An informal archive and journal of the people and events surrounding the World Premiere Production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, produced by Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company (UK). Written by Canadian actress, Kate Hennig from Stratford upon Avon, during the summer of 2007.
The Penelopiad Blog
Friday, May 25, 2007
Casting is announced
After months of waiting we can finally talk about it! Yippee. I mean, of course we’ve all been talking about it with friends and family, and most of the people in “the business” are fully aware of the seven lucky actors who won the lottery, but now it’s out there in the national media! We’re contracted! We can blab! And there are names I didn’t know about: Djanet Sears, playwright extraordinaire who I went to York University with in 1981! (we were 12) and Veronica Tennant, who directed me in a short film at Banff in 1999. Well, I knew about Veronica, but was told in no uncertain terms to keep my mouth shut about that one. I’m thrilled about it. I’m being choreographed by an icon of the ballet world. Should I bring my tap shoes?
Packing. Now that’s all I’m thinking about. Two weeks today and we’re leaving. Getting the house ready, and organising the sub-let. Finding someone to take care of the cat. Getting all the bills routed through the internet. Yikes. But all I really care about are how many gowns should I take, and how often will I be wearing the Fluvogs? Do they sell my hair colour in Stratford, or should I stock up? The practicalities.
This is a dream come true for me. For the first couple of months I couldn’t even mention it without laughing in disbelief. But now it begins to move into my reality: I will be opening a brand new Canadian play at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on the 2nd of August 2007. That’s cool. Too cool.
Okay. I leave in less than 48 hours. My bwain huwts. I can feel the stress headache all around my jaw and my gums. I keep talking to folks on the phone, saying goodbyes, and they’re all saying, “You must be so excited!!”. But to be honest, I think I’m too old to be excited. Or… I am just thrumming at a very low frequency. Let’s say that. I’d rather say that than I’m scared. Oh, I don’t mind saying that I’m scared. I’M SCARED.
There’s so much to take into consideration. I’m leaving my home: my house. So there’s organising keys, and ceiling fans, and burglar alarms, and lawn cutting. And all I can say is: I’m grateful for good neighbours! And then there’s the packing: stage make-up, and opening night outfits, and too many skirts, and not enough socks, and how many pairs of shoes?! And books, and papers, and projects (because the career in Canada must also continue), and pictures of the cat: I’m grateful for generous sisters! And do they sell the right razor blades in England. And do I need a transformer or just an adaptor for my computer? Blah.
But onward. Tomorrow: more downloading of CDs on to the computer. $100 each for the neighbour kids for taking care of the lawn. Colour my hair. Pick up my best friend in the whole world from the bus, for one last visit. Put mulch on my flower beds to deter the weeds. Hang out the last of the laundry. Go for a walk in the Short Hills to get the last few breaths of the Ontario summer and the last taste of the woods for a while.
And then Friday, seal up the house, load up the car, head into Yorkville to the place where I know they have the ADAPTOR. Then drop the friend off, take the car to the other friend who is going to drive me to the airport. Meet Jenny Young who is going to be my travel companion. And once we are through security, I’ll write more.
Well. We’re here. I’ve never been so tired in my life but we have to stay up until the end of this day. They aren’t kidding when they call it the red-eye. Crazy things happen when you’re beginning a trip like this. Jenny and her boyfriend, Gord, ran out of gas in the parking lot of the airport just before they parked the car! That’s true. So she checked in and then ran out to him to leave her CAA card with him before going through security. Kissing him goodbye and all the while looking over his shoulder to see if the tow truck was coming. And I was so nervous I thought I lost my passport. Jenny patiently looked over my shoulder as I checked the seventeen compartments of my carry-on for the third time… and then found it in my pants pocket! Oh yes. Wound up like a top.
The long and short is that after we had a bit of a bumpy ride flying through the thunder-storm which had caused our 40 minute delay, the journey was a smooth one. And I was so glad to have Jenny as a companion.
We were picked up by a car at the airport, and a very fast hour and a half later we were at the Stage Door of the RSC meeting Jondon, our company manager. Then there was a barrage of information of which I understood “Welcome…” , and they took us to The Old Ferryhouse on Waterside, where we are staying. It is a Georgian house looking over… the Old Ferry! And that means the Avon River.
But all of this was lost on me. All I could see was a grubby room that was not my home, in a house that I would be sharing with three women from the Penelopiad, and two men from the Henrys (who will be arriving early July). Food was what I needed. And Jenny, too. So we went to the Green Room at the Swan.
It’s all a bit surreal: we met Sue, the stage door person, marched through the backstage of the theatre, then met Ruth, the Green Room manager, and everything she said sounded like it was in another language. We had no idea what time it was, and what meal might be served. But I think she took pity on us, and said that a hot lunch would be there in a few minutes if we would like a cup of tea. Thank you, thank you.
We got that sorted out, and then headed off to discover the town. And that’s how it all begins this adventure in Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This Odyssey of ours.￼
Jenny Young – photo by Corrine Koslo
Monday, June 11, 2007
First day of school. We’re all pretty nervous. But the four of us from Ferryhouse gather with our packed lunches, and march off together. It’s about a ten minute walk to the rehearsal hall. Past Shakespeare’s birthplace. It gives you inspiration and perspective. In my journal this morning I prayed:
Be with me today as I begin the process of this play. Help me remember the Holy Theatre I aim to create, and that resistance has no part in that. Help me to open myself to inspiration, to the offerings of the other women, to the work of Margaret Atwood and the story of Penelope and the Maids. Help me to remain grounded by process, while flowing with choice. Help me to offer myself in glory and in failure. Help me to play well.
And I will continue to ask for guidance and support from many sources. Your brain can get messed up working on something so far from your world of experience. But ultimately, I just want to make great theatre. Don’t we all. And that must be at the forefront of the reality.
The welcome speech from Josette Bushell-Mingo, our director, is fantastic. Free of ego, and full of excitement. Like a child. And the design presentation was awesome. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is void, and Hades, and water, and ropes, and buckets. Fantastic.
We had a long lunch because four of the women from the Macbeth/Macbett cast, who are also in the P’piad are in the midst of understudy rehearsals. That means we won’t have a full company until Thursday. So we worked on music with Warren and Bruce after lunch. The music is all composed by Warren (last name to be learned) and is quite haunting, at least what we have looked at so far.
And then the jet-lag hit. I expected it. But I felt quite beleaguered suddenly, and started to get a wretched headache. But the day ended shortly after that. Or at least the official part of the day.
Penny Downie, who is playing Penelope, is quite amazing. What an energy she has. She is so excited about this project, as are all the participants. She invited us to join her for a glass of bubbly down by the river, which we did. Wonderful. All these women involved in this very special project raising a glass to our good fortune and to the commencement of our work. It is already a true spirit of camaraderie and ensemble, and a very promising place to begin.
Second day. We each had individual music calls with Warren (okay, I am going to have to learn this man’s last name!!). These were straight forward: exploring range and musicality, and seeing if we play any instruments. It feels a bit like we’re still auditioning. Understandably. The creative team from here has no idea who we are or what we can do except what we showed in the initial auditions. And resumes, though they reveal experience, do not show ability. So that was the morning. It meant a sleep-in which I desperately needed, and which put me on the other side of the jet-lag (I hope!).
The afternoon was lots of fun. Chorus work with Josette, which consisted mostly of playing children’s games. We played Red Light/Green Light (which they call something else,) and a version of tag, and other movement and space- related games. We created some tableaux. And we worked on an image for the first entrance of the Maids. Then we had a voice class with Charmion (apparently
last names are a bit of an issue with me at this stage) which was fabulous and completely related to the images in the play and the choric nature of the play. And then we did some movement with Veronica TENNANT (ta da!). Choral movement is very difficult. So much sensitivity and giving over is required. It was very challenging at the end of the day.
And that was it, basically. We’re all feeling a bit more settled, though there are communication issues with home. The telephone system in Britain leaves something to be desired. Like…having a phone. We have none in the Ferryhouse, at least none that’s working. And that makes us feel very isolated from our loved ones. It makes one realise how big the pond is that separates us. And now that we are feeling more settled here, the desire to reach out to home becomes somehow necessary. So we are crossing our fingers that this will be rectified soon.￼
Josette Bushel-Mingo – photo by Corrine Koslo
Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
One last light day
One more light day, and then the women from Macbeth/MacBett will join us. We worked with Warren in the morning. Oh my God. What amazing work. Creating the soundscape for Hades. Really incredible. Vocal sounds that send chills up your spines, and an ascending line that is relentless. He works so amazingly well with all the different voices he has, and somehow, out of this melange, he creates a remarkable score. Josette, and Veronica, and Charmion, our voice coach, were all brought in to listen once we had learned it, and were genuinely blown away. So a really pleasing morning of work.
The afternoon was dedicated to supporting the rest of our cast. Five of the British women are also performing in Macbeth, and Ionesco’s tragic farce, Macbett. (It’s hard to believe how hard they are working. Seven shows a week plus 7 hour rehearsal days! Yikes.) And on top of that, four of them are understudying, and we went to see their run and have them introduce us to the Swan stage. Most of the Canadians had already seen Macbeth, but not me. So I was quite pleasantly surprised that the Martha Cohen stage at ATP is practically a reproduction of this space! So I feel quite familiar with it. Which is a joy, and a relief, and provides a great level of comfort for playing. The women did an excellent job: it is a very complicated production full of special effects which makes understudying a real challenge. But they rose to it. Afterwards we had “tea and cakes” up on the top of the Swan Theatre, where there is a terrace from which you can see five counties! So beautiful.
Then we had about an hour to work on the stage. Charmion took us through some voice work, and it was excellent to meet the space, and get a sense of it to take back to the rehearsal hall with us.
In the evening I had the privilege of seeing Sir Ian McKellan give his King Lear, in a stunning production directed by Trevor Nunn. It was a great production. The most gratifying thing to me is that several times I was able to say to myself, “what a great play this is”, which to me means that the play was in no way overwhelmed by the production, and that the acting was clear, generous, and honest. What a gift. Yum.
Whew. I think we’ve actually begun. At least my body hopes so. We worked very hard physically today. For the entire morning we did ensemble work: playing games, exploring bodies, getting to know one another as an ensemble of 13 women. It was fantastic work. We worked on moving as an ensemble in opposition and then in unison with the protagonist. We worked on moving while disguising the leader of the movement and allowing that leader to change while continuing to move together. We worked in partners on some contact work, and by lunch time my thighs were shaking and my knees needed a good rest.
After lunch we sat in a circle and began to talk a little about the play. Well, about the relationship of Penelope to the Maids: her culpability in their deaths, her justification for abandoning them at the return of Odysseus, her need to tell this story and “set the record straight.” Just dabbling really, but our first taste of the script. We still don’t know what roles we will be playing in the “story” part of the play, but it is clear that the emphasis for the twelve Maids will be playing the Maids. At least that’s how I’m seeing it. And that it is from our relationships with Penelope as Maids that the “story” characters will spring. This is in keeping with the book, as the Maids only appear in the book as chorus.
At some point tomorrow we will find out what parts we will play in the “story”. But tonight, I will take some advil and have a hot bath!
We are gaining momentum. Had a marvelous warm-up at the barre with Veronica this morning. Imagine. Veronica Tennant is leading little ol’ me through plies and relevees. Outrageous! It’s all a bit awesome. And you can’t think about the enormity of it too much, because after all, we are just making theatre. But I do pinch myself every now and again.
The rest of the morning was spent doing improv. The first one was improvising Penelope being in the hall with all the suitors. So all the Maids were playing suitors, and trying in one way or another to win her hand. So much fun, of course, doing the cross-gender stuff. Some really interesting tactics and relationships developed.
The second improv lasted almost an hour. We improvised the Maids quarters. We were each given a one sentence “circumstance” or “action” or “relationship”, and that became what we played in the scene. First we created our world, our space, with places to work, to bathe, to sleep, to rest, and then we just went for it with our information. Then Penelope joined us, and it was fascinating to see how the relationships and energy change with the Queen in the room. And she had some information that we did not have. And that effected each of us in some way. So it became a little play quite quickly. It was fabulous. Jenny and Pam both said, it was like a really long game of playing house.
This kind of work helps so much to establish ensemble, relationship, possibility. It’s a group of women with a vast scope, and it all holds so much promise.
After lunch, we were cast in the story-telling roles. It’s really tough waiting to hear what you will play in the story, apart from the Chorus. But this has been the brilliant thing about Josette’s work this week. We have realised that the play is a two-hander: Penelope and The Maids. And that that is really where our focus will be.
I won’t tell you what that story casting is just yet, but it will likely trickle out as I write over the coming weeks. And things are still subject to change.
Then we read the play for the first time. That’s wild. Reading the play at the end of the first week of rehearsals. But a great way to end our week. One can see the enormous potential of this piece, and how far we have to travel to make it a workable piece of theatre. It will be a challenging and exciting time ahead.
We will have a two day weekend because the Macbeth/Macbett women have two shows tomorrow. And I am looking forward to meeting up with one of my childhood friends. Oh! It was Jenny’s 30th birthday yesterday, so there was some partying done last night. And a good time was had by all. On a side note, Poseidon has expressed his wrath with downpours for the last couple of days, and the Avon river has flooded its banks. That’s quite usual apparently, but it is a bit strange to watch the water level rise when you are living right on the bank of the river! We seem to be settling into our homes though, and we are all still vibrating at quite a pitch.
More soon. Oh. Warren WILLS. Warren WILLS. Brilliant!
Veronica Tennant and the Company – photo by Corrine Koslo
Warren Wills, Composer – photo by Corrine Koslo
Monday, June 18, 2007
Day off in Leicester
Great day. But first… great day off!! Well, couple of days off. I ended up going to my friend Hilary’s in Leicester. It was great to get away and get a taste of real life in England, with a family and children and a garden and a barbeque. Balance is so important. And that made me really ready to come back and get at it. The other girls went to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Museum and really enjoyed that, and then got hooked on the second semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent!! We were all very excited when Paul Hooks (?) won, because he will get to sing in front of the Queen!
We are starting the day now with physical and vocal sessions with Veronica Tennant and Charmion Gradwell. Fantastic. So that’s where we were this morning. We did some more improv, this time around status within the chorus of the maids. It was really excellent. Every level of this work will feed our work onstage. We are developing such rich relationships with each other.
Then we headed off for more music work with Warren. This time a couple of motifs which will be revisited throughout the play, and will be layered and altered. The amazing Lisa Karen Cox was given solo lines throughout, and it is a real privilege to hear her sing above the complex drone chords of the rest of the group. Wonderful.
After lunch we learned a movement section with Veronica, which again will be used as a motif. Simple, but quite effective. And so enjoyable. I said to Charmion at lunch, it is such a pleasure to work with ones entire range of skills. How often are we able to do that? Rarely, I would say. So there is great challenge here, but also, great reward.
Another birthday was celebrated, this time the lovely Lisa Karen Cox turning 27. We had cake with our tea, and brought both in to the rehearsal hall where we all gathered to watch Pan’s Labyrinth. A wonderful film. Josette felt that there were many themes, and visual elements in the film that she was inspired by, and wanted us all to experience. I’m game. I have no problem spending the better part of the afternoon call watching movies, with cake and tea, and popcorn, to boot! But we’ll pay for it tomorrow: the call is from 10 – 7:30!￼
Whew! That was a long day, and the brain cells are definitely toasted. We started to put some shape to the beginning of the play today. We have baby steps for the opening sequence, the first Chorus, and the first Scene. That feels good. It came through more improvising: tableaux this time, which is always fun. “You have 45 seconds to create a Greek feast. Go.” Like that. You just have to be fearless, and know that you have not come up with the most brilliant thing this first time, but at least it will do. And it’s full of laughter.
We had two music sessions today, solidifying what we know, and adding a few new things. I worship at the feet of the music department here. Bruce, the musical director, is absolutely brilliant in teaching us notes, and introducing us to the tonal clusters that are very intimidating at first. He has a knack of making them perfectly normal. And when we nail it, Warren’s music sounds quite magnificent.
In the afternoon we moved on to the second Chorus, first working on a shape filled with game playing and movement, and then looking at the text and how it will divide amongst the twelve.
The second music session was after a dinner break, and we got a little bit skippy. But we got a very long song learned, and that is important. That’s when the brain cells went.
Just a brief word about Josette Bushell-Mingo, our esteemed director. This woman is a force, I can tell you. Her eyes are like saucers, open to the world to capture all and translate it into vision, which she conveys with unbounded enthusiasm. You get excited in her presence, because a little bit of her rubs off on you. And all this is expressed through the extraordinary animation of her body: she demonstrates. It’s so entertaining! She is so agile and connected to her body, and she communicates visual, emotional, and even intellectual information through this amazing conduit. She’s inspiring. Literally. You breathe her in.
We were tired this morning. Collectively. And if I was tired, I can’t imagine what the Mac/Mac women are going through. They are doing seven shows a week, and rehearsing a seven hour day. But they’re amazing. They’re still on top of it, and still bringing great energy and imagination to the work. I’d be a complete zombie. So many kudos to them.
We started the day, as we do each day, with physical warm-up with Veronica. It is so important for keeping us all going. And it morphs so beautifully into the voice warm-up with Charmion. These are the gifts of a long rehearsal period, and of a director who values the tools that the actor has to bring to play in a process like this one.
Then we talked for a while about the Maids. It’s difficult. Because we are not only playing Penelope’s twelve chosen Maids: the young ones, the pretty ones, the Hades maids. We are also playing the maids in the Spartan court, and some of us play other maids in Odysseus’ court before and after the choosing occurs. (I realise this may all be Greek to you…). In any case, it’s complicated. So we were trying to figure out some of the discrepancies we face in the acting because of these complications. Text work, basically. Asking questions, but not forming any answers. At least, not for now.
This led to the development of characters for the Maids: the chosen ones. Where did we come from? Who were our parents? How old were we when we arrived? Did we arrive with any of the others in the group? Where are our allegiances within the group? Where are our animosities? So we took some time before lunch to do a little personal writing around our own histories. Always fun. Always inventive. Always opening more questions to be answered.
After lunch, a little music review. And then on to putting a rough staging to one of the biggest scenes in the play, Penelope’s Wedding. It’s all quite silly, and so it was a lot of fun. Corrine, as Icarius, and Pippa, as the Naiad Mother, and Kelly, as Helen of Troy, were particularly entertaining. And we had lots of fun running the race that Odysseus wins in order to win Penelope’s hand. Huge scene. Nine pages. And that was the day.
Oh! Another birthday was celebrated on the “tea break”: Kelly McIntosh. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re starting to think all Canadians are born in June!
Remember how I said yesterday that Corrine was entertaining? Well, we came in today to find that Corrine has slipped a tendon in one of her ankles. I claim it was from the work she was doing yesterday, but she insists it’s an old injury that has recurred because we are rehearsing in bare feet. So, much of her day was spent wheeling around the rehearsal halls in an office chair. An interesting design choice for ancient Greece. She went to an osteopath who she says was absolutely brilliant, and will have her back on her feet in no time.
More music rehearsals this morning. Always exciting. This time we were in the Music Room, which I’m quite sure is meant for tutorials. So when there are 12 women, 2 musicians, a choreographer and an assistant director in the room, it’s pretty cosy. And we are making a lot of sound. So my head was vibrating by lunch time.
After lunch we had a lecture on Greek history as it relates to The Penelopiad by Leanne Hunnings, a student of the classics. It was great. Just getting some details about the world from someone who has really studied it. And she had some wonderful ideas about the book. She said there were lots of her geeky classicist friends who were very excited about seeing this play. And you have to give her credit: she sat there in front of all these theatre professionals and acted out little sections of the book that she was quoting in her lecture. And she did a great job! And gave us great information about the gods, the myths of Penelope, and the status quo of the Maids.
This inspired a good discussion of the play, which is more meat for us to chew on. Mostly to do with the Maids and what their sexual experience might be. Certainly the slaves of the time would have been subject, even sexually, to the whims of their masters. We are trying to sort out how this works in the play.
Who does the ownership revert to when Odysseus is away and presumed dead? This is what we spend our days trying to figure out. Fun. And pretty nerdy. Yum.
Pronunciation was another product of the chat. Any takers on how to pronounce “Penelopiad”? Josette has asked Margaret Atwood, who basically said, “Well, how would you say it?” So Josette is reticent to make a choice. All these Greek names, and thirteen actors to provide innumerable pronunciations. Apparently we will have phonetic pronunciations which will standardize things for us.
At the end of the day we read the Arrival at Ithaca, and put a small part of it on its feet.
