Meet the Cast of The Winter’s Tale: Jens Rasmussen

Jens Rasmussen (Polixenes)

Jens Rasmussen (Polixenes)

Jens Rasmussen (Polixenes, the King of Bohemia) has performed Off-Broadway in I Came to Look for You on Tuesday, La Ma Ma ETC; Stories from the 99%, Working Theatre; The Strangest, HERE; Carry the Tiger to the Mountain, Pan Asian Rep, The Fundamentalist, Scandinavian American Theatre Co. His regional credits include Skin Tight, Studio Theatre; Conference of the Birds, Folger; Merchant of Venice, Milwaukee Rep; 20th Century Way, Know Theatre of Cincinnati. FILM: The Rebuild, Attack of the Morningside Monster, Survivor Type. Find more information at jensrasmussen.info.


For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame

Meet the Winter’s Tale Cast: Wendy Robie

Wendy Robie (Paulina)

Wendy Robie (Paulina)

Wendy Robie (Paulina) has recent credits in Chicago including The Game’s Afoot with Drury Lane Theatre, Southbridge with Chicago Dramatists, Cyrano de Bergerac, Private Lives, Richard III, Hamlet, and Hecuba with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Sense and Sensibility with Northlight Theatre, Float with About Face, Mother Courage and her Children with Steppenwolf, Trojan Women  with The Goodman Theatre (Jeff nom. for best supporting actress), and A Delicate Balance with Remy Bumppo. Outside the U.S., Robie appeared as “Regan” in Brian Bedford’s King Lear at the 2007 Stratford Festival of Canada, and as “Bishop” in Joan Dark with the Linz, Austria 09 Kulturhouptstadt. Regional credits include the Illinois Shakespeare Festival 2013 Season; The Actors’ Theatre of Louisville; Kansas City Repertory; Arizona Theatre Company; Broadway in Texas, Austin; Portland Repertory Theatre, and South Coast Repertory Theatre (Dramalogue Award, lead actress). Film credits include Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and the recently released Were the World Mine. T.V. credits include Star Trek, DS9, and two seasons as “Nadine” in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Robie received the Chicago After Dark Award for Outstanding Season for 2005.


For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame

Meet the Cast of The Winter’s Tale: Giles Davies

Over the coming weeks, we’ll introduce the principal actors of our Professional Company productions: The Winter’s Tale and William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).  Starting with the character whose profession is self-described as “a snatcher-up of unconsidered trifles,” Autolycus is part thief, part con-man, wordsmith, and ballad-singer, and one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedic creations. Playing the role is Giles Davies.   -NDSF Staff

Giles Davis (Autolycus)

Giles Davies (Autolycus)


Giles Davies (Autolycus) was born in Hong Kong and is of British descent.  He grew up watching his parents on stage and acted from the age of five.  He received his undergraduate degree from Ball State University, and then traveled the globe, performing his solo work wherever possible. After graduating from The Ohio State University’s graduate program (with a specialty in creating solo work), he immediately joined the ensemble with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.  Currently living in Tampa, he is in Cincinnati over the next year as a visiting professor at The University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music & Drama. He loves teaching, directing, and the tropics.  Favorite past roles include Coriolanus, Macbeth, Richard III, Dracula, Frankenstein (solo), Caliban in The Tempest, and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot.


For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame

 

Bro-etry in Poetry (by Andrew S. Hughes)

From left, Xavier Blevel, Anthony Murphy, Quint Mediate and Damian Leverett perform a ballet scene Thursday, July 9, 2015, during rehearsal outside the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for the upcoming Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival's Young Company production of "Love's Labor's Lost." SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

From left, Xavier Bleuel, Anthony Murphy, Quint Mediate and Damian Leverett perform a ballet scene Thursday, July 9, 2015, during rehearsal outside the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for the upcoming Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost.” SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

Love's Labor's Lost Rehearsal Photo 4

Xavier Bleuel sings as musicians play behind him in this scene from the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” that opens Sunday in Valparaiso and travels to area outdoor venues through Aug. 24. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

