Saturday, December 31, 2005

Intermission - 12/31/05

Feast PictureDunkirk, NY - Well, it's time for the intermission after Act III. Christmas Carol has completed its run, and the members of the Atomic Fission Tour have scattered across the country for their well-earned two-week vacation. My family - parent, wife and two boys - came in to see the show on Thursday evening, and by all accounts they enjoyed themselves. Not uncritical, of course, but overall the reviews were positive. My dad wanted a copy of the lobby poster, which I had already anticipated, so hopefully that's being ordered and delivered. After the final show and strike on Friday I had thought Ann Marie and I would spend the evening relaxing and then leaving for home early today, but instead, when strike was over before I knew it, we just got in the car and sped home. Seven hours and two stops later we were back in Dunkirk, and happy to be so ("My own Bed! I'm in my own room!"). Today I got a belated Christmas and opened my presents, which included many items for touring (a laptop carrier, iPod case and mini-speaker, and a mini-reading light which clips onto your earlobe). Nice items.

So I won't spend too much time this evening writing anything like a review of the first part or anything. I will save that for an "interlude" posting after the new year. And I also suspect there may not be too many postings during the vacation, because I intend to "vacate." So hopefully those of you who have been faithful readers of this poor blog will re-join me in full force when Act IV begins at noon on the 15th of January, 2006. We will be in brush-ups for the first few days and head out on the road about Jan. 20th for our first road date at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

But before I go, let me give you one small web tip. If, like me, you try to read a lot of news and blogs online, you may have a hard time keeping everything together and getting notification of new postings or items. So let me suggest to you a fine website called Bloglines. It is an absolutely wonderful site which organizes and updates all your news sites, blogs, or whatever else you read online which has an RSS or Atom feed (just about everything from the New York Times to this blog). Consider it my offering at helping you keep that New Years resolution to make your life more organized and your web reading more efficient. Also, you can now view Atomic Fission photos on Flickr. Search for my name or Atomic and you'll get the stream, or click on the Flickr badge in the sidebar. Also look for Atomic Fission videos on Google Video. Getting better all the time!

Happy New Year to one and all! -TWL

Sunday, December 25, 2005

O Night Divine - 12/25/05

Boys ToastStaunton, VA - This has been a most unusual Christmas season. I have been struggling with playing one of the most well-known literary characters in western literature. I did not experience the end-of-semester rush and the release of semester break. I have seen no TV since Thanksgiving, and therefore no Christmas commercials. I did my share of the shopping for the family online, and so went to few stores other than for normal shopping. I wrote the family Christmas newsletter while here and sent it back home to be printed and mailed out. Today I talked with my family back in Dunkirk and my parents back in Massapequa. The snow has all but vanished. So all in all it hardly ever felt like Christmas time to me. Yet here I've been for more than three weeks engaged in telling a timeless Christmas classic to over a thousand people, wishing them a Merry Christmas after each show, and saying "Merry Christmas" over and over again (with still 6 more performances to go - sort of anticlimactic). And all day today I've felt displaced, with really nothing to do until I went to dinner at 605 Bev (the actor's house). I went for a ride in the car to get outside and walk through some mountains or by a lake, but the day was wet and rainy and not conducive to being outdoors for very long.

While all these things were unusual, they were, for the most part, not unwelcome. The difference was good. I liked being mostly alone all day on Christmas Day. It has been my tradition for many years to find a few hours for myself each Christmas Day, whether a walk on the beach when I am visiting my parents, or a walk in the woods when I am home. Winter is my most meditative season, and especially during this dark time of year. So to have the entire day free was different, but welcome at the same time. And not being bombarded with Christmas commercialism through the media was a great relief. I only wish I had had the forethought to find some place where I might have served a meal to the displaced or poor, that's all. I did not think of that in time, and I regret that.

In lieu of family celebrations we have been having company celebrations. Before the Christmas Eve performance there was much gift-giving going on. I gave everyone a $5 "Bean Buck" for coffee at the Daily Grind. I got a "Baaa Humbug" jelly bean dispenser, one where a sheep dispenses jelly beans out his butt when you press him towards the floor. I also got some sparkling cider from the Plump Sister (Andrew), who passed out Christmas goodies to one and all. and I got a lump of charcoal from Santa. The, following that performance, the Koogler family, whose father, Sam, is the company techie, gave us a Victorian England feast, complete with turkey, ham, raisin sauce, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, wassail, egg nog, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, pecan, apple and pumpkin pie with Cool Whip, plum pudding (which he lit up). There was much mirth and merriment had by all. I ate far too much, ruining my fat intake with the egg nog alone. Then today we once again gathered together for a meal at 605. Another turkey was cooked, the leftovers from yesterday came over to the house, and we ate again! We also lit two Hannukah candles in a small hannukiah that Andrew had with him, while Jessica said the Hannukah prayer. She also made some delicious latkes. I wanted to have two, but I limited myself to one, with sour cream and applesauce. So good! And the highlight of the evening was frying the homemade donuts that Andrew had prepared. I put my old graduate school skills to use once more to fry the donuts (which was what I did while emplyed at Dippy Dounts in Lincoln NE during my first year of graduate school), and Andrew made a vailant effort to fill them with raspberry jam. Carie brought her mom and dad while the entire Bowles family was also there. So not a bad time at all.

The company, I think, is ready for a break. While onstage I am sure we look as fresh and vigorous as ever, backstage the talk is how to keep things alive and fresh and interesting for us. I think at this point I have finally found some freedom with Scrooge, and that's been a big help for me. Just letting him get onstage and go. I found that the first week I was just sort of boxing in the character, just trying to make sure I was getting the mechanics correct. But there was one matinee performance where I felt the character finally open up, where I felt I could play the role and not think about the role. That was a mini-breakthrough for me, and since then I think I've been more free with letting the character have more space inside me. But nonetheless, the show does become repetitive and rote, and i think we're all fighting against that in some fashion. One thing that keeps it fresh is audience contact, especially with children. There have been children sitting on the stools onstage, and when you get one or two who are really into the show, it's fun to play with them a little. Tyler, Greg and I were reminiscing about some of those incidents tonight at dinner. One little girl on Christmas Eve was quite into the whole thing, covering her eyes during the Marley sequence, asking questions during Tiny Tim's wake scene, talking to Tyler as narrator. When you can contact the audience like that it makes it more interesting from moment to moment and show to show. The last few audiences have been most receptive to the show, and of course that helps to keep things alive and actors motivated. But doing the show night after night does become monotonous, and really points out the value of rep playing. I'm also getting a taste of what a long Broadway run might be like as well. Same show, 8 times a week, for week after week. I certainly think I'd get bored.

Many people during this past week have had family or significant others down The Bowles Kidsto visit. It's fun when all these people come, as if the family has been extended. Tyler, Daniel, Andrew and Chris and Sarah each had their respective girlfriends/boyfriend down for extended stays. Kevin, Carie and Sarah have their family members visiting with them. All this visiting is making people pretty ready to head wherever for their respective breaks. My parents as well as Ann Marie and the boys will be coming down later in the week, and I will caravan up home with my crew on New Year's Eve for my two weeks off. I am sure the next five days will go by pretty fast.

And now the night has descended, and another Christmas has come and gone. Soon the troupe will scatter for their vacations, to refresh and renew during the New Year's beginning, and then back at it again towards the end of January. Just about half over, but I can't help feeling the sensation that it should all be over. My own rhythms of the year and season have been very displaced in this process, and I am sure I am in for more of the same during the winter leg. Actually, I long now to get back to the road, where each day brought something new in a different place. I'm going to enjoy resting up, but this being in one place and doing one show is becoming, well - work. Come the spring, when we are working in rep, it won't be as bad as this, when you're doing a different show every night. But on the road, a different show in a different place is where the fun is at. Endings and beginnings - just what this time of year is all about. -TWL

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Solstice Night - 12/22/05

this is an audio post - click to play

Goethe's final words: "More light." Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry, "More light." Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on, the night is dark and I am far from home, lead thou me on. Arise, shine, for thy light has come. Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light.

(Music - Ebudae by Enya)

From the TV Series Northern Exposure

Monday, December 19, 2005

A New Look - 12/19/05

Staunton, VA - A day off. I moved across the hall. A new room. I added some new photos to Flickr. I did some investigation into a new Google service - Google Video - very promising. I helped Kevin re-do his resume. A new resume. I ate a hot dog at the new hot dog place in town. Steamed brat, mustard (spicy brown), relish, kraut and onions. Dill pickle on the side. I got a "new" radio from the antique mall (a 1970s Radio Shack table model; these are now antiques?). I got a new book in the mail - The Shakespeare Company 1594-1642. I tried a new ready-to-eat Kroger "Meal Made Simple" - Linguine with Shrimp. Not bad. I watched a new movie (at least new to me). I am trying a new template on my blog. Still needs some tweaking. I'd like to learn how to do these templates on my own. Studying the code. I saw a new open-source web design program I want for my computer but I have to wait to download it when I get to Coffee on the Corner and use their network.

