Much Ado Actor Blog: Week Off

A whole week in Austin and no work. Some of us took the chance to zip off to Georgia or New Orleans to see friends, but some of us succumbed to the twofold temptation of not getting on a plane, and of hanging out in this reportedly great town a few more days.

I can confirm that Austin rocks. Not least because we have English summertime weather here right now. And that’s English summertime without the constant rain, bouts of plummeting temperature, wind, hail, snow, frogs etc. And it’s English summertime with air conditioning. Everywhere. There’s air con in the garden. Probably.

First night out we hit sixth street, and found a bar with music. Which is a little like looking for a straw in a haystack. The band we found felt like a working man’s band, and one that’d been together for years. I fantasised about their day jobs. The bassist drives the schoolbus. The lead rhythm is a cop. The frontman works reception in a bank. The music was great. Committed, skilled and persistent. Nothing like an old band.

We managed a good few day trips. First to Mount Bonnell. Mount Bonnell is a pimple. “Things are big in Texas” is a mantra I have known since my childhood. Mount Bonnell is the exception that proves the rule. We wanted a walk so ended up going up and down a couple of times. The peak, though, shows the span and size of the flat country around it.

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Hamilton Pond was our next destination. Long before we got there in the car, with our trunks in the back, we had seen fleeting signs about bacterial,contamination. We partly ignored them because we were more concerned about finding somewhere that sold cans of beer, and partly because we didn’t want to see them. We clambered down the path to the spring, a longer walk than Mount Bonnell. At the bottom we are met by Dan. Dan works at the pond. “Ha!” he says, as we contemplate a puddle of brown swamp. “I bet you got taken in by all those photoshopped pics of azure water. You can’t swim in this. It’s full of cow poo.” It’s a beautiful place though. A hymn to erosion and the passage of time. With a soupçon of bovine effluent.

Not to be outdone we took our swimming trunks to Barton Springs instead. And there, we lay on the landscaped grass in the evening sun, occasionally jumping in, and periodically being tempted to throw Claire Redcliffe in for being such a wuss. By the time the short guy kicked us out for drinking beer we were perfectly satisfied.

We also played Peter Pan Mini Golf, where they don’t kick you out for having beer. They encourage it. And I was glad of it as it made me overexcited. Beer makes things fun. Then for the nature lovers, millions of bats emerging at dusk from Congress Bridge. We watched from above in case they shat on us. In retrospect we would have had a better view from below, despite a higher chance of fecal impact. We thought about biting the head off one, as a sure fire way of gaining international fame, but in the end made do with chickensteak – (essentially kentucky fried beef). A better meal was to be had the next day. They do good beef in Texas. Cows are important. The college team here is The Longhorns, and their image is everywhere. After enjoying eating them so much, we thought it only right to go to one of their matches and cheer them on.

I think I understand American football a little now. It’s much smarter than I thought. These big guys are fast and they hurt each other. And the quarterback is an amazing responsibility. And usually called Tyrone, Trevor or some combination of the two, as far as I can tell.

Obviously the whole time we were drinking beer, swimming, watching games, stuffing our faces, walking, dancing, jumping, laughing, shouting “bats”, driving, and talking we were also working very very hard on our lesson plans for this week, and deepening our thoughts about the play. Obviously.

We are now at UT Austin. Four shows this week, starting October 22nd, Wednesday to Friday at 7.30 in the B Iden Payne Theatre on campus, and then Saturday 25th at 7.00 in the Windedale Theatre Barn. I’m looking forward to getting properly stuck in again.

