Inside the King’s Kitchen | Final Rehearsals for Richard III

We spent our last week in London reworking the play in finer detail, sometimes as a group, breaking the script down into sections and marking where we feel there are a strong gear shifts. While working on the second wooing scene with Queen Elizabeth bereft then of her husband and sons — which is a rather horrible and much tougher mirror of the first wooing scene where Richard actually manages to put a ring on the finger of the young widow whose husband he’s helped to kill along with her father-in-law whom he has killed — Evvy [Evelyn Miller] suggested clapping some of the beats to remind us where they were while we were actually playing the scene. It was really helpful and that and playing on the diagonals in the space helped us move forward.

WooedWhile finessing the first wooing scene, it was really interesting that suddenly the only chap in our cast, Paul O’Mahony, seemed to have the most excellent understanding. He told me to be very confident since Richard has definitely decided to marry this woman. Of course Paul would understand; he’s a man. I haven’t done huge amounts of wooing in my life! It’s written like a piece of music with Lady Anne and Richard finishing each other’s sentences or batting back the same rhythm. Similarly, in the scene where Queen Elizabeth, who is played by Paul, comes on having lost her little sons, all us women suddenly had a lot to say.

Usually, whoever is not in the scene or has very little in it gets to sit “out front” and see if we’re making sense and honoring the text. Shakespeare and Richard pull off the absolute impossible at the end of the first wooing scene with Lady Anne melting fatally and momentarily — as she says later – “I grew grossly captive to his honey’d words.” Richard, who says he’s marrying her “not all so much for love” BEFORE the scene, finds himself believing all he says and falling for her. I don’t think he’s had much love in his life at all (though he clearly WORSHIPPED his father). So, when he totally liberates himself by determining to “prove a villain” at the top of the play, he suddenly finds it possible to win a beautiful young woman’s attention. He is so gobsmacked when she leaves that I think he is physically and mentally reeling and even has a strange stab of feeling for her dead husband (Queen Margaret’s son ) Edward. Richard calls him “young ,valiant, wise, and no doubt right royal” and wonders if Anne is fickle for having submitted to him. Of course the wonder of Shakespeare is the multiplicity of choice one has: he could be cynical, sneering, tearful. But you KNOW that he has somehow, with Lady Anne, felt a feeling unknown to himself before that scene. Alice is a heartbreaking Lady Anne.

Later in the week, we found an intriguing way of staging Queen Margaret’s famous curse scene that predicts the demise of practically everyone on stage. She is such a fantastical chorus like creature, this Lancastrian Queen who has been banished on pain of death. AFTLS - Richard III 039_webHannah is using a brass singing bowl which when circled makes an eerie sound that is loud but seems to appear from nowhere. She taps it on each of her curses and we all make these involuntary movements as if being physically compelled towards her. At the beginning Margaret has asides where she is supposed to be unseen. Usually the actress would be high above or below and we played with the idea of her coming through the audience but, on Alice’s suggestion, decided to physically freeze on her asides as if Margaret has such power that she can suspend Time itself. Hannah experimented with long bits of string and silky material that she knotted as she spoke each curse but she has found something wonderfully unnerving crouching on a chair with this brass bowl as a sort of comforter.

The Royal Arms of King Richard lll

The Royal Arms of King Richard lll

She’s very powerful and Shakespeare’s gives her such frightening words. For instance, she addresses Richard as an “elvish mark’d abortive rooting hog.” In Shakespeare’s time, anyone with a physical disability was considered literally marked by elves and God’s revenge for bad deeds. The rooting hog relates to the white boar that was part of Richard’s royal arms (at right). Hannah is also our divine dance captain and chief songstress along with Evvy (our quietly fabulous Buckingham) who has given us some great dynamics for our last ‘Te Deum’ and we’ve managed some rather gorgeous harmonies that the brilliant Conrad Nelson has given us.

This week, we had the very lovely Richard Neale “on the book” for us (i.e. giving lines and prompting). Normally there would be a deputy stage manager from day one, so it was a bit of a shock to realize that some bits had just bedded in WRONG. Usually you bat off people who ask “How do you learn your lines?” but, as we each share a fifth of a two hour fifteen minute Shakespeare play, it has been seriously challenging. The process has been vocally tiring as well — many tired vocal chords and much steaming. We’ve gradually, as we are responsible for ALL our choices, rushed out before rehearsals or in the lunch hour and found our COSTUMES. Paul has some dazzling shoes with an electric blue sole, a rather lovely black fur scarf of my Mum’s for his proud and fiercely intelligent Queen Elizabeth, and a handkerchief for his hilarious sweating and constantly unpunctual Lord Hastings. I’ve gone for culottes and a long waistcoat in pinstripes and a crown made out of garden and picture wire (that needed some serious attention as it kept getting stuck in our hair). Alice has gone for a top hat as Lord Rivers and geeky glasses for the Lord Mayor with a black veil for lady Anne. Hannah has a bright red beret as a female Catesby and fine pieces of cloth for Clarence, King Edward, and Queen Margaret. Evvy uses a flat cap for Lord Derby and a silk cravat for Buckingham. Everything needs to be simple and read INSTANTLY. It also needs to weigh under 23 kilos. We did a run through for ourselves and then the hair-raising Thursday run in front of our Associate Directors but it was actually great to have an audience. Richard needs to have someone with whom to share all his devilish plots. They enjoyed the performance and you will too. America, here we come.

