Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Old Kentucky Home - 9/27/05

Murray, KY - I probably should not be blogging this time of night, since I have an 8:00 AM call tomorrow for Much Ado, but I haven't really put up a post since we bugged out of Shreveport. So I'll try to catch everyone up and do it succinctly.

First off, I should thank all the kind people in Shreveport who put us up and got us out: Patty, Steve and Heather (Heather Peak is a former S2 member herself, and her opening of Lysistrata got canceled as well). Also, a big thanks to all the M.Litt students at Mary Baldwin College, and especially Centenary graduate and Shreveport native Mary Beth, who was trying to hook us up with some of her people before we finally decided to bug out. Glad you're thinking of us.

Turns out that the eye of Hurricane Rita did go right over Shreveport, and there was some damage as well, but overall the city escaped real major damage. Based on what I read in the Shreveport Times online, we were in an area of the city that did lose electricity and had much tree damage.

The trip from Shreveport took us through LA, AR, some small part of TN and KY. Murray is located in the very southwest corner of Kentucky, and the county in which Murray resides is a dry county. Did not see much during the trip, but did pass through a mighty poor section of rural Arkansas. We also went through Hope, AR, birthplace of Bill Clinton, but we took the bypass rather than go directly through downtown due to time.

The weekend was actually quite boring. Apparently Murray State University practically shuts down over the weekends. There is a large commuter population and that seems to bring things to a screeching halt. A few of us wanted to take a road trip to Nashville, which is only about two hours from here, but all the car rental places closed at noon on Saturday, and none of us were really functioning until after 1:00 PM. So basically I sat in the Faculty Club for two days puttering around. I did go to Penny's and bought some new luggage, as the strap on my equipment bag broke off and trying to drag around my stuff at one in the morning was a nightmare. Sunday I also sat around, accomplished a little bit of work, and watched football and listened to the Yankee broadcast. Pretty much wasting time. I did walk to Applebee's and got a steak dinner. Highlight of the day.

Monday I got checked into the Best Western, and then we loaded in our stuff. Carie and I had a talk about Scrooge for Christmas Carol preparation, and that was about it. I was so tired Monday night that I fell asleep at 9 PM. The bed at the Faculty Club was small and none too swift. I also had a bit of a stomach ache most of the day Monday, not really sure why.

Today we did a matinee of Richard III and the mostly high school crowd was respectful, not quite as rowdy as the Centenary matinee crowd. They did participate in the parapet scene, and that was fun. But they got there late and the pre-show was lost while they all found seats. The show went well enough; Carie did not give a full report after curtain and I got no notes. But we did sell our first Shakespeare Action Figure - complete with removable quill pen!

Our contact person here, Warren, is a great guy. I basically just returned from a reception he threw at the Faculty Club, and he really enjoys having us here. He's a professor in the English department, continuing the pattern of us meeting English people and not theatre people. Tomorrow we do a matinee of Much Ado and an evening performance of Planet.

And that's been it. I've been doing some thinking about life on the road, and it's funny how already I seem unable at times to remember where I am. I went to Wal-Mart today and completely lost track of the fact that I was in Kentucky until I heard the accents again. It is actually quite difficult anymore to get that feeling of being in a different place. We do travel through the landscape, but by the time we settle into the next stop it looks much like the last stop - motel, Mickey D, Burger King, Wal-Mart, etc. Shreveport did have a certain uniqueness to it, but unfortunately we left before we would have had that day off there. I wanted some crawdads pretty bad!

But I will save those ruminations for another time. I filled up the trip to Murray by working on videos and burning a backup CD. Soon I will have all my movies converted and ready for the movie page for all of you. Check out the snake adventure when it's ready - great fun. I have some of George and the troupe jamming as well. On the way to Ohio I think I'll try to crank out a more meditative piece and see if I can get away from all this reportage. A bientot.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bugging Out - 9/24/05

Murray, KY - This will be a quick update to let everyone know that the troupe is safe and sound. We arrived in Murray KY about midnight CDT (early this morning or late last night, depending on your point of view). We are housed in three separate locations; some in a motel, some in the convention center on the campus of Murray State College, and myself and Carie in the Faculty Club house. There's a washer/dryer here, and I'm doing my laundry for the first time since leaving Staunton - yeah! We bugged out of Shreveport at about 2:45 yesterday afternoon, and drove the 8 or so hours to get up here. It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes to totally pack up the troupe from two locations: the theatre on campus and our residence. Latest reports I've seen indicated Shreveport has already had about 2.5" of rain since midnight last night with more expected through the day, and if I'm reading the weather maps right on TV, what's left of Rita's eye may pass right over Shreveport. It was smart to get out, but of course the element of excitement in trying to ride out a storm and be in the middle of the whole event would have been more interesting.

