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!

Quote

“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)

Midsummer in Vermont…in February

 

Old Mill, the oldest building of the University of Vermont

Old Mill, the oldest building of the University of Vermont

Last week we headed north back to New England and snowy Burlington, Vermont. Strangely, there was very little snow at the University of Vermont — a big problem for the thriving ski industry in the mountains there. But the ski industry’s loss was Burlington’s gain as all the hopeful skiers headed to town to one of the many pubs servings artisan beers and food.

This is Bernie Sanders’ town; he was mayor here in the 1980’s, now senator for Vermont. As you walk down Church Street Market you see many badges with the ‘Feel the Bern‘ slogan. It is the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and there is quite a hippie vibe about the place.

We were met at the airport by Andrew Barnaby and Freda Farrant who guided us the very short distance to our hotel. At the education meeting Andrew and his wife Lisa were the only tutors that had invited us to their classes so the meeting was very informal over a beer in the hotel. A great start to the week! Most of our workshops were with acting students too, another unusual factor.

We performed in the Flynnspace, the studio space attached to the main house called The Flynn. The Flynn is a fantastic arts venue that is really integrated with the appreciative Burlington artistically-inclined community. We had performances on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. This meant on Wednesday we were free to go to the Global Fest music concert in the Flynn’s main space. We saw Casuarina, a lively Samba band all the way from Rio; we listened to the extraordinary tones of Brushy One-String, a solo artist with a solo string guitar from Jamaica; but the overall AFTLS consensus as our favourite act of the evening was the sublime Emeline Michel, Queen of Haitian Song. All five of us were dancing in the aisles. If you have a chance to check these artists out please do! ‘Global Fest Live!‘ is touring so keep your eyes peeled for it in your town.

We had delightful audiences for our three performances. The final audience was raucous to the point of hysterical.

Blog_UVM_ChamplainWhilst wandering around Lake Champlain the following day I noticed a young couple I had seen on the front row that had been particularly vocal in their appreciation. I walked past them but thought that I wanted to say something to them so tracked back and thanked them for their response. I was so pleased that I did. Their names were Joe and Taylor. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a very special play for them as they met playing Demetrius and Helena and our production was going to be forever be special to them as they got engaged just before the performance. No wonder they were enjoying it so much! We had another special couple in on Friday night, Helga Duncan and her husband Scott. Helga organized our residency at Stonehill College, Massachusetts back on the Fall leg of the tour. So it was a performance for old friends and new lovers – very apt for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Blog_UVM_BorderOn our day off, Sam and I popped across the border (before the Canadians build a wall if Trump gets elected) and took a day trip to Montreal. Claire and Chris stayed stateside and went to the mountain resort of Stowe. Patrick stayed in Burlington to study. Fun was had by all particularly when Sam was refused entry back into the USA at the end of the day (Shhh… Don’t tell Deb!) He made it back in by convincing the border guard he was, in fact, Ben Crystal).

We are all particularly excited to be heading south again and out of the snow for AFTLS’ first visit to the The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Choo Choo!

(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

WEEK FIVE:
STONEHILL COLLEGE

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

WEEK SIX:
DEPAUW UNIVERSITY

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

WEEK SEVEN:
HOPE COLLEGE

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)

Midsummer meets a Texas tempest in San Antonio

‘Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you’ – Crowded House

It does rain in San Antonio, Texas apparently. This actually has nothing to do with five actors from London bringing the London weather with them and it has everything to do with Hurricane Patricia who is wreaking havoc across Mexico and Texas at the moment. hurricaneThe rain we experienced in San Antonio was not devastating, thank goodness, but there was enough of it that the San Antonio River was made so proud that she had overborne her continents. We Brits and Irish are used to the rain and in a way it was a nice reminder of home, just like a hot cup of tea with milk is, or a crumpet with Marmite on.

This week was our second at the University of Texas, this time at UT’s San Antonio campus. Again, we were welcomed by some extremely clever and engaging people at UTSA. Mark Bayer is in charge, and his team of Kimberly Fonzo, Bridget Drinka, and Georgia Richter were extremely helpful in welcoming us and getting us around all of the spaghetti roads that wind through San Antonio. In the course of the week we all got to work with some very friendly professors and students alike.

UTSA Recital Hall

UTSA Recital Hall

UTSA campus is a little out of town and we were performing in the Recital Hall of the arts building – a cavernous stage with a huge organ at the back and a couple of Steinways stage left. It was quite tricky to tech the show as it wasn’t in a purpose-built theatre; however, our student technician Chris, was incredibly good! As were the audiences that braved the weather to come in. It rained on Friday and Saturday so the numbers were down in the audiences compared to Wednesday but it is quality over quantity. On Saturday we were joined by a clan of Scots in the front row all sporting tartan kilts who seemed extremely engaged.