Much Ado Actor Blog: Wellesley College

In the grounds of Wellesley College, Hilary Clinton’s alma-mater, there is a wooden replica of Shakespeare’s birth place. It is the home of The Shakespeare Society. It stands incongruous, a mock Tudor sanctuary surrounded by stone colleges and sorority houses. A short walk from there and you find the alumni hall, the two tiered college theatre, haunted by the lazy ghost of “Top hat man”. The Shakespeare Society provides a twofold service for the Actors From The London Stage. It provides a buffer zone of enthusiastic audience members at the front of the stalls cheerleading for the actors, and it provides an equally enthusiastic stopping place for the tired actors when the show is done. The company has been coming for nine years now, and the routine is well established. “The Shakespeare Society traditionally kidnaps the actors on Friday, but I’m sure they’d welcome you every night if you have nowhere else to go.” So I am informed on the Thursday by Elena our stage manager, (herself a member.) And it does indeed. Although going there carries a burden, as you will end up staying up all night talking about verse plays and poetry and acting and theatre.
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So by Saturday night the need to wind down after the show was taking precedence over the desire to see the dawn, no matter how much I love to geek out. But it’s a lovely little bubble, and I know I would have been a member had I been a student there. It felt very familiar from my student drama society days, right down to the fact that there were no men involved. I was very excited to see that they had some huge working log fire places but “They were last lit in the ’20s. Someone almost burnt the place down.” I know for certain that had I been a member I would have been expelled from the society for lighting them with smokeless fuel and getting caught.

Wellesley itself is a dry town close enough to Boston for it to be easy to visit. I wanted to get a lobster and clam chowder, and Georgina had been tipped off as to where to go. We really felt the “New England” vibe when a bearded man in a cap growled “f*ing tourists” at us as we finished our meal. Aside from the fact I was on the receiving end, it made me feel right at home. And it was clear proof that we had come to the right place, as had we been in the equivalent of an Angus Steak House there would have been nothing but tourists for miles, and nobody to growl at us.

New England is familiar. I got my first Flat White in America, a bacon sandwich, cheddar cheese. I also had to wear my coat and jumper. The people drive like lunatics on bad roads, they randomly insult tourists, the portions are normal sized, people don’t do their utmost to make your life pleasant, it rains. I could live in Boston and not feel too homesick. And as per my previous post, the colours are astonishing in The Fall.

Now we are in Austin Texas, again. Chasing the tail of summer. I just walked into the most beautiful hotel room. Life is excellent.

Much Ado Actor Blog: An Autumnal Diversion

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.

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It feels right that, shifting into my forties, I should walk through the New England Fall and think of Robert Frost and Shakespeare. Still the soldier, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth. But seeing some around me shift to magistrate. This fall is deep and bright. Wild and sharp. And I am aware how fortunate I am to be here, and to have had a snapshot of the diversity in climate and flavour of this land.

Let me tell you a story.

Many moons ago, in the far away time, Deer crossed the rainbow bridge into the land of the sky. But Bear, in his pride, disliked that Deer had gone alone across the rainbow bridge and up, up and again up into the sky. He flung his great weight on the rainbow bridge, and across it he bounded, up, up and again up and into the sky land. There he found Deer, jumping and dancing and free, like a bright golden cloud in the summer. “How dare you come here alone, to the sky. How dare you leave us on the land, and ignore us.” growled Bear. But Deer had his horns, and his pride, and although Bear was strong, he was not Wolf. He had no authority here. “Bear, you are strong, but I have my horns. Too long have you thrown your great weight into things that should not concern you.” And with that Deer tossed his head, and pawed his great hooves, and his flanks shook as he lowered his antlers to charge. But Bear was not afraid. With a great roar like a crack of thunder, he rose on his hind legs, and he met the charge with his fearsome claws. The fight was a long and a fierce one. The sound of the struggle was great, and the sparks from the horns and the claws in the sky land were seen by the animals below. At last Wolf decided to act, and he leapt and he pawed up, up and again up into the sky land and he howled them to stop.

All animals must obey Wolf, and so it was at the sound of the howl Bear and Deer fled across the paths of the sky. And as they fled the blood from their wounds scattered and fell from the sky and down, down and again down. And it landed and spread on the leaves of the trees. And so they fled across the sky land and all the land below them was stained red and orange, and umber and brown from the wounds of the Deer and the Bear. And this is why the Deer and the Bear are no longer friends. And every year, at time of their conflict, the sky land remembers their fight, and the trees stain again with their blood.

Much Ado Actor Blog: San Antonio

Around the shows in San Antonio we had a little time for tourism. The Alamo was first on the list. I never really understood what it was or why we are exhorted to “remember” it. It’s a mission where Davy Crockett and a small group of tough men fought off a ridiculously large opposing force while waiting for reinforcements that never came. Their sacrifice later ensured that it was retaken, but too late for the men who held out. So we remember them. There’s a terrifically gutsy letter stating their intent to hold out till the last man. The gift shop houses a beautiful model of the conflict as imagined. I found it the best means on site to picture the true circumstances of the siege and fall. As with so many of these places it is hard to make sense of the moment or period that made them famous against the backdrop of nattering tourists. I found myself suffering from the eternal tourist hypocrisy “I wish there weren’t so many bloody tourists around so I could take this place in properly.”