Carie gave us today off as well as tomorrow, as I think the stress of getting everything together and out took its toll on everyone. By Monday morning we will go back to the motel, but in the meantime everyone is sort of on their own to get life's little tasks accomplished. I am about to go out and forage for some food. The Faculty Club is a little removed from the campus, and I don't have a map or anything. I will try to post a bit more maybe later or sometime tomorrow.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Lovely Rita - 9/23/05

For those of you immediately concerned with the question of whether or not we are in Rita's path, the answer at this writing is "yes." We are not in the direct path, but as you might see from the NOAA picture above, we are fairly close to it. We are about 19 miles from the TX/LA border in NW Louisiana, and given the current path of the storm, it appears we will be within the 60-mile band of the hurricane's eye. Most likely we will have to endure tropical storm winds at the least. In addition, predictions are calling for between 4-8 inches of rain, and the storm is supposed to stall as it makes land and moves up into our area. Saturday and Sunday look to be the worst, and at this point we are simply waiting to see what will happen. All this could change dramatically, of course, and perhaps we won't be as hard hit as some areas, but it appears we will not escape unscathed. So if you see no current posts over the next few days, you'll know why. We have no internet access in the house, so it could be a few days before I can update this again.

As for the shows so far, I can say that we are being well-received here at Centenary. The opening performance of Planet proved to be something else. By the end of the show we had students up on the stage dancing along with the encore. But interestingly enough, the audience seemed bifurcated. People who "got it" were enjoying the show, but there were not a few people who seemd to be totally confused. I noticed one guy sitting with a blank stare on his face almost the entire show. There was a group of theatre students, however, who apparently had either just read MacBeth or simply got all the references and were just howling. Same thing occured last night during Planet, which for me was not a particularly good performance. I was really disappointed in my performance and just went home and sulked a bit, angry with myself. Just a matter of precision and execution, as well as feeling as if I couldn't get a breath and my voice was just going to die. Perhaps the humidity in the room is affecting my ability to get a breath and I'm not adjusting quickly enough. All I know is I have to focus more and cut down on the stupid mistakes, like fumbling over words and jumping cue lines for underscoring. Very disturbing from a personal point of view. I'm sure the audience enjoyed it, but I know I was nowhere near up to my own standards.

As for Richard III and Much Ado, we did the former for a high school audience and the latter as an evening show. Now here's an interesting issue: are high school audiences the equivalent of Elizabethan audiences? Most actors I know hate to do high school matinees because they believe high school audiences do not know how to behave in the theatre; i.e. they do not "sit down, shut up and listen." I know high school audiences are hard, but until working with ASC techniques I would just move through the performances as best I could. I believe we have to so these types of shows in order to guarantee an audience for the future, and because we never know who just might be having that one experience which will stay with them and make them a theatregoer or artist. But in this situation, the R3 high school audience was indeed alive and rowdy, but the "audience interaction" aspect of original practices gives us as actors the freedom we need to respond to this situation. It's absolutely great to be able to take these responses right into the show, and the kids loved it. They were right there during the Lady Ann/Richard wooing scene, during the parapet scene where Richard and Buckingham work the crowd (they became a great crowd, cheering for Richard), and especially during the final fight, where they were cheering Richmond on to defeat Richard and really reacted to his ultimate demise. I think no other type of audience puts you in the "Elizabethan atmosphere" more than today's high school students, and playing Shakespeare in this interactive fashion is a remarkable experience. It harnesses the energy high schoolers naturally bring to a show, and moves it in a positive and involved direction rather than trying to control it in a typical "behave yourself" fashion. Rowdy, raucous and involved - makes it great fun for all, and certainly a new frame of reference for me.