I think Mark Bayer has done his research into British taste and culture because on the first night he took us out for an Indian curry – the national dish of England which was thoroughly enjoyed, and then, on our last night, we went to a pub serving food late – perfect having done the final performance for the week.

alamoIn our spare time we wandered around The Alamo and went to the Menger Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders (funnily enough the bar at the Menger is designed to resemble the House of Lords in our Parliament). Sam and I visited the Pioneer Flour Mills in the historic King William district that has some beautiful houses. On Sunday Chris, Claire, Sam, and I hired bikes and went down the river walk on the Mission Trail to see the old Spanish missions from the 1600’s. Sunday evening had dried out a bit which meant that the Dia de los Muertes festival was in full swing in the La Villita district of San Antonio.

MuertosGhouls and ghosts danced and sang through the night…It was a ghoulish spectacle, a lovely way to end the week in SA, and great preparation for Halloween in Massachusetts. Stonehill College, here we come!

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.

Prisoners “Dream” with AFTLS

 

Our merry 'Midsummer' band at the Westville Correctional Facility, pictured with Shakespeare at Notre Dame Executive Director Scott Jackson (second from right)

Our merry ‘Midsummer’ cast at the Westville Correctional Facility, pictured with Shakespeare at Notre Dame Executive Director Scott Jackson (second from right).

I have never been into a prison before. Apprehensive does not come close to describing my feelings about it. From the stipulations about my underwear to the sign saying that carrying a cell phone into the prison is classified as a felony, all the rules and responsibilities, the dos and don’ts, made the anticipation of Sunday’s two-hour workshop at Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility palpable.

Getting into Westville is a similar experience to going through airport security. We showed our ID, took off our shoes, went through a metal detector, and finally got patted down by a guard. This is where the experience began to differ from the airport; rather than being released to fly off to a sunny beach, we were held in a Sally Port. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, this is a holding area with two heavy metal mesh doors – only one opening at any one time. Finally, you are escorted in a van to the designated cellblock.

As we arrived in A3 and were led down the corridors, we felt the prisoners watching us. The initial meeting was awkward, no one knowing what the exchange was going to be. This awkwardness was eased through playing theatre games. I don’t know much about the prison system or the lives of the men incarcerated there, but I’d guess that play is not a huge part of life at Westville. We taught them our games and they taught us ones that they had done with Scott. (On Sunday I won ‘Zip, Zap, Zoom,’ a very proud moment!)

Inmates learn through Shakespeare's text at Westville Correctional Facility

Inmates learn through Shakespeare’s text at Westville Correctional Facility

Samuel Collings led us all in the click game. This is where a click is passed around the circle as if it is a ball. In our production the click represents the flower ‘love in idleness.’ After the initial games, we played with the text of The Tempest. We created a storm using our hands, the floor, plastic chairs, the walls, our voices and breath – anything we could bang and make a racket with – and what a wonderful racket we made. (The guards commented on it.) Kyle, a man covered in tattoos with a neck the size of my thigh and a voice that would give Barry White a run for his money, volunteered himself for the part of Ariel, the very airy spirit. He had us in stitches and his enthusiasm was infectious. As we moved through the edited version of The Tempest, we got to know this group very well.

On Friday, when we came back to perform the play, an inmate told me that the prisoners had reprised Wednesday’s click game and had the entire block playing it. So, when Patrick came on as Puck carrying the flower, a ripple of excitement swept across the watching audience, knowing exactly how Puck was going to pass the flower to Oberon.

AFTLS actors Samuel Collings (standing as Oberon) and Claire Redcliffe (on floor as Titania) perform a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Westville Correctional Facility

AFTLS actors Samuel Collings (standing as Oberon) and Claire Redcliffe (on floor as Titania) perform a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Westville Correctional Facility

The Westville shows were our first public performances of the Dream, and we couldn’t have asked for a better response. I speak for all of us when I say it was extremely rewarding and an experience we will never forget. By Friday, we had met, worked with, and become invested in many of the inmates; it was sad to leave.

Thank you Scott Jackson for organizing our week at Westville.

— Actress and Midsummer blogger, Ffion Jolly

(Note: The AFTLS Midsummer cast will return to Notre Dame in 2016 to perform and discuss their Shakespeare in prison experience at the Shakespeare in Prisons: In Practice conference January 25-27.)

 

“Midsummer” arrives at Notre Dame

The Midsummer AFTLS cast

“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain!”