Outside of The Alamo, the thing that is mentioned most frequently in San Antonio is The River walk. It’s a landscaping feat, a deliberate spend with an eye to earning. They’ve made the urban river scape very attractive and arty, and inevitably the chain restaurants have started to shoulder in to the more central parts, filling the banks with Mariachi bands that come and bother you at your table, and smiling maître d’hôtels waiting outside restaurants attempting to lure you inside with their shiny shiny teeth. Further out of town the places come fewer and further between and grow more beautiful and unique. The fear is, of course, that the sprawl of commercialism will slowly creep up the river and homogenise it as it goes. But for now it is quirky and attractive and I would gladly spend time there, even in the central bit, which put me in mind of parts of The South Bank on a London summer.
Claire on the river walk

We also got taken to The Oldest Dance Hall in Texas. Finished as long ago as 1878… The town where it sits, New Braunfels, was abandoned for a while and then recolonised, so the architecture, preserved now, is familiar to anyone who has watched a film about the old west. And in culture it’s very Germanic. Something I had not anticipated is how Germanised this whole region of Texas is. There are loads of places to buy Bratwurst which pleased me having spent so much of my childhood in The Graubünden. It being October, the Oktoberfest is being celebrated in much of Texas, which makes it quite hard not to drink beer. We certainly had no trouble doing so in the dance hall, before dancing like lunatics for hours. The five of us definitely know how to smash a good dance night. Although considering it was our night off, we all slightly regretted running around like hyperactive children for four hours when we could have lain in bed with a cup of tea.

UTSA Texas San Antonio was good to us. The faculty were fun and did their utmost to keep us occupied, and entertained when we were not occupied. The shows themselves were in a functional and eccentric theatre, well received by the audiences which grew nightly, and sparky and fulfilling as ever to perform. And the acoustic in the theatre was pindrop, which meant we could pull back and really listen. Wellesley College now in Massachusetts. A bigger, older space to play. And an almost entirely female audience to play to…

Much Ado Actor Blog: Talking to Strangers

San Antonio Texas. Big America. The South West, close to the border with Mexico. The heat hits us like a warm cherry pie as we exit the plane. I regret not owning any shorts, and precious few summer shirts. I packed for Autumn. And Claire? Claire is clutching her hand luggage, which has been ferried down the plane to her by a collection of large Texan men. “What y’all got in there?” “Oh, I don’t know. Loads of stuff.” 1 million cardigans and a toothbrush.

In Texas, we drive. You wanna go to the shop? Drive. You wanna go to the bar? Drive. You wanna go to the bathroom? Drive. We are shuttled 100 metres from the airport to the car hire. In the car hire, Paul meets a lovely lady called Carolyn. “The lovely lady that works in the parking lot, she wants to come and see the show!” he beams. How delightful.

Disgorged into a hotel room that has the vague odour of death and grilled chicken, I hold my breath and plan my lessons. Then,escaping the room, I explore the local area. There’s a bar that looks good, and a place that sells actual salad. Sure they give you bread, lard, refined sugar, and a whole cow if you ask. But you don’t have to ask. And the salad is salady. It consists of leaves and healthy things. Yum. Then, returning to the hotel the back way, I find the hotel pool.
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Two days later, Georgina and I are still sitting by the pool. It is clean and so hot it’s a miracle it hasn’t evaporated. It has a great view of a parking lot. I have occasionally taken time off the pool to go into the college and run a class. But for the most part, the pool. Although we do manage to pull ourselves away from it to do our first show. About 230 in the house. A little emptier than Utah. But it goes well. And one of the audience is lovely Carolyn, from the car hire. After the show, she has invited herself to come sit with us. By the pool.

“If I’d known you were coming back here, I’d have taken you to a real house. With food. I’d have cooked you kidneys, so you’d feel right at home. That’s what you guys eat, huh? Kidneys? And sh*t like that?” opens lovely Carolyn. “Come on, what sort of sh*t DO you eat?” she continues, before ensuring that all of us feel bad about our diet. It’s alright though, because the diet in America is bad, she concedes, but there’s less protein. Which is why we’re all so thin.