Much Ado went very well, I think, and I was pleased with that performance. We cut off some time (even in Planet) which means we're trying to stay tight. Audience response was good, but a bit more muted than we're used to . It's interesting how I've begun to gage audience reaction as some sort of measure of success. Since I can always see and hear and intereact with the audience I have been paying more attention to audience response. It's so much easier to gage it, even when I've worked in small theatres where you can see the audience via light spill. Something tells me that I'll have to watch this tendency, because I don't believe it's good practice to judge the value of your performance solely by audience reaction; see Hamlet's advice to the players about audience reaction. :-)

I have managed to put a few more videos up on my video website. Try this link to see what you might be able to pick up. I am trying to convert everything to smaller files, and prefer the H.254 compression available in Quicktime. Some are in MPEG4 format, which requires downloading the file and not playing it within the browser. But in some way or another you should be able to view the videos. I convert a few each day, and upload them via the internet connection at Java Junction (whose proprietors have been very kind to the troupe). One of the baristas came to see Planet last night and enjoyed herself (despite my terrible performance).

Bulletin - Jessica came in and I've just found out that Centenary College is closing for the weekend and all the rest of our performances have been cancelled. The college is closing for the weekend to let students in. I don't know at this writing what we're going to do, whether pack up and go or ride it out, but I do know I've got to grab lunch and find out and sign off. Wish us the best! -TWL

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Hades Factor - 9/20/05

Shreveport, LA - My God, it's HOT here (and in the van, which is not air conditioned)! Heat indexes for today are predicted to be 105 degrees. And remember, those indexes are measured in the shade! Today we load in the shows at 12 noon (in about 30 minutes, so this will be brief), and then begin our series of performances here at Centenary College. It's supposed to be like this all week, and I checked the weather conditions only to find that we are in the potential path of Hurricane Rita by the weekend. My Northeast conditioning is longing for those 70 degree days back home.

The drive to Shreveport on Sunday was long and hot as well. We went from Birmingham through the western end of Alabama, across Mississippi and into Louisiana. Shreveport is about 20 miles from the Texas border. Sights of interest included the Mississippi River (of course), cotton fields, wetlands and bayous. Of particular note was our gas stop in Meridian, MS, where we saw some of the damage brought about by Katrina. The damage in this area was nowhere near as extensive as that in New Orleans, but there were many buildings with clear damage as well as a number of downed trees along the interstate. There were also two disaster caravans which we passed along the way as well, consisting of power generators and mobile homes.

When we arrived in Shrevesport we pulled into the house set up for us by our hosts, members of the English faculty. As previously mentioned, Shreveport has taken in about 10,000 evacuees, and no motel rooms are available. The house was bought by the college from a retired professor, and is without a stick of furniture save for the dozen beds brought in for sleeping and two dorm-style couches. Another kind soul brought in three camp chairs as well. It's serviceable, and everyone in the troupe is understanding of the situation, even as they wish for a few more small amenities. I did spring for a coffee maker and stuff to make morning coffee, and that's been a great help.

I will publish this small amount now, but will expand later. I hate to miss call, and the van should be arriving in a few minutes. More later. -TWL

Later the same day - Just got out of a workshop with a group of freshman taking an basic English class, teaching them something about Shakespeare's language. A bit dull, I think. Everything always depends on how active the students are, and these are kids barely out of high school.

Anyway, the evening we got into Shreveport we had a very nice dinner. George, who is from Jamaica, made a terrific meal of jerk chicken, dahl, a rice dish whose name I can't remember, wok-fried vegetables and potatoes. Very delicious. Then I found out he played the steel drum, so we convinced him to break it out and jam with us. That was quite fun as well, sitting in an almost empty living room and jamming on simple progressions. I also got in Sloop John B because that's a great steel drum tune. So it wasn't a bad first night.

Monday was a day off, since I had no workshops to do, so I wandered a bit around campus. Centenary College is a small United Methodist college of about 900 students set in about a two-block area. Small but intimate. The English faculty have been very gracious to us all, and as far as I have been able to tell every show is about sold out. Shenandoah Shakespeare has been coming here for 15 of its 18 years of existence, and the faculty here are quite familiar with founder Ralph and Jim. There's even a member of the faculty, Heather, who is a 3-year veteran of SSE herself. I'm writing this from the Java Junction, a small coffee shop across from the college, and people walking in have been welcoming us to town. We seem to be considered a big event, and tickets are hard to get. Not too shabby.