From left, Xavier Blevel, Anthony Murphy, Quint Mediate and Damian Leverett perform a ballet scene Thursday, July 9, 2015, during rehearsal outside the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for the upcoming Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival's Young Company production of "Love's Labour's Lost." SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

From left, Xavier Blevel, Anthony Murphy, Quint Mediate and Damian Leverett perform a ballet scene Thursday, July 9, 2015, during rehearsal outside the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for the upcoming Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost.” SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

It shouldn’t count as a spoiler to reveal Love’s Labor’s Lost doesn’t end with one or more marriages. The play’s title means, after all, love’s labor is lost. And in that respect, the play, this year’s Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival Young Company production, is unique among William Shakespeare’s comedies.

“In all of his other plays about wooing, it ends with the men getting the women,” director West Hyler says. “It’s a war of wooing in which the men are conquerors.”
Here, the men still see themselves as warriors, but Hyler thinks the play’s nontraditional ending fits perfectly with its main characters. “These lovers are immature,” he says. “You cannot love until you have grown up. What happens at the end of the play is they grow up.”

Hyler, who joined NDSF last year to direct the Young Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, has staged nine productions of Jersey Boys on five continents, directed circuses and has a background in classical theater, an interest that drew him to work with NDSF and the Young Company. The troupe consists of about 20 students from around the country who audition to take classes, produce their own play that they perform in area parks, and be cast and crew members for NDSF’s main stage production, which is The Winter’s Tale this year.

Fittingly for a Young Company production, scholarly pursuits set the plot in motion in Love’s Labor’s Lost, which scholars believe Shakespeare wrote in 1595 or ’96; they know it was performed in 1597. The play takes place at the court of Ferdinand of Navarre, where the king and three of his noblemen — Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine — have taken an oath to forswear women and other pleasures to devote themselves to three years of study in an effort to make the court a renowned academy. The Princess of France, however, arrives with three noblewomen — Rosaline, Maria and Katherine — and the men all fall in love with the ladies.

Abigail Schnell and Xavier Bleuel rehearse a scene for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” that opens Sunday in Valparaiso and plays at area outdoor venues through Aug. 24. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

Abigail Schnell and Xavier Bleuel rehearse a scene for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” that opens Sunday in Valparaiso and plays at area outdoor venues through Aug. 24. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

To Hyler, the play has a “collegiate feel,” so he’s updated it to the 1890s and set it at a fictional Midwestern university, the University of Navarre, with the women coming from a sister school in Quebec.

“I think of it as the Smith girls go to Harvard,” he says. “I thought it was a great choice (for the Young Company), because it takes place in this fraternal bond of the boys and this sisterhood of the women. I recognized it was more or less a college romance… Loves grow very quickly, the love reaches a fever pitch quickly, and it fades quickly.”
The men’s oath, however, restricts them from courting the women in an overt manner.
“It’s a boy thing to do,” Hyler says, “to keep an oath despite all intelligence to the contrary.”
At the July 8 Beyond the Stage: Explore Love’s Labor’s Lost program, the four actors who play the king and his noblemen performed Act IV, Sc. 3, which the cast and crew have nicknamed “Bro-etry in Poetry” because it depicts each of the male suitors reciting a sonnet he’s written about the object of his attraction, with each of them thinking he’s alone and undetected by the others. The scene has a brilliant energy and hilarious joy to it while demonstrating how precisely Shakespeare’s words and the student’s performances make each of the men distinct characters. “On this one, it moves very, very fast, almost like a runaway train,” Hyler says about the play as a whole, but he could just as easily be referring that scene in particular. “The language is incredibly rich in this. It’s full of witty repartee, almost like a Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde.”

Director West Hyler, center, speaks to actor Quint Mediate during a rehearsal outside for this year’s Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost." SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

Director West Hyler, center, speaks to actor Quint Mediate during a rehearsal outside for this year’s Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Young Company production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost.” SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

Between scenes, Hyler has selected several works by 19th-century French composer Jacques Offenbach for the students to perform on violin, viola, trumpet, guitar and other instruments. “It allows the world to be set,” he says, and for the audience “to slow down at times to think about what you’ve seen and sort of have a palate cleanser before the next course in this feast of language.” The music serves as a transition, but “also to advance the plot,” Hyler says. “It’s diegetic; in other words, it’s being played as if it’s inside this world.”