Lovely Carolyn is curious. “Would you kill someone for money?” If we say no we are liars. She uses herself as an illustration. “You,” she smiles to Jack, “I’d kill you, for what you did tonight, playing a woman like that. I would actually shoot you. Shoot you dead.” Jack has based his Margaret on his scouse auntie. It’s familiar to me, and delightfully done. Lovely Carolyn thinks it isn’t womanly enough. I don’t think she means the threat but it hits us strangely. Then she thinks for a while. “This thing you do. This Shakespeare. You know, if one of my children wanted to do that crap, I would beat it out of them. MY CHILDREN? Oh I would beat them so hard. But you? You’ve all given your LIVES to it. Your LIVES.” We are silent, perhaps contemplating our own struggle with our parents, perhaps thinking what might be right to say, perhaps thinking about the truth in her words. Lovely Carolyn is concerned her point hasn’t landed. To be absolutely clear she repeats it. “Your lives. You’ve given your whole lives to that sh*t.”

The conversation drifts to prisons, “If they’re in there they should have NOTHING good. They need to be punished, and punished hard.” It covers a range of topics. Lovely Carolyn has something negative to say about all of them. She makes it clear she has enjoyed the play, though, and it appears she is unaware of how unfamiliar her provocative conversation is. We are rinsed, though, especially after the show. But too polite to ask her to stop bombarding us. So we all simultaneously (and honestly) apologise that we are tired and want to go to bed. Lovely Carolyn gets a photo taken with us, perhaps to stick on her hit list, apologises (“I don’t get out much.”) and vanishes into the night. We all separately and wordlessly collapse.

I love Texas. The food. The heat. The audience. The students. The pool. The next day, before class I am talking to Mark, the professor, and he says this to me: “I learnt a long time ago in this country not to talk to strangers.” You’d think being from London that we would know better. But we don’t. Perhaps we’ll never learn. And perhaps that’s for the best.

Much Ado Actor Blog: Utah Saints

On a sweltering Tuesday morning, myself and Jack Whitam trundled up to the campus at Brigham Young University to tech into the outdoor space. The first thing we had to do was get them to move all the seats about four foot closer to the stage, as they were laid out as if we were there to play a pop concert. That done, I wandered off into the campus to get myself a coffee. Two hours later, shaking with deprivation, it finally occurred to me that the Mormons don’t touch caffeine and this being a Mormon campus there was no coffee to be had. A campus without coffee. Hard to imagine, but there it is.

Our first night was sold out and we played in the calm warm evening to a lovely generous crowd. The second night they had brought in loads more chairs, and without any warning we found ourselves playing more or less completely in the round. Lovely to feel sought after like that. And fascinating to be forced to take in such a wide audience having built the show with an end on crowd in mind. The clouds were louring upon us though, and sure enough as the first half drew to a close the opening drops of a full on downpour were just beginning to pitterpatter onto our noses. The floodlights they had rented for us were the kind that explode when wet, so it made sense to move indoors. We were thrown into the second half end on in an unfamiliar theatre, contemplating a completely full house and a different acoustic. Of course we smashed it, and for the first time in America they forced us back on for an extra bow. All this enthusiasm is too much for our English brains to compute. But it’s certainly delightful. And by the time we had finished the last matinee on Saturday, sold out again, we were all a little bit in love with the Mormons.

Owing to the magic of social media, a man who I occasionally geek out about Homer with on twitter invited me to speak to his class about Shakespeare. So I found myself at Karl G Maeser prep school, talking to a class full of smart and enthusiastic kids. At the end one of the teachers said “Show us some of your quality.” A little confrontational, I thought, but ok. Fine. Being a geek and fond of adrenaline I said “Which play do you want me to do a bit from then?” DangerAl. He could’ve stitched me up by saying Timon of Athens. But he said Merchant of Venice. SCORE. I could then cheekily ask, “Do you want a prose speech or a verse speech?” He said prose. I did about half of the old Shylock “if you prick us”, although I forgot a chunk. Then full of adrenaline I said “I’ll do a verse one too from the same play, and then smashed Shylock’s long response to Antonio on the Rialto. Being a geek is handy sometimes. Here we all are after the lesson. I disguised myself as an academic.