I have three shows tomorrow. I am now going to bed. Same old shit there. -TWL

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Movin' On - 12/17/05

Staunton, VA - The other morning Jaq Bessell, who directed Much Ado for us, came and visited us with her new baby, who's maybe about 4 weeks old or so. I had a chance to hold her, and of course took the opportunity to expound on my fatherly wisdom and know-how. It was comforting to hold the new child in the wake of Tim's passing. I didn't really want to let her go. Life comes, life goes, life returns again. And so we move on....

Today (Dec. 17th) is the anniversary of the first publishing of Dickens' original Christmas Carol story in 1848, 157 years ago. Amazing how popular and how so engrained into the culture it's become over those years. I've not been engaged in much more than doing the show over the past week. This week had promised to be a killer, with 12 performances scheduled in the week. Fortune smiled somewhat upon us, however, as a fairly large ice storm came in and shut down schools for two days. So we had the Thursday and Friday matinees canceled. And the Thursday evening performance had something like 12 people in the house, as the falling ice scared just about everyone away. However, we don't get away scot-free, as we found out this afternoon that we have to do two school matinees this coming Tuesday; that's three shows in a day. I wonder how I'll feel once that day is over.

I did not do much over Thursday except try to talk my son Eric through a computer makeover via phone, and Friday was a busy day, as I did laundry, shopping, and also went out in the morning and took pictures of the ice storm results. I think I posted them to Flickr, but I still have to post them to Yahoo! as well. I have posted some pictures of the rehearsals for CC, but there aren't many, as the opportunity to take pictures were small. I also did some online shopping for the family and made some Christmas CDs for Ann Marie. I also took the time to compose our family Christmas letter. We usually send that out every other year. If you would like to read the PDF version of our family newsletter, feel free to click here.

The review of the show is also in, and here is the PDF version of that. It's a little embarrassing in the sense that the review seems to be a review of my performance moreso than the show as a whole, and I regret most of my fellow performers hardly got mentioned. The unique use of sound goes unnoticed. I also think it's something of a reflection of how much baggage there is attached to the role of Scrooge and how people like to see their expectations fulfilled. I just wish the reviewer had looked at other elements of the production as well and placed my performance in the context of the entire production. Good reviewing is so hard to come by. But if it will put butts in the seats, so much the better.

One thing I am learning is how hard it truly is to perform live onstage at this rate. I find it hard to fight the tendency towards tedium, which is no doubt caused by doing the same show over and over. You have to concentrate hard to fight the numbness and the fatigue. I find sometimes I have a lot of trepidation in getting ready to do the show because I know how tired I'll be at the end of it, and I don't want to be that tired. I enjoy passing the day doing frivolous things like reading, sitting in Coffee on the Corner and surfing the internet, riding around the county's back roads just for the pleasure of it. Part of me looks forward to doing the show every night, and part of me dreads it at the same time. I don't get that feeling during rehearsal, and when working in Buffalo (only Thur-Sun performances) I don't get that feeling either. It could be just this particular show, just the fact that it's CC and not one of our other ones. I don't think I'll feel the same way when we return in the spring, and I know I didn't feel this was on the road in the fall. It could also be just the fact that I don't like playing lead roles like this, and going out and being the center of attention night after night doesn't sit well with my soul. I can't shake the nagging idea that something is lacking in the performance, but perhaps nothing really is lacking. Perhaps it's just my subconscious not letting me sit easy and having that slight uncomfortableness at being out front. Doesn't seem very actor-like to me. Yet I've always known that my reason for not pursuing a professional career at all was my inability to blow my own horn and call attention to myself. Sometimes that makes me wonder why I ever pursued this craft in the first place. I actually had that thought at the end of this evening's show as I was leaving the building.

But it's not something I want to get into now. I have been thinking somewhat lately about life after ASC and this experience, and what I'll do next apart from teaching. I have finished listening to Will in the World; it's an interesting book, and over this past week I heard the end of the book where the author speculates on Shakespeare's final plays and his subsequent retirement. He points out how Prospero in The Tempest seeks to return to the world of men while he is at the height of his powers on his mystical island, and he draws a parallel to Shakespeare's own personal retirement at a time when none of his playwriting abilities had diminished. I wonder how one knows when it's time to get out. Will seems to have known. But there are yet so many roles to play.... -TWL

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tim Douglas Jensen - 12/12/05

Tim Douglas JensenStaunton, VA - For the third time since I began writing this weblog, I find I must write on the passing of a theatrical colleague. Last night, after the conclusion of the evening's performance of A Christmas Carol, I received word that Tim Jensen had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from pneumonia. A member of the Fredonia theatre class of 1990, I was fortunate to have had him in my classes and shows for my first two years as a teacher at Fredonia, and also most fortunate to have kept up with his career in New York City and spent some time with him when he returned to Fredonia to direct Les Liasons Dangereuses and teach for a semester. It was then I saw his one-person show Shoes. His death is not only a sad event but a shocking one as well, as he was a young man in the prime of his life and his career. Many good people, myself among them, deeply mourn his passing.

When I first arrived at SUNY Fredonia in the fall of 1988 as the third acting teacher in as many years, I was all of 36; brash, eager, excited at starting what I considered the opportunity of my lifetime. In hindsight, of course, I knew very little then about what it meant to be a teacher of acting. My knowledge and practical skills were little more than those I had learned in graduate school, and my stage experience to that point had been restricted to my work in grad school and a couple of seasons at Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival. But of course I wanted to do well, and create a good impression.

The class of 1990, juniors when I first met them in '88, were an extraordinary collection of individuals. Talented, smart and energetic, they had forged a strong bond among themselves. Upon meeting them, I sensed this strong bond almost immediately. Almost to a person, these young actors had strong individual personalities and sensibilities, but it seemed to me that one of them, Tim Jensen, appeared to be at the center of this group.

I think I'm on pretty safe ground when I state that Tim was the hardest-working and most serious-minded of any person I've ever had in my classes. A careful reader may note that to this point I have avoided calling Tim a "former student," because that would imply that I taught him something. Such was not the case. As a teacher I was too young and inexperienced to teach someone with the work ethic and talent Tim possessed anything at all. He seemed to me so confident, so self-assured, that the best thing for me to do was stay out of his way and give him whatever opportunities I could to work on his craft. I remember envying him a bit as well, because I was never as self-assured and hard-working as he was when I was his age. I doubt I am even now.

Of course it wasn't like Tim couldn't have fun. I recall the first time I saw him do "Dreamgirls" with Ed and Jim (or was it David? The curse of failing memories!) at Fish House when I was invited to a party. Omigod was that funny! I had not ever seen anything quite like it before, and subsequent performances during Studio Hour were always a treat. And of course this class had great fun at poking fun at me whenever they could; Tim had an imitation of me (although Chris Springer's was the best) that was quite good.

Tim was in my first production at Fredonia (ironically enough, A Christmas Carol), and I got the chance to work with him on stage when Dr. Bob directed Equus. I played Martin Dysart while Tim played Alan's father. But of all the memories I have of Tim, the most lasting and the most powerful is his portrayal of Rev. John Hale in my production of The Crucible in the spring of 1989. The production contained a wealth of talent - Chris Springer, Christine Fuchs, Ed Schneller, Gerard Gentleman, Jim Patrick, Kathy Puma, Kathy McLean, John Cordaro, Todd Giglio, Fran Curry and others - and for me remains one of the finest productions I've ever directed. While much of the play's central action focuses on the relationship between John Proctor and Abigail Williams, I've always thought the character of John Hale to be the most pivotal one in the play. He is the portrait of a man who has a strong set of beliefs in the beginning, only to see those beliefs be severely questioned, tested, and ultimately repudiated. The role calls for an actor capable of conveying not only a strong sense of moral surety, but ultimately a man caught in the throes of the deepest crisis of conscience. He is, in effect, the audience's conscience. There was never a doubt in my mind that Tim was the man for that role.

As I recall, with a memory now tinged with sadness and sweetness, Tim gave everything he had to that role. He had much to give: Tim himself was a man who had a strong moral code and a high sense of ethics, he was driven to succeed in his work and to constantly improve himself, he was sensitive to others and had the ability to empathize with others in suffering or sorrow. There was even a nobility to everything he did in the theatre, as if he knew what he was doing had a high purpose. He brought all these characteristics to the role of Rev. Hale, and in a remarkable production he gave a remarkable performance. I believe I still have a piece of the courtroom scene digitized which is not with me in Virginia, but which I hope to dig out and put up on the web for people to see.