But the play’s world also has reality as part of it. At the end, the princess learns her father has died, and she and her court prepare to return to France. The women tell the men they’ll have to wait one year to prove their love for them is true before they will marry Ferdinand and his friends. “It brings the reality of adulthood and responsibility and mortality into the world,” Hyler says about the unusual ending. “When a parent dies, you inherit the mantle of responsibility,” he says. “While your parents are alive, you sort of have a ticket to be irresponsible… They don’t win the labor they have put forward in the pursuit of love, but they have shed some of their immaturity.”

— by Andrew S. Hughes for the South Bend Tribune (July 16, 2015)

Go Backstage with Shakespeare

The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival (NDSF) announced an expanded 2015 “Beyond the Stage” series this week. Featuring backstage access and conversations with Festival artists, NDSF’s “Beyond the Stage” events offer guests a behind-the-scenes look at the 2015 titles before they see the performances.

Beyond the Stage: Explore Love's Labor's LostThe series kicks off with Explore Love’s Labor’s Lost. Join director West Hyler (Broadway, Cirque du Soleil) and members of the NDSF Young Company for a glimpse at their touring Young Company show, Love’s Labor’s Lost. Following a conversation with Hyler, enjoy highlights from the production performed by members of the Young Company. The evening concludes with an audience Q&A.

  • Wednesday, July 8 at 7:30pm | Philbin Studio Theatre, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center | Tickets: $10 | CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE

An Evening with Reed Martin & Austin TichenorNext, enjoy An Evening with Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor. Two of theatre’s greatest comedians, Martin and Tichenor are the writer-director team behind this summer’s brand-new comedy, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged). Their irreverent abridgments have been performed on five continents, at the White House, The Kennedy Center, and as part of China’s Wuzhen International Theater Festival. With their new comedy, the “bad boys of abridgment” return to Shakespeare for the first time in over 27 years. Don’t miss your chance to meet Martin and Tichenor before you see their play.

  • Wednesday, July 29 at 7:29pm | Philbin Studio Theatre, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center | Tickets: $10 | CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE

Beyond the Stage: Explore The Winter's Tale

Finally, Explore The Winter’s Tale with director Drew Fracher. Guests will tour behind-the-scenes, see how the magic is made, and meet the teams making it happen. This hour-long event begins with Fracher, in conversation with 2015 NDSF actor Wendy Robie. Fracher has worked throughout the Midwest’s most prominent regional theaters and on Broadway. Robie is perhaps best known as Nadine (with her eye patch) in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Guests will then see the set, visit the costume shop, and learn about the creative process directly from The Winter’s Tale designers and production staff.

  • Wednesday, August 8 | Tours at 6pm, 6:30pm, and 7pm | DeBartolo Performing Arts Center | Tickets: $10 (limited to 25 for each tour) | CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE

Purchase tickets for “Beyond the Stage” events and learn all about the 2015 NDSF productions at shakespeare.nd.edu. For interviews and/or media requests, contact Audience Development Manager Aaron Nichols at aanichols@nd.edu or (574) 631-3777.

Shakespeare at Notre Dame to host First Folio in 2016

First Folio Title Page

The title page of Shakespeare’s First Folio published in 1623 and coming to Notre Dame in January 2016.

One of the world’s rarest and most treasured books, the First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It will be displayed in the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame January 4 through January 29 during a nationwide traveling exhibition entitled “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare,” sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association and hosted by Shakespeare at Notre Dame.

The exhibition, announced by the Folger Shakespeare Library on Thursday (April 23), Shakespeare’s 451st birthday, is one of numerous events planned worldwide for 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

“We are honored to partner with the Hesburgh Library’s Rare Books Collection and the Folger Shakespeare Library in serving as the sole Indiana venue for the First Folio exhibition,” said Scott Jackson, executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame. “Our mission is to directly engage our audiences with the works of Shakespeare both on the page and on the stage. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the First Folio in a venue as iconic as Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library will provide the wider Michiana community with an entirely new way to experience one of the world’s greatest dramatists.”