A brief word about our stage managers: We have three great stage managers, Janet, Gabs, and Sally. Things are a little different here, and it takes a little getting used to the differences in practice. Janet is the Stage Manager, but is not in the rehearsal hall at all, and will not be calling the show. But she takes care of structuring the call, and I’m sure lots of other stuff that I don’t really know about. Gabs is the Deputy Stage Manager, and she is in the hall with us. She will be calling the show apparently, but not from the back of the house. And Sally, the Assistant Stage Manager, who is not with us yet in rehearsal, but will certainly be with us once we start running. She will be backstage with us. We also have a Company Manager, Jondon, who takes care of our other needs within the RSC. Basically he is the first person we turn to when we don’t understand how the phone works, or where to get Indian take-away. These are the folks that are our lifeline. Always. What would the theatre be without stage managers? We’d still be prostitutes, making theatre on wagons pulled by horses. Hmmmm.
One of the other things I love about having a bay window looking over the Avon River is watching the dogs and their walkers. Since my view encompasses a long hedge and a large playing green, and the path beside the river that runs adjacent to both, I witness lots of very interesting dog interaction. Some owners cycle by with a couple of Shepherds running beside them. There’s one old Corgi who absolutely refused to go on to the grass when her walker took off across the field. She just sat down on the path until he returned. Lots of Jack Russells, and Border Collies, and a black Standard Poodle, LOTS of Corgies, and Westies. Highly entertaining.
And speaking of entertaining, many of us went to see The Seagull tonight. Not, perhaps, as successful as King Lear, but nonetheless, an excellent production with highly skilled craft from the entire creative team. I love the way the two productions were linked by elements of design and casting, and subtle little elements that created these lovely echoes. And a really fine ensemble piece this one. Again, as with Lear, nothing overwhelmed the play. This is so important in interpreting the classics, and such a fine balance to find. So. Another great night at the theatre.
In rehearsal we had another day of play. A person named Joey came in to give us a workshop on gender. Fascinating. It’s amazing to find out how arbitrary gender is. We did several improvs just to illuminate our own preconception. And then we applied some of this work to character improvs for both the male characters we play, and for the female.
The afternoon was spent in music rehearsal, with individual voice calls spread throughout, and also costume meetings with Rosa, our brilliant designer. This is where the child in me comes out. How I love the costumes!! And there will be lots of dress-up for all of us to do in this production where we are constantly shape shifting to tell the story. I find it very important to my process, and a good part of the way I find character is from the outside in. So it was nice to get a first personal taste of how we will look.
And that was the day. Josette flew off to Sweden to have some time with her family. And as I said, a number of us headed out for an evening in the theatre. It’s yummy to be here. So grateful. So engaged.￼
It was a special day today. A whole day with Veronica. What a gift. I had a solo session first thing, and what a time of discovery. Veronica facilitated a physical exploration of character. She had me dance the back story of Eurycleia, the character I am playing in the story. It was such a liberating experience. It began with words and supported movement, and then moved to its feet and became less self-conscious, until these insights into her life simply erupted from my body through text and movement. You can’t pay for this stuff, man, it has to be given to you.
What’s amazing about Veronica is that she keeps you on the edge of discovery, so just as you feel you might be comfortable with what you are thinking or how you are moving, she asks you to alter your thoughts or your movement or both.
In this way I was kept right at my edge, the place where the best theatre is made, and never allowed to become self-indulgent or even comfortable. A truly remarkable experience.
It was a difficult day. End of the week, and we were all pretty tired. But you see, Veronica can’t go home and do her work on paper. She needs to create her work on bodies in space. And so we plugged away, and even though we were tired, the work was so inspiring, and such a lot of fun. And I hope, at the end of the day, she had some material that she can utilise in the production.
It was a day about Veronica, really. She and I even met for dinner in the evening and had a wonderful visit, and a delicious meal. This is an artist of the first degree and water. What a woman: a globally recognised dance artist, a filmmaker, a mother, a choreographer, and a gentle, sensitive, and intelligent soul. We are so privileged to be in her caring hands, and to receive her support and her wisdom as part of this work. Oh yeah.
A good and much needed day off. We all spent the day around town. Resting mostly, and looking at the new script that we got at the end of the day on Saturday. Oh, maybe I looked around the shops a little. Yikes. Extremely overpriced clothing here in Stratford-upon-Avon. So I didn’t buy anything. But it was a good way to get out for the afternoon. Jenny wasn’t feeling well, so I got her some ginger tea. Corrine is on the mend, by the way. She is still taking it very easy on her feet, but getting stronger every day.
Today we were right back at it. Excellent classes to begin the day, with Veronica and Charmion. And then we got right into the rough blocking. We looked at the Chorus of the birth of Telemachus. We showed Josette and the Mac/Mac women what Veronica had created on us on Saturday. And we watched a short video of Pina Bausch’s work. That was fascinating. So we brought that flavor to the movement, and put a loose blocking on the Chorus.
After lunch we looked at the next few scenes and blocked those, and then did some more music with Warren. This time The Wily Sea Captain. Lots of fun. But not easy, Warren!
The days here can be slightly longer than we are used to. The British Equity has different rules around repertory rehearsals. It takes a bit of getting used to. But still nothing like the women in our group who are going off to do shows every evening. But that last hour of the day takes it out of you, and we were all pretty pooped when we piled into the house to make our dinner.
Oh! Another Canadian birthday today! Pam Matthews this time. So more cake on the tea break! Yippee. Very generous of everyone here.￼
Pam Matthews – photo by Corrine Koslo
Tuesday, June 26th, 2007
As the Penelopiad turns…
It was winter today! The weather has been absolutely wretched, but this takes the cake. It can’t have been more than 10 degrees, and windy and raining. Blechh! And the building we are working in was impossibly cold. Good thing we are working physically so much, as that keeps the blood flowing.
Nothing terribly special at work today. We continue to block the show, getting into relationships, and storytelling all the while. Josette has created such a team. So while we are blocking scenes in the main hall, there were split rehearsals for movement with Veronica, and music with Warren and Bruce in other halls. Always keeping everyone busy. It’s the only way with a production like this which incorporates so many performance elements.
On the way home we stopped for a while to watch some Morris dancers who were entertaining on the Riverside. A little club, they must have been, as they had very nice green vests with dragons on the back. They were all over 60, I’m sure, most of them older, and there was a great fellow accompanying them on the accordion.
We’ve become a right little family at the Old Ferryhouse. Once again we made and ate dinner together, and digested the days’ work. We will miss Lisa when she moves out with her husband this weekend. And what will the two men be like who will join us from the Richard/Henry cast?
Tune in again. This and other questions will be answered as… the Penelopiad turns!
We began the day with great news, spent the middle of the day with a legend, and ended the day in grief.
The good news is: Corinne Koslo won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for her work in the Seussical at LKTYP. This is the second year in a row she has won for work at this theatre, and she took it all in stride. So many congratulations to Corrine!!!
After warm-ups, and the introduction of another brilliant piece of music from Maestro Wills, we had a text class with Cicely Berry. What a woman. She has been with the RSC since its inception, and has been the Head of Voice here for many years. She has trained some of the finest actors and voice teachers in the English speaking world (and I’m sure beyond that). And what an indomitable spirit. And an infectious spirit. She has the uncanny ability to create relationships with words in an instant: to their vowels, and punctuation, and rhythm. So this was a fantastic way to spend our time until lunch.
After lunch, back to the play, and taking a first pass at the scenes as we figure out a basic shape. A lot of discussion about the scene where the play tips, and things start to get ugly. It’s a full company scene, and the first time the twelve maids are in a story-telling scene together with Penelope. So imagine sixteen women trying to come to a conclusion about anything — it takes time, listening, and occasionally, gentle tongue biting. But we have a good first stab. And the rest of the scene work continues. We are about 2/3 of the way through the play now, so the most difficult scenes are lining up, one by one. It will be tough slogging, that’s a given.
We heard of the tragedy when we arrived home. Kelly had heard from a friend at home that William Hutt had died. This stopped us all in our tracks. What a colossal loss to Canadian theatre. The man was a master. So as we ate our dinner we exchanged stories about our associations with Bill, his work on stage, his grieving family (my friends Peter and Bridget and their beautiful children Olivia and Adam are missing their Uncle Bill!), and the legacy he leaves to those who follow in his footsteps of a truly Canadian voice for Shakespeare.
And then we raised a glass: To William Hutt.
Cicely Berry – photo by Corrine Koslo
Thursday, June 28th, 2007
Banking headaches and a Walrus
Not much new to report today. Banking headaches for me. My PIN number and cheques have gone astray in the mail, so I had to cancel them and re-order. It’s a bit of a pain. It means I have to bank like we did in the seventies: actually carrying cash around!
The scene work continues. With luck, and Josette’s determination, we should meet our Saturday deadline for having the play staged. We had a lot of fun with the dream sequence. It should be great fun for the audience.
Separate movement and singing calls are always happening as smaller scenes are staged, and every day we get more confident with the music. And we start to sound good! That’s a relief, because, as Warren says, it is “contemporary” music.
There was a reporter from The Walrus around today. And he will be here tomorrow. Sarah kept calling the magazine, The Wallaby. Maybe they should start an Aussie version?
I had a wonderful private session with Charmion Gradwell to finish my day. It’s a bit weird because we both have the same degree in Voice from the Central School of Speech and Drama. And I think there is a natural tendency to measure up ones peers. So I was a bit defensive off the top. But we did some fantastic work opening up warmer tones in my voice. And I think it will be very useful. This type of support in coaching and training is so fantastic. It really allows me, as an actor, to be fully on my game in all aspects, and to know that if I stumble, there will be a variety of enormously skilled people to turn to for help.
This morning we put a loose blocking on a couple of the big scenes from the end of the play. This process always involves an intense discussion of the scene first. And then Josette reins us in and gets her job done. But she allows us to make offers into the process at all times, and hears all ideas, and puts them in her thinking cap. And then, I’m guessing, she talks all these things over with her amazing assistant, Ray. Sometimes they communicate in secret in Swedish sign language. It’s great to watch them signing away, while we are working on something with Warren or Veronica. They can stay in the room and carry on a silent discussion. What a gift!
Lunch was spent with a young writer from Walrus. I hope he will forgive me, but I have forgotten his name! Terrible. Anyway, it was a fun yack. Nice to talk with someone from Canada who lives here. Shared experience is so gratifying. It was absolutely pelting rain outside, so I was happy to have brought my lunch, and to have someone new to talk to. And of course, to hear the intelligence that all the women in our group bring to our understanding of this work, and our work in general. Pretty great.
After lunch we had our first fight workshop with Allison. (At least I’m consistent with not remembering last names.) We began work with short broad swords. I think we were a little tentative after the warning that these weapons can actually kill you, and that someone had their head severed recently in a re- enactment. Yikes! That’ll bring out the girlie-girl in you in a heartbeat! So we bashed away at each other for an hour and a half, and got loosened up a little around dealing with these weapons.
A little music after the tea break, and then an early end to the day. We were all grateful, but especially the Mac/Mac women. You can really start to see their exhaustion.
In the evening, I went to see Macbeth. Yum. God, I love the theatre!! This was an amazingly brutal production from start to finish: dark and bloody. Completely in keeping with the Jacobean sensibility of the play. It began with a sort of bloody prologue, where we saw Macbeth slaughter a room full of innocents, showing us the victorious soldier that is alluded to in the beginning of the text. From the bodies of these innocents rise the spirits of three young mothers, whose babies Macbeth has killed, and they become the witches… “when shall we three meet again…” Brilliant. And so the witches act like glue throughout the production, playing all the messengers and servants, until Macbeth is killed and they can release the souls of their dead children.
The other thing that was made really clear in this production was Macbeth’s insomnia. Which of course ties into the Lady’s sleepwalking. But having seen Daniel Brooks’ Insomnia last year, and seeing this Macbeth struggling with nightmares of the people he has killed, and being completely delusional because of lack of sleep – well, it made so many aspects of the text really clear. So bravos to the company, and the director, Connell Morrison.
This is a special time for us girls from the colony Canada. A time to remember.￼
Derbhle Crotty – photo by Corrine Koslo
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Saturday with Veronica
Another great day with Veronica. The Mac/Mac girls had 2 shows today, and Penny was with her family in London for the weekend, so it was the Canadians on a choreographic tear. We had a good day. And Djanet Sears was an enormous help. I know she’s here as a Creative Fellow, with combined duties for the RSC and Warwick University, but today she was a choreographic assistant: keeping rhythm for us on the jembe, pushing the button on Veronica’s iPod, and taking notes on some of the sequences that Veronica was setting on us. Talk about adapting your skills! Djanet is a real pleasure to have around. She has such remarkable warmth, and intelligence, and is so generous in her spirit. She is a great support.
We finished the day at the Dirty Duck. This is the watering hole across the street from the Swan Theatre, and spitting distance from the houses where most of us are living. The food is appalling. But it’s the local pub, so that’s where everyone hangs out. And on a Saturday after rehearsals, there was a big glass with my name on it. And apparently a few other named drinks for the rest of the gang.
Then home to find a stressed out Lisa Cox waiting for her husband to arrive. His flight had been delayed several hours because of the terrorist alerts in London, and the car explosion in Glasgow. And once he arrived there were huge traffic diversions, and it was a nightmare of a day for him. He was expected around 3:30pm, and finally arrived to a tearful Lisa at around midnight. But we are glad he is safely here, and I know Lisa will be so happy to have him with her from this point on.
Guess what. Rain!! What a surprise, since it’s rained every day but three since we’ve been here. It’s hilarious watching the brollies all go up, and the tourists who are caught without them running for cover. All this I can see from my excellent bay window over the Avon. A room with a view. Nothing like it.
As a Canada Day treat… I went shopping! Yippee! I went to the big sales at Debenhams, and they had all sorts of fabulous stuff. So I came home with a full shopping bag, and a smile on my face.
My friend Hilary and her partner Kev came from Leicester and brought me some excellent accessories to brighten up my room. The decor here is less than exciting: cream walls, 1970s brown carpet, and forest green high gloss on the window and door trim. Add a paisley foam pull-out couch and you have the makings of my worst nightmare. Hils brought me a throw for the couch, a mat to cover a good portion of the carpet, candles, lamps, and a pretty duvet cover. So tonight as I write I feel quite cozy and comfortable in my temporary home.
It’s hard being away from home. Yes, it’s an adventure. But I also miss the comforts and routines that I have grown accustomed to. I miss my home. That doesn’t seem to stop me from skipping up and down in the garden, saying: I’m in England, in the town where Shakespeare was born, and I’m rehearsing a play with a group of amazing artists, and what a great day to be Canada’s Day! There’s plenty of room for both the longing and the fulfillment.
A big day today. We’re trying to tackle the choruses now, before heading into a second pass at the scenes. This serves the twofold purpose of getting choreography and staging nailed down for the big group numbers, and giving Margaret Atwood time to send us a few re-writes.
We got a pretty good pass at three of them before lunch: We are the Maids, Kiddies Lament, and the Birth of Telemachus. That was a good, intense morning.
Our lunch was provided by Michael Boyd. He is the Artistic Director of the RSC and has been in London since we arrived, rehearsing Richard II, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. It was delightful to meet him. He seems a man of very generous spirit, and he is certainly a man of vision. He invited us to drop in on rehearsals any time (though it is unlikely considering our schedule), and also invited us the the lunch at the Courtyard Theatre next Friday. His words of wisdom around that lunch were: “Head for the good stuff! You’ll be on limited time.”
After lunch we had another fight call and staged more fully the Slaughter and the Hanging. A rather gruesome and violent way to spend the afternoon, but it is actually a lot of fun to do. Well… maybe not the hanging part. But we’ve got a real element of surprise in the Slaughter, and I’m sure we’ll get much more detail in it before it hits the boards.
It was a huge physical day, though, and the rehearsal room smelled like a locker room by 5 o’clock. Then lucky Warren had to sit with us, rather tired and stinky, and work on some music. And that was the end of the day.
A little side note on Michael Boyd: I had the privilege of seeing his work on the Histories in 2001 when I was over here writing my Masters Degree at Central. The RSC was putting on all the histories in a row, and Boyd directed the final four in the cycle, the three Henry VIs and Richard III. This was the highlight of my career as an audience member. I got student prices on the tickets, but I had to stand in line for stand-by. So I’d get the tube down to the Young Vic and wait in line with my books to read, and my sandwich to eat, and I’d queue. Once I had my ticket, I’d run over the the other queue for seats, as it was festival seating. And I’d dash in and get my favourite seat right next to one of the vomitories What spectacular productions these were. So visceral. So clear. So compelling. It was like watching a serial that I couldn’t wait to see the next installment of. I was ducking sword blades in my seat, and picking stage blood off my sweater the following morning! Fantastic. And I was fortunate enough to see the Richard III on a Saturday night when all the Kings from all the productions (I had also seen the Henry IVs and V) came to do a curtain call together. The crowd went wild, and I among them. It was a crowning moment in my life in the theatre.
And now. I’m having lunch with the guy. And working in his theatre. And he’s invited any of us to go and have coffee with him.
And by day, I’m just a girl who lives a quiet life in St. Catharines. Who’da thunk.￼
These days are packed with such an enormous variety of activities. This morning it was movement again. We had a good run at If I Was A Princess, and The Birth of Telemachus, and got both of those pretty much set.
After lunch it was Wily Odysseus and Dreamboats. Then a brief fight review, and on to the staging of the rape scene that leads into Dreamboats. (All this will probably sound like gobbledy-gook to you. But it was a hard working day for us.) Then another couple of visual experiments with the hangings, a music call, and the day was finished.
It’s much like rehearsing a musical really, although, having done many musicals, I would still class this as a play with music. We are certainly utilising a broad range of skills: the singing requires quite a bit of rehearsal as few people read music, and Maestro Warren hasn’t made it easy in all cases. Then there’s dancing, and fighting, and acting, and working with a brand new script adds to all those challenges. And it’s not like we’re playing one role through the piece. Except for Penelope, we are all wearing multiple hats… or veils, as the case may be. Time passes quickly. But at the end of the day, you feel like you’ve been there for a week.
But fun. Lots of laughter and camaraderie. And once again, an All Hail Josette! She is a remarkable woman, and continues to fight to realise her vision for this production. Always with a smile, always willing to listen, and always willing to jump in and show us what she means in a jolly and entertaining manner.￼
Back to the beginning. We started at the top of the show today and began a detailed work-through. This is excellent, as it really shows us what we remember (and consequently, what we don’t remember) of the initial pass. Those bits that feel solid and right begin to feel more solid and right, and those that were wishy-washy in the first place can be replaced by fresh ideas inspired by the framework of the now solid bits. (I think that makes sense…) It’s like building blocks. One relies on the foundation to create the truly inspired.
It took us the whole day to work the first ten to fifteen minutes of the piece. That feels about right. It’s a good pace for really learning, so that the next pass we make through will be remembered by our bodies, and not our brains, which are full of information right now, and not terribly objective.
The tough part is the scheduling. So many technical decisions have to be made that rely on staging and creativity. So we have to plant certain things which may seem slightly in-organic. That’s theatre, though. It happens everywhere. And add to that the fact that there are extremely difficult music passages, movement vocabulary, and dance sequences that need to be drilled every day. That takes away a good chunk of rehearsal time.
All that to say, I hope I don’t bore you for the next couple of weeks. It’s just that at this point in the rehearsal process things get pretty repetitive.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, Pam Matthews has put together a short film about goats (Odysseus’ home, Ithaca, was “a goat strewn rock”) which we will have a screening of in the coming days. And at the Ferryhouse we have two new roommates from the cast of Richard/Henry: Paul and Keiran, both very nice fellows.
Working through. Working out the detailed tracks for 13 people in big group scenes. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of focus. In the first 20 minutes or so of the play there are two Choruses, two huge group scenes, and a Song which leads into a big traveling sequence. Very complicated. But the Spartan scenes are, I think (I hope) the most time consuming ones. They took the entire morning.
The afternoon brought us to Ithaca, where things settle down a bit, and the play becomes more character driven. So the afternoon was a bit gentler, and the rehearsal was split for a time with music calls and scene work. Some people even got to go home a bit early. But not me, I was working on a couple of my scenes with Penny.
Penny Downie is fantastic. A woman brimming with enthusiasm and energy. She is very generous both on and off stage, and is always seeking and engaging ways of clarifying Penelope’s story. She’s funny and vivacious and a real treat to work with.
The shops in Stratford close at 5:30. And that is that. There’s one grocery store that’s open until 7pm, but we’re called most nights until 7:15 at least. This makes eating a bit of a challenge these days. I’m fortunate in that I’m an early riser and I head off in the morning and pick some things up before work. But some of the others are finding the cupboards bare.