Of course there was no question Tim was going to New York to pursue a theatrical career. He went on to get his MFA at the Actors Studio Drama School and to perform in and around New York City. Those of you not Fredonia graduates can get a short biography of him here. He developed his playwriting skills to go along with his acting skills, and I recall bumping into him once quite by accident in a New York City coffee shop, where he was sitting with a huge cup of coffee, hard at work scribbling in a notebook, totally absorbed. Same hard-working Tim, I thought. Some things never change. And I got a kick out of the fact that this summer we were both doing Leonato from Much Ado About Nothing at the same time; he in NYC with Riverside Shakes, and I down here in VA. I got a look at some pictures of his production in the Times, I believe, and felt sort of proud of myself, that I was doing the same role as Tim Jensen. Maybe I had finally made it after all. :-)

Those who truly want to understand what the theatre is all about, what the heart and soul of theatre really is, would do well to look at Tim's life and contribution to it. His death will not be a cause for the lights to dim on Broadway; rather, it will be a cause for the light which theatre can bring to us all to become dimmer. His work was full of the stuff that makes humanity the messy-sweet, sloppy "ugly cake" that it is (yes, Jean, that's really Tim come to visit you. Give him a hug from me). Shoes is the kind of work which embodies the soul of the theatre: reflections on how even the most seemingly insignificant person in the most absurd circumstances can offer us glimpses into the universal. While playing Scrooge and watching audiences react to CC, I have been recently reminded of this theatrical reality: the theatre - and only the theatre - brings to us directly and immediately the stories we need to hear to remind us again who we are as humans, and what we mean to each other. As with Ellen Opelia and Bess Brown before him, Tim brought to the theatre not just his craft, skills and talent, but his soul and heart as a human being, and willingly shared them with those who came in contact with him as audience or friend. His stories became our stories as he shared them with us. At its most fundamental, all theatre is community theatre, and Tim's passing is, to those of us within his community, a greater loss than the passing of Arthur Miller, for it is more direct, more immediate, more shocking and more present to us all.

It is not surprising that humans through all ages have tried every means at their disposal during the dark days of the winter solstice to ward off the darkness with celebrations and festivals of light. Perhaps in its infinite wisdom, the cosmos has decreed that Tim's passing will be for us who knew him, not a deepening of the seasonal darkness, but a deeper celebration of the light, the happiness and the joy he brought to his friends and audiences. May we all celebrate that light! -TWL

Friday, December 09, 2005

Screw-ged 12/9/05

Screwged!Staunton, VA - The minute you think there maybe is no God, a small little blessing comes to make you think twice. I am sitting in Coffee on the Corner writing this entry because this morning's matinee of Christmas Carol has been cancelled due to the fact that schools in the area have a snow day. This is the second snow day of the season down here, and what they call a "snow day" would make the average Western New Yorker laugh in utter disbelief. As I look out the window, there is barely an inch of snow on the ground. To be fair, a good portion of it is ice, and I take it from the weather reports on the radio this morning that the roadways are icy, with two major accidents on local interstates. But the other "snow day" came before any snow ever hit the ground. Schools in Augusta County closed in anticipation of a snowstorm coming which dropped maybe two inches of snow. Pretty funny. But I will take it!

It's hard to believe that six days have actually passed since I last posted. The days have been incredibly full and busy, and I've come to know the definition of "bone-weary." I've been getting to bed at about 10:30 every night after pretty much a full day's rehearsal, and getting up at 7:30 AM to make a 9:00 AM call for CC or rehearsal. We've been doing matinees since Wednesday, with dress rehearsals and polishing rehearsals since Sunday. We also had a music rehearsal for Planet prior to the benefit performance last night at Washington and Lee University in Lexington VA (about 35 minutes SW of Staunton) for the recently closed Lime Kiln Theatre. I have actually managed to do a wash and do some shopping amidst all that as well, and even had a bit of time the other night to watch The Magnificent Seven, but that's about it. I don't think I'm alone in feeling this tired; there seems to be a general sense of fatigue that everyone is battling to keep spirits up and keep us moving. I will tell you this - the American Shakespeare Center is certainly getting their money's worth from us.

So let's get into the heart of the matter - playing Ebenezer Scrooge. Back when we were in rehearsal and before we went on the road I was hoping that the two characters I would get to play would be Jacob Marley and Old Joe. Chris Seiler as Christmas PresentI had figured that Chris, one of our three-year vets and the guy who had been playing Scrooge for the past two years, would reprise the role. But the director had other ideas, and lo and behold when the cast list came there was my name listed as Scrooge. Honestly, I wasn't too thrilled. As a lifetime character actor I've come to be comfortable in character roles, which are usually secondary roles and not the focus roles of plays. My other two roles here, Leonato and Prospero, fall neatly into that category - nice roles but not the focus roles of the plays (some might argue that Prospero has a lot of focus, but the play is so evenly balanced among characters that I think no one character dominates the show). But if CC is anything, it is Scrooge, and the role carries with it a tremendous amount of baggage, tradition and expectation. And of course, amongst the community of theatre people, CC is regarded as little more than a cash cow designed to raise a lot of money and subsidize whatever else you're doing for your season.

Now, let it be clearly understood (to mimic the Dickensian style of writing) that I have nothing personal against CC in and of itself. It's a heartwarming, fun story, and deservedly a classic of English literature. In my family it's been a tradition to watch some version of CC after all the packages have been wrapped and placed under our tree on Christmas Eve. I am torn between the Alistair Sims version (never, NEVER watch the colorized version!!) and the George C. Scott version. The Patrick Stewart version sucks, and my kids of course liked the Muppet version (I can tolerate it). I've never seen the Bill Murray version - perhaps I should rent it. So it's not like I don't like the story or anything along those lines. Of course, it is quite sentimental and mushy, and no doubt even in Dickens' mind it was written as a commercial venture to make him some money. Yet there are things in it which I truly think are insightful and poetic. As an example, there is the section during Christmas Present where Dickens talks about everyone in the Cratchit family having, for once, enough to eat. There are other passages within the fable which clearly and vigorously rail against the social ills of the times. But over the years I think the story has been so commercialized that these aspects of the story have lost their impact or disappeared altogether to the point where CC is barely more than the story of an old disgruntled codger who becomes a Christmas fanatic, and thank goodness he does. So it goes.

However, having been given the role, I have of course given some thought as to how to play him within the confines of a 90-minute script which basically hits the highlights of the main plotline. It has not been easy, partly because the rehearsal time has been so short and partly because there are long stretches of time where I do nothing but stand and watch events unfold without commenting. Also, because we are doing this play within the "original practices" tradition of the ASC, we have no special effects, lights, scenery or anything else to help us create mood or atmosphere. Dickens' text does that extraordinarily well, but I am not yet sure whether it's more successful as read text or spoken text. I will say one thing - getting your mouth around Dickensian "dialogue" is difficult. As I noted in an earlier post, I've had difficulty memorizing these lines so fast, and it's only been within the past few matinee performances that I've been working to make the dialogue and performances organic and natural. The other day I finally discovered and developed a through-line for myself to take me along the journey, and I am glad I've found those keys.

PJ ScroogeMy concept of Scrooge has been from the beginning that he is basically a misunderstood man, living an austere life in contradistinction to the world around him. He is stereotypically portrayed as a grouchy misanthrope, but I have tried to cast him as a man who has become what he is because, early in life, his emotional life was crushed out of him, leaving him nothing to live with but cold reason. If you study some of the things Scrooge says in that famous first scene, much of he says is not particularly harsh or unreasonable, and some of it is true. "What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money" - how many of you out there will go into credit card debt this Christmas (I will)? "Keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine...Let me leave it alone then." "It's enough for a man to understand his own business without meddling in the affairs of others." Plenty of truth in those statement. He exhibits the same response to the poor and homeless that the majority of society expresses by its actions if not its words. He does not pay his clerk well, but apparently at least enough to keep a roof over his head and some food on the table (nothing indicates that the Cratchits are destitute, just poor. Think Wal-Mart and the resistance to raising the minimum wage in this country to something liveable). So in response to this I've tried to portray a man who lives by cold reason and logic and has little emotional life, and has reached an accomodation with those around him. While others may perceive him as grouchy or unreasonable, it's only because Scrooge has decided to live a life where he plays the rules of business extremely well and always to his advantage (there is no evidence that Scrooge is a cheat), and speaks harsh truths in ways which people find irritating. He is undoubtedly a cold man, and can become cruel when pressed (the charity fundraiser, for example, presses him to his limit). But I sense in the character no genuine meanness, and hence that becomes the vehicle of his reclamation.