When it was published in 1623, the First Folio could be purchased for 20 shillings, roughly $200 today. Since then it has become one of the most valuable printed books in the world; a First Folio sold for $6.2 million in 2001 at Christie’s and another one for $5.2 million in 2006 in London.

ToBe_FirstFolio_smallIn the Notre Dame exhibition of the First Folio, the book’s pages will be opened to the most familiar of all Shakespearean lines; “To be or not to be” from Hamlet’s soliloquy. The exhibition will include digital and interactive features on Shakespeare’s life, times and work, and several public events presented by Shakespeare at Notre Dame.

Macbeth Tours Through the Heart of Wyoming

One of the many great things about working with AFTLS is that it takes its actors to parts of the States they may not normally expect to see. The cities are exciting, the universities always interesting and unfailingly friendly, but this week was something new even to regular alumni such as myself. We headed off to the heart of Wyoming on a mini tour – three shows in three separate towns.

The cast (sans photographer Michael Palmer) and Leigh Selting next to a statue of Chief Washakie in the foyer of Lander High School.

The cast (sans photographer Michael Palmer) and Leigh Selting next to a statue of Chief Washakie in the foyer of Lander High School.

Leigh Selting, the Head of Drama at University of Wyoming had arranged for us to perform Macbeth in Riverton, Lander, and Jackson Hole. We checked out of our hotel around midday and piled into the University’s large people carrier to set off toward Riverton. We ventured toward the mountains where herds of deer, tenuously angled rock formations and vast flat plains were all around us. Almost at every turn, not that there were many of those, one could just sit and look in a kind of reverie. Every so often, Leigh would throw in a nugget of interest – the name of a mountain, a river or some such.

Perhaps four hours later we got to Riverton where we checked into a hotel, which, curiously, had a swimming pool, right in front of reception complete with chairs and an umbrella to protect the sunbathers from the non-existent sun. I found the town rather characterful. Not sure some of the locals shared that interest, as ‘How did you people end up in Riverton?’ was a question we heard more than once. After dinner we decided to visit the Wind River Casino which is owned by the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Leigh settled down to a game of Black Jack from which he enjoyed a nice win. Skill or luck? He would say skill and he may be right, as myself and Charlie had no skill and even less luck betting wildly, desperately trying to hang on to thirty dollars at a roulette wheel. None of us could quite see the appeal of the casino but at least the profits go to the Arapaho so we felt we had contributed in some small way to their welfare.

CWU Technical Theater Director, Chontelle Gray

CWU Technical Theater Director, Chontelle Gray

Tuesday we gave a performance at Central Wyoming College, which featured a fabulous auditorium with around seven hundred seats, run by the delightful Chontelle Gray. The college was on Spring Break and we were concerned we may possibly be playing to a lone cowboy and his dog. Thankfully, well over a hundred came and were highly appreciative. I thought we gave a good show, and the acoustic for such a large theatre was fantastic.

Macbeth_WYO_LanderHSWednesday we were at the Lander Valley High School where Diane Springfield who runs the Wyoming Shakespeare Co. gave us a nice welcome to a great theatre – the schools and colleges round here are served pretty darn well when it comes to theatre facilities. Again a lovely and listening crowd followed by a great response.

Things suddenly went from good to great. On Thursday we drove through the Teton Mountain range toward Jackson Hole, which is a famous and highly chic skiing resort with the small but perfectly formed town sitting at the foot of two huge ski slopes.

JacksonHoleTechnically the town is called ‘Jackson’ named after a nineteenth century trapper and the ‘hole’ is the valley in which it sits. Apparently Harrison Ford lives here and had the poor chap not recently had a major mishap with his plane I would have expected to see him at our show. Or not. We went from hotel to motel – the Antler Motel (what better name for such a mountainous resort?) which had an almost log cabin quality which made us like it all the more.

Jackson Hole Center for the ArtsThe Jackson Hole Center for the Arts is a new and beautifully designed arts complex with a theatre which looks smaller than its five hundred capacity. Once again a standing ovation. I like these American audiences.