Karl G Maeser

The teacher that put me on the spot is so fond of Shakespeare he had a Shakespeare tie, a Shakespeare shirt, and an array of Shakespeare badges. Another academic I met later at Brigham Young said “I like to call him Bill.” I almost responded with ” I think the evidence points to him preferring to be called Will, actually, hem hem”. I managed to stop myself by the skin of my teeth, so am saying it here instead. But generally, they love Shakespeare in Utah. There’s a Shakespeare festival, a replica Elizabethan theatre down south, and someone even thrusting some copies of their play “Much Ado About Love” into my hands after a show. It calls itself “A romantic comedy in Shakespeare’s verse.” A Frankenspeare’s monster of a play. We are going to read it later. Actually it seems rather lovely. (Edit: Having read it now, it is an extraordinary labour of love.)

I did the bulk of my teaching on the final day, running some voice classes with the acting students, and trying to give them a simple basis of connection with the breath through text use. They were smart and responsive, and brave. This is the first time AFTLS has been to Brigham Young, but if this visit is anything to go by, it won’t be the last. And it’s been the perfect friendly start to our touring section. Next week, University of Texas, San Antonio, October the 1st, 3rd and 4th at 7.30 in the Recital Hall.

(And because I grew up in the nineties, I give you the hilarious mawkish dance track that has been on my mind the whole week, by Utah Saints. Who are from Harrogate, Yorkshire: http://youtu.be/XF4EJvfNQcs )

Much Ado Actor Blog: Arrival in Utah

As dawn broke in Chicago five tired actors bundled into a cab and headed towards the airport. After a (rare) game of Squinties, (see footnote) we flew to Denver. Our connecting flight to Salt Lake City was delayed, so by the time we arrived in Utah we were considerably behind schedule. Moises was waiting for us at the airport. When we met him he looked momentarily surprised and then bustled us off to the car hire. We had a few issues regarding the billing for the car hire, which further agitated Moises. It probably didn’t help that we kept inadvertently singing the first few bars of various songs from The Book of Mormon. Which we felt terrible about. But it was unavoidable. It’s like when you meet someone called Eileen.

Eventually we were ready to head off into the mountains. We had a deadline to make. The deadline was close. Moises was very aware of the deadline. There were many cars on the freeway. Moises decided he was going to be the fastest, irrespective of which lane he was in and which side of the car he was passing. Red lights? Moises scorned such petty fripperies. Signals? Only if absolutely necessary. They take too much time. Brakes? What are brakes?

We arrived sweating and quivering at the hotel. Moises came up to us, for all the world like we have just had a lovely walk in the park. “Well, we made it in time. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes to escort you to the university.” “Th-th-th-thanks…”

By the time we arrived at the faculty meeting we were pretty much spent. Thankfully the faculty were lovely, and before long, with some prompting, they realised that we desperately needed water and found some for us. We’ll be doing the show at Brigham Young University. Brigham was the founder of Salt Lake City, and president of the Mormons. This is a photo of him.

Brigham Young

Despite this, beards are banned on campus, which might be an explanation of why Moises did that double take at the airport. It also means that we are unable to disguise ourselves as Mormons and seamlessly blend in.

Everyone here is lovely, and healthy looking. The Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, I think. Although I have a strong suspicion that many of them are consequently addicted to sugar. My first meal was grilled chicken. With candied bacon. On a sugar waffle. Covered with maple syrup. I managed about half of it. This sugar addiction would perhaps make sense of the speed at which people drive; (“YAHOOOOOOOO!!!”) And also how much positive energy everyone seems to have. (“I JUST FEEL SOOO GOOD RIGHT NOW!!!”) And it has driven the market for the widest variety of soft drinks I have ever witnessed. About 50 different kinds of root beer were laid out on shelves at the back of the restaurant. It’s great. When I took a year off booze in London my options were watered down Coke for 700 quid a glass, or tired orange juice made out of food colouring and drain water. Had I been in Utah I probably would have lasted more than a year.