His journey with the spirits, then, is one of reclaiming his emotional life. He is not "beyond hope" because, as we find out, there is still emotion in him which he is suppressing. He himself does not understand this emotional life, and that is what the journey is all about. His sojourn into the past is to remind him of a time when his emotional life was full and how it was slowly squeezed from him by life's circumstances (my backstory on Scrooge's past is, of course, extrapolated from hints in the text and story, but this production cannot fully bring that out. Suffice to say that Scrooge has a few things happen to him, such as Fan's death and his breakup with Belle, which leave him emotionally handicapped). His journey into the present is Cratchit Dinner Scenedesigned to reveal to him the value of human relationships, of family (Cratchits) and friends (Fred's party), as a source of wealth beyond that of money. His sojourn into the future is designed to remind him of death and all it entails - the limitations of existence, the desire to leave behind a legacy, the notion of "now or never" as it pertains to living life. All these aspects of his journey have nothing to do with logic or reason, and each time he tries to present a logical argument to one of the spirits (even to the Ghost of Christmas Future while staring into the grave) are one by one rebuffed through a response which encourages him through the heart. But even further, Scrooge has to realize that even a reasonable approach to emotion is not enough. It is emotional existence itself, as represented by an open heart, that is necessary for a full life. The man who misunderstands Scrooge the most, of course, is his own self. His reclamation comes when his heart is fully opened by the Spirits. Even though Scrooge, in each section of his journey, expresses a degree of intellectual understanding of each lesson he is learning ("I learned a lesson which is working now" he tells Christmas Present, as well as telling Future "I hope to be a changed man from what I was"), he only fully realizes it at the grave, and it is by facing the reality of his eventual death that his heart opens up.

It took me awhile to piece this all together, as for much of the rehearsal period I was simply trying to get the mechanical aspects of the role together. These ideas have only fully developed over the past few days, and are designed to get me honestly through each point in the play. I doubt much of this will read to an average audience member, because there isn't much action or text for me to express this, and also because they are coming to the show for much different reasons than bearing witness to Scrooge's emotional reclamation. And again, it is difficult to achieve the proper mood (Shakespeare is so much better than Dickens at that, and the expectations are so different). But I think for me playing the role it gives me some foundation and roots. I'm sure that,even though we officially open tomorrow night, I will be working on this throughout the run.

As for the overall production itself, it has been a workout not only for me but for everyone in the troupe. Keep in mind that, except for Tyler - who is playing the Narrator - and myself, everyone else is playing several roles as well as executing all the scene changes and technical effects. Jessica, Sarah and Greg are doing all the music and sound, which is the main method we have of creating mood. There are an incredible amount of costume changes, and even though everything is about down to as minimum a show as you could possibly have, there is still plenty to do for everyone. Since I am on the stage for all but maybe one minute total of the entire show, I have not seen the backstage activity, but I have been assured by my cast mates that the backstage situation is wild. Between costume changes and set changes everyone is busy every moment of the production. There is no down time for anyone. I had this odd experience for the past few days as being somewhat isolated and removed from the show, and I finally figured out that the reason was that I could not contribute anything to the running of the production backstage. I can't help with set changes or costume changes or any of that, and as we were putting the final stages of the technical aspects of the show together it was sort of odd sitting there on my "island of Scrooge" and not being able to volunteer to help with anything. It's nine people backstage pulling off everything, and it's no wonder everyone's tired. I really believe in some aspects people backstage are working harder than I am. It's always a miracle to me that any show actually gets up and running, but in this case the miracle of 11 people pulling off CC in about 10 days of rehearsal is a miracle of Christmas proportions.

I am sure after writing all this I've left something out, but I'll try to keep some notes so I don't leave too much out. Even though I've been saying "Merry Christmas" until my lungs give out, I still don't quite feel in a Christmas-y mood. I think working this hard through the holidays has somewhat dampened any Christmas spirit I have, and I just don't have a "real-world" sense of the holiday season. I'm surprised to find the Salvation Army person at Krogers when I go shopping. Dave doesn't dress up Coffee on the Corner for Christmas (Hooray! Another reason to like it!). My little room has no Christmas decorations. The best I've done is spruce up my computer desktop to reflect some Christmas spirit (a tree, lights, and a CC desktop picture). So hopefully things may slow down as we get into the performance schedule and I can slow down a bit. Looking ever so forward to my day off Monday. Can't say I'll write before then. Whatever you may do this holiday season, don't Screwg yourself! -TWL

PS - There are some new videos from the final leg of the tour available on my video page. Feel free to check them out!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Act Three - 12/03/05

Group - Holton AcademyStaunton, VA - I don't know why I get the feeling that there will be less to write about now that we're off the road, but I sense that's the case. Perhaps it's because there aren't new places to go to or to see and then write on what I'm seeing. All I can see at the moment is the Blackfriars Playhouse, which is right across the street. I'll be seeing a lot of that in the days to come, no doubt, but no new things to see and experience. Daniel has described the whole year's experience as a five-act play: Act One - Rehearsal; Act Two - Fall Leg; Act Three - A Christmas Carol; Act Four - Winter Leg; Act Five - Blackfriars Residence. So, consider this the beginning of Act Three.

I did promise a bit of a review about the fall tour, so I think I'll begin with that. I just finished uploading the last of the fall leg pictures to the Yahoo! website, with some videos left to go, and in winding that up it seemed the best idea to sort of put the wrap on the fall tour. So, in no special order:
  • Best Stop on the Tour - New London, New Hampshire. It was mid-October, the leaves were in fine color, the weather was fantastic, the hike up Mt. Sunapee was breathtaking, the New London Inn provided fine accomodations, there wasn't a sign of MallofAmerica for miles, and the three opera houses were charming locations. About the only thing that maybe wasn't so fine was the fact that the Northeast Shakespeare Ensemble did not do a good job publicizing the fact that it was the ASC, and not the NESE, that was performing. It seemed to upset others more than me, but beyond that I think it was perhaps the nicest, most restful, most peaceful and most beautiful stop on the tour.
  • Worst Stop on the Tour - Bangor, ME. The people and all were quite nice, but the space was abysmal. We turned the space around to play on the floor rather than the stage, and the stage left exit led immediately to the outdoors on a fairly chilly night. Just a lot of things seemed to go wrong that particular evening. I was late for two entrances in Richard III because I couldn't hear the cues from outside. Tough venue.
  • Best Moment on the Tour - Very tough call. Getting a lobster dinner with Jessica seems to be the gut call, however. I thought I wasn't going to get a lobster dinner after missing the Bar Harbor stop. Hitting the summit of Sunappe with Jessica was also right up there. As was returning to the tour in Burlington VT.
  • Worst Moment on the Tour - Leaving Orrville OH to go home. No contest.
  • Best Audiences - Centenary College, Shreveport LA. When those kids jumped onto the stage during the encore of Planet I thought that was very cool, mostly because I was running to the merchandise booth and wasn't on stage, which looked like it was going to collapse at any moment. It was also fun to watch them get Greg to wave his butt at them. Centenary just loved us, and it was a shame we had to leave early.
  • Hardest Audience - Maybe that has to go to Lawrenceville VA, mostly because the audience was the smallest we played for. It was hard to get them going with Planet.
  • Best Moment on the Stage - It should be noted that the midnight show at St. Lawrence University has a tradition of being, shall we say, loose, with a lot of improvising going on for the fun of cast and audience. So this goes to the look on Tyler's face during the midnight show at St. Lawrence University when he made his first entrance as Ariel in Planet and the whole cast looked at me and asked, "Is he gay?"
  • Worst moment on stage - Probably the performance of Prospero at Centenary. I don't know why it was so wretched, but I remember being really pissed at myself for a day afterward. I know I screwed up a lot of lines and my singing was atrocious that night. Coming in a close second was during a performance of R3 when I could not totally manage to control the urge to sneeze. One small one escaped during IViv, and I could see Tyler as Cateby begin to look towards me slowly. I did not dare meet his eyes.
  • Best Drive - From Danville to Fredericksburg VA along Highway 350 (I believe). It was just a slow, even, pleasant drive, spectacular day, and not very long.
  • Worst Drive - Maybe Birmingham to Shrevesport. The air conditioning was broken in the van and it was maybe 97 degrees outside. That's the drive where I took the picture of myself without my shirt. Some guy from England saw that picture and claimed he lost his job because his boss caught him looking at that picture and sacked him for viewing obscenity.
  • Best Motel/Hotel - The New London Inn. A close second was the first motel we stayed in in Elon, NC. I believe it was a Country Suite or something like that. Kudos and thanks also have to go to Bruce and Karen in Canton NY.
  • Worst Motel/Hotel - The Stratford Inn, Dansville VA. Just weird. Close second was W. Hartford CT, but we weren't there too long.