The following day Leigh had arranged through an ex student of his, a very nice guy called Will Dunn, for us to go snowmobiling. Jo went off to spend the day skiing, which, by all accounts, she is extremely good at.

Will Dunn, Leigh Selting, and Annie Aldington (on far right)

Will Dunn, Leigh Selting, and Annie Aldington (on far right)

At the pick-up point, we clambered onto our various snowmobiles, which were large, powerful and to my mind potentially dangerous. Tenuously we inched forward and got up to speeds of maybe thirty miles an hour. Will’s gleaming red mobile was plainly built for speed and he flew around us in something of a blur. Leigh was also skilled, Ben took to it easily, Charlie and Annie had a kind of ‘tandem’ version, and I followed up the rear.

Michael Palmer (in mask) and Ben Warwick

Michael Palmer (in mask) and Ben Warwick

We were encouraged to leave the path and try our newfound skills off road. I gave it a go and felt rather ‘Bond’ like for a minute or so till I got stuck in a drift and fell off. Embarrassed I waved my arms as it to say, ‘no problem’ but I was genuinely stuck. This bit of the experience I could have well done without. Particularly as it happened again half an hour later. On that occasion Ben arrived to help and he got stuck next to me. Stay off the soft snow apparently although I found it impossible to tell the difference visually. After a ten mile ride we arrived at a hot spring in which we were able to take a dip. It was slightly surreal, rather like having a bath up a mountain. Do we have to go back, can’t we just stay here? Back we went however, and by the time we got to Jackson we were pretty exhausted. Stimulation overload. That evening we took Leigh out for dinner as a thank you for organizing such an incredible week.

The six hour drive back was yet again over moon-like panoramas and dizzying rock spectacles. Well worth the drive if any reader of this is up for it. What other job would take us through the heart of Wyoming, the Teton mountains and hot springs? So, yet again, a huge THANK YOU to Leigh Selting, a brilliant, friendly, and supportive Coordinator without whom the tour wouldn’t have happened.

A Wyoming Shakespeare Explosion

keepcalmcowboyOur next residency was at the University of Wyoming in the city of Laramie. Quite a contrast from up-state New York. It is, to British eyes at least, real cowboy country. From the hotel we could see the University complete with the motif of this state – a cowboy riding a bronco.

We were here as part of the University of Wyoming’s Shakespeare Project, a mini-festival of three student productions of Shakespeare’s popular comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice.

Pictured L-R: AFTLS directors Paul O'Mahoney, Alinka Wright, Roger Lawrence with Leigh Selting, Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Wyoming.

Pictured L-R: AFTLS directors Paul O’Mahoney, Alinka Wright, Roger May with Leigh Selting, Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Wyoming.

These productions used fifteen drama majors and were done in exactly the same style as our Macbeth – five actors, twenty odd roles in each play. The slight difference was that these shows had directors, all of whom were AFTLS alums: Roger May who directed The Dream, Paul O’Mahoney who worked on Much Ado, and Alinka Wright in charge of Merchant. These three were here as part of the Eminent Artist-in-Residence Endowment and had been working with the students for about six weeks. They had been invited here, along with ourselves, by Leigh Selting who is Head of the Drama Department at the University of Wyoming.

To get here we had to catch a 6am flight from New York, which meant we expected to be pretty drowsy the following day. At the time we were picked up to go to the airport to we weren’t even sure whether the flight would take off. In weather like this you just have to go to the airport and hope for the best. We were lucky and the flight was on time.

The Rocky Mountains rise up beyond the Denver skyline.

The Rocky Mountains rise up beyond the Denver skyline.

Once at Denver we were driven across the Rocky Mountains to Laramie in a shuttle bus where the driver informed us we were about seven and a half thousand feet above sea level. The air is thin up here, although at that time I didn’t notice any difference. More of that later…

Upon arriving in Laramie we met the Residency Coordinator Leigh Selting whose house was where the faculty meeting was to take place. Most of us were a little bleary eyed but the welcome was warm and thankfully Leigh had organized food which went down very well. Thanks for that.

