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.

Macbeth “storms” into Valparaiso

The Chapel of the Resurrection on the campus of Valparaiso University

The Chapel of the Resurrection on the campus of Valparaiso University

Sirrahs, maids etc. I write to you all on the last day of a week’s residence at Valparaiso University. We wondered if we were ever going to make it there at all. Having cooked ourselves under the Texan sun for a blissfully warm week we arrived at Houston airport convinced the plane wasn’t going to take off due to the weather reports from our destination, Chicago O’Hare. Everything seemed to suggest there was no point in even leaving our hotel, never mind catching a plane. But no, the website insisted that flight was on schedule. Instinct is something we don’t trust enough in this life. We were actually boarding the aircraft when the flight was cancelled. Of course it was. So the five of us spent that night in Houston.

"Toil and trouble" on the way back to Indiana

“Toil and trouble” on the way back to Indiana

The following night we landed and struck out into the snow and ice planes of Chicago. A lovely limo driver fought of a Chicago airport parking attendant (the most hideously rude man on the planet) and drove us to Valparaiso. Due to having already compromised a day and a half of the Valparaiso schedule we met the Faculty members, professors, etc. at 8am the following day.

The classes we all taught were extremely eventful. Deep subjects, searching questions and adventurous premises. Many of the classes were twice the size due to the doubling up of numbers to make up for lost time. Highlights were Michael and his students exploring The Vagina Monologues; Jo’s and my lovely two hours with the University’s community outreach project where we were so impressed and moved by the talent and warmth of local company Chicago Street Theatre, several extremely inventive and original students from Valparaiso University itself and Dexter, a brilliant improviser and, as we discovered, a former 5th in the world BMX champion.

The Macbeth cast with Haiying Sun on the Valparaiso stage

The Macbeth cast with Haiying Sun on the Valparaiso stage

We also had the small matter of three back-to-back performances of Macbeth. So good to finally get the chance to properly explore this production of ours in front of an audience. I am personally very proud of our ambition and of what I like to think is becoming an original, fresh, risk-taking and highly eccentric take on a classic. And thank you, Alan, Mary and Haiying Sun for looking after us so wonderfully.

After another exploration of the southern side of Lake Michigan, we bundled up for our residency back at our US home of Notre Dame.

See you next week!

The weekend took us to another shore of Lake Michigan where Charlie and Annie touched the void...and Jo auditioned for South Park.

The weekend took us to another shore of Lake Michigan where Charlie and Annie touched the void…and Jo auditioned for South Park.

 

Spring ’15: The Scottish Blog

Welcome friends to the ‘Actors from The London Stage’ blog for this 2015 tour of…Macbeth. There, I’ve said it. Let the curses rain down. Although, at the time of writing this, we are, in fact, six weeks in. That time frame begins on December 17th, our first day of rehearsals in Brixton, London. We met as five actors who had never worked together (at least in theatre, TV, yes once) and were plunged into one of the most intense and demanding creative processes your writer has ever known. And so we all descended into this huge, beautiful, and (as we discovered) very funny play. Every moment was spent solving creative challenges – the battles, the settings, the huge number of characters (there are five of us, remember!) and of course, the supernatural. The ghosts, the visions, the prophecies, and the Weird Sisters. Our set is nothing more than a chalk circle, two chairs, some sticks and some rolls of brown paper (more on that later). The only way to succeed is to be open to the very lovely fact that Shakespeare is the actor’s friend. He was one himself, of course. And he will look after you.

Macbeth cast arrives to Notre Dame

Something British this way comes!

On January 17th we travelled for a straight 20 hours, landing a little stunned at Chicago O’Hare. Rehearsals began a few hours later at Notre Dame. The run of the show the following day by five jet-lagged, frazzled lunatics was a thing to behold. Next morning we went into the University to be set up for our American life.

We look a little bedraggled, no? However, the colour is returning to our cheeks at this very elegant dinner with Scott, Aaron, Grant and the wonderful Debs.

Dinner at Notre Dame

The Macbeth cast enjoys a welcome dinner with the staff of Shakespeare at Notre Dame

And here is a little film for you taken on our day off. We drove to Lake Michigan not expecting to find this extraordinary Arctic Sea.

LINK: http://vimeo.com/118317351

A week later we flew to Houston, Texas. This sky saw us through the three-hour car journey to A&M University.

Everything is bigger in Texas. The sky opens up on the way to Texas A&M.

Everything is bigger in Texas. The sky opens up on the way to Texas A&M.

