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.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Maine-ly Speaking - 11/06/05

Augusta, ME - Arriving in Maine has slowed things down a bit, and I think everyone had a good day off today. The passenger van is now back with us, we've done the St. Joseph shows (two matinees of Much Ado and one evening performance of R3), and one MA here in Augusta at the Univ. of ME - Augusta. West Hartford was somewhat tiring itself, and a bit stressful for me, since while there I found out my mother-in-law had been admitted to intensive care with kidney problems. She's doing much better at the moment, and Ann Marie travelled down to Long Island to help out. That was very good news today. So all in all, things at the moment are quite good.

The company split up after the second matinee of MA, with the Acting Shakespeare workshop crew (which includes myself) staying behind to do three workshops while everyone else took off to Maine. My brother Jim from moe. came down for the show, and he enjoyed it (although he got there a little late). We had a nice lunch together before I had to get to my workshops. Unfortunately we did not take a group picture at St. Joe's, probably due to the split. Kevin, Olivia, Chris and I left after the workshops and got to Maine about 8:45 PM, making Friday a long day.

But yesterday we had all day off before the show, and today was a full day off, so I feel pretty rested. The venue here was small and had a teeny tiny backstage and no hallway space behind the stage at all, so for this performance we set up chairs on the stage and sat on stage while the show went on. That was different! Usually in the pre-show we mention how the seats on stage are "the best seats in the house," but tonight "we're taking them for ourselves." Once we settled all the issues about entrances and exits we had a pretty good time watching the show in stage. And the audience was very good and with us every step of the way. Jessica and I did bang-up business at the merchandise table, doing about $394 worth of sales. All in all a good night. We really had some trepidation that it was going to suck, but not so. It was a quickie - load-in, do show, load-out.

With my time off I did some necessary shopping (toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, Ricolas) and some unnecessary shopping at an Eddie Bauer outlet store (fleece vest, cotton shirt, case for my GPS). I tell you, I seem to have done more shopping on this tour that I have ever done in the last five years. The Eddie Bauer stop was probably a mistake, but the prices on all the items was really astounding. I guess it's just that you get tired seeing yourself in the same old clothes day after day, so it's good to get a change. We get per diem here, so I got lunch at a place called Panera's, a bread store that does fancy-ass sandwiches. Too pricey, but good. I almost bought a coffee mug that clips onto a backpack with a caribiner clip, but I resisted. I already have too many things hanging off my backpack. I've also been getting a lot of computer work done here as well, compressing and uploading movies and pictures, and with any luck they will be up tomorrow before I leave here.

With today's full day off Jessica (my roommate here) and I did company laundry (my turn as make-up for missing the week I was gone) and my own. Breakfast was taken in a small diner right in the small strip mall. The place looked promising, as it was packed, but the meal turned out to be mediocre. The coffee was served black, no questions asked (very Midwest). We tried like hell to find a decent coffee shop in Augusta, but I'll give everyone a tip - Augusta is NOT a happening town. The best coffee shop in town is the Dunkin Donuts, where Jessica got an espresso and I got a latte. Don't come to Augusta for the coffee. Got back to the Comfort Inn (it's a nice one!), and did a little more computer work, watched a little football, did 25 minutes on the treadmill, and finally went out to dinner. I went out to Waterville ME, which is about 15 miles north and the home of Colby College, a venue I missed. And I GOT MY LOBSTER!!! I went to dinner with Jessica, and it was the first whole lobster she had ever had, as well as the first time for clams (all that stuff in not kosher). We pretty much made a mess of the table, but the lobster was delicious! I had been really disappointed that I had missed the Bar Harbor stop, since I was going to get a lobster there, so it was great to get that second chance. Then after a phone conversation with Red Shuttleworth, I bought SIn City on the TV and watched it - great flick! I like movies like that - something you can't really do in the theatre. That's what movies are about. Just a slick film. And now this blog entry.

And soon enough this first leg will be over! We do a gig tomorrow night in Bangor, then a two-day road trip to Toledo OH for three shows, then a quick stop in Staunton and finish off the fall leg in VA and MD. I'll be passing right through Dunkirk on the 10th, but probably won't get to stop, so anybody who wants to see me go by, stand out by Fort Apache or on the Brigham Road bridge over the Thruway and wave as I pass by! Look for two grey vans. Then after the fall leg is over I get to go home for Thanksgiving and have my MRI on my liver, and then Christmas Carol. Seems I just got back yesterday.

The day itself was not so good - fog, drizzle, and right now a downpour, but the relaxation has been welcome and refreshing. Leaves are still on the trees, and that in and of itself has made this swing through New England worthwhile. Seeing my daughter, brothers John and Jim, getting some rest - I'm in a pretty damn fine state of mind at the moment. Not leaving until 11 AM tomorrow. So now I'll get another good night's sleep and see you all down the road somewhere. -TWL

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Toil and Trouble - 11/03/05

West Hartford, CT - OK, it's time to 'fess up and come clean. Not every day on tour is a fun day. Yesterday was one of those days. It started out well enough, but the omens of the evening before should have tipped us off.