– Liz Crowther

[The tour is currently in residence at the University of Texas at Austin and next week travels 90 minutes south to the University of Texas at San Antonio.]

Richard III, King of the Car Park | AFTLS Tour Blog III

You may not know this (forgive me if you do) but the real King Richard III who ruled England from 1483-1485 was the last English king to die on the battlefield: at Bosworth Field near Leicester.

He is also one of England’s greatest “villains,” mostly because he was deemed responsible for the disappearance of his two young nephews, Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard, Duke of York who went into the Tower of London in the summer of 1483 and were never seen again. They had been proved illegitimate and, though young Edward was due to be crowned, it was his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became king.

Richard III by Andrew Jamieson (courtesy of the Richard III Society)

Richard III by Andrew Jamieson (courtesy of the Richard III Society)

I put “villain” in inverted commas because many people feel even now that he was maligned especially by Shakespeare who concentrated on the wicked and comedic aspects of the man. Indeed, Shakespeare has Richard tell us in his very first speech that he is “determined to prove a villain.” Of course, dramatically, it makes Richard III an even more powerful and classy psychological thriller. It is argued that it was mostly the Tudors that wished to dishonour him.

In 1924, a group of very vehement supporters of Richard III formed a society in his name  to uphold and defend him as an excellent king who passed many good laws (true: a fairer criminal justice system and granting of bail was due to him) and they have members all over the world. The Richard III Society think that Shakespeare vilely slandered Richard, that he had nothing to do with the young princes’ disappearance, and that he certainly did NOT have a curvature of the spine and physical challenges.

In Shakespeare’s play Richard is called “a bunchback’d toad” amongst other horrible names. [Click HERE for a list of the insults hurled in Richard III]

In 2012, Phillipa Langley, a member of the still flourishing Richard III Society, after much research and poring over ancient maps, managed with an historian, John Ashdown-Hill, to persuade Leicester University’s archeological department and Leicester City Council to dig up the council’s car park (parking lot in your parlance) as they both had strong evidence that Greyfriars Monastery was beneath it and that Richard could possibly be buried there. Richard’s body, history told us previously, was taken from the battlefield, stripped naked, thrown and tied over the back of a horse, and ridden around the city of Leicester to prove he was dead. Philippa believed otherwise.

Richard greetings cardThere was money enough to dig two trenches and a film crew shot a documentary about this adventure. One of the first shots is of the rather beautiful and slightly nervy and terribly British Phillipa standing on a seemingly randomly painted letter ‘R’ (some old designated spacing I imagine) saying tremulously: “I don’t know why but I have the most extraordinary feeling that he’s right under here”…and HE WAS! In the very first hours of the very first day of the dig, they found first some legs and then a skull which they assumed (because of its awkward position) was another body on top ,only to discover that it was someone with a severely curved spine. It is worth watching The King in the Car Park solely for Philippa’s reaction as she looks down to the skeleton. You can watch she and the Society’s belief in Richard’s normal physicality shatter on screen. Matt, the lead archeologist of the dig, said that if they had chosen to dig 50 centimetres to the right, they would never have discovered his skeleton. The Home Office had to be called as human bones had been found, but the dig continued. It was later discovered that a descendant of Richard III’s sister, a Canadian cabinet maker living in London called Michael Ibsen, had  exactly the same DNA as the skeleton. They truly had found a “King in a car park,” 527 years after his death.

Richard's ReinterrmentPhillipa is a fantastic woman who doggedly pursued her instincts and who honoured this man, whatever his misdemeanours. She keeps saying all the way through, often weeping, “I just keep thinking about the man, the human being he was.” Two and a half years later he was interred at Leicester cathedral in an absolutely beautiful coffin made by his descendant, Michael Ibsen. Gosh, it’s nearly as thrilling as our play.

Richard-iii-remainsOne more wonderful thing, bearing in mind our gender blind casting and me — a woman — playing Richard, is that when the osteologist was first examining the bones she (for a goodly while) thought it was the skeleton of a woman because the hip bones were slightly larger than a male and the forearms very delicate and “gracile”…just like mine. Hurrah!