Tell you what - I'll stop there, and if you have any best/worst categories you'd like me to list, I will do that for you. Now here comes the list of Things I've Learned Along The Way:
  • The hardest thing to give up on tour is your personal freedom. The schedule Group-Unknown Localeis tight, you're constantly on the move, and when you get someplace, your mobility is limited simply because you do not have unlimited access to a car. For example, in Fredericksburgh, all I got to see was a huge mall/shopping area, the motel, and Lee Hall. I never got to downtown Fredericksburgh where all the history is. Days off sometimes mean just hanging at the motel, partly because you're tired, partly because you can't get anywhere.
  • I thought I'd have the worst bladder in the troupe. I don't.
  • How they ever did things like this tour before cell phones and wireless internet I will never know.
  • XM Radio rules. Period. Best investment I made.
  • Garmin GPS units also rule. Not perfect, but it got us out of a couple of jams.
  • You don't need quite as much entertainment as you thought. I have DVDs I haven't played, and I seldom crack out my iPod simply because the XM radio is sufficient. There really isn't much time to sit and entertain yourself. I saw one movie on the whole tour. Sleeping, performing, writing and keeping all the pictures and movies I take ordered and updated takes up pretty much all the time.
  • Clothes are boring and overrated.
  • Eating well can be a challenge. My heart goes out to the troupe vegetarians. Subway is good, but even that becomes old after a while. And they don't give you cards or a stamp card anymore. What's up with that?
  • Most coffee in hotels/motels is swill. We travel with a coffeemaker I bought in Shreveport and Jessica keeps it stoked in emergencies. I've always tried to avoid Starbucks when possible, but on the road you can be sure you will get a good cup of coffee there.
  • Touring is wearing on you physically and psychologically in ways you don't expect. You're not tired, but you're fatigued. Your voice is not totally shot, but it becomes weak. Your sense of time and space becomes cramped. The day of the week is inconsequential. Your whole sense of "body clock" can become totally whack. Exercise is spotty. It is almost impossible to settle into any sort of routine beyond the time when load-in begins and ends. And as far as you're concerned, there are only 11 people in the whole wide world besides you.
And if I come up with any others within the next month or so I'll be sure to put them in here. It's good to be in one place for a while, and losing $13 in poker last night to Tyler, Andrew and Chris seems to have relieved my tension and anxiety level a bit. I'll give you some thoughts on Christmas Carol as we move along with that as well. And in the meantime, you all should go over to another Atomic Fission blogger's site. Sarah Bowles has a blog going on right here, so give her a read as well and get another perspective other than this poor player's twisted view. -TWL

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Have Not The Power - 11/30/05

Staunton, VA - A neglected or ignored blog is a terrible thing. It calls out to you, a little whining voice in the back of your head, saying, "Write in me! Write in me!" I have heard the voice over the past few days, but admit that, at the moment, I have not the power.

So quickly: I went home for Thanksgiving, a drive back through the night, which included a 90-minute wait on I-79 between Pittsburgh and Erie so as to clear out a multi-car accident caused, apparently, by a black ice spinout. I couldn't make it all the way home, so I grabbed 4 hours' sleep in Grove City PA and drove straight to Jamestown NY for my Wed. morning MRI (which, by the way, showed all clear). The I drove home and tried to stay up most of the day checking on the weather. Jenna was driving home so I wanted to make sure she had a sense of the weather conditions for her drive. Thursday was, of course, spent with traditional Thanksgiving activities, and all the kids were home. Friday we sort of relaxed most of the day and went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the afternoon (I'm sort of "Pottered out" at this point) with chili for dinner. I left on Saturday soon after Jenna left, taking Brian with her to Syracuse so he could visit his girlfriend, then into rehearsal for Christmas Carol Sunday afternoon.

Rehearsal has been furious, hard, stressful and exhausting. I'm a little tense, depressed at coming to grips with my declining memorization skills, and wound up as well as tired. I do not learn lines as efficiently as I used to, so I've had to put in extra hours to get them, and I am still stumbling over them. We only have about 8 days total to get this production going, so the time pressure adds to the stress. And just this morning, we have had added to our plate a benefit performance of Planet so as to help a local theatre in Lexington (the Lime Kiln Theatre) which just closed its doors, fired all its artistic staff and is endeavoring to raise funds so as to re-open. Thus it is that I have had to shove aside just about anything else but rehearsal. Thus it is that I have not the power to write much.

So if you are one of those kind people who have actually been reading this poor player's blog with any regularity, I hope you'll be patient and forgive me while I get this show and this part (Scrooge, by the way, in case you did not know) up on its feet. Once I feel more comfortable in what I'm doing and have reached a better comfort level for myself, I'll get back to writing something more interesting for you to read.

Bah! Humbug! -TWL

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

'Tis So Concluded On - 11/22/05

On I-64W - We have just finished our last performance in Goochland, VA, and are now currently heading home. I am taking the advantage of the ride home to write this entry, and then take a Thanksgiving break. We are all getting off until Sunday, when we begin to mount A Christmas Carol. We have seven days to get that going and then perform it until December 30th.

Well, we did the Sunday afternoon performance of MA, and then took off for Bethesda after getting a bite to eat. I ate at a new place for me, something called Baha Fresh. It's a Mexican-style place which served tacos, burritos and such. It seemed familiar to the west coasters in the troupe, so I gave it a shot. I ordered a "Burritos Dos Manos" which I thought was just an extra-large burrito. Turned out it was two extra-large burritos, way more food than I could handle. I ate one and saved the rest until last night, when I had it for dinner (refirgerating it overnight). Very tasty.

The show at Holton-Arms Academy was for a private all-girls school. We stayed most of the day there. Thye show they asked for was R3, which is a big surprise for any high school. But Holton Arms apparently is not any high school. Being private, it costs quite a great deal of money to attend there. I saw one young lady drive up to school in her red Audi sports car. The building is all practically brand-new. The theatre was very nice. Everything about the place just exuded dollars. Of course, it was located in a toney section of Bethesda, a suburb of DC, so I suspect many well-off families sent their daughters there. And of course, the ladies were not stupid. I am assuming the school takes high academic achievers, given its private standing. They were an attentive audience, but of course some references referring to women did not get past them. When Alyssa, as one of the murderers of Clarence, says "'tis cowardly and womanish" you could hear the laughs go on. Similarly when Richard talks to Elizabeth about her womb as the "nest of spicery" there were some interesting reactions, from giggles to ooohhs and aaahhhs. It sort of gave the play an interesting spin to have an all-female audience listening to the show. After a rather raucous lunch in the cafeteria, we have several simultaneous workshops going on. Kevin and I did the one we call "Shakesfeet," which tries to give the students a few tools for getting Shakepseare "on his feet" by using paraphrasing and understanding of verse. That took an hour, and then we headed back to Staunton through the pouring rain. When we got into town we unloaded the cargo van of everything that we did not need for today, and headed off to sleep. I got a room in the Frederick House for the evening, whose wonderful proprietors, Denny and Karen, made me feel at home. A little Monday Night Football, and then a little sleep.

Today's gig was in Goochland, and it was a bit difficult. We thought the show was scheduled for 1:00, but they had changed the time to 1:30 for their schedule. We left Staunton at 9 AM and had a lot of time to kill before 12:30, as they had classes in the theatre before then. So some of us went to Tracey's Cafe, where they served a lot of fried death. I tried the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, one of two not-fried sides, and it was OK. Heading back to the theatre, we discovered that the audience would also be made up of elementary kids as well. I've no idea why they includedelementary kids in the mix, but they did. Turned out these were the kids who sat on the stage! Right at the beginning of the show two kids moved their chairs stage right to get to the front and ended up blocking the stage right exit. I had to go over in the middle of the first scene and move them away from the exit (kindly, of course, in my best "Uncle Leo" style) so we could use it. Thank goodness for "direct audience contact," or I never could have moved them! So the audience was a little restless at times. We sort of sped through the play, because we had to be done by 3:15 in time for the buses, and we really did not get started until 1:35 or so. It was a bit difficult, but not impossible, and Carie gave us thanks for getting through the show so well under the conditions.