The space we're working in, however, is not the campus theatre. It's an auditorium in the Religious Studies building which has a small stage extended by platforms. It's actually a small but intimate space, rather like a large lecture hall. But the platform situation is such that Tyler cannot skate as Ariel, which of course is a disappointment. I'm sure he'll just as good, but he felt he'd be concentrating more on skating than performing if he stayed on the skates, so he abandoned the skates. We have two shows on Wednesday and Saturday, but I won't have to push my voice too hard in this space.

Last night we were guests for a reception featuring a port/sherry tasting, English cheeses and desserts. We had a welcoming speech and then we performed about three minutes from each play. A very dressy affair. I often volunteer to be the designated driver when we go to a drinking situation, and I did so here, even though I knew I was going to miss all the port tasting. But by the end of the evening not all of the ports and sherries were finished, so the bartender gave us the unfinished bottles to take back home, and Andrew graciously walked me through the tasting when we got back.

I am also getting my first taste of communal living, since all 12 of us are packed into this house. I'm bunked with Chris and Kevin, the other four guys are in another room, and the women are all together in one final bedroom. Each room has its own bathroom. It really isn't too bad. I bought earplugs for my roommates so my snoring doesn't keep them up, and they did not refuse my offer. The living room has turned into the jamming room, with all the instruments laid about for random music making. I try to get to sleep before midnight, and have had no trouble falling asleep. With my DVDs of the first season of Deadwood and a good book I'm all set. But there is no internet in the house (not even a phone line to set up a dialup connection), so there's really no reason to stay at home. This coffee shop is just a wonderful place to sit.

I'll send out a report of our first three shows after tomorrow. In the meantime, I want to say hello to the M.Litt/MFA students at Mary Baldwin College, who apparently have located this blog and are even reading it!! A particular hello and thanks to Mary Beth, who's a Centenary alumna and who's been sending nice comments to me. She told me we'd get a good welcome her, and she was right. In fact, the title of this particular entry comes from her last comment. If you people at MBC want me to write about any particular aspect of the tour that I might be missing, send a comment and I'll be glad to include it in upcoming posts.

And finally, I know I've been lax in vodcasts, and I have no idea if I'll be able to get another out. What I can do, however, is put up some raw footage of videos I've taken. There is one that Olivia took Sunday as I removed a snake from the ladies' bathroom. Others are the jam sessions with George and some video I shot from the van while on the road. If I get those up in the next few days I'll provide a link. In the meantime, if you use Windows, take some time and download the new iTunes 5.0 and Quicktime and install it. It will help show the videos which I'm compressing with the new H.254 codec Apple uses for DV - gets files much smaller with not so much loss of quality. If you install these items you should be able to play the videos with the Quicktime plug-in for IE and/or Firefox. Stay well! -TWL

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Long Haul - 9/17/05

Birmingham, AL - We had a particularly long haul today in some hot weather. There's very little hotter than the back seat of an 11-passenger club wagon, let me tell you! The cargo van has AC but the passenger van does not. I sat all the way in the back today partly to spell my colleagues but also because there's a bit more room to spread out. I installed the power converter today as well, so keeping my Powerbook charged up the whole ride was a great convenience. Nothing like using a $2K+ machine to play a little solitare. In fairness, I did do a bit of writing as well.

The day did not start off well, however, as Kevin forgot to release the emergency brake on the cargo van. After about 20 minutes of driving, smoke started coming out of the right rear wheelwell, and you could smell the burning brakes. So we stopped at a gas station and they looked into it. No major damage, because the brake pads were practically new, and the emergency cable hadn't been re-installed right anyway. But it did set us back about 2 hours.

The route took us from North Carolina down I-85 through South Carolina and into Georgia. We drove through downtown Atlanta, and are now in a Comfort Inn in Birmingham. This is my first time ever in the state of Alabama. Although I've seen it before, I still marvel at the kudzu which shrouds many of the bushes and trees down here. It casts a very ghostly pall, sort of just presenting the outline of trees and shrubs, as if a green blanket had been laid atop everything. Very eerie in a way.

