Midsummer meets a Texas tempest in San Antonio

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

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

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

UTSA Recital Hall

UTSA Recital Hall

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

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

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

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

Two Weeks in Texas – Part One: Austin

Austin PostcardMy small and charming creature of delight,
We are alone; you need not look so flush
About your ears. For under pale moonlight,
We can afford to breathe and not to rush.

There is time yet to tell me how you feel,
To see if you can match the things I’ve said,
Inform me how your injuries I heal
But, silly friend, you opt to swim instead.

University of Texas Austin campus at sunset-dusk - aerial view

I sigh and lightly nap till your return,
Your neck stretched out to steal a furtive kiss.
My eyes blink open, and your red ears burn.
You tuck your head away in bashful bliss.

But even when you hide, I know you well:
My green and pretty turtle in his shell.

– UT Austin student, Austin Hanna

Greetings from Austin! We’ve had a fabulous week here. It’s been extremely busy but that is to be expected; The University of Texas in Austin has approximately 50,000 students. Twenty(!) of these students volunteered to help us actors get around campus. Austin Hanna was Chris’ guide and he wrote the sonnet above. I mentioned to him that I had seen a turtle for the first time and he recited this. The guides, all UT students, have extraordinary talents and have been invaluable sources of local knowledge. My guides – Amanda Rodriguez, Bryson Kisner, Jonathan Vineyard, and Drew Orland – introduced me to the delights of Texan-style queso and the traditional Texan Barbecue, a culinary experience I shall never forget.

Student Drew Orland at the top of the UT-Austin Bell Tower

Drew at the top of the UT-Austin Bell Tower

We were all extremely fortunate to be invited by Drew to the top of the bell tower of the main building where he is one of a handful of people granted access because he plays the bells. He played the British national anthem in our honour.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a very handsome woman called Liz Fisher who got us to the hotel where we met Alan Friedman and David Kornhaber. They presented us with an enormous goody bag full of food. Austin is a foodie city and Liz knows the best spots. She showed us where to get all the best nosh over the week. Alan is the professor who invited us and made us feel very welcome. He had organized a performance of Pyramus and Thisbie by the students on the evening we arrived after which we met all the professors that we would be working with over the week. Between the five of us we did a number of varying classes from Jane Austen to public speaking for chemical engineers as well as going off campus into local high schools and elementary schools. We did have our work cut out, but we worked hard and played hard and ate really well.

The Winedale stage

On the final day of our residency, we drove an hour and a half outside the city to a barn in the middle of nowhere called Winedale; it was a magical place. It’s dedicated to performing Shakespeare plays and there are summer schools held there every year. We arrived in the day and re-rehearsed the show to allow for entrances and exits and exploring the new levels which was great fun. Then from 6pm people started arriving in their cars with picnics. Earlier in the week, we had great audiences at the massive B. Iden Payne Theatre on campus at UT. Winedale is much more intimate with only 200 seats or so; therefore, the relationship between the actors and audience can be closer too.

Chris Donnelly and Sam Collings walking into the Sunset at Barton Springs

Chris Donnelly and Sam Collings walking into the sunset at Barton Springs

After such a busy week with the fantastic climax at Winedale we felt we’d earned a good rest, so we spent Sunday in the sun at Barton Springs, just delightful!

San Antonio next…

All’s Well in Wellesley

Aerial photo of Wellesley College
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” – Hillary Clinton

There is no fear that the women of Wellesley College (Hillary Clinton’s alma mater) will fail to make their mark in the world. Nora HusseyWellesley College Theatre Director, invited us to Wellesley and she runs a wonderful department with the help of the exquisite Charlotte Peed, a flame haired, feisty southerner with alabaster skin, looking after us. Aside from the incredible women in the department we also met so many students who are most certainly going to be the future leaders of this country. The students are all women of course, as this a single-sex college, but please let us not forget the wonderful men that have also helped us hugely. David TowlunTheatre Production Manager, has been wonderful on the technical side. Given this was our first week performing in a theatre, that help was invaluable. Besides the great company, we also had beautiful surroundings. Lake Waban at Wellesley CollegeWellesley must be one of the most beautiful settings for an educational institution. Lake Waban is surrounded by the Wellesley campus and is spectacular in the autumn with the changing leaves and chipmunks running around.

This week we settled into what will be the normal stride of the tour. It felt like we were a big family this week as we were staying in a big house near the Campus rather than a hotel. We made friends with our neighbor, Sherry, who also happens to be a golf professor and she very kindly gave us all a golf lesson. Patrick seems to be a natural golfer while Sam struggles not to turn the golf club into a baseball bat. Fun was had by all, and we now know much more about golf.

This week saw us doing individual workshops with the incredibly bright students at Wellesley. Our job in the workshops is to offer an alternative approach to learning rather than simply the cerebral academic approach. The workshops on the whole focus on an actor’s approach to Shakespeare, and in particular A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but we do get invited to some more unusual workshops too. Claire took a workshop with a group of students doing scenic design, while I joined class entitled ‘Spirit of Spain in the middle ages’ – this is a class in Spanish, which I do not speak. When I first read Shakespeare it may as well have been another language but working on text practically can really enhance the understanding of it.

Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre at Wellesley College

Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre at Wellesley College

We had three performances in a row, which was great as we haven’t had many bashes at the show as yet. The audiences were fabulous! There was a particularly lively crowd there on Friday night and we were extremely heartened by their vocal response.

Our hosts spoilt us rotten and we had invitations to dinners and drinks most nights after the show. One night we were invited to Shakespeare House which the Shakespeare Society use for plays. They are about to put on Twelfth Night, so, if you are in the area, do try and check it out.