— Liz Crowther

BREAKING NEWS — Another King found in a car park just this week! The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has the whole story: Another car park, another King: ‘Henry I’s remains’ found beneath tarmac at Reading Gaol

Making the Cut | AFTLS “Streamlines” Richard III

In just three days, our five actors bring their new adaptation of Richard III to the United States. AFTLS Associate Director, Caroline Devlin, has edited one of Shakespeare’s longest plays into a fast, fierce 2:15 production. Read how she “made the cut” in today’s tour blog.

Folio title pageRichard III is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays. It’s length is justified as it serves not only as a narrative of this famous King, but also as a conclusion to the series of plays we know as Shakespeare’s “History” plays. It can also compete for being one of his most complex plays – in almost every scene we meet a new character! That is a very intricate web of names and faces to confront the audience with. Bear in mind, these names and faces would have been very familiar to Elizabethan audiences, as these plays dealt with their not too distant history, but for contemporary audiences, just keeping up with who’s who is a challenge, let alone investing in the plot and character journeys.

King_Richard_IIIThe main objective has been therefore, not to “cut” the play, so much as “streamline” it to the story surrounding the Duke of Gloucester, his bloody rise to power and his ultimate defeat at Bosworth. Uncut, it is epic with a vast cast of about 45 which I’ve cut down to 27 (excluding messengers and citizens) so quite a few characters have gone. Almost exclusively, any character going has been directly relatable to their importance to the Richard story. Jane Shore is a lovely character, but the mention of her in the play, although deliciously political in nature, doesn’t help the audience unless they are fully versed in her role as court courtesan, therefore, she was a clear contender for being cut.

This is the case with almost all other characters that have been cut. In some places a character has been merged, for example, I’ve merged Ratcliffe into Catesby – simply to avoid meeting another minor character who doesn’t have a story that particularly develops. Also, at this late stage of the play we are already meeting new characters in the shape of Richmond and his followers, so I wanted to keep any new faces and names to an absolute necessity.

In a few places a character has been added, Marquis of Dorset arrives in a scene to replace a messenger. This aids to keep his character alive for the audience, he is a minor character but his relationship to Queen Elizabeth and his timely escape from London to join Richmond is important storytelling, so I wanted to keep this character clear to the audience.

I felt sadly bound to diminish the role of various Priests and Archbishops in the storytelling. In some places these lines have been included but given to other characters. I felt that unless someone was familiar with the role of the Church in State matters in the 1480’s, it could be confusing as to why a member of the clergy may be so essential to State decisions. But ultimately, it again came down to the clarity of storytelling.

Caroline DevlinThe rehearsal script has had numerous readings with Associate Directors and the AFTLS office contributing feedback, and the version has had a successful professional run (albeit with a full cast, not five actors) and was praised for its clarity and pace. I mention this only to re-assure that the cut works!” — Caroline Devlin, AFTLS Associate Director and three-time tour veteran

Richard III will be performing across the United States this fall. To learn about Actors From The London Stage, explore how 27 roles are shared between five actors, and see if AFTLS will be at a university near you, visit our WEBPAGE for more details and a full tour schedule.

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The Richard III cast (pictured L-R): Hannah Barrie, Evelyn Miller, Liz Crowther, Paul O’Mahony, & Alice Haig.

London Calling | Richard in Rehearsal

We’ve just had an absolutely cracking first week’s rehearsal of Richard III. There are five of us: Hannah Barrie, Evelyn Miller, Alice Haig, Paul O’Mahony, and me (Liz Crowther) playing 24 different characters and telling our thrilling story in Shakespeare’s words while persuading our audience than 10 chairs and a bare stage are a palace, a battlefield, a bedroom, and a prison to name but a few of our locations.

The 'Richard III' cast gathers for the first time.

The AFTLS cast of Richard III gathers for the first time. (Pictured L-R: Evelyn Miller, Paul O’Mahony, Alice Haig, Liz Crowther, and Hannah Barrie)

We met briefly three weeks ago for a sit down “read through“ of the play, to make an initial connection, and, I think, to make us realize the fabulous challenge ahead. We have many, many lines to learn between us and are required to be “off book” (i.e. know it all) two weeks into rehearsal.

Props

As there is no director, the five actors determine what props are needed for the production.

Day One: Eunice and Richard, our experienced AFTLS leaders, came to welcome us to prep us for our US Embassy visit and to bring us THE SUITCASE. This is our equivalent of a touring theatre’s pantechnicon (a large van for transporting furniture) full of costumes, props, scenery, and wigs (30 tons in Evelyn’s last production King and Country that toured to China…and that was just the props). Our production’s single case will contain all we need for our show and must not exceed 23 kilos (50 pounds).