The first performance (no, we still hadn’t opened the show at this stage) loomed. In the days running up we all taught some delightful classes. A challenge for those of us as yet un-blooded as ‘teachers’ and yet a privilege. Highlights included:

Maryam’s students (at Notre Dame), Elinor’s three packed lecture halls. the gorgeous young ladies and gentlemen at Rudder High School, a wonderfully open, funny, and very innovatively nurtured group at Bryan High School, and many exceptionally talented young theatre makers at Texas A&M who were a pleasure to meet and work with. They illuminated the text of Macbeth with hugely natural and utterly unique interpretations which none of us had ever dreamt of.

Charlie Armstrong

Charlie Armstrong contemplates opening night at Texas A&M

And finally, here is a picture of Charlie on the afternoon before our opening. He could at least pretend to be looking forward to it!

And yet, a standing ovation.

Next stop Valparaiso!

– Ben Warwick

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the cast of MACBETH!

Over the next 24 hours, via trains, planes, and automobiles, our five “Actors From The London Stage” are making their way from England to their US home at the University of Notre Dame. After a final few days of tweaks and tech, they’ll set out to campuses across the country to tour their AFTLS production of Shakespeare’s MACBETH. But, before they begin to bring you their notes from the road, we’d like to make some introductions. With “much ado,” Shakespeare at Notre Dame presents the Spring 2015 touring cast of Actors From The London Stage:

Annie AldingtonANNIE ALDINGTON (Donalbain/Ross/Menteth/Fleance/Lady Macbeth/Third Witch) studied drama at the University of Northumbria and works as an actor and voiceover artist. Recent theatre credits include: Mistress Quickly, Henry V (Shakespeare’s Globe); The Nurse, Romeo and Juliet (Globe Education); Eileen, Regarding X (Hot August Comedy Fringe); and Julie, A Certain Minor Light (Wimbledon Theatre). Annie is also a sonneteer at Shakespeare’s Globe and was a 2012 cast member in ‘Pop up Shakespeare,’ a project set up by Mark Rylance and directed by Jonathan Moore. This was a 50 strong cast taking Shakespeare out onto the streets of London. Annie’s recent film credits include: Sandra, Flinch (Iblade Films); and Dr. Adele Smith, English Wine (FFP Media, Germany). Annie has also recorded around 300 audio books and is the voice of many London based authors, including Martina Cole and Roberta Kray. Annie founded ‘Actup’ Theatre school in 2007 for children aged 7-12 years and also tours and workshops a play about Queen Victoria, called Victoria And Me to schools in London.

Charles ArmstrongCHARLES ARMSTRONG (Duncan – King Of Scotland/Macduff/Angus/Second Witch/Murderer) is an AFTLS veteran who trained at the Drama Studio London after studying French and Philosophy at Oxford University. Theatre credits include: Witness for the Prosecution and Engaging Shaw (Vienna’s English Theatre), Stop Messing About (Leicester Square Theatre and Number 1 Tour), Round The Horne Revisited (West End and Number 1 Tour), Wake Up and Smell The Coffee (New End), The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (Royal Shakespeare Company), Trelawny Of The Wells and The Soldiers (National Theatre), Of Mice and Men (Harrogate Theatre), The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall (Salisbury Playhouse), Wait Until Dark (Royal Theatre, Northampton), Bless The Bride (King’s Head), Twelfth Night (Liverpool Playhouse), Peter Pan (Northcott, Exeter), Rebecca (Number 1 Tour), Hay Fever (Jersey Opera House), The Provok’d Wife and The Provok’d Husband (New End), Henry V (Union Theatre), Othello (Cochrane Theatre & Tour), and How He Lied To Her Husband (Orange Tree). Film credits include: The King’s Speech, The Spell, The Pharmacist, The Navigators, The Ultimate Truth, and On The Other Hand. Television credits include: Call The Midwife, Doctors, Holby City, Scoop, Round The Horne Revisited, Head Over Heels, EastEnders, Poirot, The Hello Girls, Futurecast, and Strictly Chuckle. Radio credits include Changeable and Twice Ken Is Plenty (Radio 4). Charles was on the BBC’s Radio Repertory Company and has recorded numerous voiceovers. Charles has taught Acting Workshops for Act Up and directed theatre productions for Theatre Clwyd and the London Sitcom Trials.

