(N.B. - This blog was intended to be an unofficial blog for the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Stage Company Atomic Fission Tour, designed to allow those with an interest in our touring troupe and its personnel an opportunity to keep up with us, our shows, and our travels. With this post, my entries into this particular blog will come to an end. As I move to my new beginnings, whatever I will be writing will now appear on my own website at A Poor Player, and I invite you to join me there if you have an overall interest in theatre. I still have some videos and pictures left to upload, so be sure to check them out by clicking the links on the sidebar for those locations.
I would like to thank everyone who read the blog, posted comments, and offered suggestions. I never thought that I would get this far, and it was the fact that people were actually reading the darn thing that kept me writing. May the four winds blow you all to safe harbors! -TWL)
Dunkirk, NY - When the big moment came, somewhere around midnight last Sunday, I executed Stealth Plan A. I was having a great time at the house party at 605 from the moment I got back there after final strike. I went downstairs to my garden apartment in 607, vacuumed the rug with what has to be the world's worst vacuum cleaner, cleaned the toilet and the sink, mopped the bathroom floor, did some final packing and checking, and then sauntered over to 605's living room. I had a beer and began watching Sunset Boulevard on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Daniel came in with some Kroger's fried chicken, and offer me a piece so as to live once again that great meal of fried chicken and beer. People were gathering both inside the house and outside on the porch. Alvaro came by to say goodbye, as he was going to NYC for his day off from Rez Company work. I had given him most of my frozen food earlier in the morning. Then I went off on a beer run with Rick Blount, MFA, who needed a driver by this time. While getting some PBR, I picked up a steak and some spritzers. Upon arriving back, Bill Gordon came 10 minutes later to check me out of my room. Things were in order, and I turned in my key. Then I went back to 605 and onto the back porch to cook the steak. Matt Sincell gave me some potatoes, and as I cooked and ate the steak I had a chance to chat with all the people that were floating around the house, including Jaq Bessell, who came to wish us well. After consuming the steak, I went out to say goodbye to Alyssa, who was driving through the night to get to her next job in Indiana dancing in Oklahoma. Then it was time to smoke the big old cigar that Andrew had brought me from the cigar store that is below his new apartment in Philly. That took me up to about 10:00 PM, when I joined in the poker game that had begun about 45 minutes earlier. Tyler was losing for a change, so he asked me to come in so he could win my money. As I joined the game there was a big to-do with the aforementioned drunk Rick Blount about playing Omaha (a variant on Texas Hold 'Em), and so he went all-in, lost, and went off to do other things. As has been the rule of thumb, I lost my five dollars, but this time managed to stay in the game until the end. Chris Seiler was doing pretty well, Tyler also lost his stake, but the big winner was Andrew, who won enough money to pay for his gas to get back to Philly and then have a nice dinner with Jamie (OK, maybe not dinner, but at least two Philly cheesesteaks, which neither of them would eat). As usual, I got ripped on throughout the game for being old, hard of hearing, and a loser, but it's all in good fun and it makes me laugh. I sat a bit in the living room after the game, watching the rest of the Dallas-Miami game, then got up, stole out the back door, went down to my room, spread out the sleeping bag, and went to bed. I didn't really say goodbye to anyone, not because I hate goodbyes as such, but because I wanted the whole evening to feel just like any other Sunday night after the matinee finished. Just a regular good time with friends, living this lifestyle of the working actor in a resident company. Then I got up at 6:30 AM Monday morning to a light rain, packed the car, racked the bicycle, closed the door, filled up on coffee at the Daily Grind, and headed west on US 250 out of town. By 6:30 PM, after a trip through the Alleghany Mountains that included no interstates, I was back in my kitchen at home, where Ann Marie and the boys had just settled in for dinner.
The final weekend of shows was amazing. I have to say that I did not expect to see the outpouring of support we had not only from audience members, but from the ASC staff, Resident Company, and especially the volunteer ushers. Many, if not all, of the actors from the rez troupe came to see at least one of our final performances. Jim Warren peeked in from his eagle's perch on the theatre's third floor. Ron Ramsey, the office manager at the Masonic, came for all the shows. The house management staff and their volunteers threw us a reception Friday night after Planet , and Sarah, one of the ushers, had her scrapbook on display. It was a thing of beauty, and she had us sign by our bios. On Friday night after Planet we got called out for a fourth curtain call, something that had never happened before, after playing our encore. All the other shows got standing ovations as well, with three curtain calls. Saturday night was an impromptu gathering at the Pompeii lounge with touring and rez troupe after Much Ado. Cookies, congratulatory notes and emails, a cake - all this accompanied our final weekend. And my family also came down to see the shows over Friday and Saturday as well.
