texas. I was seduced into thinking this was a treat just for me, but it turns out all waffles here are the shape of Texas. The crisps (chips) we shared before dinner were each the shape of Texas. The shadows cast by the pecan trees, I’m sure are the shape of Texas. I expect if I spill my coffee it will form into… you get the idea. Texas is all around us; and Texas is big.
Over dinner on Monday evening, after we’d arrived from Chicago and our lazy swims in Lake Michigan, our host casually mentioned that Texas is about the size of France. I nearly choked on my Alamo Golden Ale. (Lake Michigan, by the way, is about twice the size of Belgium). I realise I’m experiencing what all comers to America feel at some point, but the sheer scale of this state takes some getting your head around. I’ve been thinking a lot about scale ever since, as my barbecued brain, I’m sure, morphs into the shape of …
Here in San Antonio the sky is huge, the roads even huger, the waffles substantial, and even the poor toad I nearly trod on was a big guy. The welcome we’ve received from everyone we’ve met, on campus and beyond, has also been wholly big-spirited and satisfyingly complete with ‘Howdy y’alls.’ I won’t mention the woman at the chicken shop who shouted at me for approaching the counter, sacrilegiously, on foot! (Car is king here.) The theatre where we opened our show on Wednesday night is sizable too; a recital hall with a generous pipe organ providing our backdrop. This first stab at the show on the tour proper went well. The only mishap was my knocking over a bottle of water, which trickled onto the smooth stage to form a puddle in the shape of …
At this first stop I’ve also been pondering the scale of our journey ahead. We’ll be taking this Scottish story to seven states, plus the bonus of Bermuda; across five times zones, covering something like 21,000 miles (don’t ask me to verify this, it’s a very rough estimate, and all I know is it’s an awful lot of Belgiums)!
The scale of our tale is significant too. It begins on a blasted heath, takes us to the battlefield and from there, deep into the darkest recesses of the mind. At the brutal end of it, as our heroes take their separate tragic roads (colossal freeways) an army of ten thousand moves a forest from one country to another. The fact that there are only four of us to do this makes the task even bigger.
But despite all this, despite the scale of everything, I’ve found it’s the smallness that sticks too. I’m thinking of fleeting moments of, sometimes surprising, contact: the man from Florida who has stopped each of us individually to tell us that many years ago he lived in Ipswich and still remembers snippets of conversation in the local shop. The woman who stopped her car to offer to take a photo of us beside a buffalo-shaped barbecue. The man at reception who has asked all of us if we know Wendy from England?
In the university context too, we’ve all brought back stories of small moments of meeting and response which grow far beyond themselves: this week the five of us have led workshops at the UTSA campus on a wide variety of subjects. Our job is to share our experience of Shakespeare and theatre-making across disciplines, which has led Anne to work with music students on composing in response to Shakespeare’s rhythms; Annabelle to explore Dante’s Divine Comedy; Claire to work on staging with opera singers; and Roger to tackle the art of persuasion, leading to one student improvising the line ‘Hey buddy, I really need your pants!’
I ran a workshop with art students and I’ll treasure the moment I turned round to see a group of three sporting tin hats for a slapstick reading of the weird sisters. The professor wrote to me afterwards that ‘your pleasure in seeing the results of our foolishness, gave us permission to blindly and fearlessly jump right in.’ After the show last night I overheard an opera student who Claire had worked with thanking her with shy sincerity. ‘I will use the exercises you taught me before every performance I do for the rest of my life,’ she said.
I was also lucky enough to have my birthday here in San Antonio (amongst other things, the birthplace of the modern nacho!) and thanks to Claire, Roger, Anne, and Annabelle, as well as Tom Jones visiting from Leicester and the marvelous Prof. Kimberly Fonzo and her husband, it was made extra special. Treated royally to a BBQ by the pool, the things I’ll carry along the road with me, as we head on to North Carolina next week, are these fleeting moments, seemingly small but bigger than the sum of their parts: enthusiasm, openness, kindness. The thoughtfulness of a packet of silly stickers and an oversize cookie. In the shape of … well … a cookie. From big hearts, Texas-shaped.