And Utah is stunning. I drove to Bryce Canyon yesterday, which is a 7 hour round trip. It’s huge. It’s gorgeous. Just astronomical. Lovely people. Lovely countryside. Food?

Our first Utah show will be tonight, Thursday 25th September at 7pm on an outdoor stage in Mary Lou Fulton Plaza. Tomorrow, same time same place. I’m curious to see what being outdoors will do to the show. We shall see. It’ll be a work out for our voices for sure. Saturday’s show is at 2pm, indoors, at The Pardoe. They keep us on our toes.

Footnote: (To play Squinties, you need two or more sensitive people. Squinties can be played at any time, anywhere, but if anyone notices they are playing then they lose. The game begins when one sensitive person inadvertently upsets another one. A common response is to inadvertently upset back. Continuation of the game can take many forms, always assuming that nobody has yet noticed they are playing. The only move that is disallowed is actual violence. Any actual violence will automatically end the game of Squinties in a draw and start a game of Hospital Tag which is no fun as nobody wins, although everybody gets a present. Squinties is won when someone says, preferably while squinting “Oh, is there tension? I hadn’t noticed”. The more one can sound like Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the better the win is considered to be.)

(By Al Barclay)

Much Ado Actor Blog: Chicago

Before Utah and after Indiana, AFTLS, being lovely, booked us a hotel in downtown Chicago for the weekend. We arrived on Saturday evening. Five English actors, 32 hours. 0 clue about Chicago. We did, however, have the stated intention to “do” it. And whatever it is, I am satisfied that it was done.

It’s a lovely thing about this group. We don’t want to let the tour slip by and only remember the shows and the interior of bars. We want to properly experience the places we go to. In America properly experiencing things usually involves eating so running is still a priority generally in the mornings, but we’re all managing it.

The Signature Lounge first, just as the sun set, for cocktails. We somehow lucked in to the best seats in the house, in a corner by the window, with an unparalleled view of the skyline from the 95th floor. It was very possibly because the guy at the bottom of the stairs who was managing the queue said to me, then Jack, then Paul as he checked our passports “Oh, you’re English. Oh and it’s your birthday soon?”. Useful to have three company members with birthdays so close together.

No trip to Chicago is real without a Deep Dish. We arrived at Lou Malnatis tired and drunk. We still had a great pizza, loads of Revolution IPA, and were up early the next morning for an Architectural Boat tour. Or most of us. But to be fair, Jack had done it before. Fascinating the time and thought that went into the reconstruction of the city. And my neck, in that cliched fashion, was genuinely hurting from all the looking up.

Then here we are at The Bean, getting all hands on with a great piece of public art.
The Bean
After which I snuck off on my own to Looking Glass Theatre to see what sort of thing they’re making in Chicago. I watched Death Tax which was great, and passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. It was a really tightly drilled piece about Death and Family and Money. The actors worked with great simplicity and focus, and every word pinged out. I was very glad to have seen it.

Back to the others, wind, coffee more wind, a man called Larry who was smitten with Claire, and a wander over to Navy Pier, a bit more wind, out of which we emerged half asleep and panting at a ridiculously awesome pasta place. Shoving pasta into our semiconscious faces, we reluctantly decided to relinquish the blues bar because we knew we had to get up early. But Chicago. My kind of town. We did you.

Much Ado Actor Blog: Run at Notre Dame

Paul and the ghost light.

Our opening nights at Notre Dame take place in Washington Hall. The Hall is an old building, with bats in the rafters, but it was modernised in the 1950s. The stage is more recent than that I think and the lighting rig is good. The interior of the theatre itself is a little sparse. When I comment on that, Kathleen, who works front of house, tells me that there used to be some lovely murals of George Washington, Shakespeare, Molière, Mozart, Beethoven etc. Semi randomised great artists and the president. They were whitewashed in the 50′s, when everyone was so zealous about being austere. I ask out of curiosity if perhaps they were grotesquely badly painted. “Perhaps it’s a mercy that we are spared them”. Kathleen insists that they were quite lovely. In which case, what a shame.