During this first rehearsal, Eunice gave us a fantastic tip: “Make sure each character you play has a different silhouette.” This is valuable advice as the speed which we change roles leaves no time for anything other than something brief and instantly readable. For example, a crown is a great help for King Edward. Hannah Barrie who plays King Edward also plays both the Duke of Clarence who is in prison AND his gaoler (jailer) Brackenbury. More of this later. Evelyn had prepared a wonderful Family Tree of the actual House of Plantagenet to help us all be on the same page with who is who. Richard III is based on true English history with Shakespeare’s own slant and time compression. Our play has two Richards, three Edwards, and some characters, like the aforementioned Duke of Clarence, who is sometimes called by his first name George and sometimes Clarence. With this in mind, another of our tasks ahead is to fashion an introduction to the play at the very beginning to help our audience out. It is also one of the absolute joys for the audience of an AFTLS production — seeing actors switch from role to role.

A cajon drum box

A cajon drum box

We discussed various aspects of the play briefly, uncertain how to start. Two of us have done the play before and know it well: Hannah (at the RSC as part of their 2008 Histories Season) and Paul. They talked about the general arc of the play, about it being a play of factions. We talked about when to set it and we all agreed on doing it now. The very first word spoken in the play is “Now.“ Hannah discussed possible music and soundscapes and we all thought, since drums are mentioned, they would be a good way forward and could be used in an amazing variety of ways. Eva said she’d bring in a cajon (pictured right). We’re allowed two experts to support us (i.e. a choreographer and a fight director) and she agreed to contact a musician chum about coming in to help. We discussed disability at the time the play was written and now and the practical challenges of playing a man with curvature of the spine, a damaged arm and legs of unequal length. Actors have to be incredibly careful of hurting themselves when rehearsing and performing for months on end. We talked about whether to have real letters, swords, or mimed props. Alice talked about the importance of the visual dynamics when staging it, standing on chairs, lying on the floor and then suggested (since we were all slightly floundering wondering how to properly BEGIN) something the director Michael Longhurst had done at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse when she worked with him which was to just all stand up and do the WHOLE play all the way through from beginning to end. It was brilliant as we all dived in together, all felt vulnerable together, all heard those incredible words again — but standing up! — so could actually do so much more vocally and physically than seated. It also united us in our terror!

CombatThe rest of the week we’ve ploughed on. We discussed our characters in depth. Is Buckingham a man of solid integrity or a dodgier character? How much pain does Richard feel? How liberating is it for him to decide to be a villain? How does Queen Margaret’s chilling curse manifest itself physically? We read/talk/do with each scene, sorting out knotty words, the focus and speedily getting something up on its feet. We decided to start each day with a thorough vocal and physical warm up. This is standard practice in a rehearsal room. You need immense stamina and vocal power for Shakespeare’s plays, and we have delighted in each actor’s contribution. Evelyn kicked us off with glorious stretches. Paul has given us some fiendishly difficult clapping sequences where we clap different rhythms against each other. I still haven’t cracked that one. Alice has taught us a one to ten singing sequence where you feel your lungs may burst by the end and Hannah revealed the most incredible Irish dancing talent with sounds that create an instant battlefield. I led the vocal warm up with the silliest sounds, blowing out like a horse and doing a very strange exercise sticking your tongue out, holding your chin down and flexing it making “yah, yah” sounds. (Tell the truth; you just tried it, didn’t you?)

GroupWe’ve solved some space changes…well for the moment, anyway. For example in the prison (the Tower of London) in Act One, scene four we created narrow, dark corridors just by the way we walk and then a wider space for Clarence. All my fellow actors have proved astonishing in switching characters. Evvy has a great challenge in having just a light start then an absolutely HEAVY Act Three when Buckingham comes on though she may also be the only one to play three people in the space of five lines in Act Two!

With multi roles, we’ve found it useful if one person is seated or lying down or in a very clearly defined space so that the other character that the actor is playing can have an eye-line to that chair or crouch over them on the floor, etc. We’ve discovered that slowing this down is much finer that rushing it. We’ve decided to use cloth of different sizes to delineate different characters (headscarves for example). Short bits of bamboo may possibly serve as daggers. None of this is concrete but a fluid process.

We managed to get to the end of Act Three by Friday. It’s all too easy to leave the last act or two in a play to late on in rehearsals if you don’t manage your time well. Friday was a lovely day. I had great help with some of my soliloquies at the start of the day. People interjecting randomly in speeches is a good way to help an actor who’s having difficulty. We explored just saying the end word of each line and that was extraordinarily insightful. We discussed the role of the audience and getting them onside in Richard’s case. I felt less like an old record when we’d finished. Everyone had useful input and I think we’re very accepting of each other’s contribution. We’ve also laughed a LOT.

— Liz Crowther

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…