One great thing about England (at least it’s great for times like these) is the amount of prepared food available. I’m a huge fan of the vegetarian scotch egg, and the porkless pie, and various other faux meat sausages, filets, and flanks. Quite amusing. I am, however, distressed by the amount of packaging waste. The recycling is extremely limited, and all these convenient foods mean plenty of over-packaging, and consequently plenty of garbage. I remember being distressed by the same thing when I was here six years ago. Can a Canadian girl make a difference? I don’t see how.￼
Penny Downie and Josette Bushel-Mingo – photo by Corrine Koslo
Friday, July 6, 2007
Scenes about goats and losing Frank.
On we go. Scenes about goats. That’s all I’m going to say. One of those little carrots to dangle in front of you so that you will come and see for yourself. Pam’s goat movie had a rough cut screening today at the lunch hour. And Jenny Young is giving bleeting lessons to all comers. And Pam is working on emitting a musky odour in all of her Ithaca scenes. Get your tickets now!
Split rehearsals again: scene work and music in the morning. And choreography and staging in the afternoon. And then we gathered for some devastating news. One of our company from the Mac/Mac company has had to withdraw from the Penelopiad for personal reasons. Our dear Frank (Francis) Ashman. What a bright light she is. What a true joy to work with. I was so enjoying running and playing with her, as were we all. So we are deeply saddened to lose this vibrant member of the team. And in the same breath I have to say we will welcome a new member of the fold on Monday, and she will be adopted and embraced by all. The show must go on.
But with love, Frank, we wish you all the very best, and hold a place for you in our hearts.
Sunshine!!! Sunshine!!! Sunshine!!! Finally we can catch up on the vitamin D we’ve been desperate for! And it was a short call today: a two hour music call with Mike. We’re at the point now where we’re trying to sing and dance at the same time, as we put the musical numbers into the show. And as always happens in a musical at this stage, the words and the music go out the window as the brain tries to cope with its multi-tasking. So the music call last evening and this morning’s call were dedicated to getting the words, music, and steps going at the same time without sacrificing one for the other. Slow work, but good work.
Then… out into the Sunshine!!! Well, some of us, at any rate. I know Lisa and Jenny spent five hours in the afternoon just sitting in the various parks beside the river and soaking it up. Not the river. But the… you guessed it.
Always one to buck a trend, I spent 6 hours in the theatre.
First, I went to see the matinee of Macbett. Fantastic. Some delicious performances, and really fine, insightful, visually stunning direction and design. I heard one particularly loud American woman at the interval say: “William Shakespeare meets Samuel Beckett in the house of Groucho Marx”. I don’t think she was far off the mark. And what astounds me about theatre of the absurd is how the responsibility is shifted into the eyes, ears, and minds of the audience. It’s up to us to put it together, and to create our own composite from what we see, hear, and think. The play has no morality. It does not aim to teach us anything. If we learn, or if we create meaning, it is from our individual experience in the theatre. What a gift.
Then (drool, drool,) I went to see the first preview of Richard II at the Courtyard. It is part of a two year RSC project to produce all the History plays of Shakespeare and run them in repertory. They are all directed by Michael Boyd, with the exception of Henry IV Part II which is directed by Richard Twyman. The culmination of the project will be next March when the eight plays will run as a serial, first in the order that Shakespeare wrote them (the order in which they would have been seen by the Elizabethan audience,) and then in chronological order. I suppose that can only be really exciting to a theatre nerd like me, but oh boy, do I find it exciting.
Okay. Back to the play.
Having seen the previously mentioned Henry VI/Richard III cycle in 2001 (see my entry of Monday, July 2,) I was prepared for the the stunning design, the visceral musical score, and the rare unity of the ensemble. I was not disappointed. And just as I had been converted to the texts of the Henry VIs, so I buckled under the sheer force of the language of Richard II. Muscular, luscious, chewy. Like consuming sex and good food simultaneously. (I don’t get out much, I guess.) Should I just say I liked it? Noooooo. So now I feel a bit like a groupie of some of these actors: Richard Cordery (holy crap can this guy act), Keith Bartlett (great as Northumberland, and I hope I can see him play Talbot again!), Maureen Beattie (her Duchess of York was formidable), and the rest of the wonderful cast. But, wow, Jonathan Slinger, who was daring, beautiful, effeminate, and savage as Richard II. So didn’t I have to go up to him in the pub and tell him how great he was. And wasn’t he sweet and asked me how The Penelopiad was going, and how I was enjoying it, and this whole interchange was somehow surreal. And delicious.
More Sunshine!!! And a day off to enjoy it. But first things first, a morning of rest and recuperation at home. For me that meant a big pot of tea, and reading the program from the night before. Yum.
Then a little tourism! Veronica and Jenny and I went on our way to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Slottery, which is about a 20 minute walk from Stratford. First we stopped into Hall’s Croft which was the residence of Dr. John Hall, the husband of Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Suzanne. We had a fascinating tour guide named Andrew, who sat with us for quite a time telling us about the world of medicine in the early 17th century. Fascinating. A reminder of some of the lectures of Suzie Turnbull that I was party to at The Ark last year. The house is one of the Shakespeare Trust houses, and as members of the RSC Company we are allowed free entrance! Perks!
The garden is absolutely gorgeous, and we are welcome to use it at anytime. So I hope to take advantage of it once the show is up and running, because it is just around the corner from where we are staying.
Then we went off to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. A lovely walk along a footpath through the suburbs of Stratford. Again we were given free entry, and the opportunity to see this beautiful thatched house, and yet another enthusiastic and amazingly informed guide. These people really create a rich experience of these remarkably preserved heritage sights. We learned about trenchers, and bed bugs, “sleeping tight”. And of course, about the famous “stop gap” !
I must share one piece of information: in the parlour of the Cottage is a table called a “board table”. It consists of a trestle frame and a loose board that is placed atop this frame. One side of the board is polished and the other is not. This “board table” is the root of many sayings: board games, chairman of the board, etc. And among the other amazing facts about this table that I didn’t know, is that when roving bands of players would come into a village or town, the people would bring their “boards” out from their houses and erect a stage out of them, upon which the players would perform. And this is where the theatrical expression “treading the boards” comes from. Cool, eh?
After the Cottage, I got Jenny and Veronica lost in the tree maze, but they were found again. And then we headed off for tea and scones and clotted cream at the little cafe across the road. A perfect English summer’s day. The clouds were chasing us all the way home, but we made it safely into our houses before the skies opened.
And now it is a cool, still evening as I look out over the Avon River with not a soul in sight except a few swans and ducks making their gentle wakes in the water.
It’s a bit like a pilgrimage. This whole experience.￼
Jade joined us. Welcome Jade! (The last name thing is a bit of an issue with me, I know.) This effervescent young woman bounced into rehearsals and fit in instantly. She even did the first blocking scene off book. Unbelievable. The assistant director, Ray, will be working with her to fit her into staging and scene work, and she stayed for a private music call in the evening.
Jenny also stayed with Ray to work on the understudy of Penelope. That is a big piece of work for her to add. After all, we are all onstage all the time, basically. And therefore called all day everyday to rehearsals. So a big understudy like that is a big extra duty to take on.
And that is the news, I’m afraid. Split rehearsals: scene work in the big room, music rehearsals down the hall.
Oh. The men from the Mac/Mac company are in the Arden Street Rehearsal Halls now. They are working on a devised piece of theatre with Anthony Neilson. It’s nice to have a bit more balance of masculine energy, even if it is only in the greenroom.
Okay. That’s something to write about. The all female rehearsal room. Very interesting. There is a difference, you know. And whether that’s the people and the piece, or the gender, it’s impossible to say. But there is a sense of gentle camaraderie. No chest beating. Less competition. Too many cooks on occasion. But there is definitely a different feel in the room. I’ll think more on this.
Jade Anouka – photo by Corrine Koslo
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Making good theatre is hard.
Big day. And there will be more to come this week. Now we’re at the crisis point in the play as far as work through goes, so it means lots of discussion, and the domino effects of certain decisions on the many characters. And then also the domino effect of the crisis on the rest of the play.
Making good theatre is hard. Every little decision that is made ripples through the piece in one way or another. That is why at this stage of the process the work is so painstaking. But good. And rewarding.
Jade is a real trooper. It’s amazing how young people can just jump in with confidence in their gifts, seemingly free from fear. (She’s right out of theatre school for gods sake!) Whereas us old codgers have to sit and talk about it until it feels safe. Anyway. She’s remarkable. Bold. Completely capable.
We had a long fight call. I think that was what made the day particularly exhausting. And costume fittings spread throughout the day. And Joey, our gender genius, was back with us. So both she and Allison, our fight director, helped Josette to stage the rape scene. This kind of work is very disturbing. And here is another place where a group of women are completely united in their sensitivity around this subject matter. Consequently, I think we will reach a level with this scene that will create an excellent theatrical crisis.
A music call at the end of the day took us until 7:45pm. A quick drink at the pub, and then home to make notes on the work we had done that day. And by ten to eleven I completely crashed. There is little room in these days for anything but theatre. Which is fine. It is a time dedicated to that.
Whew! Long hard day. Warm-up with Veronica. This work is so vital to keep our bodies supple as we start to get tired. Then straight in to a fight rehearsal: first reviewing choreographic sequences, then placing them into the scene with the soundtrack. Then on to a split rehearsal: music with Warren and Mike in the Music Room, and scene work in Rehearsal Hall 1.
And onto the big scenes of the end of the play, from the return of Odysseus. Very time consuming and detailed, this work. The Mac/Mac women were released at 5:15, and we took a supper break so there could be a production meeting. Evening calls were split: Jade did some work with Veronica to help her catch up on movement. Kelly and I did some scene work with Josette and Penny. Ray was working understudies with Jenny and Lisa. And Pippa and I then met with Veronica to go over choreographic details, as we have been appointed dance captains and will be responsible for keeping the numbers clean as we go through the run of the play. The call finished at 8:30pm.
Too pooped to do work when I got home. (Thankfully there was some food for general consumption at the studio.) So I sat and had a glass of wine with the girls. We’re a bit homesick. And the chat centred around differences in culture and working styles, and how although we are welcoming all the newness, it takes some adjusting. So to family and friends at home: we miss you, and are always grateful for a word of support from across the pond.￼
Let’s talk about the swans for a moment. I saw a huge swan fight this morning. I had my window open, and could hear this violent flapping of wings. Being in Greek mode, I thought “My god. Zeus! Leda!” But I think it was just an assertion of territory. It was quite violent though, with neck biting, some yelping on the part of the victim, and a considerable expenditure of wing power. Quite an exciting way to start the day.
But my favourite swan moment is when they are asleep, with their heads beneath their wings, and one foot perched up on their rear ends, and lazily floating down the river. I wonder what they think when they wake up and they’ve drifted half a mile downstream… or they go bumping into the weir. “What the…?”
As you can imagine, all this talk of swans means not too much news on the rehearsal front. We got through the rest of the play. Well… Josette is saving the very ending until tomorrow. We will go through the final chorus and monologue, and then in the afternoon we will do a run.
So there’s lots of anticipation about tomorrow, and seeing how the storytelling arch will be realised. We’re all pretty tired now. And my feet are killing me. I’m having little trouble playing the aging Eurycleia. It’s finding the young nubile maid that is a lot harder with sore feet! Ah well. It’s fun. And I’m looking forward to playing tomorrow, and seeing what we’ve got! I’ll let you know.￼
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Buckingham Palace and Grosvenor Square
I didn’t write yesterday because we basically had the day off, and I basically did nothing, and that was basically enjoyable. And the weather wasn’t too bad either! We had a short music call in the morning. Then Corrine and I did a little planning of the holiday we are hoping to take to Norway in our two week break between Stratford and Newcastle. The plans are very exciting, and we are hoping to book early this week. We walked and talked for a bit; time for a little de-briefing after the stumble-through yesterday. That Koslo is one great woman, may I say that publicly?
I had a quiet lunch in our garden, while a troupe of young actors were doing their vocal warm-up and preparing for the show that they put on in an outdoor space somewhere near our house. Listening to their voices was oddly comforting. I did a little writing work in the afternoon, and then joined my Canadian house-mates in the garden for a little free-spirited expression. Kelly was playing the guitar, Jenny was working on understudy lines, and I was dancing: just letting my body play a bit to Kelly’s music. Very ’60s Bohemian. Fun.
I popped into the Henry IV tech rehearsal for a little while in the evening. That was interesting. Nice to be in the big Courtyard Theatre with no one in it but working actors and the plethora of people who are making a huge piece of theatre. There must have been twenty people in the room of various technical disciplines. And interesting to see how it all comes together in another country, and of course, in this iconic theatre company. Also to have a brief glimpse of Michael Boyd at work.
Today, Sunday, was quite an exciting day. A coach (not the horse drawn variety, but instead simply the English word for a bus) met us at the stage door and whisked us off for a luncheon at the Canadian High Commission in London. We had on our outfits and our lipstick, and we simply arrived at the door of 3 Grosvenor Square and rang the bell! Kind of fun.
And then we met Jim and Donna, the High Commissioner and his wife. Wow! What fantastic people. So easy going, and easy to talk to. And for the girl who lives in St. Catharines, and for the rest of my compatriots, this is just not something we do everyday. Things like protocol come into play. They were delightful, and made conversation extremely easy, as did the Cultural Attache and his associates. These people know how to entertain. And they seemed genuinely excited and interested in the project on which we are embarking. Very gracious.
Okay. Now the menu. Yum. Pimms and ginger, wine, and juices were served first. Then we had a magnificent buffet of warm smoked salmon, goat cheese tart, potato salad, walnut bread, rocket salad, grilled eggplant and courgette on couscous, and tomato and feta salad. And for dessert, Pavlova! Tea, coffee, and chocolate. So kudos to the chef, and to the wonderful hospitality of our hosts at the High Commission. These are the perks, I’ll tell you.
We had about an hour and a half before the coach was coming to pick us up, so since Jenny and Corrine had never been to London before, I suggested a rapid walk through Hyde Park, across Hyde Park Corner, down the Mall (well I’m not sure if it’s the Mall on that side, but it turns into The Mall on the other side) to Buckingham Palace . I mean, you have to see the Queen if you’re going to London!! So we did it. The rain cleared for just the right amount of time, and the sun was even struggling to show itself, although this only proved to make us muggy and hot. But we got there. We had five minutes to take some snapshots, and then we high-tailed it back. Crazy, but fun. Five minutes at the Palace: the visit of the true tourist, but better than missing it altogether. And better than an hour on Oxford Street, at least in my books.
The coach picked us up shortly after 5pm, and we were back in Stratford by 7:30. Quite a little field trip, really.
The view from my window
The Old Ferry House (where they picked us up).
Monday, July 15, 2007
Bits and pieces and the lovely Jenny Young
This was a good day. I’m so smart. Or perhaps I am assimilating the role of Oracle. Because just as I predicted, we got right down to it today, and started to work out in detail some of the bits that were sadly lacking in the stumble- through. The atmosphere in the hall was light, not urgent. But focussed and determined. A perfect way to achieve progress.
We worked bits. And granted, not all the bits we would have liked to work as a cast, but the bits that Josette felt needed focus on from a directorial point of view. No problem. Any detail work was gratefully embarked upon. And it really felt like we got a lot done. The day whipped by, but we did not have time to run the section we had worked on. We will get to that tomorrow.
In the current format of the play Brochure, there is a double page dedicated to rehearsal photos. So Ellie, the photographer, was in this morning. Some of the women had remembered and worn a little maquillage, but not so for our young Kate. Looking like a complete schlep I happily went about my days work, and I’m sure there will be appalling proof of it in the centrefold of the program. Oh well. It’s only posterity.
Jenny (poor Jenny!) was in for a three hour understudy call tonight. Her work meant our freedom, as the rest of us were released at 5pm! The first time since our second week. That was very pleasant. And the weather was co-operating for dinner in the garden. Yea! So when Jenny stumbled in at 9pm, I gave her a big hug. It’s a tough row. But someone has to do it. And I’m glad it’s her. Not in a mean way (well, okay, in a bit of a “thank god its not me” way) but that I am a huge fan of the Jenny Young. She is such an enormous talent, and if anyone in this company could step into that part and pull it off on a days notice, it is this highly gifted young woman.￼
I was pooped at the end of the day. I think it’s cumulative. So I can’t imagine what the Mac/Mac women are going through. Their shows end on Saturday. And then we head into tech next week. But doing seven shows a week will feel like a holiday to them. So a lot of compassion is needed for them in the rehearsal hall.
We had a sitzprobe with the band for the first half of the day. It’s always so exciting to hear how the music will come to life. And we have fantastic musicians: cello, programmed keyboard, and percussion. Claire, Mike, and Andy. Very exciting. It also serves to remind us that we are not going to be thirteen women in casual clothes in a stark rehearsal hall, but surrounded by light, sound and costume in a magnificent theatre. Those elements alone will serve to lift the play to a completely different level. And it is those elements that make up a good part of Josette’s vision for this piece.
We worked on the re-writes for part two for the rest of the day. This is good work. We are really clarifying the storytelling, and every step is a step forward. It’s tough. There are always debates about the changes, and so it takes a lot of time. And we are all getting tired. Josette is a hero. I can see the wear and tear on her face, but she is always bright and positive, and most importantly, open. Amazingly open. Ready with a hug, and a laugh, and a determination to make it through without wielding the hand of authority. It is a feminine rehearsal process, rife with both havoc and glory.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Feeling a bit distanced
It was a bits and pieces day today. Music calls, dance calls, fight calls, costume fittings, and a couple of scenes. So we were all all over the place. These kinds of days scare me. I wasn’t called that much because I am no longer in the fight (boohoo) or the biggest number (whaawhaa) because of playing Eurycleia and the consequent costume changes. So I had quite a bit of time in the greenroom.
I feel distant from the play on days like these. It’s not yet at a stage where I can leave the work behind for a day, and still feel really connected to it. I feel like I lose something by not being up on my feet working. And I feel like, since my scenes are in pretty good shape and there are other parts of the piece that need more focus, I have to wait until we do a run-through to actually get rehearsal.
That’s hard. And it makes me scared. Because a run-through is not the same as rehearsal. And I crave a little more of the latter. A good part of that is just fear. And I will see how it goes tomorrow when we do two runs!
There is a bonus to having extra time in the day. Corrine and I booked our cruise to Norway! Oh my! I am so excited. We leave from Newcastle, and will spend four nights and three days on ship (one night in the harbour at Bergen,) and 2 nights and 2 days in Solstrand, in a spa hotel in the mountains outside of Bergen. From Solstrand we can do either a catamaran tour of the fjords, or a rail tour of the mountains. It looks fantastic. And since I haven’t taken an actual holiday since I had three days in Denmark and two days in Amsterdam at the end of the tour of The Danish Play, I am in need of a little R & R. Should be great.
And now: a little word about Kelly McIntosh. What a great job she is doing as Helen of Troy, and as her Maid and her Suitor. She is so dedicated to her work, and she is such a brilliant creator as an actor. Right there, ready to play. And you will get to hear her glorious voice when she sings her little solo as well. Hauntingly beautiful. And on top of all that, she’s bags of fun! A great asset to our group both professionally and socially.￼
Pelting rain today. I was determined to go to market, so I ventured out early, before rehearsals, in the ridiculous downpour. The poor market stall people. There is a fabulous bread stall, and the owner has to order the bread on Tuesday for delivery on the Friday. Fantastic artisan breads, but he had so few customers and was going to lose most of his stock. God bless you luv for coming out in this, he said. So even the natives are shocked by the weather. I bought Stilton bread and goats cheese, and fresh baby carrots for my lunch. Yum.
So. The play comes together. We did two runs today. It’s a great exercise. Giving us a real sense of the whole before we take it apart completely to add technical elements. A day to say goodbye to the rehearsal room, with its airlessness and fluorescent light, and to prepare for the world of the theatre which lies just around the corner.
As a warm-up we ran the choruses. That was good, though they still need a lot of cleaning. Or I certainly feel that I am not as clear as I would like to be with some of them. And then we did a first run. Considering it was a week since our last full run, it went pretty smoothly.
A few notes after lunch, and then a whole bunch of people came in to watch the second run. Although this felt somewhat intrusive and a little like a performance that we were not prepared to play, we took a big leap forward in the story telling. The script changes we made this week are working well. There is still some tweaking to do, but it feels like things are soooo much clearer in the second part. The style and level of playing also becomes more clear as we put together back to back runs. So a lot was learned. And I think Josette was really pleased, and looking forward to creating the visual and aural world that exists now only in her imagination. I also look forward to seeing the technical world that our story will live in. Much excitement to come next week.