Sights of interest today included the Appalachian foothills in Georgia, a water tower in the shape of a giant peach in South Carolina (almost rude in its phallic undertones), the Talladega SuperSpeedway, and part of the Talladega National Forest. One of our rest stops was a Dairy Queen in Estoadota AL, within a stone's throw of the speedway, and which was a tribute to everything NASCAR. All sorts of racing souvenirs, T-shirts and caps were there for the asking. Not only that, but genuine Stuckey's peanut brittle, peanut log roll and assorted Stuckey's peanuts (milk chocolate, praline, etc.) were on sale. The piece de resistance were some boiled peanuts. Kevin had never seen boiled peanuts, and made no effort to hide his displeasure when introduced to the sight and smell of them. Both varieties, Cajun and original, were merrily boiling away.

The evening was topped off with some very, very good Bar-B-Q at Nick's across from the Comfort Inn. I pigged out (pun intended) on some baby back ribs and pulled pork with Mac the Cheese and Cole Slaw. And they had a wonderfully nutty local brown ale from Atlanta called Sweet Georgia Brown that become a bit hit at the table. I have breakfast and lunch in the doggy bag for tomorrow.

Shreveport is going to be a bit tricky. The house we've been given is a three-bedroom house, which means we'll be four to a room. The motels apparently are full up with evacuees from New Orleans, so we're lucky to have any bed at all. But the weather looks to be positively unbearable - heat indexes of 100-105 degrees are forcast for tomorrow, and the entire week is supposed to be in the high 90s. I did not pack any shorts except excercise/bedroom shorts, but I do believe I'll have them on in the van tomorrow. It was so hot today that I had to take off my shirt to stay cool. Tomorrow doesn't sound like fun. Hopefully I'll be able to stay cool in Shreveport. I only have a few workshops to do, and none on Monday, so I'll be searching for some air conditioning for sure.

For some reason I have been unable to upload pictures the past two days to the Blogspot site. Don't know why not. In the meantime, remember to check out new pictures at http://photos.yahoo.com/twloughlin. I've started a new album for photos of the fall touring leg. Hope you enjoy them! -TWL

Friday, September 16, 2005

On the Road - For Real! 9/16/05

Elon, NC - Tonight I get the opportunity to give you a full report from our first tour stop, Elon University in Elon NC. And let me tell you something: it's a crash course! Despite whatever anyone tells you about touring before you go, nothing really prepares you for it until you've jumped right into the deep water.

We are holed up in the Country Inn Suites in Burlington, NC, just outside the town of Elon. It's Friday night, I've got the Yankees-Blue Jays game on XM Radio, a makeshift screwdriver to drink, and my trusty Powerbook for blogging. The gig is essentially done, and tonight people are either crashing or doing a small bit of partying. One hardy group decided to go to Greensboro NC to catch the NC Shakespeare Festival do Julius Caesar because a former ShenShakes tour member is in that company. Everything went pretty well, but not perfect. Overall, though, a good first stop.

We came into Elon Tuesday night and just got ourselves organized for the workshops. Got a little rest, and then Wednesday during the day we did some workshops. I attended the "Shakespeare on Your Feet" workshop, which I will be doing at our next stop (Shreveport LA), just to see how it went over. It was a class in Intro to the Arts, and about a third of the class consisted of athletes, notably football players (Elon is D1AA). It all seemed to go well. One of the players even got into the whole spirit by making an entrance from the "basement," bending down and then walking up. Quite funny.

We've been eating in the dining hall, and the food has been pretty good. I am trying to be good and eat carefully, not taking to much, having a lot of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding all the fried foods. But Daniel of course convinced me to have some fried chicken and biscuits for lunch; one wing and one biscuit. Sort of in memory when he came back from his chickenpox bout. We get recognized in the dining halls and congratulated, and even had one mini-autograph session. A young Filipino girl wanted all our autographs and even had her picture taken with Jessica and I while selling the merchandise. She said she had hung her signed program on her wall. A little much, I think, but she was quite genuine in her admiration.