The following morning began with two rather unusual classes, each just over an hour long with two hundred and ten students per class sitting in a lecture hall. We don’t really do lectures as such and prefer to get the students up and acting although with space being tight this required lateral thinking from us and good will from them. We were told many of them would be ranchers, farmers, and military, so we weren’t sure how they would react. As it happened, a more positive group you couldn’t wish for, all getting involved and some coming down to the front and really going for it in some improv exercises we set up. Highly entertaining.

The witches (in red) in AFTLS's production of MACBETH  (pictured L-R): Joanna Bending, Annie Aldington, Ben Warwick, Michael Palmer, and Charles Armstrong

The witches (in red) of AFTLS’s production of MACBETH (pictured L-R): Joanna Bending, Annie Aldington, Ben Warwick, Michael Palmer, and Charles Armstrong

Jo then taught them the first witches scene of Macbeth. This scene seems to lend itself to no end of variations in performance: bikers, old folks, cheerleaders, it doesn’t matter – all seem to work and all are funny, in fact the more outlandish the better.

Our evenings were spent watching the student shows which were by turns charming, exciting and amazingly skilled. It was plainly a great experience for all those young actors as they must have felt they were not only expressing themselves dramatically but also artistically as they had to a large degree created the shows under the guidance of their directors. This no doubt would have given them ownership of each play over and above a more ‘traditional’ rehearsal process.

This week we were finally given some leniency from the weather, reaching the upper 50s with blue skies and the chance to sit outside with a coffee not huddled in Starbucks clad in thermals. Some of us took to the hotel fitness centre and I was surprised to find I couldn’t last more than about three minutes on the running machine before being doubled over and gasping for air. Was I that out of shape? Then a guy on the cycling machine turned and drawled, “Welcome to 7200 feet.” This suddenly became a concern as on the Saturday we had to do two performances and our production is pretty physical, some of the speeches and the fights require a lot of puff even at sea level but half way up a mountain? We’ll be panting for air before the first interval. Hope for the best I suppose.

WyomingSkyThe land here is open, vast and the Snowy Mountains extend beyond the horizon. This makes for spectacular views and Jo commented on how much she loved the sheer ‘size’ of the sky.

Scott Jackson, our producer and Executive Director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, came midweek to join us and to see the Shakespeare Project for himself. Always great to see him.

Saturday came and we tried to relax in the morning keeping energy levels good. The first show went well, and as we hadn’t done it for a week were ready to go. Thankfully we were able to get through it without too much altitude strain thanks to the brilliant acoustic in the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts. We enjoyed ourselves though and thankfully the sell-out audiences were, as ever, responsive and warm in their applause. They had been the same all week with the student shows, which is hardly surprising as their achievement was high.

After the second performance there was a party that to thank the three directors of the student productions, the students themselves, and indeed to everyone who was involved in the whole project including Ruby Calvert and Jennifer Amend from Wyoming PBS who were wonderful company. Primarily the main thanks goes to the President of the University, Richard McGinity, who was prepared to back the project and whose witty and modest speech charmed us all, and in particular to Leigh Selting whose ideas and inspiration originated the festival.

shakespeare-explosion

Verily, we visited Vassar!

Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film (photo by Ben Liu)

Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film (photo by Ben Liu)

Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, is where we had last week’s residency. The university was founded in 1861 and was a women’s college although since the late 60’s has been coeducational. Architecturally it is very impressive with the Main Building having a European quality to it, almost Gothic. (On a side note: Meryl Streep graduated from Vassar and had the ‘Streep Studio’ named after her which is part of the Vogelstein Center for Drama.)

Ariel Nereson and Charlie Armstrong at Vassar

Vassar Residency Coordinator Ariel Nereson and actor from the London stage Charlie Armstrong

We were met by Residency Coordinator Ariel Nereson who not only gave us a lovely welcome but also a quick tour before we attended the Faculty meeting. In charge of the meeting was Professor Zoltan Markus who we got to know very well throughout the week, and was always utterly supportive and inspirational. They had very kindly laid on food for us at the meeting which was great as, usually wherever food is actors are not far behind.