The rain did not let up all day, and now there are flood warnings for the whole country, and floods already reported in the area. Undaunted, we all descended on a local French restaurant and had a delicious meal, and an evening of celebration, letting go of one phase of the project, and anticipating the next. Jondon, our company manager, bought us some wine, and was already booking hotel accommodation for people like Cicely Berry, who was unable to return to her home because of the flooding.
It will be interesting to see what effect the weather has on the weekend, and my plans to visit my friend Hilary in Leicester.
The writer’s view on a sunny day
The writer’s view after the rain!.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
The flood of 2007
It was a night filled with activity. I left the pub at about midnight, and stood by the river for a while. Already the swelling waters had burst their banks, and the flood plain across the river was now a lake. The swans were huddling, slightly dazed, under the young oak tree by the Ferry dock. And the rain continued to fall.
In the middle of the night I could hear someone knocking on the downstairs window. Some of our neighbours were warning people on the ground floor to move to higher ground. Although I was drifting in and out of sleep, there seemed to be a steady stream of activity regarding encroaching water. So I had lots of two by two dreams, and was awakened in the morning by the gathering of locals and tourists alike agape at the devastation of the landscape. live in. Much excitement to come next week.
By good fortune, the water seemed to have stopped just at the foot of our doorway. But the entire street was flooded. And across the river, I could see the swans enjoying the opportunity to swim in the lawn bowling enclosure. The entire green, as far as the eye can see, is still covered with water. And it was only a few hours later, when the water had receded about a foot, that Waterside became passable. Word came that several of the cottages where actors live were flooded, and that the Mac/Mac shows at the Swan had been cancelled because the basement of the theatre was under water. And as I sit here writing, the river is running a torrent, with plenty of debris, felled trees, and bits and pieces floating along in its wake. The ferry has disappeared. The row boats are completely surrounded by water. And there are constant cries of incredulity from the people who are coming out to witness the flood of 2007.
My friend Kev from Leicester came and got me and was aghast at the great Lake Stratford. The roads had opened. The sun was shining. And the country was beginning to breath again. One of Kev and Hilary’s neighbours had been stranded outside Evesham and abandoned her car, spent a good part of the night in a Pub which kept open, and then was offered lodging by a woman whose road home had opened up. People gathering around a disaster. It’s a human phenomenon, I think.
Had a great day in Leicester. It’s just a relief to get away from the tiny, intense world that we are currently inhabiting. Kev and Hils took me to Bradgate Park in the countryside of Leicestershire. It’s an old estate that was bequeathed to the people of Leicestershire for their enjoyment. And really, it’s just a great place to go for a walk. To get into the country air and commune with the deer that are resident in the park, and the odd peacock or two, and the absolutely ancient trees and babbling brooks that dot the landscape. Brilliant.
A chance to get away from Sparta and Ithaca and storytelling for a day. To just be a human being, hanging out with friends, sharing a good meal, great conversation, laughter, fresh air and sunshine. That is a perfect day off.
They’re calling for rain tomorrow.
Monday, July 23, 2007
First day of tech. Yikes.
Well. How can I be diplomatic about our first day of tech. Let’s say that there are natural differences in theatre making that exist around the world. Different practices in rehearsal. Different ways to bring the elements together for an audience. Let’s say that I should embrace those differences as expansive, and adventurous. Let’s say that, since I have been working in theatre for twenty-six years I have become a bit set in my ways. A bit rigid in my expectations. I’m happy to frame my experience as personal. Let’s say that.
And that the good thing about working in full tech from the outset is… well, I’m not quite sure. Maybe that you get used to your costume. And that the usefulness of running into a scene where there are flying pieces, without ever having seen them, or where they fly, or how that might effect the heads of the actors who are just trying to continue the acting underneath them, is somehow… edifying?
Alright. Enough of my bitter tongue. I’ll be honest. This was a very difficult day for me.
Let me relay the factual information for the sake of the diary. We started the day with a fire-safety talk, and a tour of the backstage. Then we had a short sound and music rehearsal in the theatre, just to get some idea of levels and hearing the band. From there we had a half hour to get into costume and wigs. In England they do the entire series of technical rehearsals in full get-up. So from 4pm we were in our positions and working through from the top of the piece. By the dinner break, we had done the introduction. It is a very complicated series of events for everyone, so this did not really surprise me. And by 11:30 pm we ended, just as Rae, our assistant director had predicted, at the top of the Wedding scene.
We will continue on from here. And I will be sure to take my patience pill before I head in tomorrow.
Okay. I have to finish on a positive note. The Swan Theatre is a gem. The experience of playing this space will be second to none. I know that. And I can see that the difficulties of the day will disappear beside the sheer joy of performing in this theatre. And also, that the show will look and sound amazing. That these elements are already lifting the play to a new height, and that we will have a great piece of theatre by the end of the week. That gives me some perspective.
The Company (photo by Corrine Koslo)
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
From Hades to Elysium: Mummy came home.
Yesterday, Josette had been in Sweden doing a first day on a show (The Odyssey!!!) that she begins there in two weeks. Today she’s back, and everything in tech went smoothly, and in the fashion to which I have become accustomed. So I eat my words from yesterday. It was only that we didn’t have our fearless and visionary leader to put everything right. So instantly we were a group of happy campers, and more importantly, safe campers.
And now I begin to see, as I knew I would, the way Josette works like an painter with the technical and pictorial elements of the piece. And Rosa has provided such a brilliant palette of costumes and props, and scenic details, and Bonnie is lighting them with her ineffable flair. And Martin’s sound cues, and Warren’s music, are all being woven into Margaret’s story. By the end of the week it will be a real tapestry, and then it will be given back to the actors to play. But for now we must be content with tiny steps forward into a world which is half paradise and half hell. And have our wits about us. And expect the unexpected.
I think we’re a little behind where we would like to be in terms of schedule. We’re about a third of the way through the play. But the middle third should move relatively quickly, and then we’ll slow down again for the final section. There does not seem to be an expectation of more than one run through before the first preview on Friday. That freaks me out a bit, but I’m willing to go with it. It certainly gives me insight into the first previews of both Richard II and Henry IV Part 1 that I saw. Very raw work. But still it holds together, and the special audience that attends first previews are still rapt.
It didn’t hurt that is was sunny yesterday! We were in the theatre for much of the day, but we had the morning to soak up some much needed vitamin D. And the green across the river is a green again, rather than a lake. And the geese and swans can cross the current again without ending up in Bambury. And the old chain-ferry has surfaced. And Jenny and I actually ate our dinner in the garden! It is the dove with the olive branch for us here, though much of the country is still devastated. And the forecast is still extremely variable.
(Okay. Here’s my secret. I actually write the following morning. It has been my practice for the past ten years to write a morning journal. It feels quite natural to me; a comforting routine. So when the NAC asked me to keep a record of the process of The Penelopiad it was quite easy for me to accept and simply substitute my personal writing for writing of a more public nature.
I’ll admit… I’m diplomatic. This is a place for softening ones personal reactions to events, to look at things with somewhat more objectivity. But I have not lied. Not once. I have just not told the whole truth when I think that truth is inappropriate for public consumption.
I say all this as a sort of apology for my entry of Monday this week. It was a hard day for me personally, and I simply couldn’t be objective about that day. We all have dark days.
The day was good. It moved more slowly than I expected. But it was good. The show is going to look stunning. This will be due in no small part to our very talented Bonnie Beecher. Wow. She can paint with light. I don’t want to give a lot away at this point, because I’m hoping that many of you reading will get a chance to see the show in Ottawa, but it’s pretty yummy!
These are long days. We are called for costume fitting and rehearsals from 11:30am, and then we take two one-hour breaks in a day that goes to 11:30pm. Pooped. This is the time when the echinacea comes out, and all the voodoo we use to keep ourselves healthy. But little injuries happen when we have to go into a big movement section, and it is seven hours since you did a warm-up. The strain is palpable. But on we go.
I spoke with Josette at one point, and she is not certain whether we will get through tech tomorrow. That means no dress rehearsal. That means… the first preview will be our first run-through with all elements. That’s tough to face. But at the same time we have to be where we are. There is no pushing the process faster than it will go. And so we plod on. Slow and steady wins the race.
Swan dressing room hall
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Long day and a birthday
Well, we didn’t get through the play. I know that it was Josette’s goal to get through all of it so we could rehearse a few bits tomorrow and do a dress rehearsal before the preview. But it will be tight now. And it means that after leaving the theatre at 11:30pm we have to be back, and getting into costume, at 10:30am! Eeeee. Oh well, we suck it up and get on with it.
We started the day with rehearsal in the Ashcroft Room. This is a spectacular rehearsal hall which sits on top of the Swan Theatre. It is completely lined with wood, with windows all around, and a vaulted ceiling. A pretty spectacular space. Unfortunately the roof leaks, so with the… you guessed it… Rain!, there were a few drippy bits.
The rehearsal was mostly with Allison, the fight director. Cleaning the fight at the end, and cleaning the moves in the rape scene. Then a few music bits, and a break before tech.
I had a costume fitting (they’re replacing my basic Maid’s costume), and then the Canadian girls had photos taken for the Walrus article. Then into costume to start on stage.
It was a good day again. Lot’s of beautiful images. But it went slowly. I think it is just the layering of elements. But it felt like we didn’t get very far very fast. This means a lot of waiting. And one must learn to conserve ones energy. But regardless of conservation, there was a lot of yawning going on by the end of the evening.
Praise be to the gods of the Theatre! We made it through our first preview. The whole experience is both palpably real, and elusively unreal. It was a long and gruelling day. It began at 10:30 finishing the technical rehearsal. We got through it with a short break to re-caulk the pool (no details, or it won’t be a surprise!). And were released for an hour lunch before our dress rehearsal. I had to get some groceries. Oh yes. These are the practicalities that fall by the wayside in tech week. So I dashed over to Marks and Spencers, and then went up to the roof of the Swan to eat my lunch. There is a little deck off the Ashcroft Room that overlooks the Avon River and the countryside. It’s quite majestic, and oh so peaceful.
And from that place of tranquility, we were thrown into our insane dress rehearsal. It’s always tough to get back into the beginning of the play when you haven’t seen it for five days, but all in all, I’d say we did reasonably well. I had four costume changes that I were pretty rocky, including one that I had to abandon. Too bad, because photos were being shot through the run. Ah well. Lost to posterity. There were lots of glitches, and the absolute mayhem that ensues backstage in this piece would have been at least as entertaining as what was happening on stage. We were all learning: actors, dressers, stage-managers, props folks. And it was one steep learning curve that went by in a flash. It’s a bit like a steeplechase: run like stink, and watch out for the hedges and the lakes!An oh-so-short break for dinner and we were in front of people for the first time. Adrenaline is an amazing drug. Josette gave a little speech before the show, just to say that this was the first time this piece was being seen in the WHOLE WORLD!!! and that she may have to stop it if something went wrong. Nothing did. A little miracle. Not that it was all brilliant and perfect, but that we got through relatively unscathed. And that was good enough for all of us. And at the end of it all, we got an encore. I mean we left them clapping for some time, and the house lights were even up, but they called us back and we went. Very generous. Very unexpected.
So now we were pooped. In fact I think we’ve written the book on “pooped”. But. Sir Christopher Bland (the Chairman of the Board for the RSC, and the CEO of British Telecom) and his wife Jenny had asked us out for dinner after the show. They are unable to come for press night next week, as they are going up to their “fishing shack” in Northern Scotland. So they had to come to the first preview, and they wanted to meet us. Do you say no? Well, not me. Many of us went, and some joined after notes. They took us to a fabulous French restaurant in town. The food was amazing. Sir Christopher was particularly impressed that we got an encore bow. He said he has never seen this happen at the Swan. (!) They are really great people. Genuinely interested in the arts and literature. Jenny’s son, Jamie Byng, is the publisher who began the project to retell the ancient myths; the project of which The Penelopiad is only one of many. So this had the potential to be a fantastic evening, but I was not exactly my effervescent self, and had to leave at 11:30 when I hit an insurmountable wall of fatigue. And knowing that the call tomorrow is 10:30 am for notes and bits, and that we are doing two shows.￼
The Ashcroft Room Rehearsal Hall
The View from the Ashcroft Room
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Really dragging my butt. Still… in for the call in the morning.
Notes and bits from the night before, and a couple of cuts to implement. But we will do no major work until Monday. The second preview was a pig for me. I just didn’t have the energy to buoy above the backstage mayhem, and several of my costume changes went for bust again. In one scene I walked on with my head through the arm-hole of my costume. And this particular time I am supposed to get out of the costume onstage. Well, there was no way that was going to happen because I couldn’t budge, and felt a bit like Richard the Third with my head and my arm through the same hole! So I had to leave the stage and not show up into the next scene, in which, thankfully, they didn’t miss me. It was all a bit lumpy technically, but according to Josette and Rae, the story is getting clearer and clearer. And that is most important.
Much to my horror, as we were getting out of costume, Michael Boyd appeared in the hallway to say that he had seen the show, and congratulating us on a job well done. (I wanted to ask him if he was taking any pointers from my Richard…) Blah. Always hateful when someone you admire so greatly sees a performance that you think sucks.
But I know from twenty-six years of experience – the subtle shifts in performance that we as actors feel are crevasses, are really only imperceptible hairline cracks. So you take the complement with the grace that it is offered. I just hope he comes back again when I can feel the ground beneath my feet. Notes and bits after the first show. And then a break. I got a longer break than others as I was not involved in some of the bits that were rehearsing, and so got a dinner in our garden, and a little lie down.
I couldn’t sleep. Domestic matters were jamming my frequencies. My email is down and so I feel deeply disconnected from home, and my money transfer has got lost in the snail mail and I will have to deal with that. But nothing I can do until Monday.
Second show was a really good one. Yes! It actually felt like I could see people on the stage for the first time. That the craziness backstage was calming down enough that my feet could actually land in a scene and I could be there. Almost acting. Not quite there yet, but glimpses. Moments of expansion. And that teaches me right away: “This is it. This is the direction to go. Simple. Clear. Just be here.”
Moments of clarity. Possibilities to play. A really hopeful way to leave the play for a much deserved day off.
And maybe, just maybe, a glass of wine or two in The Dirty Duck before crashing! Twist my arm.
By my calculating eye, the river was up more than two meters last weekend. And a week later there is little sign of it. Except that the actors who were evacuated from the cottages across from the theatre have moved to their third hotel in a week. This includes the lovely Veronica, who we bumped into moving her third load of items from the upstairs of her cottage. Definitely NOT the thing one wants to be doing on the only day away from our gruelling schedule. I would have had a breakdown.￼
Sunday, July 29, 2007
An Important Week Ahead
Slept. Had a sequestered morning. The sun shining in through my bay window. The life of the river has returned to normal, but for the ferry which seems to have been injured in the flood. The birds are happy and busy. The dogs are merrily walking their people. The green is green.
By my calculating eye, the river was up more than two meters last weekend. And a week later there is little sign of it. Except that the actors who were evacuated from the cottages across from the theatre have moved to their third hotel in a week. This includes the lovely Veronica, who we bumped into moving her third load of items from the upstairs of her cottage. Definitely NOT the thing one wants to be doing on the only day away from our gruelling schedule. I would have had a breakdown.
￼Went over to the Courtyard Cafe and tried to rectify some email issues. Pam was there busily sending and receiving news and support. I have been completely cut off by my server, and don’t know how to deal with it from here. So I’ve opened a web account to tide me over, it’s just very frustrating to be out of contact with home when one is so emotionally vulnerable. I simply do not have the wherewithal to deal with petty communication problems. Blah.
To shed a bit of light, my godson Harry Thomas arrived from Canada for a couple of days at the Ferryhouse. And because it was a glorious day we wandered around town for 2 1/2 hours. We wandered past all the pertinent sights, and popped in a couple of shops, and meandered through the Sunday market, where he bought a fabulous ring. We walked over to Old Town, past Hall’s Croft, and through the graveyard at Holy Trinity, and then sat by the river for a while. We went for a grand meal with Jenny and Jade, and by the end of that my head was bobbing.
I had a long chat on the phone with my dear friend David who I miss so much. And by 9:30 I had to go to bed. Harry stayed up to do some writing in the garden, and I crashed.
We are all working at our edge. And we have an important week ahead. A bit of sleep will certainly been an aid.
Good rehearsal today. We tightened and cleaned a lots of bits up in the Ashcroft Room. Then after lunch we had some time on stage and spent most of that working on re-staging the Dream. Other small bits effected by timing were also addressed, and each of these little changes now become part of tonight’s show.
At the end of rehearsal Josette warned of some larger changes to come tomorrow. One of them is particularly hard. She wants to cut the last scene between Eurycleia and Penelope. I said “yes” because an actor must say yes, but this was a tough one for me and I went home and really thought about the scene on the dinner break. What is the role of the scene in the play? What part does it play in the story, and is it vital? And if it is not, I have to let it go for the good of the show. Tough. I love the scene.
Another good preview. A quieter house this time, but they were right with us, and the storytelling becomes clearer and clearer. And the insanity backstage is understood now, so even though it is still mayhem, it seems more controlled ￼and less frantic. Which means that our onstage life is also more controlled and less frantic, and we can achieve a greater level of contact with our fellow actors and our audience. It all begins to settle and become ours.
What a change from this time last week where it seemed to be taken away from us completely. It’s quite ironic that although every production goes through relatively the same process, tech time is always such a shock to the actor and to the play, such a difficult time of growth. And this time, when we rediscover the story, but at a level so much deeper, so refined, so layered with other elements, and together with an audience, it becomes a new play, and the struggle to discover it begins to melt into the background. It is a birth that miraculously disassociates you from the labour.
I saw Josette in the dressing room hallway after the preview. I guess my homework on the scene paid off: she said I had convinced her of its place in the story. There may be some nips and tucks but I think it will stay. Yea.
Fifth preview last night. Changes during the day were small, but useful. We did some much needed cleaning on music. The hard thing about all the technical elements of the play is that things like music rehearsals get moved to the bottom of the heap. So it was a real pleasure to get back to drilling cut-offs and harmony lines, and trying to hold on to them when we’re on our feet doing the movement and the scenes.
I had a crap preview personally. Pushing, pushing, pushing. I simply was not relaxing into anything. Pooh. Ironically, it’s good to have a bad performance at this stage. I think I said this a few days ago, but, it makes you pick up your bootstraps again, and get yourself to yet a new rung on the ladder to opening. The show did not suffer, and was likely the best yet. The audience was right with us from the top.
And their audible reactions to some of the comedy and the horror were excellent markers for us in terms of story-telling. So for me, the goal for tomorrow is to chill out, to be present in the scenes, to talk to the people I’m talking to, and not to bellow! It’s time to find my stride.
My godson Harry left, and my mom and dad arrived today. It was nice to get a hug from my mummy and daddy. And others are trickling in for the press night on Thursday. Victoria Steele, the managing director for English Theatre at the NAC is now here. And after the show, when I was having a pint with my mom ￼and dad, and my old babysitter, Sue and her husband Richard, John Wood sidled up to the bar. So he joined my family and we had a chat about the documentary film that he is producing in France. According to one of my dressers, Keith (people in wardrobe are always the first to get the scoop), there are 80 people coming from Canada. “Who can they be?” he asked me. I had no idea. But apparently John Wood among others. I’ll look forward to seeing who else…
[Just by the way… this entry takes me to over 20,000 words so far! Fun, eh?!]
A long and busy day. We were called for rehearsal in the morning: notes and bits. Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. And the show is so complex that as much cleaning as there is to do, there seems like there is never enough time to get to everything. But bit by bit.
I spent my lunch with my parents. We grabbed a baguette sandwich and sat in the Knot Garden behind New Place. There is no house on the site at New Place, but there are foundations of the house that Shakespeare bought for his family when he came back to Stratford from London. And the garden behind it is exquisite, and open to the public, and a peaceful place to have lunch. landscape. Brilliant.
Back to rehearsal for to work and clean Dreamboats onstage. And then a half- hour call to get into full costume for media and photo call.
Jenny Young and I were interviewed by Nala Ayad for CBC’s The National. That’s always fun. “Just a couple of working actors on the National News…” . Not bad. They also shot a sequence from the show, and an interview with Josette. And there was a media shot taken for newspapers.
Then only a one hour break and we were back for a singing and voice warm-up before the our final preview. It went really well. Oh there were mistakes and wobbly bits, but that will be the nature of the beast as we continue the run. The great thing is Penny, our fearless and wonderful Penny, is establishing a conversational relationship with the audience right from the top, so they are with her and her story. She is the thread through the play, and we, The Maids, are the fringy bits, the details of her imagination and memory. That seems to be clear in the storytelling now. And that is what we have been aiming for from the beginning.