The shows themselves were not all that much to write home about. We added time to both shows, and I think we spent some of the time we were doing Much Ado just trying to find our way in the space. It's funny; I think we became used to the Blackfriars, and moving to a standard proscenium threw us a little. It made our intentions a bit weaker and we sort of had to feel our way vocally around the space. But the audience reaction was strong and enjoyable; they were into the show. As for Richard III, I think we were more comfortable playing in the space, but the audience was a tad harder to read for me. Yet from certain reactions I could tell they went along with us the whole ride. They clapped and applauded during the "Richard on the parapet" scene, and they said "Amen" at the end of the play when Richmond calls to them. There were some walkouts during the show, but admittedly it's a hard show to follow if your knowledge of English history is somewhat limited. But they were few and far between, so no big bother. However, we can do better than we did on this first try out, and I know we will once we settle into the new reality of being on the road and moving from space to space.

I tell you what - trying to keep everything straight in terms of what you have to set up and prepare can really be difficult. Since we are the tech crew as well as the actors, you have to think about a lot more than just getting ready for the play. Setting your instruments, setting your props, setting the location of your quick changes, and keeping it all straight takes some focus. On top of that, Jessica and I have to make sure before every show that the merchandise bin is set up, organized and ready to go within 30 seconds of the final bow. Then there is music call, fight call, and making sure your costumes get into the right garment bag. Ironing clothes might be necessary before the show. So I have purchased a set of index cards, and on the trip to Birmingham tomorrow I will probably write a set of checklist cards for each show so I know what I have to do every time. I also have to remember to bring shaving tools, a toothbrush, and my camera for historical reasons. It's a lot to keep in this old, tiring brain of mine. I'm struggling as it is to keep the lines in there!

(Yankees win 11-10, a game they were winning 11-3 after four innings. Yikes!)

I am also pleased to report that so far my enery is holding up well. I do, of course, make it a point to get to bed early. My roommate this stop is Tyler, and he's capable of keeping somewhat later hours than I. But he did have to get up at 7:15 the first day to do a workshop. I've been on the motel's treadmill twice, but I really dislike that dizzying feeling you get when you're done. But 20 minutes each time at varying speeds from 3-4 MPH and 3% inclines is good. But I do miss my bicycle. Too bad I could'nt get them to put it on the back of one of the vans. And my voice feels good. I can sense a bit of strain immediately after a show, but it bounces right back the next day. Today we did a rehearsal of the music for Planet, and I kept it light. It's the discipline that's important - I can't afford to surrender too much. I think I ate too much tonight for the first time - should have stopped with the broiled fish and not gone to the carved beef.

I've also been trying to keep as low a profile as I can, because I have to admit that I feel, at least right at the moment, a little self-conscious about my age. We sit and eat in the dining hall, and here are all these young actors sitting and eating and this one middle-aged guy sitting with them. While in Staunton it wasn't an issue for me, because I worked right alongside them and it was all about the work, and then I'd go "home." But here I'm more of a presence, and when you're on a college campus full of young students to begin with, it's a sort of strange feeling. My colleagues, of course, treat me exactly as one of them, no quarter. Today I was treated to two of them doing their impressions of me in the dining hall - quite funny! They've identified me as a techno-freak, and occasionally razz me about being a "walking encyclopedia." But you still notice that you're the only person your age walking about. I'm really pretty used to being around college students all the time, but I figure that sooner or later I'll have to find some company my age, otherwise I'll end up forgetting how to act around adults. I mean, I was riding to dinner tonight sitting in the back seat of the passenger van, and I had an overwhelming urge to moon the cargo van behind me! I didn't, but still, I really wanted to!

Well, I think I'll call it a night. I have to get up and pack tomorrow and get headed out for a long road trip. No shows until Tuesday, and the veterans tell us all that Centenary College absolutely loves this company. In fact, every year at Centenary they focus college-wide on a film and a book. This year the film was Forbidden Planet and the "book" was The Tempest. They are ready for us - we do five shows there. Should be a blast! Til next time....-TWL

Monday, September 12, 2005

Endless Summer - 9/12/05

I'm about 12 hours away from getting on the road and heading out for the Fall Leg of our tour. My rooms are cleared out, my "tiny travel suitcase" is packed, my lapbag is set to go (if you want to imagine how much is in my TTS, imagine having to live for three months over two seasons in your carry-on luggage piece). We pack the vans and take off tomorrow ETD 12:30 PM. I just got in from a farewell party thrown for us by the members of the Resident Troupe, a wonderful back porch BBQ over at the Actor's House. Drinks were had, laughs were shared, goodbyes were said. We will see the rez troupe again in November for a big Thanksgiving feast before they go on vacation.