So - the fall leg is now over. Everyone I think is suffering from some form of fatigue or another; some have tired voices (me), Kevin just barely made it through today's run and seems to be getting flu-like symptoms; others are just generally weary and looking forward to the break. I will probably ruminate on touring in another entry, but there is no doubt that touring takes its toll on you physically and psychologically. I am looking forward to seeing my family over the break (all the kids are coming home). I need to get my lines down for CC and then get set to perform through Christmas (won't be back home until after the New Year). But of course, I still have the 7-hour drive home ahead of me as I write this, so I think I'll kick back in my "office," have a cup of the coffee sitting in my thermos, and prepare the head. A Happy Thanksgiving to you all! - TWL

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Home Stretch - 11/20/05

Rockville, MD - I neglected to mention when I previously posted this morning that I have some new videos and photos for you to check out if you so desire.

I also did not mention what a pleasant drive we had from Danville to Fredericksburgh. Up US Highway 350 on a beautiful, sunny day. The road was lined with very pretty farms, and had no "MallofAmerica" strips along it. A tree-lined, four-lane highway with a 60MPH speed limit, it was a magnificently genteel cruise up the state of Virginia. We made one stop at a local mini-mart, where I could not resist buying a moon pie and a $5 "Bah Humbucks" VA lottery ticket scratch-off. I won nothing. Typical. -TWL

Group Photo, DanvilleFredericksburgh, VA - It's a quiet Sunday morning, and today marks the end of our stay in Fredericksburgh, VA. We did two Much Ados on Friday, one at a local high school and one evening performance at University of Mary Washington, which is the home of the Fredericksburgh Festival of the Arts. The yesterday it was Planet in the afternoon, and R3 in the evening. This afternoon we have another Much Ado, and then off to Bethesda MD for a day at a local girl's academy in the area, and back to Staunton by Monday evening. Our final gig is in Goochland VA, between RIchmond and Charlottesville, and then the fall leg is complete.

I think everyone is looking forward to the upcoming Thanksgiving break. While the general mood of the company remains positive and the shows seem intact and strong this weekend, there is still that little sense of anticipation in the air as you catch snippets of phone calls or conversations. People have made preparations for travel, and we all can only hope that the nasty weather which seems to be in the offing for the east coast is not as bad as is being predicted. I am leaving for home after Tuesday's show, and all the weather reports seem to indicate heavy rain and/or snow. I am scheduled for an MRI in Jamestown on Wednesday morning, so Tuesday will be a caffineated day, to be sure.

This final push out has not been too bad. The trip from Lawrenceville to Danville was very nice, about 2.5 hours. What has been most regretful for me this last leg has been the inability to get to see some sites around the area. Lawrenceville seems from the van to be not too prosperous an area, but upon arriving at Danville, I seemed to get the impression that this was a fairly prosperous place. We drove right through the downtown area, and it seemed impressive from the van. At the very least I can tell you that the main street (Main Street?) was lined with these incredibly large houses; one might say mansions, except they probably are all now multi-family dwellings or offices. The churches were all neatly tucked in among these houses. It was an architectural site, and I found myself imagining the splendor of these places during the pre-Civil War era. Not being an architectural historian of any sort, I would imagine some of them were built after the war as well. This area is just south of Appomatox, Richmond and Petersburgh, so the notions of what the place was like during the mid-nineteenth century came readily.

In Danville we played at Averett College, and just like the rest of the town, it too was a neat collection of buildings set right in the heart of the town. It's one of those colleges where the main buildings all have four large Dorian columns at their main entrances. On this campus I did not see one modern building (even the dorms seemed about 1950s or so), but one was in the offing at the rear of the campus. The campus itself had many small green areas, but no wide open quadrant. We got a warm welcome from Joey in Student Life, had lunch during their Cuisines of the World event in the cafeteria, and then checked into the motel.

The Stratford Inn was a bizarre motel which, at its height somewhere 40 or 50 years ago was probably thought to be a five-star accomodation, but it has since gone to seed. It consisted of four little complexes scattered across the hill. There was a dining room, a bar (Which closed at 10:00 PM on weekdays to the frustration of a few company members), and a front office which never answered the phone. When you went into the bathroom, the back of the door had the same wallpaper as the walls, which led to this eerie feeling of having been transported and caged in some little surreal jail cell. The electricity was wired so weirdly that you had to throw a set of switches in just the right combination to get the electricity to work. All of the furnishings and decor were dark and somber, and the feeling of decayed elegance permeated everything. I would up with the feeling that it sort of symbolized the area itself, but I did not get any chance to explore the rest of the city beyond the college.

We did Much Ado for the college in a cavernous theatre which, again, spoke to a time long gone by. The theatre's rigging system, such as it was, was managed by sandbags. There was stuff everywhere around the theatre complex. Every nook and cranny seemed to be filled with props or construction material or furniture. A hallway served as storage for their wood supply. Paint cans were open and in the alcoves of the entrances to house right and left. A seat cushion sat in another alcove atop some sort of set piece. Backstage were all manner of tools and more storage. The dressing rooms were off the costume shop, and bolts of cloth and other material were stacked along every wall. I have absolutely no idea why this theatre on this campus continued to operate, as the whole place broke almost every known fire and emergency code in existence. Daniel is actually qualified as a fire inspector, and he was as in awe of how many violations there were as I was. Again, it all just had a feel of an era gone by, as if the whole theatre complex was still in the 50s. Quite amazing.

The performance itself was, as usual, OK; it's always mostly the audience reaction that creates the difference. As the space was large there was little chance for intimacy, and the bulk of the audience seemed to be made up of students looking for extra credit. In fact, Tyler said that, while he was in the audience during the gulling scene, some of the students actually asked him for his autograph, as they got extra credit for doing so. It was also pretty hot in that space, and I think the heat got to everyone. The rush to get out at the end was great, and I had a hard time getting through the crowd to my merchandise table. I think when we play these larger proscenium spaces it is much harder to create that sense of audience involvement which original practices encourages. It makes me wonder sometimes about original practices in the Blackfriars vrs, original practices in the Globe. Were they different? Or is it just the expectations and assumptions of the audiences which have radically changed? We certainly don't play for Elizabethan audiences, and I think in larger spaces that makes a difference in how our original practices come across. I find in general our shows in smaller spaces, such as the one we're in now, are more conducive to original practices.

Here in Fredericksburgh we are working in a large ballroom in Lee Hall. The stage is makeshift, and it shakes a great deal. making us a bit nervous at times. We are pretty much locked into the backstage area, as we cannot leave the ballroom itself without being seen. There are numerous flags hanging from the rafters, giving the place in international feel. The audiences have not been large, mostly filling the center section three rows deep and a bit to either side. When we play on these portable spaces we have no seats on stage, so audience contact is a bit limited to the sides. Bill Gordon, our booking dude down in Staunton, is with us this weekend, and seems to be having a good time. We ARE the "Festival of the Arts" this weekend. I had thought we were one attraction in a number of art events in town, but it turns out we are it. The people who run the event seem pleased (I think this is ASC's seventh year here), but they also seem disappointed about the small turnout. The audiences here are enthusiastic, and like other places where ASC has played for a number of years, there are people who come every year to every show. But given the number of chairs set up, we are playing to 50% of capacity.

So it is this morning that, as I come to the final days of the fall leg of this tour, I find myself wondering about audiences. In each city we've played, and especially in places were we don't play every year, the audiences appear to be small but loyal followings of people combined with a sprinkling of students. In places like Canton and Shreveport, where the company's annual visit is a highlight of the year, there is a dedicated collection of people who love to have us in, yet that group is always rather small, and does not seem to have a broad base reaching into the community at large. They tend to be academics in the humanities and fine arts, waging a somewhat quixotic struggle to bring culture to their part of the world. In no place that we've played could the box office had paid our fee. This same issue is cropping up back home in Fredonia, where choosing a season is primarily dictated not by artist value or educational value, but by whether or not the audience will come to see the show. When I examine and try to make sense out of what I do as an actor, this question about the audience always seems to nag me. Deep in my actor's soul, I want to play for audiences that are lively, engaged, and to some measure will take out with them the ideas, thoughts and feelings which a play might produce and incorporate (or actively reject) that experience into their lives so as to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them. Yet I am more often struck with the reality that most audience members who attend a play watch, listen, nod, approve, admire, compliment, and then move on. Another cultural notch on the belt. I think if I could make up a rule about academics coming to cultural events, it would be that they had to go find someone somewhere on campus or in town who had never seen a Shakespeare play (or whatever particular cultural event they might be attending) and bring them to that event, aiding in whatever manner needed to help the neophyte enjoy it. Unless they did that, they would not be admitted. It will never happen, of course, and it's a silly notion. But it comes from wishing that Shakespeare's original audience conditions could once again be a reality; where the poor and the rich, the educated and the illiterate all came together in one place at one time to revel in these words and stories and took them to heart. If we can labor to create original staging practices for the players, perhaps we might also turn our labor to creating original practices for our audiences as well. -TWL

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Final Push - 11/15/05

Group Photo, Ownes CCLawrenceville, VA - Actually, about 10 miles outside of Lawrenceville, in a Super8 Motel just off I-95. Eating boneless BBQ spareribs and fried rice. Tempting fate. Nothing else open except Denny's. A man can only tempt fate so much.