Once the classes started on the Tuesday we all quickly realized the students were supremely gifted in their powers of analysis and their willingness to get involved. I asked the students in an English class with Prof Donald Foster if any of them knew anything about Stanislavsky. Don had warned me the students were pretty sharp, but the potted biog a student gave me off the cuff stunned me. I just wish I could remember exactly what he said so that from now on I could use it myself. The others in the cast have similar stories.

On the Tuesday we attended a meal at a restaurant run by members of the CIA. Being Brits we assumed they must be taking time off from catching criminals until it was pointed our it stands for Culinary Institute of America, whose main campus is in nearby Hyde Park.

Vassar professors and AFTLS actors

Clockwise from top: Professor Zoltan Markus, Charlie Armstrong, Annie Aldington, and Professor Denise Walen

It was quite an honour that the President of Vassar, Catharine ‘Cappy’ Bond Hill joined us along with the Dean of the Faculty Jon Chenette. Also with us was Head of Drama Faculty Denise Walen, Ariel and Zoltan (who gave a witty and charming toast).

All the classes seemed to go well and were very enjoyable. Annie and Ben had great fun with the USMA cadets otherwise known as young officers in training at the world famous West Point. Ben has great skills in stage movement and was delighted that contrary to what one might think these uniformed officers were highly expressive and really going for it. The fact that they chose to be there was particularly gratifying and one cadet, having memorized the opening speech from Richard III, combining it with the exercise given to him in the class, gave a dazzling piece of acting. Well done to him and to their leaders Professor Marc Napolitano, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Harper and Major Erin Hadlock for bringing them to Vassar.

Annie Aldington and Ben Warwick with their class of West Point cadets.

Annie Aldington and Ben Warwick with their class of West Point cadets

Michael Palmer (top) and Charlie Armstrong (bottom) lead an AFTLS workshop at Vassar College with Exploring College students.(photos by Ben Liu '15, Vassar College)

Michael Palmer (top) and Charlie Armstrong (bottom) lead an AFTLS workshop at Vassar College with Exploring College students.(photos by Ben Liu ’15, Vassar College)

On the Saturday morning we ran a class with Exploring College Students which is a program mainly for Poughkeepsie High School and is designed to foster college aspirations amongst high school students. We had around 25 who understandably were reticent at first. Many of them haven’t done much drama if at all. The ice was broken when one student, Naomi, offered to teach the whole group a dance she had invented. She then recited a poem she had written. Talented girl. Before long the group had warmed to the tasks and exercises we set and were producing some very funny and charming plays based on the first scene of Macbeth with the three witches. Thanks go to Angelica Gutierrez for bringing them to the College.

We gave three performances of Macbeth in the Martel Theatre, a beautiful theatre which was the perfect size for our production – intimate but with a fairly large capacity of just over three hundred. The staff – Stephen Jones, Joan Gerardi, Paul O’Connor, Zachary Cox, and student DSM Elizabeth were all excellent and efficient. Each night was sold out in advance so the heat was on to be as good as we can be. A particular challenge working with AFTLS is that we usually have quite a number of days between performances. We hadn’t done the show since the previous Saturday so as usual we had a speedy run of the show to reacquaint ourselves on the Wednesday before the first performance on the Thursday. Macbeth is a very difficult play, brilliant of course but easy to forget some of the finer points of the play due to its sheer complexity. This is something the audience don’t necessarily concern themselves with and nor should they, so the trick is to look utterly relaxed and confident when often one is trying to negotiate new surroundings, stage size, lighting as well as trying to act as well as possible. Thankfully this does get easier to do as the tour goes on and for the shows we really went for it. The audiences gave us standing ovations each night.

After the final performance on the Saturday, Zoltan held a party which was tremendous fun with Ben on piano, myself on ukulele, and Jo and Denise singing. A better host than Zoltan it is impossible to imagine.

Thanks to Zoltan, Ariel, Denise and everyone else who made this week a memorable one!