We've been quite busy over the past week. As already mentioned, we played our three shows to invited audiences over the past week, and the reception from our audiences was very gratifying. Planet will be a big hit; the audience of college students really enjoyed the rock and roll as much as the Veritas winery baby-boomers. Much Ado produced much laughter as well as high drama. R3 has many powerful moments as well as Andrew's unique take on Richard. We did the pay-what-you-will for two shows and made $775 for the Red Cross. We also worked on the 90-minute version of Much Ado as well as polishing off all our workshops. So I think we're all set to go.

This whole experience has been something like an endless summer. While the evenings are becoming cool, the days are still in the mid-to-high 80s, but with far less humidity than the summer. I'm still getting up and going to the theatre every day, which continues to give me that summer theatre feeling. It's just such indescribable fun! I walk into the rehearsal room early, and as often as not someone is playing an instrument. It's really something when each person who walks into the room picks up another instrument and joins in, wordlessly. By the time we get to the call time, there are six or seven people just creating a relaxed jam session; guitar, bass, cello, percussion, trumpet, anything available. This beats working by a long shot! We even have a troupe fantasy football league going - I know nothing about fantasy football (but a lot about fantasy baseball), but it's fun just to join in and play. I love being one of the kids and just playing!

As we prepare to take off tomorrow, every sort of emotion is going through me. I am excited, nervous, eager, reluctant. Another adjustment to make just as I've become settled into the routine at the playhouse. New challenges to face just as I've survived the ones I faced in June when I first showed up. Now I get the opportunity to see if my ideal of what touring is about is anything like the reality (probably not, but WTF). The best part will be getting a bunch of new stories to tell. God knows my collection of stories was becoming stale. I know this is somewhat vague, but I think my thoughts about getting on tour will become more shaped as I get travelling. Right now it's all anticipation. As I get on the road I'm sure I will be more able to articulate what it's like to be out there. My biggest fear - not getting enough exercise and gaining weight from bad road food. Everyone who has tour experience says I will lose weight, but I am afraid too much sitting and not enough moving about will take its toll. But when you have to lug everything in and out of the theatre yourself, as well as do the shows, perhaps this isn't as realistic a fear as I think. Keep me moving!

Last sad note - in a previous post I noted that Ellen Opiela was under hospice care. She passed away last week. Her contribution to Buffalo theatre was great. She will be sorely and sadly missed. They don't make them much like her anymore. May her muse continue to shine on and inspire us all. -TWL

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hustle and Bustle - 9/06/05

It's been quite a busy time over the past six days. We are precisely one week away from taking off on the road with the first stop at Elon University in Elon, NC. We've spent most of this past week preparing our shows, polishing them off, and getting all our gear in shape. We've done one packing drill, and did one special preview performance at the Veritas Winery in Afton VA, right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 20 minutes east of Staunton. More on that in a minute.

Before I go further into the company's week, I do want to mention that tonight we did a "pay what you will" performance of Forbidden Planet as a benefit for Hurricane Katrina relief victims. This, of course, is something performers can do - benefit performances to raise money. I did not get the final dollar amount before I left the theatre tonight, but we had a house of about 150 or so, and hopefully they all gave a bit of money. While our own effort here is small, I would hope that this idea might catch on throughout the theatre world. Perhaps something like every theatre in the nation dedicating the box office receipts of one specific night to hurrican relief efforts would make a more telling dent in what's needed. If you're reading this and you're in a position to move an idea like that along, why not give it a try?

OK a few more details about our week. We have technically completed the rehearsal period for every show. With R3 now up on the boards and having "opened" last night, we are pretty much set to leave. Everyone is bustling about doing their other company jobs, and we need to get our workshops in order before we take off. It's amazing that we can pack everything into our one cargo van. Credit for that goes to master packer Greg, who's almost as good as my wife in seeing space and packing accordingly. We were afraid we'd have to take a trailer along with us on tour, and no one really wanted to do that, so great sighs of relief were breathed when everything fit. This Mon-Wed we are doing each of the shows to invited audienced from Mary Baldwin College; R3 was yesterday, Planet today and Much Ado tomorrow night.