And our run begins in earnest. Three nights only, and a packed house on the third, with good audiences on the first two. The show is still breathing, moments are changing, landing differently. We are surprising each other. It feels right. Specific where it needs to be and free where it needs to be. The Notre Dame audiences are reactive and vocal, and despite being a little further away from them we still feel able to include them in our world, and play to, for and with them. On the first night a small child is laughing throughout the show. On every night, the upper and lower floors stand at the end. American audiences are generous like that. Scott encourages us to hold our hands out wide to, essentially, imitate Fonzy as we take the bow. “You’re all so humble and … English.” We attempt to allow ourselves such indulgence.

On the final night, a bat comes out in the interval, and panics at all the people panicking at it. As it circles the hall, we are drawn to the monitor just in time to see it fly right onto the stage accompanied by an audible gasp, and shoot up into the rafters above the playing space. It remains there for the rest of the show, and I find myself wondering how / if we might have been able to incorporate it had it done that while we had been on stage. And also whether or not it is going to bring guano into Messina, and make Messina that little bit messier. Thankfully that’s he last we see of it.

Since we have arrived in America, we have cut over 200 lines of dialogue. It feels leaner for it, and we wonder why we ever tried to do it complete. As a group we are coming together more and more, learning to trust each other and play off each other. It’s only going to tighten and deepen over time. Notre Dame has been a delightful place to start our run. A family. A home. As we all head to Chicago in a taxi full of bags, we realise that now the tour begins in earnest. Our friends in the room, in the lighting box, in O’Rourkes afterwards, on and around the campus, they all stay there. Hereafter it’s just the five of us and the friends we make on the way. Next stop Utah. But first, a weekend in CHICAGO!

(By Al Barclay)

Much Ado Actor Blog: Teaching at Notre Dame

As we come to the end of our stay in Notre Dame, we are all reflecting on what this work has meant to us so far. Apart from being the job on which most of us saw our first chipmunk.

Chipmunk

Putting on a show of this nature with so few actors and no director has helped us to gain a better understanding of what we do in the rehearsal room. Where our strengths and weaknesses lie. If you only have yourself and your fellow actors to police your habits you really start to identify them. And we need to look at our process closely now because the other, very important, part of our work has come into play. The teaching. As we move around the USA, we will be teaching classes in the daytime to university students. These classes are not usually acting classes. They are on a range of subjects. We come into the room with our expertise, and use it as best we can to approach whatever topic we have been asked to approach.

I do not think of myself as a teacher. I think of myself as a practitioner. Not through aggressive self identifying. Just through a habitual contempt for bad teachers from my childhood. Here’s looking at you, Mr Wimbush. And through an unexamined lack of confidence in my ability to put things across. “What do I have to teach?” was my worry. “Oh shut up,” was Claire’s response. Which is what I love about actors. And was an entirely appropriate response.

The lovely thing is, we are not called upon to be the voice of the absolute. Just to share the things we have learnt. And we are, by our nature, eloquent people.

My first class was on Ethnomusicology and the oral tradition with Tala Jarjour. Eep. I was ridiculously nervous, and since all my students were anthropologists they were nervous too. We were on the stage in a massive theatre where I couldn’t work out how to put the lights on, and I was asking them to sing and improvise fairy stories. It was a great big nervous pie. But we ate it. And there was some tasty filling. I improvise in song in London all the time with The Factory. I love it and am getting quite good at it. But nerves are a stinker and I hadn’t been prepared for having to run the room.

Fortunately I had another class that day with Romana Huk, on Verse Drama. And this was in a non cavernous room with lights that I could work out how to switch on. And I knew I’d have to run the room so I did. Reflecting after the class I realised that, by teaching others, if you are open and honest, you teach yourself as well. I know a great deal more about the things I do unthinkingly now, having had to put them across to a room full of strangers.

My final class was Hamlet for English students with John Staud. He wanted them on their feet, so I did some acting work on them through the text. And helped a few of them to shift and be honest and confident while being watched by their peers. It was helpful having the perspective I’ve gained from doing an English degree myself. And having to explain how simultaneously helpful and unhelpful the academic perspective can be for an actor in practice. How my journey at drama school was away from it until I could hold on to the useful elements (quick study, no fear of sightreading etc) and abandon the less useful (endgaming, overweighting meaning etc)

By working practically with others, and speaking to them about my craft, it has already helped me chrystallise my understanding of that craft. And all five of us will be deepening that understanding as we tour and teach on a wealth of different topics across a wealth of different communities.

(By Al Barclay)