Go directly home. Do not pass GO, do not collect two hundred dollars. Do not be lured by The Dirty Duck. Due to my email woes I did have to go and sit in the Courtyard for half an hour to send the blog and contact a few folks at home. I am so grateful for the support from friends, colleagues, and readers!
Oh. And a bit of a special thing for all of us: Margaret Atwood sent each one of us a bouquet of flowers! There were tears. It’s all a bit overwhelming when little kindnesses like that appear. Thank-you Margaret. For giving Penelope and The Maids your unique voice.
Garden at New Place
Thursday, August 2, 2007
It’s here. The opening night. They call it “Press Night” here which gives way too much power to a group of people that we must not think about today. There is no call in the morning! Yippee. A chance to sleep in, and putter around writing opening night cards, and ironing dresses, and shaving legs and armpits. That kind of morning.
￼At noon, my parents came across the river on the Ferry right to my doorstep and we went to the Courtyard to check email. Peter Hinton sent us the most amazing message:
“There is no such thing as an opening night. Not really. Just another performance in the never ending conundrum we call process. Everyone comes to the theatre actually wanting it to be good.
Wanting it to be right. And yet we all know that there is no right or wrong only the daring of the attempt… This is a once in lifetime experience – so why not resist the obvious and go all the way. Let go of what you fear and embrace all you have and know and are yet to learn. Move the public by your daring not by a need for their approval. Because you have everything to lose makes it so worthwhile. To excuse daring by nerves is not to honour what you are trying to achieve. Y’all are in the drivers seat. It’s never ultimately about where you are going – but rather how you can get there. Be brave. Be strong. Be yourselves.”
Thank you Peter. Thank you for your support, and for your consuming love for the theatre. We soooo need people like you. What a great leader. How we wish you were here with us tonight. Ah well. You are on your own Odyssey in Stratford, Ontario. And we wish you a parallel voyage of discovery.
Other wishes from home were greatly appreciated as well. It’s hard when you’re away from your usual system of support. Hard for Jenny to be away from her boyfriend Gord. Hard for Pam to be away from her family, and her father who cannot travel. But we feel the well wishes, and we are so grateful.
We had a short afternoon call. Josette gave us some parting wisdom. She knows the show will grow, but encourages us to keep the integrity of what we have worked towards. I cannot speak highly enough of my regard for this woman, and what she has given to this piece. A few quick spacing things, a little fight review, and we were off.
So many cards, chocolates, fruit. Faxes and messages posted on the call board. Anxious preparations backstage: a little something to eat, an attempt at lying down and at least breathing, if not sleeping. A great warm-up with Charmion and Mike. And while we were preparing, a reception was being held by the High Commission. (My mom and dad enjoyed chatting with lots of folks there!) Then we gave our Penelopiad. I don’t know what to say really. I think we all took a step forward with the play, which is an excellent accomplishment for an opening night. And the people who were gathered responded, and seemed to follow us on a journey from Sparta to Hades with many stops in between. These nights are somewhat surreal, and not terribly well marked in the memory.
Somehow the adrenaline works as an eraser. So before we knew it we were in The Dirty Duck for drinks and a barbeque and receiving words of praise and gratitude from the many supporters from both England and Canada, and beyond.
We did it. Such hard work that has built steadily to this day. And now it has happened. And the crazy thing is… tomorrow is another day. But before that, dancing into the night to let off a little steam.
Veronica Tennant and Corrine Koslo
Friday, August 3, 2007
No Rest for the Wicked
No rest for the wicked. Not exactly the optimum planning, but at 11am we were on a coach heading for the Cotswolds and a luncheon with the Vice Chairman of the RSC, Lady Susie Sainsbury, at the home of Lady Charlotte Heber-Percy, Eyford House. A “ladies only” luncheon was served on the back terrace. Other than being basically brain-dead, it was an amazing event. The weather was far more beautiful than I (and others) expected and we ended up with some sunburn that had to be covered for the evening show. But come on folks! Sunburn! You know what that means! The sun was shining! Oh, it was a beautiful day. And I got some beautiful pictures.
Many members of the NAC Penelope Circle were there: the women who have made substantial financial donations so that this project could be realised. It was great to meet with such enthusiastic supporters of the theatre from both sides of the ocean. And to receive such informed support from these really remarkable women.
And what a house. The gardens were spectacular. My pictures cannot convey the beauty. And the luncheon was wonderful. Janet Suzman was an unexpected guest. It would have been so much better had we had a few brain cells left with ￼which to communicate, but I think we did reasonably well. I especially enjoyed the chocolate cake! Oh my.
Then home to catch a quick, and desperately needed sleep before the show. (When do we do any grocery shopping, that’s my question!) Between the short nap and the vocal warm-up I ran an got some essentials for breakfast. I will deal with real groceries, and laundry, and catch up on email on Sunday.
A pretty tired group of women gathered for the warm-up, and then… you know… we had a pretty good show! That’s good for a second show.
I quite enjoyed myself. I think we will have a good time telling this story once we get a bit of rest. So home right after the show, sent the blog off from opening night, and watched the news with a snack and a cup of camomile tea. Two shows tomorrow. Two more sleeps and then a day off. Oh yes. That’s what I’m longing for now.
Eyford House Terrace
Sunday and Monday, August 5 & 6, 2007
Rest and Recovery
Rest! Yippee! I spent Sunday doing nothing. My mother very indelicately phoned at a few minutes past ten. I had really wanted to sleep in longer. But c’est la vie. The day began with a relaxing breakfast in my bay window, in glorious sunlight, watching the tourists gather for their many river activities, writing. It is one of my favourite ways to spend time. I caught up on the blog, and emails, drank lots of tea, and gazed out the window for some time.
I went out into the garden in the afternoon, spread a blanket out, and worked on understudy lines. That was the big Sunday activity for all the “P Girls” in the house. Jenny is doing amazingly well. She will have long rehearsal days all week, along with the others who have the larger loads: Kelly, Corrine and Lisa. The rest of us will be called sporadically to fill in our bits and pieces. Then Friday we will have a run through in tech and costume. So it will be a pretty jam packed week for some.
That makes the rest even more important. So no guilt for lying under the apple tree and watching the clouds go by. Or for lying on my bed watching telly in the evening. Good.
Monday was another gentle day, as our assistant director Rae was still in London working on another project. So the understudy call was for music only. I took myself off to the massage therapist where I had a very intense massage which included some painful work on my groin pull.
Then I had an Artists’ Forum meeting. I volunteered at the start to represent our company on this committee but was unable to attend an earlier meeting because of rehearsals. So that was fun. I love sitting on these committees: trying to make life and art better for the artists in a company. A great thing to do. And a better place to bitch about things than in the pub after a few pints! Not that there was bitching at all. It was very civilised, and I felt my outside opinion was valued. The discussion centred mostly on the artists’ needs in the renovations of the main theatre, and the legacy of The Complete Works year that has just passed. The collaboration with the NAC and The Penelopiad is a direct extension of the excitement generated by that year of international productions. It was fun to be a fly on the wall and to hear a bit of the inside workings of this great company.
Then I sat in the garden and read for a while, had a little lie down, and went in for warm-up and a show. It was a great audience. Penny is really hitting her stride now. She knows more and more how the dialogue with the audience works, and she creates a wonderfully comfortable relationship with them right ￼from the start. They were a really fun group, and so ready to follow along with her story. Three cheers for Penny Downie. What a great woman.
I had a very careful show, what with a bandaged toe and a sore groin. Running is especially irritating, and I run everywhere. It’s really tough to have an injury because you feel incapable of giving one hundred percent. There is always a part of your brain that is protecting the weakened area. And though this is imperceptible to an audience, it makes the show harder for the actor. There is a small part of you that cannot be “in the moment” and that is a bloody nuisance. I made it through, though, and then came right home to ice.
(Not very pleasant sticking an ice-pack on that part of your anatomy!) On top of physical injuries, there is a nasty cold going through the company. Poor Derbhle was really sick last night. Miserable. Must remember to wash hands, and do the voodoo. But once a germ like that is in the group it is pretty difficult to avoid it what with touching all sorts of props and holding hands and so on. So it will likely spread through the group over the next week or so.
Wow. A bit of a miserable way to wrap up. So let me say this: the audience is really enjoying the show. That is so much fun. It is just great to hear peoples little vocal responses to certain text or images. And we know that we are offering them a good night’s entertainment.
The torrential rains have given way to glorious sunshine. It has been absolutely gorgeous here for since before opening. What a relief. And we can say it’s a good thing, since the entire monsoon month we were locked in the rehearsal hall, and now that the sun is shining there is a little time off. Well… for some of us.
We started understudy rehearsals in earnest today. That means 10 – 5 days for Jenny on top of shows. And for Kelly and Lisa and Jade, who are called for a good chunk of those days. I was in for only an hour today, which meant a sleep in. I needed it as I now have “the cold”.
But the report from Jenny was that they got through all that was scheduled, which is excellent. Blocking rehearsals will finish tomorrow. Then there will be a run through on Thursday, and a tech/dress run on Friday. And then Jenny’s parents and boyfriend come! No rest for her.
￼It was a really good show. (Poor Derbhle looked like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, but she was a trooper and made it through. The rest of our European colleagues are now catching up on the rest that they so deserve.)
Penny is making fantastic strides in her relationship with the audience. Every day she seems to win them over more. They love her! Nothing could be better in terms of our storytelling. It allows them to respond to the comedy through the piece, and then to feel the tragedy as well. Fantastic. It’s great to see so tangibly how imperative audience is to our craft. The entire world of the play changes when it is seen in relationship with the eyes, and ears, and minds of the public. It is the final piece in the puzzle.
So, I’m thinking… well, now that the show is up and running there’s really not that much to report. One of my students from the National Theatre School, Lindsay Clarke, came to the show on Tuesday night. She was at the Ark with Kelly and I last winter, and she was mentored by Kelly. She was delighted with the show, and stayed over, and I convinced her she should stay and see Richard II at The Courtyard to see how Shakespeare is really done.
The two of us went to Shakespeare’s Birthplace during the day. That was great. A little too touristy, I found. I liked the other two houses much better. Much of the central information around Shakespeare’s life I am already familiar with, but the more peripheral stuff, like Hall’s Croft, is completely captivating. Now I have only to see Holy Trinity, and the grave. I’ll find time for that next week.
I had an Alexander session. That was fantastic. I find Alexander Technique not only a gift for the body, but a wonderful way to focus the mind on “not doing”. We “do” so much to our bodies in the current culture of gyms, and fitness classes, and Alexander is a real antidote to that. Excellent practice for the actor. Or, at least, for me.
While I was having a relaxing day, continuing to heal groin and toe, and fighting this damned cold, the others were busily finishing understudy blocking rehearsals. Poor Jenny was pretty pooped by the end of the day. ￼￼ The show was good, a little wonky perhaps, but we’re solid in what we have now.
Djanet Sears called to say she was behind in her packing and would not see us before she left. What a power she has been. What a force in our process. A quiet, focussed thrum, that sustained and reinforced our discoveries. This is a woman of soul. A well that draws you in, and quenches you. Thank you Djanet for your amazing contribution to our work.
Okay. What did I say about not much to tell? The theatre gods are laughing. I’ll start with the big news. Understudies went on tonight.
Yup. We had moved quite handily, if raggedly, through a stumble-through in the afternoon. It’s always quite entertaining to see how people throw themselves in to parts they are essentially copying. So it breezed along, and we even finished a half-hour early.
After a quick dinner break we headed back to the theatre for 5:50 pm warm-up, and found out that Sarah Malin would be missing the show because of a family emergency. This had quite a tumble down effect: Kelly would be playing Odysseus in addition to her suitor, and maid; Lisa would be playing Helen of ￼Troy; Jade would be singing Kelly’s verse in Princess; I would cover Sarah’s lines in one of the choruses. Spacing would be adjusted in some of the numbers, people would pick up extra bits and pieces, etc. etc. Good thing we had done the stumble-through that day!
What is truly remarkable… the show moved seamlessly. And although things were different, and there were some very bright eyes on the stage from time to time, all the girls did an amazing job. Penny surfed ably with all her new scene partners. And the audience took away the same play that they would have seen any other night (no disrespect to Sarah). It is the sad truth in this business: once the story is in place, the actors are all dispensable. So. That was an event. And on top of that we had a talk-back after the show, which was fun; lots of great energy to share with the folks who stayed. And then Jondon took us all out for champagne at the Duck.
Kelly had pumped enough adrenaline through her system to jump start a train (Lisa and Jade had their fair share as well), so there was a good evening of regaling those who weren’t there with the experiences.
The Histories company had also had a big day: their first three show day of Richard II and the two Henry IVs, so there were plenty of actors in the pub. And I met some of the people who will be our hosts when we take the show to Newcastle. So much for nothing happening.
In the middle of the night, the cold moved in big time. I haven’t been so sick with a cold in years. They grow their germs nasty here in England. We began the ￼technical rehearsal for the understudies at 10 am. So we were in costume at what felt like breakfast time. Yuck. I begged Rae to go home after my bit, and she gave me the allowance. I stayed in bed all afternoon.
The good news is, Sarah’s family emergency has passed, and all is well. She was back in to do her bit at the beginning of the understudy run, too, and then went home. The cold is moving through the company in varying degrees, but the worrisome thing is that Penny is also quite sick with it. Three more shows and then a day off. These down days seem to become more important, when one would think we might be getting some tourism done. No. Just time to recover from the onslaught of the week.
And now, a short treatise on adrenaline: oh blessed hormone! For the understudies, it kicks in like a magical drug that allows you to throw yourself into fear inducing states that would otherwise leave you catatonic. With adrenaline, you walk through fire, and come out the other side shouting, “bring it on”! At the same time, it is the best possible medicine for a cold, or a voice that would otherwise not have the power to fill the kitchen, let alone the theatre. It pumps you up, you do your job, you have enough energy left to meet friends at the public house for an hour or so, and then you crash soundly on your pillow and allow the body to recuperate. Sensational. Ah, adrenaline.
According to Jenny and Kelly, the rest of the tech went well, and things are ready for the run on Monday. There was one little hangover from the tech: I went into my first quick change into Eurycleia to find that my costume had been altered for Corrine for the understudy run, and they had not restored it! Hmmm. If you know Corrine and you know me, you can see how this could be a bit of an issue. And I was a bit cranky about it, as my wick was shortened by the cold… but on you go in a rather strange looking frock, and for the next change everything was back to normal.
Straight home after the show. A hot toddy to put me to sleep, but a wretched sleep awaited me.
Had a pretty rough night with my head exploding and not being able to breathe, and I was feeling rather vulnerable at warm-up. So I stuck to myself and prepared for a two show day. There’s a big bikers convention on just outside of Stratford this weekend, so there must have been hundreds of bikers in town this morning, showing off their metal and their leather. Somewhat incongruous with the idyllic Avon river bank, but we love those juxtapositions.
Corrine came in to tell me that her taxi-cab driver had asked her on a date. She had expressed interest in going to the big biker concert tonight after the show to take pictures, and he had asked to take her. I mean, not take her in his taxi, but take her. That gave me a good laugh and brought me marginally out of my morning funk.
A good matinee never hurts anyone. Matinee audiences are a singular lot.
They are people who really enjoy the theatre. They have not won tickets from their local charity auction, or been coerced into coming by their sister-in-law’s bridge partner. They choose to spend a gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon in the dark, listening and watching a two thousand year old story told by thirteen chicks in Hades. We love them.
Home for a quick rest in between shows. And to meet up with Hilary and Kev, and their friend Michelle, who are coming to the show tonight.
Oh. Guess who else is coming. Peggy. Oh yes. That Peggy. Dame Peggy. Hmmm. No pressure.
I can’t imagine what Penny is going through. She speaks Margaret’s voice. And she is at the end of her rope with this cold. Poor thing. But Penny Downie remains undaunted. She goes on, as do we all, and give our story to Margaret, to Hilary, to Kev and Michelle, and it is the story that we have come to own with determined dedication to our “low art”.
It is strange though. One cannot help but be conscious that the thoughts you are speaking originated in the mind of a small, curly-haired woman who is sitting in the fourth row. That she has rolled these thoughts around in her head and on her page time and again, shuffling them, defining them, refining them. ￼And you know that the chances of your own voice echoing in any way the voice of that small, curly-haired woman, are very slim. That the relationship you have with those words is active, not reflective. That you are acting, not reading. Simple as that. Through necessity, it becomes a different language, a different voice. My voice. And so I pull the curtain, and step on to the stage, and do what I have to do with my fellow actors in any given scene. And leave Ms. Atwood out of the equation. Sorry, Peggy. I have to. That’s my job.
We met in the Duck afterwards for a drink. She seemed happy to meet us all, and pleased with the production. I’m sure it will take some time for her to digest. And perhaps we will never know her real thoughts. A few informal pictures were taken, and then I went off to have pizza with Hils, and Kev, and Michelle, who had really enjoyed the show.
These moments with my English “family” make a long week, struggling with injury and illness, worthwhile for me. It’s so great to have my childhood friend come to see me onstage, to be proud of me, and on top of that, to really enjoy ￼the production and the story. It makes the whole experience somehow more real when it is put in context of the whole of my life. Good. A good week.
Dressing Table with flowers from Margaret Atwood
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Four more weeks, and we’re home. It’s strange. I can already feel myself hanging on. Not wanting it to finish. Wanting to buy all the food at Marks and Spencers that I haven’t tried yet. Don’t miss anything. And questioning: have I done enough with my time here, or have I frittered away opportunities? Funny. We want to have it all, and are so rarely able to enjoy the experience we have. I have to accept that resting is a valid choice. And that M & S will be offering a whole new line of food the next time I come to England! So four weeks is four weeks, and as the house playwright once said, “That that is, is”.
I didn’t do much with my Sunday but try to recover from this dreadful cold. A big long sleep, a couple of hours of writing, an hour or so on the internet, some reading. Hot compresses on my sinuses. Some phone calls from home. A great curry dinner that Jenny made, that we ate in the garden with Ryan, one of the fellows from the Mac/Mac company who has become the Ferry House cat. And then, at 11 pm I walked out the front door, stood at the end of the Ferry dock, and looked up at the stars.
It was a beautiful night. The river was lined with sleeping canal boats moored along the bank-side. In the distance I could hear the thrum of the motorway several kilometres away, and under my feet the occasional fish jumped so close it made my heart skip. Not a swan in sight, not a ripple on the water, a bit frightening actually, in its blackness.
I made a tacit agreement with myself, that I would just wait for one.
Nothing. For fifteen minutes. There was quite a bit of air traffic, and I thought for a while that I would miss them because of the distraction of planes. But then came the first one. Light, but unmistakable. The briefest dash across the sky. The stars seemed to multiply and turn up their light. Then another. Almost imperceptible.
Like a subliminal message. Three. Four. But it was Five that was worth waiting for. A bright streak through the sky above the darkened green, with its long tail fracturing the sky for a full second. Meteoric.
What a great word. What a singular experience.
￼It is a time. A time that cannot be captured. A time that the eye of the mind can retain, but never hold. A time to release.
Okay. This is nutty now. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Jenny Young went on tonight as Penelope. Swear to God.
It went something like this: After a nice recuperative day off, we began preparations for the understudy run. Jenny had an 11am call to run solo work with Rae, and then the company was called for a 2 o’clock warm-up and a 3 o’clock run. We knew there wouldn’t be that many people there, but Sam Jones, the head of casting was coming, along with Deborah Shaw, so it was important to do a good job. And to give Jenny a solid facsimile of what it might be like if she were to go on. All good.
The run went very smoothly. Jenny sailed through at the helm, and the rest of us manned the ship in our different roles, and picked up the slack where pieces were missing, and it ended up being a very pleasurable run of the play. We had tea and cakes in the Ashcroft Roof Room afterwards, and I spoke with Deborah Shaw, and she was very impressed.
We didn’t have much time between shows. It was already 5:15, and warm-up was scheduled to begin at 5:50. But most of us figured since we’d done the understudy warm-up and a run-through, we could forgo this extra call. So we had a quick meal at home: Jenny and Jade and I.
And I praised Jenny for doing such a comprehensive understudy, and how well that reflected on her in the eyes of the powers that be. She lauded Rae for getting an early start to the understudy rehearsals, even though it seemed a burden at the time. And we expressed our relief that all that was behind us now, and we could get back to just running the show.
And the Gods of the Theatre laughed, pointed their wands, and went: brrring- brrring! The old pay-phone in the hall rang. Jenny got it because she thought it might be her boyfriend, Gord.
“…This is Jenny. … Yes. … Really. … Okay. … I’ll be right there.” I ran out into the hall, “You’re going on!?” Jenny’s inimitable introspective giggle. “Yuh”. Lots of expletives out of me, and then, “Okay. Let’s go. Here we go!”