Having now recovered from whatever it was that attacked me (I presume some sort of food poisoning, or perhaps my body has had one too many Subway sandwiches and is just trying to clue me in), I can give out with a few more details about the past few days. The environs of Toledo was my last port of call, and, not that I want to cast aspersion on the noble city of Toledo, but folks, there ain't much happening there. One of our troupe asked the motel clerk if there was anything to do, and the response was that we had arrived at that part of the USA where there is truly nothing going on for miles around.

It was, in terms of our actual raison d'etre, a pretty good time. One thing that set this gig apart from many of the others we had recently played was that, since the audience was basically composed of the Ohio Shakespeare Conference attendees, they actually got stuff. I think this fact helped improve our shows a bit over those three days. Theatre, of course, is quite an interactive art Music Call, Owens CCform to begin with (not as overtly in most cases as our shows are), and there is always some sort of relationship between actor and audience. When an audience is clearly receptive, I think it helps performers a great deal. Our R3 there was very good, and Much Ado and Planet really went over well. In each case the audience was clearly with us every step of the way, but no more so than in Planet, because this was a collection of people hip to every obscure reference in the play (I even think "RSC jettisoned" got a laugh). So I think the performances were generally well-received. Owens Community College has only had this space open for the past three years, and according to the TD we drew the largest crowds she has seen. Even so, in a 550-seat theatre we probably never even played to half a house. But the enthusiasm made up for the small numbers.

Many troupe members had family there. Alyssa's parents drove down from their house deep in the woodlands of Michigan, and Sarah had her brother and her godparents come visit. Chris is also from the area, and his family came and enjoyed the shows. Alyssa's parents threw a party on Sat. night with all the fixings - beer, pizza, veggies, fruit, little danishes, and Coca-Cola just for me - and we had a good time there (thanks, guys!). Video is here. I didn't stay too long because I had to drive first leg the next day to Staunton.

We also did a number of workshops there. We did one at Lake High School, just down the road. Their mill levy (basically a school tax) had been defeated six times, and it was on of their students who arranged to bring us in. We did our Acting Shakespeare workshop for 28 kids there. Many of them showed up for our performances at the college. Workshop TSAThen we went to Toledo School for the Performing Arts, a very happening place. The people who started the school (and I believe one of the current board members who met us is a Fredonia alumna) took an abandoned factory and turned the third and fourth floor into a performing arts high school. They more or less left the industrial feel of the place intact and spent the bulk of their money buying equipment, instruments, and computers. They had a complete photo and media arts lab, a digital recording studio, a "black box" theatre, dance spaces, practice rooms, and art studios. Pretty sweet. And the vibe was great. Each of us got a TSA T-shirt and some nice cards created by their graphic design kids. Just as we left there was a gas leak in the building so they had to evacuate the place. As far as I know nothing came of that.

Then Olivia, Daniel, Andrew, Kevin and myself set out to explore downtown Toledo. It was Veterans Day, which helped to explain some of the deserted feel of the place, but even so, there was hardly anyone out on the streets or in the parks. We had lunch at a place called Spice, had some coffee, walked down by the river, and watched a Greek steamship get tugged down the river. Very eerily quiet all the way through. Even on a holiday you would expect to see some life somewhere. I almost thought I was on Main Street in downtown Buffalo!

I managed to miss the biggest highlight of all - a drunken Tyler Moss singing Let's Get It On at the Comfort Inn karaoke night across the street from our motel. Apparently it was a major hit with the Toledo karaoke crowd, which was a mix of people from all walks of life. Me, I'm the kind of guy who sits up at night and blogs, and then does his laundry. Boring!

So from Ohio we drove to Staunton for a quick respite. From the flatlands of the Ohio prairie through the Appalachians to the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley. Some change of scenery. One thing is for sure in the Northeast - fall is over. The starkness of November is now very apparent, as the last few storms have knocked down the final stubborn leaves. I got sick in Staunton. But on Monday night the Rez troupe had a Greekfest Party upstairs at J.P. and Doreen's place - to which Atomic was invited - and when everyone found out I was sick, they brought me down some food and kept me some company. Very nice of them. Good folks.

Staying in Staunton was a bit of a tease, as for just a few seconds there I found myself lulled into the belief that the first leg was over. But there is still one more week to go, and a busy one at that. We really pick up steam on the weekend at the Fredericksburg Festival of the Arts, doing some two-a-days and changing venues quickly. So we are now in the final push of the fall leg. I think people are anxiously awaiting the end based on the reactions of people when we got to Staunton. Everyone seemed happy to be "home" if only for a short day. The place of course has the air of familiarity to it, and we know right where to go to get our coffee, lunches, food, haircuts, etc. I would like to have gotten out Monday for some sort of recreation but alas was just too weak and in need of rest.

So today (well, actually, Tuesday by the time this is posted) we piled in the van once more and set out for Lawrenceville, VA. Group Photo, LawrencevilleThe performance was sponsored by some organization called Artbank, and the venue was St. Paul's College, an historically black college. The audience for Planet tonight was small but I think appreciative overall. We had a bit of a light show going in the first act, as one of the light strips kept shorting out, but we fixed that for the second half. In this southern section of Virginia, however, autumn, while past its prime, still lingers a bit in colors of rust gold and rust red; muted, but still apparent. There is a tiny bit of autumn left in Staunton as well, but a bit more here. And the temperature change is apparent - it's about 12:17 in the morning and Kevin and I have the window open in the room. According to my Weatherpop it's still about 65 degrees out there. Again, a change from Ohio. where the 30 MPH winds kept things brisk.

So I think I'm mostly caught up. Videos still left to do, as well as upload more pictures. Maybe tomorrow (or rather, later this) morning. Oh, and I got a new iPod to replace the one I sold to my daughter. A video iPod. Now, next time you see me (who knows when?) I can show you my videos straight off the iPod. But of course, you have to have a "special format" for the iPod, so now I have to compress everything TWICE! Perhaps the iPod format will also stream from the net. Must test this out. But enough for now. My bed calls! Buenas noches! -TWL

Monday, November 14, 2005

Under the Weather - 11/14/05

Staunton, VA - I am a little under the weather this morning, having passed a rather rough night. Something I ate somewhere last night apparently did not agree with me. So this morning I am struggling to recuperate by pretty much staying indoors and vegetating. The three shows at Owens Community College went well, aided by some fine audiences. Another long ride from Ohio to Staunton yesterday. So let this suffice for now and I'll give you more details later. -TWL

Friday, November 11, 2005

Van-Tastic! 11/10/05

Perrysburg, OH - Whew! Two full days traveling in the van can sure consume more energy that you might think. From Bangor, ME to Perrysburg, OH (just south of Toledo) is 980 miles. I believe that's the longest stretch between two venues that we do this tour. The Elon-to-Shreveport stretch was also two days, but not quite the same distance, I think (35 miles shorter, in fact). From the Maine coastline and mountains of New England, we are now in the flatlands of Ohio. Quite a change of scenery. Once we finish this venue we have one more 8.5 hour trip to get back to Staunton on Sunday.

Group Photo Bangor MaineIt occurs to me that I haven't really said much about life in the vans, so since we just completed a long can trip right now seems ideal. As with most situations where people inhabit space, each of us has by now "marked our territory" and carved out a little section of the van to which we return almost every time. I have laid claim to the rearmost seat in the Passenger van, which holds eight of us. The Cargo van holds four people, almost always Greg, Chris, Tyler and Alyssa. Usually Olivia will be in front of me, with Daniel and Sarah next forward, Carrie and Kevin next, and Andrew, our troupe navigator, in front, and Jessica driving. Now, we do switch drivers often, as no one drives for more than four hours at any one time, so the order changes Kevin Relaxes in the vansomewhat depending on who's driving. But if I am not driving I have that far back bench.