Joanna BendingJOANNA BENDING (Bloody Soldier/Old Man/Malcolm/Cathness/Lady Macduff/First Witch/Murderer/Gentlewoman) trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In theatre she has most recently appeared as Eleanor Hopkirk alongside Alan Cox in Kingmaker, which transferred to the St. James Theatre in London after its sell out Edinburgh run this summer. Earlier in the year, she played Connie in Under the Mulberry Tree (Festival Theatre Edinburgh) and Emily, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, in Hand Over Fist (Seabright Productions and the Comedians’ Theatre Company) for which she was nominated as Best Solo Performer by The Stage in 2012. Other career highlights include spending a year at the National Theatre in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, appearing at the Royal Court in Pinter’s Mountain Language, at Regents Park in Two Women for One Ghost, and Carl Djerassi’s play, Phallacy, at the Kings Head. Joanna also enjoyed a summer season of weekly rep at Frinton playing Ruth in Blithe Spirit and all the female characters in Intimate Exchanges. For television, she has appeared in Doctors (many times in different guises), Holby City, Eastenders, Coronation Street, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Love Soup, The Bill, Angel of Death: the Beverley Allitt Story, and PMTV for the Paramount Comedy Channel. Films include this year’s Second Coming, the first feature from acclaimed playwright Debbie Tucker-Green, (Hillbilly Films); and Tick Tock Lullaby (Valiant Doll), which won Best Feature Award at the Britspotting British & Irish Film Festival.

Michael PalmerMICHAEL PALMER (Macbeth/English Doctor/Murderer) teaches Drama at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, London. His theatre credits include: All Creatures Great and Small (UK tour, Bill Kenwright Ltd); The Butterfly Lion (UK tour, BKL); The Merchant of Venice playing Shylock and Twelfth Night playing Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Actors From The London Stage); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (one man show, Creation TC, Oxford UK); Friend or Foe by Michael Murpogo (UK tour); A Doll’s House (Cambridge, UK); the title role in Volpone (Wilton’s Music Hall, London); The Country Wife at the Bridewell; Hamlet, King Lear, and The Merchant of Venice for Compass Theatre Company; Gamblers at Battersea Arts Centre; Descent: The Diary of a Madman (one man show, Edinburgh festival); The Mysteries at the Orange Tree in Richmond; Breaking the Code, As You Like It, and The Real Thing in Basingstoke. He also has recorded numerous Shakespeare plays on CD. Musicals include tours of Footloose; The Wedding Singer; Sing-along-a-Abba; Company at Westcliffe, UK; and the title role in Did You, Dr Crippen? at the Trafalgar Studios, London. On television Michael has appeared in Bear Behaving Badly, How Not to Live Your Life, Waking the Dead, Casualty, and Wish Me Luck.

Ben WarwickBEN WARWICK (Banquo/Lennox/Seyward/Son Of Macduff/Scottish Doctor/Porter/Hecate) trained in acting at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama having previously studied English Literature at The University of Glasgow. He has worked in British theatre, film, and television for 14 years. Notable theatre credits on London’s West End include Hamlet, the British premier of Athol Fugard’s The Captain’s Tiger, Pentecost, Look Back In Anger, Great Expectations, Miss Julie and The Deep Blue Sea. He played the lead in the highly acclaimed The Trench with Les Enfants Terribles theatre company (Edinburgh Festival and national tour). He has toured Russia as Constantin in The Seagull, Sweden as the lead in Cock by Mike Bartlett, and Italy as the lead in a radical adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Other theatre includes seasons at Theatre Royal York, Royal Northampton, The Orange Tree, and Watford Palace. Ben has also been co-artistic director of Farnham Repertory Theatre for the last nine years. In 2008, he created and directed the online TV series Five Years that went on to be a finalist in its category at the prestigious Vimeo Awards in New York. TV credits include Mary Queen of Scots (BBC) and feature film work including Blood Moon and Canakkale Yolun Sonu. Ben will also be the tour’s blogger.

Welcome to Annie, Charles, Joanna, Michael, and Ben. As Southie Shakespeare might say, “something wicked awesome this way comes!”

Much Ado Actors Blog: Halloween in Denton

From Austin Texas, it is a long windy drive northwards to Denton. Early in the morning the five of us crawled stinking into a rented minivan and began to fight our way up. By the time we got to Waco it made perfect sense to stop for a Burger King, by which you can all imagine the sort of state we were in. But Denton was a long way and eventually we had consumed enough water to be vaguely human again, if a little sloshy and greasy. Mark Packer met us at the hotel. Mark is very enthusiastic and playful. He likes to talk. The five of us had been communicating monosyllabically over the course of the journey so his stream of consciousness as he drove us to campus was a new energy. His personality was gentle and amusing though, the exact opposite of his driving. By the time we got out of his van we were unsure whether to laugh or vomit, so did a little bit of both. To give you a sense of Mark, by the time we had left Denton he had burst into one of our classes dressed as a serial killer, he had expressed delight at driving us “off-road” on his golf buggy at 15mph, and he had become thoroughly overexcited at being given his first ever chai latte, which he was still clutching an hour later. He kept us laughing with his total abandonment. The man has two daughters. They must adore him. We did.