Macbeth visits The Principia

AFTLS's Joanna Bending with Principia Residency Coordinator Jeff Steele

AFTLS’s Joanna Bending with Principia Residency Coordinator Jeff Steele

This winter has been a tough time for the East coast. The weather has been freezing and the snow, certainly in Boston, almost unrelenting. We spent the weekend in Chicago and as we flew out of the Windy (and icy) City we were so hoping for some warmth. We got it in the form of a lovely welcome from the residency coordinator Jeff Steele and his cousin Drew who were at the airport in St. Louis to greet us for our next residency at Principia College. Unfortunately the weather was as cold as in Chicago and over the week got colder.

Principia is perched on a hill next to arguably the prettiest town in Illinois – Elsah. Almost untouched in the twentieth century, Elsah has maintained the full character of its Civil War roots, positioned as it is right next to the Mississippi River. As we drove to the campus, Jeff, who is undoubtedly an expert in local and national history, gave us a guided tour suggesting this part of the river would have been typically where Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would have floated down on their boat.

Principia (in the Autumn)

Principia (in the Autumn)

Principia is a college for Christian Scientists. The staff and students, of which there are around five hundred, are all members of the church. As such, the campus is “dry” (i.e. no alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes). For most actors this might present something of a challenge – indeed it was for us – but as the phrase goes, “your house, your rules.” We were happy to comply.

We stayed on the campus at the Principia Guest House, which had a huge sitting room that looked out on a forest outside. To British eyes, the birds feeding at the table looked utterly exotic: Red Cardinals, Woodpeckers, even the sparrows were larger and more diverse than in the UK. It honestly was a vision of woodland beauty and utter relaxation. Do we have to go and teach? Do the show? It was a strain just prying oneself away from the constant log fire.

As we have discovered on this tour, the staff and students are always friendly and motivated, but perhaps on this campus the smiles and the welcome were even warmer, which is just as well as the temperature dropped to about -8 Celsius and that was during the day. The mind boggles as to what it was during the night. I have never experienced such cold. After a few minutes of walking you suddenly realized you were frozen to the bone and getting inside became an imperative.

Jeff visited most classes and offered the friendliest of faces. He opened his home to us, gave us lifts, and couldn’t be faulted.

Charles Armstrong (top) and Michael Palmer (bottom) teach in John O'Hagan's stage fighting class.

Charles Armstrong (top) and Michael Palmer (bottom) teach in John O’Hagan’s stage fighting class.

A class which Charlie and I took was a stage fighting class which was great fun. To make it more interesting both Jeff, who was present, and the teacher of that class, John O’Hagan, were qualified stage fighters. This kept us on our toes somewhat. Fortunately during rehearsals back in London we had got the great fight director Philip d’Orleans to choreograph the Macbeth/Macduff showdown. His staging not only has the advantage of complete safety for myself and Charles who play those characters, but also that it is equally safe and exiting for the students to learn and perform. To our amazement they all learnt it within the hour – I’ll confess it took me rather longer than that – and some of them really went for it. It was thrilling to watch.

We had only two performances in the week, the first being at the high school in St. Louis, which is part of Principia. A particular highlight for Ben was the teaching of a class run by Liesl Ehmke. Although the class was large having fifty plus students he described them as, ‘Open, generous, talented – a delight to teach.’ Praise must go to Liesl for guiding her students in such a good way. The highlight for Jo was the “sheer beauty of the place,” and for Annie it was the “sense of peace – just sitting by the Mississippi.”

Before the school performance we had a Q and A. Many of them hadn’t read the play or seen it, they were just looking forward to the show and having a good night in their theatre. They asked us about the quick change of characters and whether we get confused; even whether they will understand it. Hopefully they got the story and were very appreciative at the end. There were warnings of ice and snowstorms for that evening and those forecasts turned out to be right. The drive home afterwards was treacherous and special thanks go to Drew who was calm and cheerful whilst driving though those awful conditions.

On Saturday, we gave a show at the main theatre on the college campus, which is the Cox Auditorium. The staff there was brilliant, efficient, and fun. After our final performance on the Saturday night with an audience of over four hundred (who very kindly stood for the applause) we returned to the guesthouse where Margaret Sotos, who runs the place, had made us a fabulous chili and even played the piano (very well despite her modesty) whilst we ate.

So a great week at The Principia. Thanks to everyone we met in particular Jeff Steele who made it happen, his lovely wife Chrissy, and his cousin Drew.