￼So many thoughts. She is so ready. Thank God we did the run this aft. Thank God it’s now and not three weeks from now. The timing couldn’t be more perfect – she already had her hair and make-up done!
Penny had come in to warm-up, but after an in-depth session with Charmion, she simply didn’t have enough voice to do the show. This damned cold! So we gathered to assess the consequences. And of course there is a huge trickle- down effect: Sarah will cover Jenny’s lines in the first chorus, I will cover the second chorus and her Spartan suitor. Lisa will cover Jenny’s maid, Jade will cover Lisa’s maid and so on and so on. The long and the short of it is that when one person is out in this show, the ensemble has to kick into gear. Everyone rallied behind our Queen for a Day, and the show went on. Seamlessly. What a pro. She did us all proud.
Jondon brought some champagne to the dressing room, and we sat around there for a while laughing and re-living in disbelief the events of the day. Telling the tales again and again as a way of pinching ourselves to make sure we were awake. Then the pub, and more regaling.
Bonding. Like an anomalous family celebrating a strange birth. Congratulations to all.
And for our dear Penny, who was sidelined by this dreaded lurgie… our prayers for swift recovery. We await the return of the Queen.
A gentle day. Catching up on rest. The day began with a massage for me. I’ve strained the groin again. A different set of muscles this time, likely compensating for the other ones. So thank God for Nick Hall, and his magic massaging hands. Writing, emailing, and reading took up the rest of the day. Pretty simple.
Penny’s illness is more serious than we hoped, and she was off again tonight. Jenny stepped up. The second show is usually the most difficult for the understudy, as the power of the adrenaline has waned for both the actor going on, and for those who are supporting.
But Jenny Young disproved this theory by taking her work to a new height. It’s like watching a child learn: how quickly she digested the information she received from her audience the night before, and took a huge leap forward. She ￼spoke many sections of the play in her own voice, and that voice is so clear, and funny. Lovely Jenny. Great work.
My heart goes out to Penny, too. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be in her shoes, and to be forced out of the game to sit on the sidelines and heal. This is a very difficult place for an actor to sit. So, Penny… know that our hearts are still with you, and your presence in our work is missed.
I slept… and I mean SLEPT… for 9 1/2 hours. Do you think my body was trying to tell me something?! The dreaded bug is spreading – Rae, our assistant director, and Deborah Shaw, our Artistic Associate, both have it now. Some of us are beginning to recover, though. We learned relatively early in the day that Penny would do the show tonight. So that’s good. Back to our regular tracks, which provides a certain comfort.
The show itself was a bit of an adjustment. It’s amazing how quickly one adapts to a new energy, and then how the scales must be re-adjusted. So a bit of a wonky show from the inside, not that anyone would notice. And there were Canadians in the crowd!
Jenny’s parents, George and Joanne arrived this morning from a few days hiking in the Cotswolds.
(A curse and an blessing that Jenny could not get hold of them yesterday to say she would be on again!) And Peter Hinton, our fearless NAC leader, was in attendance.
It was so great to see him after the show. He is such a wonderful support, and such a gifted man of the theatre. To have him brimming with pride meant all the world to us. So some drinks in the Duck were in order. Though most of us made an early night, as it is the big press day for the Histories Company tomorrow: they open Richard II, and Henry IV Parts 1 & 2. All in one day! Many of us are going to see Richard II at 10:30 tomorrow morning. And there will be a big party to attend tomorrow night. Should be fun!
The Cast – photo Ellie Kurttz
Thursday, August 16, 2007
A Delicate Balance
You have to love getting up at 8:30 to have your breakfast before going to see three hours of Shakespeare. Okay. You don’t have to love it… but I sure do. The Histories had their Press Day today: almost 11 hours of Shakespeare for those who were in for the long haul (audience and actors alike). I could only see one. Though I hunger for the experience of more.
Michael Boyd’s Richard II begins when two large metal doors in an enormous upstage column open to reveal the Court, who then proceed down the rectangular stage in a silent dance. All you hear as they step in precision toward their King is the sound of a single step in the repeated phrase where the foot is scraped along the floor. When the dance is finished and the Court parts to allow the entrance of the King, the bloodied body of the Duke of Gloucester is miraculously discovered in their wake, and the King placidly steps over the corpse as he ascends to his throne.
￼￼ It’s breath-taking. As is the entire production. If you’ve really been following the blog, you’ll know this is the second time I’ve seen this one. It was just as awesome, if not more so, the second time around. Three hours that go by in a ￼blip. And an audience who sit enwrapped by this beautiful play and this extraordinary production. God, I love the theatre.
I came home at the end to grab some lunch and start packing. Jenny came up the stairs and we talked about our shared experience. How Jonathan Slinger has such astounding control over this part, and the words he has the honour of speaking.
And then, out of nowhere, I began to cry. Tears of grief. Expressing feelings of enormous loss. Loss for my gender. The resonance of this kind of theatre, of Shakespeare captured with so much integrity, is profound in me. I know I am not alone. And the women in this production were fantastic, do not get me wrong: Hannah Barrie, Maureen Beattie, and Katy Stephens all did exceptional work.
But Shakespeare wrote plays for men. Simple as that. And I am not a man. So I grieve. I grieve that I will never have the honour of speaking the words of Kings; of Richard, of Gaunt, of Bolingbroke; of playing in a castle which is essentially the demesne of men. Salt tears. And pain in the pit of my stomach. This is my penetrating loss.
But after art, life goes on. Packing. Sorting out what to take on the two week holiday, and what to have shipped to Newcastle. Laundry. Ironing. A little nap. That kind of thing.
And then off to do my show. To tell the untold tales of women. To see history from another perspective. To share the rare power of thirteen women on stage. To regain.
The party went into the long hours of the night, and was a chance to dance and laugh and share with the Histories company who have been so hard at work. The boys from the Mac/Mac company were there too. And at the end of a very full day, as I crawled into bed at 3am, my feet aching from high heels on a stone floor, things seems to have settled into a delicate balance.
An actor’s life is full of transition. So begins another one: packing, banking, finishing up what’s in the fridge, saying good-byes. The aperture begins to close on this picture of the Canadian girls in Stratford-upon-Avon. I don’t ￼realise how close to the surface all this is until George hands us a poem to read in warm-up and I overflow with tears. It has been such an adventure. And I know the adventure continues now with holidays, and Newcastle, and then bringing the project home, but this mind-blowing stay in Stratford will be over in two sleeps.
There is a company meeting in the Swan at 6:30pm. Denise Wood, one of the producers, tells us the bad news. Though they have been working on various possibilities for transfer to Turin and Greece, these negotiations have failed and our option to extend will not be exercised. Disappointing, no doubt. I could have loved a paid holiday in Greece and Italy! But at least we know now, and we begin the mundane task of looking for work at home.
We had a hot show tonight. It was really good. Really focussed, and fun. These internal differences are so subtle, but since we feel them, I’m sure they are conveyed to the audience as well. I bashed my toe open again. It was so close to being healed that I didn’t have a bandage on it. And smash; I was bleeding all over the stage. Sitting there in my pretty silk dress, feeling the blood roll over my toes and splash onto the stage. And at the craziest point in the show for me: one quick change after another. So I run offstage after the scene. My wonderful dresser Keith is there, and there is no time to do anything, but can he give the heads up to the upstage left corner for my next exit. When I go back on I can see these little puddles of my bright red blood glistening on the shiny black floor in Bonnie Beecher’s perfect light. I do the scene and run for the next quick-change. Thank God for Stage Management. In this country, the Stage Manager sits on book in the alcove, while the Deputy Stage Manager calls the show from the booth. So Katie, our new SM came to the rescue. In about 15 seconds she had bandaged and taped my toe and I was able to go back into the scene without a hitch. You see, the drama is not confined to the work on-stage. Sometimes there’s just as much entertainment in the wings!
Philippa Domville – photo by Corrine Koslo
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Good night Swan. Good luck.
This is the last morning I will be sitting in my bay window at The Old Ferry House, and writing an entry in my blog. It’s a dull morning, but not raining. There are canal boats moored up and down the river, and the rowers are busy… rowing. The Ferry is running but there aren’t that many people traversing the ￼river as yet. The dogs are out running in the green with their various people in tow. The swans continue to swim to anyone who stands on the bank, hoping for a loaf of bread to be pulled from a rucksack. There is one cygnet. When we began rehearsals there were three. The one who is left ten weeks later is big and strong, and soon to be a swan. Hmmm.
Two good shows to finish our run at the Swan Theatre. And the doors closed behind us. Now the Swan and the RST will go into major renovations and are scheduled to re-open in 2010. A sad time for many people there. There will be many lay-offs, as you can imagine, as what is usually a three theatre-space company is reduced to one theatre. That said, there is a desperate need for these renovations, and the proposed changes look miraculous. So I wish great things for the whole project.
For us there was sadness, and excitement and finishing our final show in Stratford-upon-Avon. Many people were in the house: Josette returned from Sweden, Peter Hinton and Paula Danckert were there from the NAC, Kelly’s friend Cedric Smith and her brother Bill came from America, my friends Julie and David, and my classmate Emma came. So there were lots of people to be excited about.
And we spilled into the Duck after the shows. A few from the Histories joined us. But others were already on their way: the next project, or home, or in Pippa’s case, a flight to Crete, were beckoning. So it was a motley crew that gathered. And stayed up to the wee hours.
When I come back to the blog in two weeks in Newcastle, I will report on the various holiday adventures. But till then I will say adieu.
Oh. I will leave you with one little story that gives me an understanding of the legacy of this company, the RSC. Brenda in wigs told me last night as she was rolling my pin-curls, the wig I wear in The Penelopiad was built for Alan Howard in Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. Yes. That Dream. You know. The production that changed the face of Shakespeare productions forever. A bit on information that goes right through my body and puts me smack dab in the middle of this amazing experience.
Good night Swan. Good luck.
The infamous Dirty Duck pub
The real name of the Dirty Duck – the Black Swan
Monday, September 3, 2007
Back: refreshed, excited and in Newcastle!
Hello loyal readers! Ah, it is good to be back: refreshed, excited, and in Newcastle! The land of the Geordie! Newcastle, the great city packed with imposing streets of Georgian stone architecture. And if that’s not impressive, the nightlife certainly is, complete with the babe parade in short, short mini- skirts or hot-pants, stilettos, and big blonde hair. And that’s only the men! Kidding.
But I’ve skipped the promised report on the two-week holiday. Wow. I don’t know where to begin. Oh yes, I do. I took a few days off. I went to my family in Essex and chilled. The weather was crap, so it was a perfect time to just visit and talk with some amazing people that I only see every five years or so. I did go to London for two days to have lunch with some old school mates, and to meet up with Corrine. But I don’t want to bore you with the endless details of an action packed two weeks. So I will tell you two short stories.
Corrine and I met at Waterloo Station to catch the noon train to Newcastle on the Sunday after we finished the show in Stratford. This is how the day began: we figured (crazy canucks) that since we had booked 1st class tickets as a treat, we would go to the 1st Class Lounge to use the WC. The woman at the desk ￼laughed at us: our 1st class tickets were not 1st class enough to use the 1st class lounge.
Okay. I thought I’d use the facilities on the train, so we boarded a bit early… into the first class cabin. But when we looked a little closer at the itinerary, it showed that we would only be on this train for 18 minutes, to Hatfield, at which time we would be transferred to a bus (you read correctly… the old rail replacement bus, the part they don’t tell you about when you book for travel on a Sunday) that would take us to Peterborough. That’s what happened. But no time to use the loo! So as per itinerary we ended up in Peterborough just after 2pm… holding it. Finally a chance to use the highly disgusting, and ever so smelly railway platform toilet. Eeeyew. So much for 1st Class.
Okay. So. We’re supposed to be catching the train to Edinburgh at 2:20. Then comes the announcement that the train has been delayed. And they don’t know how long the delay will be. After 15 minutes the announcement is made: please schlep your heavy suitcases up over the bridge and down the other side to another platform and join all the other suckers already waiting for the train to Aberdeen. Oh. And no more seat assignments are valid, so those 1st class bookings you made? Well, see if you can beat the rugby team to whatever seats are left. Good luck. Oh no. I forgot. They never actually said good luck.
But on my team was the great bulldog Corrine Koslo! (The crowd goes wild.) Never underestimate the determination of this pint-sized woman on a mission. When the train arrived, she put her head down and zoomed past the rugby team, getting us seats in the first class car! Yippee. We were the lucky ones. There were a number of people that were left without any seats at all, left to sit on the floor in between carriages with the smell of the toilets and no air conditioning.
Through it all our comrades in the coach maintained a jocund sense of humour, and we all had quite a good time. But that was the end of any 1st class privileges. We got water. By the time they got the tea and coffee to us they were out of cups. And food? Forget it. Oh well. We were thankful to be on our way. For a few minutes.
We stopped suddenly and sat on the tracks going nowhere. Now what. A few different explanations came over the speaker system with dutiful apologies. Nothing that gave us any indication of when our journey might resume again. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. A cup of tea would be brilliant right about now. The seven people in our section decided we could share from the one cup that had been left on our table by a previous passenger.
￼Then another dreaded announcement. The train could not carry on through to Aberdeen because of electrical issues, so we would be changing to a diesel train at York. Not a terribly happy group at that point. Have you ever noticed that suitcases somehow increase in weight in relation to the number of times you have to hoist them from the overhead bins. But the bulldog was ready. (The crowd goes wild again!) She dashed across the platform, suitcase bounding, securing us seats on the new diesel train. But this time we saw some of the real consequences of the railway foul-up.
An elderly woman was struggling. A group of young girls had come to her rescue and were carrying her case, but she looked frightened, and certainly not well. Corrine helped her settle herself in a seat in our foursome, and after a time she relaxed and felt better and started offering around items from her packed lunch. All the other members of our little enclave from the previous train had found seats. We finally got our tea. Amazing how a cup of tea can hit the spot. So all was well.
We braced ourselves for what might happen next. Rickshaw anyone? But the old diesel train got us safely into Newcastle station two hours later than our scheduled arrival. Safe and sound. And with a bit of a tale to tell, which is never a bad thing.
We then spent two days travelling around Northumbria, first to the west and an amazing day walking Hadrian’s Wall. The history in this part of the world is awe inspiring, as is the scenery. Then a day trip to the south, to Durham, which is a charming, hilly town with narrow cobbled streets reminiscent of an Italian village, with a fantastic castle and cathedral at the top of a cliff looking over the river. Gorgeous.
And then we boarded our “big boat” to Norway. The weather, I must say, had been great for us. Not hot, and not completely sunny, but not raining. Magical skies that would hide and then reveal the sun in counterpoint. We sailed out of Newcastle on a smooth sea to watch the sun set over the piers full of cormorants and the ruins of the castle at North Shields.
The journey to Norway was smooth, though it is rather distressing to wake in the middle of the night and think about the fact that you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the very black, very cold North Sea and have neglected to check thoroughly the emergency procedures. I had dreams about getting Corrine up to the seventh floor and the life-boats. Or was it the life-jackets that were on seven, and the boats on eight? Now I know why you pay extra for a cabin on the sixth floor. Oh dear.
We saw the shores of Norway at about 1pm the following day. Magical. Like travelling past hours and hours of Peggy’s Cove. And sometimes like the Sunshine Coast, Corrine said. It was brisk on deck, so we bundled and faced the wind. Two hardy Canadians standing on the top deck of the ship, completely alone, singing Northwest Passage at the tops of our lungs, warming ourselves on the cooking-vents from the kitchens two floors below. It was smelly, but it was the only thing that kept us up there. And the skies! Oh, the skies. Sun sparkling intermittently on the barren landscapes dotted with sea-houses. And ￼our “big boat” inching its way between rocks on this side, and islands on that. We made port at Stavanger, then Haugesund, and finally at Bergen. (There is a hilarious tale to tell about our night on the ship in Bergen, but in the interests of time for both you and I, that will have to wait until the published version of this blog!) The following morning at 6:30am we were in a taxi on our way to Solstrand. We had no idea what to expect, really. We’d seen a few pictures on the web. It looked grand. But doesn’t every advertising photo on the web look grand? And then you arrive to the mildew, and the tiny rooms of the average European hotel.
But Solstrand is a hotel that cannot be captured in photographs. OH MY! I don’t even know how to describe it to you. As you come over the hill from Osoyro you are greeted with the extraordinary beauty of Bjornefjord, with four tree covered islands in the foreground, and misty mountains rising in the distance. Nestled along the coast is a yellow gingerbread hotel that has been run by the Schau- Larsen family for four generations. Borrea Schau-Larsen was our hostess. She is hands on in this going concern. There are almost 300 rooms in this hotel. When we arrived there was a think-tank for the Maritime industries going on which Solstrand has played host to since the family has been running the hotel. So they all know each other, and it was almost like a family reunion. There was a banquet scheduled, which meant we had a private dining room for our lunch, and shared one of the small dining rooms with other guests for dinner.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
The First Day at the Northern Stage
We had our first day at the Northern Stage today. It is a modern, recently renovated theatre on the campus of Newcastle University just across from the Civic Centre. It exists in such sharp contrast to the Swan in so many ways. The backstage is all brand new: bright clean hallways, a spacious well-equipped green room, and WINGS! Yippee!
There is actually room for props tables, quick changes, and a bit of milling about. This makes the process of teaching a new crew so much easier.
And the onstage space is completely different also. Well, the deck is the same, and they have constructed the set to duplicate exactly the upstage balconies and staircases at the Swan. But the house is completely different for playing. Whereas at the Swan the house is sharply vertical like the old European opera houses, the Northern Stage is long and deep, with only a small percentage of the seats at the sides of the thrust. So some alteration in the playing style is necessary to better serve the majority of the audience. This became pretty clear for us once we started staggering through. That was the job yesterday. The crew had been working overtime.
￼Macbeth had it’s technical rehearsal on Sunday, dress on Monday afternoon, and first show last night. All went well. But then there was a changeover from the Macbeth set to the Penelopiad set, and enormous alterations of lighting and backstage life that accompanies that changeover. So the crew were pooped.
It didn’t show. They all had their game faces on, and our technical rehearsal went very smoothly. We even finished an hour ahead of schedule! That meant a little extra time in the pub before heading back to our hotel in Jesmond.
Apparently it rains 275 days of the year in Bergen. Considering these statistics we were oh so lucky. We had sun for two of the three days we were there. Most of these days were spent curled up in the chaise lounge chairs reading. I barely moved the first afternoon. Oh maybe I sat in the gazebo for a while when the Maritime men were on a coffee break and their laughter and conversation ￼became a bit intrusive. The option was spending time in the spa, which we both did, with massage, a Finnish Sauna at 90 degrees Celsius, 0% humidity, a Sanarium at 55 degrees Celsius, 50% humidity, and a Steam Room at 70 degrees Celsius, 100% humidity, not to mention a swimming pool with the same extraordinary view of the fjord. Paradise.
Oh. And the food. If you like seafood… and I do… you’re lost. You can have fish three meals a day. There is a whole table of fish for breakfast! True! I passed on that. But I did eat fish at every other meal. The chef was fantastic. The first night we had the chef’s selection, which was a fixed menu, and the second night we ordered a la carte. Both were fantastic, but I must say my monkfish on the a la carte night was a euphoric experience. Corrine’s plate of creme brulee looked pretty good too.
This is the kind of holiday I have never taken. Simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money on myself. But every second of this was worth it. It is a memory that I will cherish for a lifetime.
All the girls had their tales. Pippa spend two weeks on a yoga retreat in Crete. Pam spent time in London, Edinburgh, and Paris with family and friends. Jenny was on a canal boat with her family in Oxford, and then hiking in Scotland with her partner, Gord. Lisa spent time with her husband in Ireland, and then on her ￼own in London seeing shows. Kelly went down to London and to Canterbury and relished the history, and then, unfortunately, spent some time sick in London in the care of friends. It was a great holiday, and a deserved break. And we are all so grateful, and ready to return to playing our play for the people of Newcastle.
Curled up in the chaise lounge
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Off to work in Newcastle
Off to work in Newcastle. What friendly people they are here! Everyone is helpful and cheerful. And, okay, I have to say it, the accent is FANTASTIC! It’s just a great town.
The dress rehearsal in the afternoon went relatively smoothly. There were a few little glitches, and we did have to stop once near the beginning, but after that we sailed on without a hitch. The crew is fantastic: young, (did I say friendly?) and extremely capable and that is key when you’re stepping in for only four shows.
There are small things that are different here: the down-stage entrances are farther away, and they have two sets of steps, off the stage and out of the house, so timing entrances and exits from the “voms” takes a bit of getting used to. Some of the flying elements are different simply because they have different access to space on the grid, so that has meant a little bit of re- spacing.