The English department, who were at the heart of the residency, were extremely helpful and generous throughout the time we were there. Sadly the theatre department were less involved with the project, and the theatre we were placed in featured a gargantuan unmovable organ between us and the audience. The stage was very high, but sight lines were still tricky over the organ. It’s very much a recital hall, or large lecture theatre, and lacks adequate lighting. So to compensate for that, they had brought in some floodlights and mounted them on the balcony. The effect of all these things together meant that we were totally blinded, vertiginous, and partially blocked from the distant audience. An attempt was made to win the space a little bit; “ah, the prince and Monsieur love, I will hide me behind the organ.” But playing the pit had to be limited as it is a long way down from the stage, and not lit. For the people that came, I feel we told the story as well as we could have done in the circumstances. But it was a shame, particularly after Winedale, to have such an enforced disconnect at the end of the US run. And doubly so when we taught one of our classes in a theatre that would have been perfect for our purposes, but sadly was being used for a student production those nights.

We did have time to kick back, and on Halloween some of us went to Dallas and inspected Dealey Plaza, where they have an X taped to the road where JFK was shot. And then we all dressed up and went out for a small town American Halloween. Here we all are.

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We ended up at a house party right out of Superbad, with a crate of beer and a thumping sound system, surrounded by screaming jumping drunk American students dressed up as radios and kings and devils and princesses, dancing like maniacs and punching each other by mistake. When we finally left we all felt a little older than we did when we arrived, and entertained ourselves singing catches and old spirituals on a half an hour walk home through the arctic. Winter has caught up with us it seems, even in Texas.

The classes were a joy. The kids were bold and often outspoken, not seeking to get it “right”. The college’s request to always have multiple actors in class proved a lovely thing as we shared the burden and learnt from each other even as we taught. Having started this job concerned that I might dislike the whole teaching aspect, I have finished it surprised that I found it less tricky and more interesting than I could have imagined. Bernard Shaw has a lot to answer for in his famous encapsulation of the teaching stigma, (the whole ‘do’ ‘can’t do’ ‘teach’ thing that gets trotted out every five minutes) and as a practitioner I felt a twofold pressure. “I am not a teacher,” “I have nothing to teach.” Both of these things were wrong. Because I am so obsessive about my craft in practise, I always had ways to impart my understanding of it to young academics in a way they could process. And it helped that my own personal journey was to unlearn the academic understanding I had of text in order to approach the human.

This company is almost as old as I am, and over the years it must have been responsible for giving so much agency to so many actors. I will miss the work, and the little community we formed within that work. We have one more show in London, a celebration of our time together and the work we did. Coming on the back of Denton I expect we will all be hungering for a crowd of people that we know, people that we can actually see. The RADA Studios (The Drill Hall) at 7.30pm on 12th November. There’s your chance. Come!

Much Ado Actor Blog: Austin Power

The campus at UT Austin is pretty vast so we were assigned volunteers to help us get around. They were wonderfully helpful, to the extent that it felt disingenuous to be independent. I ended up one morning going in to town to buy cowboy boots, and a Stetson, supervised by a relative stranger. Thankfully I think her taste was good, and I now have a full on cowboy disguise. With flames on the boots. Until I open my mouth I am mistaken for being Texan. I expect I’ll be wearing them a lot when I get back to London.

By now we have found confidence with the teaching aspect of the job, helping them gain understanding and confidence and challenging them within that. Perhaps the most heartening thing is that the show itself still feels very much alive. Still, most nights, something new is offered in the moment which makes sense. That the five of us, who have been living in each other’s pockets for such a long time now, can still surprise each other and positively play with each other is a wonderful thing. Much as the small community can cause tempers to fray, we have really had a chance to get to know one another, and learn how to serve one another best in the context of the show.

A vindication of that took place on Saturday night, when we drove to Winedale to put the show on right there, in the barn. Since the seventies there have been young Americans spending their summers doing Shakespeare in a lovely little converted barn in the middle of the Texan countryside. Shakespeare has seeped into the wood. There is a community of alumni that stretches through the generations, and they meet and make lifelong friends over nine hot weeks of hard bard in a warm barn. For us it was a totally different space, with stairs and multiple entrances, with the audience right on top of us, and no time to think about it. And it was lovely. Because we know each other.

Now we are approaching the end of the tour, I’m more aware of how intensive it has been, being in such a small and diverse community for such a length of time, and working so openly and hard with one another. The fact that we still seek each other’s company in the downtime is testament to the fact that, even though we are really different, we are connected by our passion for the work we do. We have just arrived in Denton, and for the first time since Notre Dame we all taught a class together. And it was fun, and not restricted. Here’s to a great last week in North Texas.

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…