We’ve arrived in the land of the free! (In a stretch limo no less; thanks Deb!) [Office note: the limo was the cheapest option to transport our five actors from Chicago to South Bend.] And at the risk of completely adhering to the British stereotype, I am going to talk about the weather. It has been amazing! I hadn’t packed for the beautiful Indian summer here. I have alpaca and cashmere for the winter but very little in the way of shorts and sunscreen, and it’s making me nervous about Texas in a couple of weeks…

Our first week in the US has been fairly slow-moving. We’ve had to do a lot of admin, from filling-in and rehearsing whilst battling the bewildering effects of jet lag. However, it has been a joy to finally meet the wonderful people at the end of all the emails who have also helped us through this week. Deb Gasper is an astonishing lady, organizing everything and conducting herself with the patience of a saint while we set ourselves up for the tour ahead. We have had the pleasure of meeting Becky and Heidi in finance and Peter, Scott, Aaron from Shakespeare at Notre Dame who have all been delightful.

The craft beer list at South Bend's Evil Czech Brewery

The craft beer list at South Bend’s Evil Czech Brewery

Deb, Aaron and Scott very kindly took us out for Taco Tuesday at Evil Czech Brewery where we got to experience the famous American craft beer movement first hand. (Scott’s spicy Porter had a real kick to it!) Joining us with an Irish welcome was Grant Mudge, producing artistic director of Notre Dame’s Shakespeare Festival.

In our rehearsal room this week we have been joined by Anna Kurtz-Kuk who has been a joy! So positive, useful, and insightful. I wish we could have had her with us in London too. She is about to direct a production of The Understudy and it promises to be a fantastic production if her contribution to our Midsummer is anything to go by.

Notre Dame's Golden Dome as seen from our rehearsal space, ND's historic Washington Hall.

The burning sun on the dome at Notre Dame. This picture does not do it justice. I couldn’t look at the dome it was so bright.

Rehearsals were held in Notre Dame’s historic Washington Hall, just steps away from ND’s Golden Dome. We did our second preview on Friday afternoon, a week after the first in London and got some great feedback from the audience. We’ll hopefully get some time this week to work the notes. After notes it was straight on the road to go to Valparaiso, gearing up for our Westville residency.

Saturday was our much needed day off and the day of the England vs Wales Rugby match in the Rugby Union World Cup which is going on back home.

The Indiana Dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan

View of Lake Michigan from the Indiana Dunes

Sam and Chris were keen to catch the match but failed to find anywhere in downtown Valparaiso showing it so ended up heading towards Lake Michigan where Claire, Patrick, and I had already gone to have a dip. My gosh, it was beautiful! And not as cold as the Hampstead ponds in London.

(Blog post by AFTLS actor Ffion Jolly)

Dreaming up a Fresh “Midsummer”

Wow, three weeks into rehearsals and it seems like a dream, forgive the pun! The five of us met in Brixton three weeks ago to begin this journey which feels fairly similar to Peter Quince’s and his troupe in the play. We have two veteran AFTLS-ers and three ‘newbies’ muddling through Shakespeare’s (arguably) greatest comedy. The past few weeks have seen us mere actors take on not only up to six roles within the play but also the roles of director, production designer, prop and costume buyer and stage management. It has been a test of our mettle and an insight into what ‘mere’ actors can achieve when left to our own devices (fingers crossed it’s good-judge for yourselves when you see the show).

It has been a blessing and a curse having fairy magic on our side. Whilst having an infinite amount of options available to us for our fairy realm (not easy when directing by committee) it has also opened up the floodgates of our creativity. On a small budget with little technical back-up we really to have to use our imaginations and trust the magic of theatre to aid us in our ‘devices’.

We should also give Shakespeare some credit too. The road has been made much smoother by some good writing. A lot of the magic can be found within the text. Actors know that we are expected to perform miracles for our audiences, but, with Shakespeare, he gives us a statement of fact to deliver and produce the same effect: ‘I am Invisible and I will overhear their conference.’ Thank you, Will!!!

The wonderful practitioners whom have helped us have also made our road smoother. Lucy Cullingford, our Movement director, and Bobby Delaney, our musical director, have gone over and above what we expected and have been joys to have in the room. Their hard work, generosity, and expertise have informed a great deal of our production. Thank you Bobby and Lucy too!

I have been walking into rehearsals over these last 3 weeks and have taken a great deal of Midsummer inspiration from the street art that adorns my route. Who’d’ve thought Peckham would be so relevant to Shakespeare…

Post and photos by Actors From The London Stage actor Ffion Jolly

'I'll go with thee, cheek by jowl'

‘I’ll go with thee, cheek by jowl’

'Meet me in the palace wood a mile without the town' 'At the Duke's Oak we meet'- This picture was taken from a place called Honor Oak Park- named so because Elizabeth I took a rest under an oak tree on the top of this hill on a morn of may in 1602 and so the oak was honoured.

‘Meet me in the palace wood a mile without the town’ ‘At the Duke’s Oak we meet’- This picture was taken from a place called Honor Oak Park- named so because Elizabeth I took a rest under an oak tree on the top of this hill on a morn of may in 1602 and so the oak was honoured.

 

Streetside Inspiration Image

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme grows’