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.

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.