But the great thing about Northern Stage is the wings. I know I’m going on about the WINGS! It’s amazing what a difference it makes to the show. Since everyone is in the backstage area all the time, crew and all, and we must all be extremely quiet, the show gets focussed very tightly. What a treat. The Swan just didn’t hold that possibility.
The opening went really well. The audience seemed to really enjoy it.
A young woman that Corrine and I met on Hadrian’s Wall came for the opening, and found it so funny to see us on stage after seeing us out walking in the countryside. We had a little reception in the theatre bar afterwards. A chance to talk to two of the Friends of the RSC, Yvonne and David Richardson. They are really great people and wonderful supporters of the theatre. It is so great to meet people like this in other countries. It just shows you how people who are excited to be involved in the theatre exist all over the world.
It seems as if things are wrapping up so quickly here. There just doesn’t seem time to do any sight-seeing here in Newcastle, which is a little disappointing. ￼But the practicalities are looming: getting our money home, not to mention trying to pack too many things into too little space. Both Jenny and Corrine have already bought new suitcases. And Marks and Spencers… what are we going to do without Marks and Spencers? Can we convince them to re-open shops in Canada? Perhaps a letter writing campaign is in order.
Anyway. The countdown is on. And the struggle of these feelings which seem in such contrast to each other: the sadness of leaving behind this country which has been such a thrill over the past few months, and the longing to return to my own bed, my cat, my friends and family. Hard to hold both these feelings in hand. And in heart.
Two good shows today. Had breakfast at a little diner with Michael Cryne, our musical director. What a great guy he is. Real salt of the earth, and extremely talented. At twenty-six he is going to be writing his PhD in composition starting next fall. And he’s a real lad from Manchester, which keeps me in stitches all the time. His grandfather was at the show this afternoon. And I’m sorry I missed chatting with him.
After the second show we had a Q & A. It was a bit calamitous, as there is an ongoing problem with the pool onstage, and the crew was bailing water the whole time we were up there chatting with the folks. Pretty funny. This particular discussion centred around the cross-gender work that we do in the play, and the instantaneous transitions that we all have to make. The audience was impressed with the skill involved in those things which seem quite second nature to an actor. Whenever people comment on aspects of technique and “how do you learn all those lines?”, and how they could never do that… I always retort that I am in awe of accountants. I could never look at a column of numbers and see how they work together. I find it extremely intimidating. And yet that is second nature to an accountant. It is just not something that I have become dextrous at doing.
There was a couple from Canada in the house (friends of Kelly’s I think) whose daughter is doing a PhD at U of T. So I made a proud speech about how important this whole experience, this adventure, has been for the Canadians: to work with such a distinguished group of international artists, for a highly regarded company, on a brand new piece of Canadian theatre! I like to remind ￼myself of that perspective, and that the perks of travelling and views certainly take a back seat to this singular professional opportunity.
Back to the hotel… to pack… again. Our bus is going to leave the hotel at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning to get us to Heathrow in plenty of time. Yikes. So all money things must be sorted tomorrow morning before the media call, and we must be ready to hit the trail long before dawn.
So tomorrow night there will be goodbyes to the Mac/Mac men. To most of our crew. Sadness. Closure.
We’re on the plane. On our way home. Imagine. England begins to fade into the sunset. Literally. Plenty of melancholy accompanies this fading. The pain of closing one door, and opening another. Why is it that doors are vested with such complicated feelings?
I need to go back a bit. I haven’t told you about Friday. It was a good day. We had a media call to shoot some footage for Canadian television. It all went very smoothly. It was great to have a director and two cameras shooting, and to actually get coverage of certain angles and lines for editing. So often footage of stage work that is shot for television is unsatisfactory because you are trying to capture a large live medium on an intimate repeatable one. They are just not terribly compatible. But this situation was quite unique as media shoots go, so hopefully the product will be a little more watch-able than most of the two- minute clips you see on the news.
We had a good final show in Newcastle. So fast this little run. Oh, and I forgot to tell you that we had full houses for all four shows, which was great. They really liked our final kick at the can on these shores. Jim and Donna Wright, the High Commissioner and his wife, travelled all the way up from London just to see it! They were very supportive, and said they would tell all their friends in Ottawa to come out. So take note all you Ottawa diplomats.
We had a drink with most of the Macbeth/Macbett boys after the show, since they were doing a staged reading of the new Anthony Neilson piece that they are taking to London in November. It was good to have a little goodbye with them. Such great fellows. And as Kelly says, we have become very close even though we haven’t shared the stage with them. We are still somehow members of the same company. So that was nice.
￼And when it came time to say goodnight, and goodbye, I found myself inexplicably crying. I just let that happen, and ended up sobbing most of the way back to the hotel in the taxi. It’s all been so big.
Now here comes the nasty part of the story. I’m going to blame it all on Corrine (teasing! teasing!). Since her flight was at 15:30, and the drivers were concerned about roadworks, and traffic on the M25 (how many times have I heard what a parking lot that highway is, only to go through it like you know what through a goose?!), we were picked up by a small coach at 4 o’clock in the morning. That is cruel and unusual when you have just closed a show, and a run, and have suitcases the size of steamer trunks to drag down the stairs, and there is no breakfast, let alone NO COFFEE!!
Dear Katie Vine, our new Stage Manager was there to see us off, even though she has an old cat who is critically ill at home, and wanted nothing more to get back to her pet the night before. (A little thought for Katie’s cat. And an enormous thanks to Katie for being such an awesome addition to our merry band of wanderers.) But lest I get distracted by positive and happy thoughts, let me lead you back to the hell that is a people mover stuffed with six exhausted actors and their luggage, and two unwitting drivers who happened to be the messengers we wanted to shoot. We tried desperately to get back to sleep once we set off, but to little avail. The seats were impossibly uncomfortable, it was either sweltering or freezing, and the drivers would insist on talking loudly to each other to keep awake!
We stopped for a toilet and breakfast break at around 7:30. Hysterical. Blood shot eyes with last night’s stage make-up still in the corners, and hats covering the bed-head, we staggered into the service centre. As a side note, I need you to bear in mind that when we got on the bus it was dark, and that we picked Kelly up at a separate location, so there is some understanding the following sequence of events. We’re standing in a queue to pay for coffee (the Saturday morning breakfast rush was apparently on), and Kelly walks up to two men in the line-up that she assumes to be our drivers and says in a rather coy, Marilyn Monroe voice, “Excuse me gentlemen, but is this our half-hour break?” Corrine and Lisa and I are already laughing cuz we have seen the bus drivers and know that these are not them, and these poor men aren’t quite sure what to think of the crazed looking woman in a cloche who is beseeching them, but one of them gently replies, “We don’t have a clue who you are, dear”. Kelly nearly dropped apoplectically to the floor in horror, and began apologising profusely to the strangers she’d accosted, while the rest of us howled with laughter. All chalked up to no sleep.
We managed to get safely back to the bus. And arrived at Heathrow at 9:30. Yes. NINE-THIRTY. What was expected to be a seven-hour journey had become ￼a 5 hour journey, and now we were six hours early for even the earliest flight. This left us all somewhat bewildered. At this juncture we had to say goodbye to Corrine because she was leaving from another terminal. And Pippa too was off to Gatwick to make a connection to Rome where she is heading for a week. So five of us gathered luggage carts and piled them high with bags that were likely over-weight. But we couldn’t check any of this luggage through until noon, so we were stuck wheeling it around the airport for a couple of hours.
Check-in and security at Heathrow Terminal 4 is a nightmare. When they tell you to be there three hours early they mean it. We came up from our second breakfast to stand in a one hour queue for baggage check-in. Then there was another 1/2 hour getting through security.
Very strict, too. Only one carry-on, shoes off through the metal detector, liquids in bags. No joking around. But once on the other side only another 3 1/2 hours to waste, without sleep or prospects of it! I think we all had tears at least once in that time. It’s just too much to ask- a five hour bus ride, an eight hour wait, and then an eight hour flight.
But now we are homeward bound, and excited about seeing friends and family (my friends David and Pam are picking me up! can’t wait), and not excited about having to catch up with banking and accountants what might be growing in my humid basement, and all the realities that have been existing at home for three months without us.
Reflective too. It’s so strange that it is suddenly done. And yet, not done. Too tired to be clear. And yet, clear in my gratitude for all this, regardless of the incomprehensible travel day. Clear that I will have these memories to cherish, and will hold the relationships that have been struck with so many wonderful people over the past three months. Sleepy, but clear.
Home now. A simple girl from St. Catharines. Eating brown-rice sushi, in a warm house, with a bit of mildew in the basement. That’s life. Real life.
The crazy thing is, I keep coming back to the wig. It has become a symbol for me. This journey is not about me working at the RSC. It’s not about being prodigious, or crowning my career, or doing something that others may envy or deem important. It’s about wearing a wig that was worn by Alan Howard in Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1970. It’s about expanding my context: my sense of the whole. That’s what all theatre should be.
￼I’ll leave you for a short week, and catch you on the flipside, as the Ottawa door opens to reveal…?
I’m at my brother’s family home in Ottawa. It is absolutely stunning weather. The sun is shining in a cloudless blue sky; it’s warm, and feels like late summer rather than fall. I sit and have a glass of wine with my sister-in-law in the back garden. Perhaps we are getting payback for those relentlessly rainy days of July. They are calling for beautiful weather all week! I’m sure the NAC has organised this! They are on top of everything!
The drive up was so pleasant. Such an amazing country we live in. It’s so stunning when you break into the Shield around Kingston. And the hawks were out in plenitude: hawk is the messenger. I trust that they are all bringing us good news.
We have learned that Josette will not be joining us for rehearsals in Ottawa. This is a huge disappointment to me. I am ever the eager one, and was hoping for some notes from the director, and a really fresh perspective. Rae McKen, our assistant director, is fantastic, but she has been with the process and watched it grow incrementally. I will be interested to hear what Veronica and Warren have to say, as they have not see the show since it opened. They will provide the fresh eyes and ears, I hope.
Ottawa is already treating us like royalty: in our welcome packages we have invitations from both the British High Commission and from Rideau Hall. “Smart Casual” is the dress code. So I can’t wear the “dumb casual” clothes that are the usual wardrobe. This is a big deal for the NAC. I hope we’re up for it. I hope our European colleagues are as excited to be here as we were excited to be in their stomping grounds.
The thing is, while we have had a week off at home, four of them have been doing their closing week of Macbeth and Macbett at the Northern Stage in Newcastle. And then they have had the same nightmarish journey that we had a week ago. So they will be jet-lagged and pooped. We’ll have to do our best to pick them up. I’m sure that the idea of making theatre in another country will energise them.
I look forward to rehearsals tomorrow. I’m sure there will be a huge flutter of conversation and exchange of news and excitement. And we will find out more ￼about our absent director, and how things will proceed here without her. Stay tuned.
I told you so. Our European counterparts are all very impressed with the Nation’s Capital! How can you not be impressed when we’re having weather like this: this is the summer we missed! Yippee! Twenty-seven degrees, no humidity, and gloriously clear and sunny skies. And the leaves are definitely turning. Although it is still early in the autumn, one spies the occasional crimson maple, a golden bough exploding out of a sea of green, and a dry sense of change.
And in the theatre things are not much different. The Theatre at the NAC is a substantially different container than both the Swan and the Northern Stage. Where the Swan is like an atrium, and the Northern Stage is like an auditorium, the Theatre is a big bowl. Our actual playing space has been rounded by adding panels on the sides and the front. It is quite grand, and allows for much more sweeping movement and delivery. It is a different external dimension for the actor. And it’s as if our chorus of Dreamboats was choreographed to go into this space all along! Funny how things like that work out.
There are plenty of adjustments to make: steep steps to vomitories that exit under the audience on either downstage side, a vast, black, cavern backstage, one less dresser, and one less wigger on duty, an entirely new crew (who are fantastic, and really helpful). But the biggest adjustment is the music. Our band has been placed deep in the backstage behind the crossover. This means having the instruments on mics, and pumping the sound into the house. This is always a huge adjustment after having acoustic music onstage. Very difficult.
￼And for our rehearsal day it means re-cueing the entire show. So apart from a detailed clean of the Dreamboats choreography with Veronica, and some great notes and adjustments from Rae, the day and night were entirely devoted to sound and lighting.
This was all very time consuming, and by the end of two five hour sessions we were not even half-way through the show. So tomorrow we will not have a dress rehearsal before we see our first audience! It’s hardest on the new crew. As a cast, we all have this play firmly in hand (though it has been wonderful to be reminded of some details as we work through), but the crew has NO IDEA how this madness fits together into a 100 minute marathon. We will keep slogging it out tomorrow and see where we land.
We end the day abruptly, and on a bad note: three of our actors have come down with severe nausea and… accompanying symptoms. We finish a little early to get them home and to bed. Jet lag, I assume. Or maybe they picked something up on the plane. Nasty, any way you look at it.
A brutally long day today. We start at 9:30am. Pauline has been ill all night and is the colour of concrete. Pippa is also not well. Moj has bounced back and is in good form after a solid night’s sleep.
On we go. It is a relentless and tedious process, re-cueing a show. The frustrating part is, we need music rehearsals, and if it was just lighting that needed adjustment, we could be working with Mike on music. But Mike is busy at every second because it is his work that is most effected. (Oh poor Mike! On top of everything, his keyboard re-configured itself on the flight, and his entire programming of the show was lost. This has meant painstakingly reprogramming for hours outside of rehearsals. So a big hats off to Mike!) We get to the end of the play a few minutes before our scheduled meal break. Whew! Pippa has had to leave the rehearsal about halfway through the afternoon, and we worked around her. Hopefully she will rest up, and be alright for tonight.
Peter Hinton, the resident god of the theatre, has been with us through these two days of rehearsal. Rae has certainly been running the ship, but Peter has been there for guidance and support in the absence of Josette. (I forgot to tell you. Josette is rehearsing another play in Sweden, and although she had hoped the play would be in good enough shape to leave for a few days, it simply isn’t, ￼and she has had to leave us in Rae’s capable hands.) Peter gives a little speech to the audience before we begin our preview. The production tables are still in the house, which gives the audience a good idea that things are not completely set and ready. But Peter tells them about the massive adjustments and that we haven’t had a run through yet in this space.
The house lights snap black. We set forth. And we stay afloat. Oh, there are a few glitches as one can only expect. The brains fart when faced with walls and doors in new places! It’s as simple as that. But we tell our story. And the crew is fantastic. Some difficulties with costumes as we knew there would be. It’s not easy in our regular circumstances, let alone with one less dresser. But we make it. And everyone gets on stage wearing some form of the right outfit.
We tell our story! Isn’t that great. And the audience gets it! There are some different responses that with our English audiences, which is a wonderful little cultural reminder. But they follow both Penelope and the Maids, and at the end… god bless them… they get to their feet. If you’ll recall our first preview at the Swan (July 27th!) they did the same thing, even through the melee that was our tech. God bless those first night troopers. The magic of the theatre.
Peggy was in the building! Yup. More flowers were delivered to each of us from the diminutive woman with the soft curly head. (Many thanks!) Ms. Atwood came backstage after the show. And she was pleased. She felt her words had deepened and strengthened in the time since she saw us in Stratford-upon-Avon. Gratifying news. The show has matured so much. Even last night we took a huge leap ahead into the beautiful space of the NAC Theatre. What a gorgeous venue to play. It allows the play to expand. And what a generous audience we had tonight. There was a real meeting between us and them, and ya gotta love that feeling.
It’s hard to describe how plays mature, but I have come to believe the maturing process has to be a part of new play development. So many new plays are given one kick at the can, and if they fail, or even if they succeed with reservation, they are relegated to the heap, never to be seen again. Even plays that are considerable hits can find it hugely difficult to achieve a second run. But I know now from experience here, and from working on The Danish Play by Sonja Mills over a five year period, that plays need to breathe. And if they are allowed to breathe with the original cast they can attain a ￼profound resonance in those actors, in their relationships to the words and to each other, which is ultimately conveyed to the listener. Daniel Brooks said it some years ago in a keynote speech: good theatre needs TIME.
It was one of those days that was hard to remember from start to finish: so much happened. We had a half-hour call to get into costumes for a media call. Pauline is still very ill, and had to go back to the hotel and rest. After the shoot, we were out of costumes and into the theatre for Rae’s excellent notes. (The fabulous NAC crew picked up all the notes from yesterday, and the show went very smoothly in the technical department.) Then some quick rehearsal of bits on stage, a supper break, and our second preview.
Along with Ms. Atwood, and an extremely attentive and effusive audience, were Antoni Cimolino and Marti Maraden from The Stratford Shakespearean Festival. It was great of them to make the journey up to Ottawa, and they seemed genuinely pleased to be there. So the first trickle of exposure to the Canadian theatre community begins. A little nerve making. But also a great opportunity to bring home our fantastic adventure.
(My brain is fried. It’s actually early Sunday evening and I am completely exhausted. But I’m trying to get my brownie badge in journal writing, so… onward.)
Our opening day in Ottawa began with a four hour rehearsal call, after a morning in the garden at my brother’s. It was a tough call. People are so tired of rehearsing. Not that we’ve had the time to do cleaning rehearsals, but doing the technical “put-in” rehearsals in Newcastle and Ottawa have both been long calls contributing to long weeks of work. But… even though there was resistance, it was invaluable to make these little niggly adjustments to a few technical elements, and to clean up music and dance numbers. God is in the details. I may sound annoyingly gung-ho, but I was really happy to have the work done, and felt very confident going into the opening night performance here at the NAC.
We were a bit tight. It’s so funny, but as soon as the performance begins you can feel the relationship with the audience, and how easy or difficult the story-telling is going to be. And we all know that it is very rare that an opening night audience will be the easy kind. But the great thing is that we have already had a full range of audiences come to ￼see this play, and the story-telling is so solid now that our little tightnesses and nerves are not really evident to those watching. Ultimately… they got to their feet at the end. And that tells the tale.
Our opening reception was in Le Cafe at the NAC. And the joint was jumpin’, and packed to the rafters. It was a struggle for me to find my family let alone see who else was in the place. And before what Penny calls “the bun fight” could really begin, there were speeches: Peter Herndorf, the CEO of the National Arts Centre, Anthony Cary, the British High Commissioner, Deborah Shaw, the Associate Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hinton, the Artistic Director of English Theatre at the NAC, and Margaret Atwood… well, we all know who she is: the Queen of Canadian Literature. There was a lot of clapping, and gratitude to funding bodies like the British and Canada Councils, and individual donors, and loads of praise for the collaborative creative process between these two companies and these two countries. It was a bit like that part of the wedding where you’re longing to get to the bar and refresh your drink before the dancing begins, but we all survived.
And then there were lots of faces in the crowd: Jian Ghomeshi, R.H. Thompson, Martha Burns, Brian Quirt, Naomi Campbell, Leah Cherniak, Susan Coyne, John Van Burek, Meno Plucker, along with Kelly’s parents, Mama Cox, my family, Pippa’s mom, Jenny’s friends, Pam’s sister. Only Corrine had no family there. But we love her enough to be family for a night, I hope! There were tons more, but honestly, it was so crowded and very warm that it was tough to know who was there (so sorry if I missed your name!).
Dancing ensued, and there were goodbyes to our wonderful RSC crew, who have to head home now that the show is safely in the hands of the NAC crew. So love, gratitude and goodbye to Marion, Fiona, Lisa, Anna, and Becky (you’ll note even the crew is all women!). And an enormous thank you to Charmion who leaves on Sunday.
I rose early for the morning after an opening because I was to have an on camera interview with CBC NewsWorld. I arrived at the theatre at 11:20 to put some make-up on my beleaguered face. I’m afraid a trowel and Polyfilla wouldn’t help the bags under my eyes. And then… the interviewer no-showed! Grrrrrrrrr. That is the worst. The morning after opening! I was not a happy camper.
￼Of course, I got over it, and we had two good shows Saturday. We were all pretty pooped for the matinee, but got some rest in between shows and gave a really good evening show.
The response of the audiences here in Ottawa is considerably different to the reaction in England. The English, and Irish women in our cast have remarked on it, too. I’m not sure what to chalk it up to, but we have had standing ovations for every show here.
It’s such a pleasure. Maybe it’s a Canadian story? Or maybe it’s told in a way that we are somehow akin to? Maybe we’re really hitting our stride now? Or maybe we’re just proud that this is a Canadian play, a Canadian production, a Canadian success story? Whatever it is, it feels so great to have such an amazing response from our home crowd! Yee haw. THANK YOU OTTAWA!