The show at Framingham State was Much Ado, and it went well enough, but the space itself, while new and totally refurbished according to the troupe vets, was not so hot. We were located in a room in the college's student center which is designed for small lectures and performances, but not really for theatre. The first thing we learn is that we cannot use the "backstage" area (such as it was) because the room contained ductwork and therefore was a health hazard. So there was only one entrance into and out of the space. The green room backstage was designed to hold no more than two people maximum, so we also dressed in the hallway outside. The stage was wrapped with steps, so we had to play some parts of scenes on the stage and some parts of scenes on the floor, removing the first rows of seats. It got me to wondering why a venue would pay the amount of money they do and then place us in this type of space. Hmmmm.....

But as usual, due to our incredible flexibility, we got through the show. It was the one my daughter and her boyfriend came to see, and they enjoyed themselves. It was the first Shakespeare that Gabriel had ever seen, and he loved my little Third Watch kamikaze character. He said he'll never be able to picture me in fatigues again, and that my snorting sounds were just like those when I snore. We went out to a microbrew pub called Johnny Harvard's after the show, and then said goodbye.

Next morning the fat hit the fire. We had a 7:15 AM call for what we knew would be a busy day: drive to Cape Cod, put on our 90-minute Much Ado, and then drive to West Hartford CT. Two members were a bit late for call, but we got rolling soon enough. I was taking the first driving shift, and we were cruising well enough along Route 9, slowly but surely flowing with the traffic. Carie and Jessica had noted how well the passenger van was driving with the addition of some transmission fluid, and I noticed it as well. But all of a sudden I was getting no power from the engine at all. Press on the gas, and nothing. Nada. Zip. I pulled over into a side street, and we discussed the issue. Guessing that it was the transmission, we decided to try to use what little power remained to get to an Aamco station. Try as I might, crawling along the side of the road on Route 9, we did not make it. Pulled into another cul-de-sac and - breakdown.

So we had to call the Aamco station and get towed over there. We waited on the side street for about an hour, as other troupe members went to get breakfast at a nearby Dunkin Donuts (thanks, Kevin, for the use of your network!). Carie rented a minivan, stayed with the passenger van in Framingham, and off we went along with the cargo van, heading for the Cape, hoping to get there on time.

We just barely made the gig at Nasuet Regional High School in Orleans, arriving at about 11:25 for a 12:00 curtain. We loaded everything, changed, and went on. We did a quick Q&A, loaded out, took the graciously offered food, and left. We went to a beach about half a mile from the high school and ate the sandwiches there. Kevin and Sarah, the West Coast dudes, stripped down to their skivvies and went in for the quickest of swims. The water was reported to be pretty cold, but the beach was sunny and beautiful. We grumbled a bit about what a tease it was to be on Cape Cod for only three hours (last year they stayed for a few days! WTF! We wuz robbed!) After about 30 minutes of beach time we loaded up again and drove to West Hartford, making it to St. Joseph's College about 10 minutes before the dining hall closed down. Carie met us there, having rented a car to get to W. Hartford because the passenger van's catalytic converter had died and it wouldn't be ready until probably Friday. I dropped down onto my bed about 10PM and crashed.

We got up this morning for our 10 AM performance of Much Ado (it seems to be the only show we're doing this week. We have a Richard III this evening). One of my brothers came down from MA to see this show, and another one is coming down tomorrow morning (if he gets up,that is). Nice to have family come check out your work. But I was still pretty tired, so rather than go back to the motel I crashed in the green room, and here I am writing this entry. The Carol Ortolino Center here at St. Joseph's (which is an all-female college) is pretty nice; a very typical theatre space and backstage.

So yesterday was one of those days you'd just rather pack it all in and go home. We kid ourselves every so often by saying we are a cursed troupe, what with broken toes and torn ligaments and chickenpox and liver ailments and broken-down vans, but sometimes you just have to wonder. Keeping it together when all these little trials and tribulations come up can be challenging and vexing. I have to say that this troupe, in spite of all that seems to tweak at us and try our collective souls, has a resiliency which is just this short of miraculous. Perhaps all these little things make us a bit stronger as we go along. Generally speaking, we retain our humor and keep everything in some perspective. Once in awhile nerves get frayed and people sort of lose it one way or another, but apologies are made and accepted, energy is renewed, and we continue on. I sure wish I could get theatre students at Fredonia or anywhere for that matter to witness on a daily basis how this collection of actors lives and works. I'm pretty proud of them and proud to be part of the troupe, as much because of the grace and patience they have shown under fire and under straining circumstances as their talent and their work on stage. They rock! -TWL