This location in the van has its advantages and disadvantages. The greatest disadvantage is that it is the worst location as far as the ride is concerned. The bumps in the road are felt the worst there,as are the swervings and turns. It is definitely not the place to sit if you are prone to carsickness. You're also always the last one out of the van at any stop, which means things like having to be last in line for the gas station restrooms at the small one-holers. Climbing out from that location means moving backwards and emerging rear-end first, not exactly genteel. The advantage, though, is that it has the most room, and so I can spread out my gear and get work done. My computer will sit on the bench and I can plug in things like my backup hard drive and organize all my photos and videos. That saves me a lot of time in my hotel room. I can also stretch out a bit more than in a regular seat, but it still gets cramped back there like every other place in the van. I can also nap pretty good there if I want, but I hardly ever nap in the van anyway. Lastly, I can see everything in front of me, and in some ways it affords a bit of privacy, such as it is. I can attach the antenna of my XM radio to the top of the roof, snake the cord in through the back window, and listen to my music far away from the music from the front of the van. Chris Behind the WheelOr I listen to my audiobook (right no I have Will in the World going). The rest of the troupe has taken to calling the space "my office," and Olivia acts as my secretary ("hold all my calls please!")

We try as hard as possible to limit any one day to more than 8 hours as long as we have no show that night. We break about every two hours for stretching and bathroom. We try to keep the breaks to under 10 minutes with 30 minutes or so for a lunch break. Usually nobody drives more than two shifts per day. The navigator has the responsibility of attending to the driver's needs and keeping them alert and on course. The driver has control of the radio/iPod, but of course everyone has their own music player, so the music for the driver usually stays up front. We have power converters in the van, so people can use their computers with the power plugged in, as well as charging cell phones and players. The two vans keep in contact via small walkie-talkies.

Rest stops take on a life of their own. You quickly discover how alike all rest stops in the USA are, with the same items for sale over and over and over. The most unique one we stopped at Vermont Rest Stopso far, as far as I was concerned, was in Louisiana, where they sold a weird collection of NASCAR paraphenalia, southern memorabilia, and boiled peanuts. But sometimes it just seems like someone is following us and putting up the same shelves of snacks, the same coolers of drinks, and same containers of coffee every time. Of course, this still doesn't stop me from wandering aimlessly around each and every one, hoping to find something different. Given my low-fat needs, however, about all I can eat are pretzels and V8 juice. I have gotten better at not buying stuff, however, because a lot of the time you buy something not because you're hungry, but because you're bored, and it's there. Less modern rest stops means we have to line up for using the bathroom (no one ever passes by a stop without going), and we use the women's and men's interchangeably - whichever is open and available. It's also important to stretch, and Kevin even went so far as to buy a jump rope and skip rope at stops.

Conversations can be quite interesting. Sometimes the whole van will get involved, other times only benchmates. They range from the philosophical to the political to the social Chatting Awayto the theatrical. Often they are quite funny. People share stories about their past lives, and I think it's in these van trips that we get to know the most about each other. But everyone also has their way of escaping: Daniel has his music, his phone his computer and his coffee; Kevin a book and music; Olivia music mostly; Jessica a book or sleeping; Carie napping or computer work; Sarah writing in her journal; Andrew with music or navigation. And so we pass the time on the magic vans, praying to the van gods daily that we don't break down.

So Tuesday we went from Bangor to Syracuse NY. The gig at Bangor was a bit off-kiltor, shall we say. The space was not too conducive to what we do, and rather than act on the small stage in the room we were in, Bangor SpaceCarie came up with the suggestion of creating a playing space on the floor and turning the audience around, which we did. But the stage left entrance was made from outside the building, and the run around from stage right to stage left was long! It was also hard to hear from outside stage left, and two of my entrances were a little late because I had difficulty hearing my cues while trucks drove by on the road. It was another arrive/loadin/do show/loadout venue, and we, as always, made do. Syracuse is Tyler's home town, so he got to go home to his folks while we all stayed at the motel. Andrew, Sarah and I ordered Chinese delivered from the East Wok, and watched Rome, Bill Maher's Real Time, and The Daily Show before retiring.

The next day, Wednesday, I asked to drive the first shift because I saw all the bad weather coming and I know the NY State Thruway like the back of my hand. Sure enough, we drove through some really heavy weather - thunder, lightning, sheets of rain and high winds attended our journey from Syracuse to Erie PA. The drive was not the most fun I ever had, but I have to admit I was happy to have been behind the wheel through it all. It was pretty odd to pass all my familiar landmarks, and pass right by Dunkirk/Fredonia without stopping. But since Ann Marie is still on Long Island attending to her mother (who seems to be recovering well, thank God), there was no point in stopping. I waved to SUNY Fredonia as we passed it, and everyone in the van got a look and clapped. We had lunch just outside of Erie PA, and then Jessica took over the driving as the weather cleared up. Ohio is Chris Seiler country (a native of Sandusky OH, graduate of Kent State), so in going through Cleveland we saw all the sights there as we passed through: Jacob's Field, Browns Stadium, the "Q" Arena, and the mighty Cuyahoga River. One thing I noticed particularly - the rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike are vastly improved! They really used to be shitholes, but now they are clean, modern, with Wi-Fi access, Starbucks and other chain foods. Very pleasant. A five-star rating from Atomic Fission for Ohio Turnpike rest stops!

Chris' Mom's PlaceOnce we got settled in our motel, a few of us took up Chris' invitation to go to his mom;s home and get a home-cooked meal. It was smashing - lasagna, salad, bread, apple pie. I ate quite a bit, busting the diet up somewhat. Then today we did a workshop at a local high school and a performance of Much Ado at Owens Community College. The theatre at Owens is a traditional proscenium space with all the theatrical amenities, so it's nice to be back in this sort of space after the Maine venues, which were small and cramped.

We are performing here at the same time as the Ohio Shakespeare Conference is having its annual conference. We're doing all three shows, with R3 tomorrow night and Planet on Sat. night. We have not done Planet since Canton, so busting it out will be fun again after we brush up with a music call Sat. PM to shake the rust off. I have a lot of workshops to do, so for now I think I've said enough and will call it a night/early morning. -TWL

Monday, November 07, 2005

Solemnly Interred - 11/07/05

Bangor, ME - This morning I went out for a walk in the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery, and before I forget the experience I thought I'd get it down here before we do R3 tonight and then spend two days traveling.

I had intended this morning to get on the treadmill before we left for the short ride to Bangor, but the stale air in the motel room inspired me to walk outside. Sarah had mentioned to me that there was a veterans cemetery right next to us, so I decided to walk over and around the cemetery grounds.

The entrance was a long driveway bordered on both sides by a small woods and crossing a small grassy stream. As I walked along I could smell that great pine forest smell. The air was a bit damp but crisp, and the sun was beginning to burn off the morning fog.

As I got to the main grounds the cemetery opened up to me. Military cemeteries are unlike civilian ones in that the headstones are not above the ground but at ground level. When you first look around you think there's a lot of open space there until you see the rows of headstones sunk maybe an inch into the grass. The cemetery is located on a small hill, so the paths winding around the grounds were all nice uphills and downhills, with perfectly even asphalt pathways.

I approached the main chapel, and on the way there were many memorial benches lining the roadside. The chapel was a simple, elegant structure, and in fact the entire cemetery had a beautiful elegance and simplicity to it. From the chapel I walked down a path lined by flagpoles leading up to a small circle and a memorial. Off to the side of the chapel was a monument containing what I believe were all the names of the veterans buried there.

It being so close to Veterans Day, my mind became flooded with thoughts of war and peace: the 2,000 dead from the current Iraq war, the dead from the Gulf War I, and particularly the over 58,000 killed in Vietnam. I thought about the fact that in our Much Ado we are celebrating the joy of war's end, but ignoring the loss, pain and trauma that goes along with that end. Our soldiers exhibit joy in finding love but no trauma in having seen death. I've always had trouble with that aspect of the production, but I had managed to keep it aside until it came back this morning.

I've always been a pacifist, having applied for conscientious objector status during Vietnam (I did not receive it because my draft lottery number in 1972 was not called). Every Veterans Day I remember those years, trying hard to do what I could to help end the war and keep people from dying. As I grow older it seems that those deaths haunt me more. I've not only seen how people can die physically, but how they can live physically, but die psychologically. And I always feel helpless and ashamed, not because I did not serve, but because I could not build that world where the need to serve did not exist. Iraq reminds me of that daily.

I left the cemetery and noted in my mind to remember to call the vets I know this Friday and thank them and wish them well. I took a moment to honor the dead, and I walked back through the beautiful morning to my room, packed up, and came to Bangor. I was happy to know that in Maine they have a beautiful place to repose. Honor for the dead; peace for the living. May we see that soon. -TWL

PS - There are new videos and pictures to see. Check the links on the right to go over and view them.