Sam in BostonWe did have some spare time too. Sam and I went to Boston, just 40 minutes east of Wellesley, MA.

Onwards to Texas…our next two residencies will be back-to-back weeks at The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Prisoners “Dream” with AFTLS


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

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

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

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

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

Inmates learn through Shakespeare's text at Westville Correctional Facility

Inmates learn through Shakespeare’s text at Westville Correctional Facility

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Scott Jackson for organizing our week at Westville.

— Actress and Midsummer blogger, Ffion Jolly

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


“Midsummer” arrives at Notre Dame

The Midsummer AFTLS cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indiana Dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan

View of Lake Michigan from the Indiana Dunes

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

(Blog post by AFTLS actor Ffion Jolly)

Dreaming up a Fresh “Midsummer”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’ll go with thee, cheek by jowl’

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

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


Streetside Inspiration Image

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme grows’

Meet the Cast of the Winter’s Tale: Grant Goodman

Grant Goodman (Leontes)

Grant Goodman (Leontes)

Grant Goodman (Leontes, the King of Sicilia) is thrilled to be “back home again in Indiana” to perform at The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival. Off-Broadway credits include: Antony & Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice (Theatre for a New Audience), King Lear, The Iliad (Lincoln Center), Richard II (New York City Center/Pearl Theatre) and Pericles (Red Bull) among others.  Regional credits include extensive work with: Yale Repertory Theatre, Hartford Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company (Washington, D.C.), The Old Globe, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Arizona Theatre Company, PlayMaker’s Repertory Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Syracuse Stage, the Illinois, Kentucky, and Utah Shakespeare Festivals, and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey among many others. Television credits include: As the World Turns and Sex and the City. Training: Graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Grant was recently selected to represent the U.S. in the International Actors’ Fellowship at The Globe Theatre in London this coming fall.

For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame

Meet the Cast of The Winter’s Tale: Joneal Joplin

Joneal Joplin (Camillo)

Joneal Joplin (Camillo)

Joneal “Jop” Joplin (Camillo) is pleased to be making his debut at NDSF with The Winter’s Tale. He has appeared in over 300 productions throughout the U.S. and Canada. Recent roles have included Tony Reilly in Outside Mullingar, The Old Actor in The Fantastiks!, Monseigneur Ryan in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Uncle Ben in Death of a Salesman, Selsdon Mowbray in Noises Off, Northumberland in Henry IV, Archbishop and King Louis in Henry V, Candy in Of Mice and Men, John of Gaunt in Richard II and Captain Smith in Titanic. He has performed at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Missouri Rep, South Coast Rep, The Muny Opera, Dallas Theatre Center, Atlanta Theatre Under The Stars, Kansas City Starlight, The Hangar Theatre, Country Dinner Playhouse, Indianapolis Starlight, Theatre on the Square, Ensemble Theatre, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, The Human Race Theatre, Actor’s Studio, and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to name a few. He is a proud member of Actors’ Equity, the proud father of two splendid actors, Jen and Jared, and the proud husband for 53 years of his lovely bride, Janie.

For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame

Meet the Cast of The Winter’s Tale: Shanara Gabrielle

Shanara Gabrielle (Hermione)

Shanara Gabrielle (Hermione)

Shanara Gabrielle (Queen Hermione) is happy to be joining the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival for this production of The Winter’s Tale! Regional highlights include: A Christmas Carol (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville), Blithe Spirit (Great Lakes Theatre/Idaho Shakespeare), Clybourne Park, The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth (St. Louis Repertory Theatre), Ilona in She Loves Me (Guthrie Theater), Black Pearl Sings!(The Black Rep), The Love List (American Heartland Theatre), Othello, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Twelfth Night (Great River Shakespeare Festival), Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Cooking With Elisa (Upstream Theatre), Guys and Dolls, Lend Me a Tenor (Northern Stage). NYC highlights include: The Wild Party, The Truth, Meet Me In St. Louis, The American Girls Revue, In The Mood. Film/TV highlights include: Chicago Fire, Conviction, Guiding Light, numerous commercials and independent films. BFA – Webster Conservatory, Princess Grace Foundation Award, AEA, SAG-AFTRA. For more information visit shanaragabrielle.com.

For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame

Meet the Cast of The Winter’s Tale: L. Peter Callender

L. Peter Callender (Antigonus/Old Shepherd)

L. Peter Callender (Antigonus/Old Shepherd)

L. Peter Callender (Antigonus/Old Shepherd) is Artistic Director of African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco, California, and a proud member of Actors Equity Association. As an Associate Artist at California Shakespeare Theater, Mr Callender has appeared in over 50 plays over the years. Favorites include: Leontes (Winter’s Tale), Laertes (Hamlet), Orsino (Twelfth Night), Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Capulet (Romeo and Juliet), Antony (Julius Caesar), Leonato (Much Ado About Nothing), Roebuck Ramsden (Man and Superman), Colonel Pickering (Pygmalion) and Bolingbrook (Richard II). He has appeared on Broadway in Prelude to a Kiss and on several noted Bay Area stages: Berkeley Rep (SPUNK), A.C.T (The Tempest), San Jose Stage (RACE), Aurora Theater (Breakfast with Mugabe, Permanent Collection). Mr Callender is the recipient of several acting awards and is also a Visiting Professor at Stanford University teaching Acting Shakespeare.

For tickets visit DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Box Office

For information visit Shakespeare at Notre Dame