On Friday night we did a pretty good Planet, which as I mentioned above received a fourth curtain call. There were people in the audience who had seen the show four times, as I found out from Thursday's Q&A. I think everyone was pretty stunned by the fourth call; in fact, some people had gone downstairs already, and Alyssa as stage manager was taking makeup off backstage while everyone was wondering what we should do about all the applause which refused to die down. Finally Alyssa gave the go to go back out, and we sort of shuffled out there in no particular order or arrangement. I was just dumbfounded to see the enthusiasm by which we were greeted; I really did not know what to make of it, as I had never been a part of something like this. I just stared out at the scene in what I think must have been a state of awe, that these people out there could get so worked up and excited about this wild and cheesy Makespeare musical. We did Richard III on Saturday afternoon, and again, although the house was the smallest of all our closing shows, the enthusiasm of the audience was no less telling. The Richard/Richmond swordfight at the end received applause, as well as a lusty "Amen" to Richmond's call. It was the first production to "officially" close, but I don't think as a troupe we felt that as much with this show as with the others because we knew we had an evening performance yet to get through.
That night's Much Ado was a strong one to go out on. Even my son Brian got involved. When Benedick goes out into the audience during the gulling scene, he usually makes his way to house right by hiding behind and going through the audience members, and using one of the pillars in the gallery to hide behind. It just so happened that my family was sitting next to the pillar he uses, so of course he crawled all over them on the way to the pillar. The moment came when he hides behind the pillar quickly, and as he did so, Brian got up from his seat and stood next the pillar as well, as if to hide him better. He got a huge laugh and stopped the show for a minute. I turned to Daniel, who was standing next to me on stage, and whispered "Guess who's son that is?" Then, as the moment died down, Daniel had to whisper to me "It's your line," and I had to think fast to remember where we were in the scene, having actually broken character for a moment. And then, after finishing 4.1, which is the intense wedding scene where Claudio rejects Hero and I go berserk on her, I gave a big heartfelt hug to Olivia backstage just to release a year's worth of doing that scene with her. This production had a lot of emotional energy in it, and so when it finally closed, there was much hugging and congratulating in the dressing rooms downstairs.
Sunday's closing of Planet was something of a repeat of Friday's show. There were at least 300 people in the audience, and by the end the scene was rockin' and rollin'. One wild moment which bears noting was when Tyler, as Ariel, drinks off the X-Factor drug towards the end of the play. Usually after doing that, he plays drunk and sort of screws around with any audience members sitting on the stage right stools. But at this performance, Crystal, our wonderful box office/house manager person, was sitting in the first row of the gallery with her new husband. Tyler decides to go down into the well, and when he gets there he literally lifts Crystal up out of her seat and starts to carry her on stage, much to the shock of Crystal (who played along beautifully) and delight of the audience. Of course she was released and went back to her seat, with her husband looking quite amused (good luck to them both when they move to California in July!) Then, instead of playing the encore, I decided to video it, which you can view right here. Perhaps more than anything I could write about it, the video might say it all. I did start singing, so please excuse my loud, obnoxious voice towards the end.
And then, strike. Costumes to the wash or the dry-cleaning rack. Shoes sprayed with Lysol and put away. Props and road boxes back to the third floor storage gallery. Dressing rooms swept, lockers cleaned out, musical instruments put away. Signing of T-shirts for Olivia and Sarah, and then the traditional signing of the underside of the makeup tables in the dressing rooms. Lastly, surrendering the stage door passkey back to Carie, grabbing all your gear, out the door, and on to the next audition/show. A year has come and gone, 365 days have been lived, and I have returned back to where I started.
If there is one quality of theatre I have always loved, it is the fact that theatre is evanescent, meaning that is it created, experienced, and then disappears. You have to be there live, in the moment, to experience it; it has no permanence in and of itself. Every performance is different, and every production ends, not to be experienced again by anyone. When I have done strikes in other theatres (mostly at colleges), I have always volunteered to be one of those people to take the last job there is, that of painting the stage floor black. When it's done, I like to look into that void which is now the empty theatre space, the space where something had happened and now nothing else exists but new possibilities. Doing a theatre strike never meant to me the end of something, but rather the beginning of something, often a "something" about which at that moment I knew nothing. For all of us in Atomic Fission, we have reached that moment, not of ending, but of beginning. Each of us will come away from this experience with our own impressions, our own judgments, our own reflections, our own memories. Each of us will take away to our new beginning something which is the same, and yet something which for each of us is vastly different. For me, I had to acknowledge in my soul this evanescence of theatre by doing the best I could simply to disappear, to be present and then not present, to be that "poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more." -TWL