I will tell you one thing, Forbidden Planet will be a crowd-pleasing show-stopper. We took the show to the Veritas Winery, which was mainly a crowd of 50-60-year-olds who had come for this special wine-tasting event. They were a little juiced up before we even got on stage, but once we started to rock-and-roll they really got loose. Of course, the songs in the show are all 1950s R&R songs that these people knew from their teen-age days (like me!) and they dug it all. One white-haired woman reached out and grabbed Tyler's butt during his rendition of "Who's Sorry Now," and I got one women to get up and dance with me during the finale of "Monster Mash". It's hard to describe the evening in words, but all these well-off wine tasters just loved the event. Good contacts and good publicity were gained by the theatre, so the event had to be deemed a success. Tonight, sort of the opposite - not in terms of reaction, but in terms of age. We had college-age kids swinging and swaying in their seats to the same tunes. Fun to watch - especially when you have the freedon of audience contact to get involved with them.

I'll mention one final thing before I close for tonight, and that's the noticeable ease with which the final dress and opening went for R3. Because there was no "tech" rehearsals to get through, it seemed as if one day we could rehearse in street clothes, and the next day get in costumes and do a final dress. All the jobs amongst the troupe members are so clear and evenly divided that shit just gets done, man. I hardly had the feeling at all that we had ever "dress rehearsed." Probably my technical friends will go nuts when I say this, but the lack of complicated tech rehearsals simply means the shows get up on their feet and go so much more smoothly. Our costumes for R3 are simple doublets, capes and sashes with grey pants and grey shirts as the base. It all seems so easy and seemless. Food for thought.

That's about it for this post. I seemed to have a lot more to say but being busy and getting ready for getting on the road has gotten me less introspective. Besides, Ann Marie is in for a visit for a week before I take off. So forgiveness, please, if all this seems like chatty noise. It's been that kind of a week. -TWL

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Perspective - 9/1/05

Last night I arrived home pretty tired. We did a run of R3 and I was released about 5:15 or so. When I got to my rooms I propped up a few pillows on the bed and decided to watch television, something I don't ordinarily do. Over the past two days most of the company members and myself had been following the news about Hurricane Katrina via the internet, but not on television. So I wanted to watch some of the CNN and network coverage.

After two hours of viewing TV coverage, I came away not only feeling completely helpless, but completely useless. It was somewhat the same experience I had watching TV coverage of the tsunami disaster and the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi war. Useless in the sense that I realized I had no particular specialized skills or training that would be of any benefit to any of those people as they faced the disaster in front of them. I don't doubt that simple tasks like fetching and carrying wouldn't be useful, but I lack anything that would make a difference, from carpentry to medical skills.

These are the times and the moments when I am forced to question what it is I do for a living. I can scan a line of Shakespeare with ease. I can project my voice to the point where it's actually too loud to listen to. I can do numerous foreign accents. I can create believeable and sympathetic characters onstage. But of what use are these skills to someone who's just lost her home, two of her family members, everything she's owned, and has nothing to eat, drink or take to keep her diabetes under control? I doubt a few well-chosen quotes from the bard would be of much use.

How are we going to define the purpose of the art of theatre in the modern world? I think that's a question too few of use who do theatre ask these days. How does what we do influence the mood and thought of society at large? Are we creating a theatre which questions, probes and challenges societal values? And if we are, are we only preaching to the choir? Are our audiences the people we need to reach, or only the "safe" people who already share our values? Is theatre today an artistic ghetto, or an art form which can speak to the people who face hardship and tragedy? This is a conversation that few of us have, or perhaps even want to face. But we have to have it, and soon.

Even as I write these words, I check my email to find that one of Buffalo's most dedicated theatre artists, Ellen Opiela, the former Artistic Director of Pandora's Box Theatre, is under hospice care. Ellen is a graduate of SUNY Fredonia, BA Theatre Arts '84. I've never had the pleasure of working with Ellen, but her reputation as an artist deeply engaged in women's issues goes before her. You won't find Ellen's star on any walk of fame; only if you look to the heavens will you find her star shining brightly. She's the kind of theatre artist we need more of, one who gave her talents, her life and her career towards creating an art form which went beyond mere entertainment. Maybe someday more of us will have the courage to follow the path that Ellen has blazed for us. -TWL