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Canada, in a nutshell
Our day off, but we’re up and at ‘em, and off to the British High Commission at Earnscliffe, to a brunch hosted by Anthony and Claire Cary, the High Commissioner ￼and his wife. It’s fantastic. What an amazing location, right on the Ottawa River, with gorgeous views from their reception rooms and the dining room. And since we’re still having summer in Ontario! we pile our plates high and go out into the garden to eat.
It was a much larger group than went to the Canadian High Commission in London. This time almost the whole cast was there along with creative team members, and folks from the English Theatre, and some of the Penelope Circle, and Margaret Atwood, who sat down on the blankets with a group and had great chats over brunch.
For those of you who have never been to a High Commission… la, la, la… I highly recommend them. Great furnishings, good food, generous hospitality, clean bathrooms. All good.
After the do, I took Penny out to the MacKenzie-King estate in the Gatineau hills just outside Hull. It was such a glorious day, and the trees are now creating a stunning display of colour. We had a grand walk in the woods with my family (and quite a number of very happy Outaouai-ans). While we were sitting and having an ice-cream after our walk, we were approached by a young woman who said, “Were you in the Penelopiad yesterday?” Sure enough. There was a group of young women who were all PhD students in Canadian History from universities around Ontario, and they had scheduled their Ottawa research to coincide with the run of the Penelopiad! How fantastic! It was a bit of a giggle, but wonderful to run into fans in the Gatineau woods! That’s Canada, in a nutshell.
Home to my family in the evening, but frankly I was too bagged to enjoy them. We had a great take-away Chinese meal, and they allowed me to sneak off and have a long soak in the tub with a glass of wine. An early night, and prayers for a good night’s sleep.
No rest for the wicked. Penny and I were up early, and heading off to the CBC studios in downtown Ottawa to have a radio interview with Jian Ghomeshi for his arts programme, Q. He broadcasts out of Toronto, so we were in a studio, and he was in another studio miles away, but we had a good time and ended up yacking about the play for half an hour. It was good fun, actually.
Then whisked back to the Theatre by Laura Denker, our publicist here, for a 12:30 school matinee. There were the prerequisite boys sitting in the front row on the stage left side that were more interested in looking up our skirts than listening to the play, but generally, I think this is a great show for teenagers. It is so empowering for the young women in the audience, and that is what we held on to. So regardless of the sniggering in the love scenes, and the nervous responses to the rape, I think they took a lot away with them. One can hope, anyway. I know if it had been me when I was fifteen, I would have been thrilled, and talking about it for days to come.
￼So, I have to tell you a bit of a story. Just before I left the High Commissioners yesterday, some of the girls (who had wanted to go swimming in a lake, and had brought their bathing suits to that end) had been invited by Anthony and Claire to use their swimming pool. So they were taking a dip and having a great time. Well, after I left, apparently, they continued. Margaret, and the Cary’s and all the rest headed off to the NAC for Margaret’s interview with Laurie Brown. But Pauline, Derbhle, Pam, Kelly, Jade, and Jenny stayed to splash about in the pool. (I must stress that they were invited to stay!) I guess they had a fabulous time, and kept thinking that they should be out and on the road by the time the Cary’s returned from the Speaker’s Series. So they were dressed and heading out on the lawn, when Derbhle picked up a croquet mallet and popped one of the balls through the… I don’t know what they’re called… the little arch-y things. It was just at that point that the Cary’s car came pulling through the gates.
Now Anthony Cary is a huge croquet player, which is why he had set up the course in the first place, and seeing Derbhle striking out on his croquet pitch (I’m making all this terminology up now), leapt from the car (writer’s embellishment) and picked up a mallet. “Do stay and play a game,” he solicited, and so they did. Tea and biscuits were brought forth by Claire (or perhaps by the staff) and the Maids enjoyed the rest of the afternoon playing croquet with the High Commissioner. I’m sure it was more fun for the Cary’s than hanging with… well the Trade Attaché from Bulgaria, for instance (no disrespect intended).
I am not one to read reviews, but apparently the Canadian Press has been very generous. If that means that people will come and buy tickets, then more power to the press! (Wow! That is a controversial statement in my business.)
Of course sometimes it means exactly the opposite, and we unfortunately have to take the bad with the good. That’s why I don’t read reviews: for the most part, I believe them. They are the opinion of someone who frequents the theatre. Often, these people are educated and experienced in it. And sometimes, as an actor… (not this time, I’ll stress) you know you are in a bad show, and when that critic you respect or believe, trashes your work, it’s really hard to get up on that stage with integrity and continue to perform. For me, as an actor, I must dedicate myself to my job with my heart, my body, and my soul every single time I set foot on that stage. And I cannot have someone else’s opinion, good or bad, jeopardising that dedication.
(Okay. That was a bit of a diversion. I’m apparently given to writing a little sermon in each entry these days. Or a tale. I hope they’re entertaining. It only means that the show is going well, and that there is not much else to write about.)
I think we were all grateful for the day off today, before the show tonight. It meant catching up on some well deserved rest, and it allowed for a little alone time. There have been so many social events, and friends and family visiting, that it’s tough to get time to oneself.
￼I just want to laud the crew once again. This group of men and women at the NAC are fantastic. So supportive, and truly interested in helping us to create the best show possible for the folks filling the auditorium. And Ziggy, the stage carpenter, was good enough to invite everyone over for a barbeque at his home last night, for which he provided most of the meat available in the Ottawa valley! along with great Canadian hospitality. So, thanks Ziggy, and all the crew for your invaluable contributions to the success of the Penelopiad here in Ottawa.
Kate Hennig as Eurycleia – Photo Ellie Kurtt
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
So much going on
Two shows today. We had a really good matinee with students and seniors. It was an excellent balance, and they brought out the best in each other. How completely different these students were than the group on Monday. It’s so unfortunate when a few loud mouthed schnooks spoil the rapport, and confiscate the relationship we are trying to establish. Ah well. That did not happen today. And the talk-back after the show really reflected it: there were at least a hundred students and about fifty or more seniors who stayed. And the questions were intelligent and entertaining. It is so rewarding to make that kind of contact with young people in the theatre. Excellent.
￼It’s great to be at the National Arts Centre. There is so much going on. My brother and sister-in-law took my niece to hear Vadim Repin play the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Southam Hall, Ted Dystra opened in An Evening With Glenn Gould in the Studio, and we continue playing to sold-out houses in the Theatre. Cool.
We had another talk-back after the evening show. It is so gratifying to hear the questions of the audience. There is always an interest in the cross-gender work, and an interest in the cross-cultural creation of this piece. And almost always someone who is an Atwood fan, who has strong feelings about the transition from book to stage. This time the woman who was particularly interested in those changes was extremely supportive, and very pleased with the integrity of the staging of the work. That’s satisfying. For Margaret, too, I hope.
I must confess that I have not been very social since we have come to Ottawa. I am so pooped. By the time the show comes down, the idea of going to the bar is simply not appealing. So I am basically sticking to the scheduled social events, and the rest of the time I am heading to my brother Paul’s home, and having a glass of wine and a visit with his wife, Deb, and him. The other’s, I know, went to a bar called Oz tonight. I will tell you tomorrow if they had any fun!
Kate Hennig as Eurycleia – Photo by Ellie Kurtt
Thursday, September 27, 2007
A Very attentive house
Not much to report on Oz, I’m afraid, so it can’t have been that exciting. It was great to have a free day today. What with rehearsals, and opening, and events, and family, and matinees, this was my first chance to get a sleep-in. Whew. I am so grateful for that. So it was a day to catch up on emails, and do laundry, and begin to focus on life after the Penelopiad. It’s always a bit of a drag when you get to this point. You can see the end coming. And that means a lot of conflicted feelings: on the one hand it will be great to be home, to see my cat, to live in my home, to show my face in Toronto again. On the other hand, this has been such a vital chapter in my life, so full of challenges and triumphs, that sitting in my sun-room, reading Harry Potter, and waiting for the phone to ring will take some adjustment. And so… as with all things, I will adjust.
We had a good show last night. A very attentive house. We are still having some issues with the singing, which is a real drag. It has to do with the fact that the band is not onstage. In both the Swan and the Northern Stage, we had the ￼support of the acoustic music coming from a balcony onstage above us. But the proscenium arch at the NAC is lower than both of those theatres, and we couldn’t put in a “third floor”. So the band is backstage and the instruments are all on microphone, then mixed into the sound through speakers in the house. We’re having difficulty synching up with the band for many complicated reasons. But it is frustrating not to give Warren’s music its due. God bless Fred and Denis, the sound guys, and good old Mike Crynne. They keep working on making things better for us onstage. We’re not giving up yet.
We were invited to Peter Hinton’s for drinks and nibblies after the show. Peter is such a generous soul. It was a real treat to be in his beautiful home in the Byward Market, and to see some of his beautiful art. He is such a great support. And Paula Danckert, an Associate Artist at the NAC, has offered her apartment in Montreal to the English and Irish women, who are going to make a little field trip on Sunday and Monday. That should be a real treat for them! I’m sure Montreal is spectacular at this time of year. There should be lots to report after the weekend.
Peter Hinton – photo Laird Mackintosh
Friday, September 28, 2007
The Amazing Women of the Penelope Circle
A good show tonight. The women of the Penelope Circle were in, and we met for a champagne and strawberries reception at the end of the show. These women constitute ￼a circle of financial support for this project, specifically because of its focus on the creative achievements of Canadian women. Each of the women in the Penelope Circle has chosen a protégé to work with them on the philanthropy that they are giving to this project. How grateful can we be for people like this. And it is not some anonymous donation. Let me stress how much these amazing women have given us by being at the play, some of them four and five times, and really expressing our achievements with their voices and their response to our work. What a special opportunity it is to establish a real relationship with the patronesses of our art. A very heartfelt thanks to them.
It’s always interesting to hear about the changes in the show since we opened in Stratford fifteen years ago. (Oh. No. It wasn’t fifteen years ago. It was in fact only eight weeks ago. How time flies!) Leslie Gales was saying she really felt the story of Penelope was much more focussed and clear. That is really good news. Margaret Atwood thought that as well. I think it is so important for people to know that theatre is a living and breathing art, and that a new play, even in a single production, and even within eight weeks time, will grow and change, and improve. We’re like good wine or whisky. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll probably say it again… we need time to make art.
Two shows today. Both really solid. And both GREAT houses. We are still full to the rafters, which is so great for the English Theatre. The ovations are varied, but we can feel the enjoyment of the crowds.
For the first time, I had some friends in the house. Both shows. Friends who have see me do lots of theatre. Friends I respect and trust with my heart. I was so chuffed that both sets of friends thought the show was terrific. A really entertaining visual spectacle from start to finish. And so impressed with the instantaneous transitions that we make from one character to another, from male to female, from comedy to tragedy. Impressed with how we create entire worlds out of character and action on a bare, black stage. Impressed with the music, the singing, the movement. And really impressed with Penny and her ability to surf the story, guiding our audience through the laughter, the horror, and the empathy. Really impressed.
May I just say that the weather here continues to be glorious! We are having our July in September. I can certainly deal with that.”
Well. No rest for the wicked. Though I had a nice pancake breakfast with my family, it was into the frock again and off to the Governor General’s place to participate in a panel discussion entitled: Leading by Example: Empowering the Next Generation of Canadian Women. The women of the Penelope Circle were there, along with about half our cast, and Rae McKen and Veronica Tennant. There were about 120 women altogether, including many recipients of the Order of Canada, and many high power executives from business, law, politics, and the Arts. The main speakers were Zita Cobb (an amazing chick from the Rock!), Gail Asper (a family success story from Winnipeg), and Marie Chouinard (a woman whose heart speaks through her body), along with her Excellency, Michaëlle Jean.
After the introductory speakers, we participated in round table discussions focussing on three questions: ￼ ￼Is women’s excellence in the arts and in society sufficiently recognized?
How do women define success?
What can and should women do to lead the next generation?
Our key points were fed back to the group by a spokesperson from each table. Ms. Jean then responded with some closing remarks, completely off the cuff. This woman is a truly inspiring speaker, and such a gentle and kind person to meet and speak with. We should be sooooo proud that she is a representative of the the culture of this country to the world. No better, I think.
It was a most impressive afternoon. There was a great deal of clout sitting in that room. And a great deal of interest in passing that clout on to another generation of empowered women. I was a little disappointed that though the focus was ostensibly on how philanthropy in the arts can lead our society forward in “ways of knowing beyond reason”, most of the feedback from the round tables was more general, and had steered itself toward success in the world of business and money. The curious exception to this trend were the two Francophone tables. We have so much to learn from Quebec artists and their place in the heart of their cultural and business success. Perhaps that is a quest for another afternoon at Rideau Hall.
There were some amazing women who you just got a dribble of, that would have been so exciting to have a good yack with, but we didn’t finish the work at hand until 5pm. (Oh! Clare Cary, the wife of the British High Commissioner, was there. And I owe her an apology for spelling her name wrong last week. Sorry Clare! I told her at least I got her last name in; poor Warren Wills was just “Warren” for the longest time, if you’ll recall!) All of us Penelopiad girls were pooped. We stayed at the reception for a short time, and I took an abbreviated dash around the house to look at the amazing collection of Canadian art, including Riopelle, Colville, and Kurelek. Breathtaking. The “large dining room”. Nice. And the greenhouses! Wow. And once again… the toilets! Good toilets in these places, I’m telling you. Real linen hand towels at the Governor General’s, so she takes the prize.
It was half past six by the time I got back to my brother’s. He and Deb had kindly made dinner for me, and we had a great time chatting about my afternoon. It was great to immediately put our discussion into action by sharing the stories with my thirteen year old niece, Ainsleigh. She is a delight. She is a promise. She even understands when I start talking about artists creating the metaphors for our society’s story. She’s pretty impressive.
“Don’t follow my example” says Penelope in the play. And this resonated with Zita Cobb. Encourage young women to know what they know, and not to “be like” anyone but themselves. That is real success. That is real power.
Monday, October 1, 2007
One of those nights in the theatre
Pauline, Jade, Sarah, and Moj had an fantastic time in Montreal. They just loved it. Loved the shopping, loved the culture, and Pauline and Jade certainly loved the men! Andy, the percussionist, and Mike, both went to Toronto, and also had a great time. It’s such a treat to have people from abroad discover your country. ￼Somehow it makes my own love of this multi-faceted land more credible. Such a Canadian thing, to need reassurance from the outsider. Ah well. I hope it makes us charming.
We had one of those nights in the theatre. The nights that keep you on your toes! It started off at the end of the first group scene, when Corrine left stepped forward as Icarius to say her final line, and left a long piece of toilet paper in her wake. The rest of us are standing upstage in a “vase-painting” line, and our eyes bugged out of our heads. I nearly howled. God love Jenny, because on the exit line she meandered downstage and picked up the offending tissue. I was in hysterics backstage. There is nothing so funny to me as a trail of toilet paper on the stage. This is an insight into my true nature.
Little did we know that was just the beginning. Pippa has picked up another stomach bug, and after her first scene as the Naiad Mother she started throwing up into buckets in the wings. So she wasn’t on for the next couple of scenes, and there was a lot of running around backstage, as she was trying to decide what she could do, and what she simply could not do. Corrine then threw up in sympathy. And poor Penny, who basically never leaves the stage, has to keep going through it all, with Pippa in some scenes, and not in others, and not knowing who Pippa’s lines might be coming from. At one point, as we were singing, Corrine came over to me, and under her breath asked who was going to take Pippa’s line in the coming scene, and I under my breath whispered back, “Jade”… and all this behind smiles and intention, so the audience was completely oblivious to all of it. Kind of a riot.
Okay. What is it with me and my bleeding toe?! Yes. Ladies and gentlemen. I slashed my toe up again. Same toe. Different place. But once again, at a point in the show that is impossible for me to get bandaged. So I was leaving tracks of blood behind me onstage, and the hem of my costume is spotted with proof of my sacrifice. And it’s very hard not to think of the mess you’re making, and that you may be distracting people with your bright red foot. But the great thing is… nobody notices. It just makes my limping even more focussed and effective!
This whole show was a testament to technique and camaraderie. The story was told seamlessly regardless of all the other goings on. And I know that for a fact, for wouldn’t you know that there were a whole bunch of actors who had come up from Stratford, Ontario to see the show on their day off, and also a number of actors, including Lucy Peacock and Diane D’Aquila, who are in The Ark here at the NAC, and my dear friend Sherry Bie, the Principal of the English Section of the National Theatre School. They had no idea what was going on, and were ￼genuinely thrilled with the production. You gotta love that! The show must go on.
And not to negate Pippa’s suffering. She was sick five times during the show! What a trooper. And then after she finished the second Naiad Mother scene, she went home to bed. God, Pip. I hope you feel better tomorrow.
Things are back to normal. Pippa has recovered from her bug. Corrine’s sniffles (the culprit behind the toilet paper) have subsided, and we went on to do a really solid show for a full house, with a standing ovation. It is so gratifying to see the response of people to this show. Such a lot of hard work, and it comes to this fruition.
Friends of Corrine took some of the girls up to Meech Lake for a picnic in the glorious autumn weather that we continue to enjoy. Penny and Pauline were thrilled, because they got to go swimming in a lake! I’m sure the locals must think them mad, dunking themselves in the October waters, but it is an event for them. And Penny came back talking about buying real estate. I can certainly understand that. It is idyllic scenery, and this time of year is particularly calming. It is something in the air.
It is appropriate as our project ebbs, that the summer also begins to fade. The wind blows. The leaves fall. And change is in the air. It brings a certain melancholy and introspection. And interesting that at the end of our run… comes Thanksgiving. Funny how things work out.
Another glorious day in Ottawa. I kept warning the girls that the weather would turn… but it has decidedly made a liar out of me.
A good show. A little slow. The slowest one we’ve done in a while, but just knowing that will perk us up for tomorrow night’s show. Still. Fun.
I’m having such a good time with Sarah these days. The rapport that we have on stage between both our Maids, and the Odysseus/Eurycleia relationship, has evolved substantially in the process of playing. It is a real touchstone for me for the entire piece. We are playful, and sly, and I find our internal story very moving. I’m sure the audience only gets little tastes of that, but as an actor it is something that keeps me focussed as the days go on, and the shows blur one into the next. It is this kind of detail that keeps the spark alive.
And as for the old repetitive strain injuries (Corrine has strained her groin, and I am hobbling along on my sore Achilles tendons), they slow us down, and perhaps Eurycleia’s limp looks a little more convincing, but nothing that anyone would notice. The ice-packs keep the worst of it at bay, and it is amazing how a little adrenaline keeps the body moving!
The wind has calmed. Like a suspense before the ultimate climax. The resolution is inevitable.
Members of the Company – photo Ellie Kurttz
Thursday, October 4, 2007
A Nebulous Time
Okay. This is the first day where I feel like I have nothing new to say! I feel a bit in limbo really. I have seen most of what I want to see in the Ottawa area, so tourism is not a high priority. I’ve done all the shopping I need to do. So it comes down to reading and writing, and getting a few things set up for the return home.
The show… is the show now. It is almost a creature apart from all of us. It delivers its punches, and its caresses regardless of our little ups and downs. That in itself is interesting, I suppose.
I’m at that awkward point that I was at the end of the run in Stratford: trying to let go, and to hold on at the same time. It’s a nebulous time.
We had a great show last night. A great house, full of energy, which makes the show so easy to play. Did I sense a tenderness from the cast? Or was that just me. The penultimate day. Most of us went to the Chateau Laurier for a drink after the show. Some dressed up, some as they were, but it was nice to sit around in the piano bar as a group and enjoy these last moments together. I gabbed and laughed with Michael Cryne for much of the time. Many photos were taken. Moments to remember.
And I feel the same energy that I had when we were leaving Stratford, only there is no Marks and Spencers! So this time it’s not food that I’m trying to hold onto, but souvenirs. What can I get signed by the cast? Why didn’t I get a poster from the RSC? Will I have enough of a tangible record of this group of people? Suddenly I feel that I haven’t got nearly enough pictures of people. I’ve been taking pictures all along for the blog, but people don’t want their photos plastered all over the web, so I’ve avoided pics with my compadres in them. So I was snapping away at the bar last night, too. The ways that humans try to hang on. Linger. Savour.
As I’ve already told you, I write the morning after. And this morning… the morning of the last day… the rain has come. It is bleary and considerably cooler. The pine needles and golden birch leaves are blanketing the garden where yesterday I was soaking up the sun. A change is upon us.
Okay. That’s slightly over-dramatic if you catch the analogy.
It was a great day. A great send-off. We had two full houses. Two very receptive audiences. Two fine shows. I don’t think we were terribly reverend about the show coming to its close. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be that kind of theatre-making or that kind of company, though I so wanted that. (Just look back at my little prayer on the first day of rehearsal!) The desire for this to be special to everyone is a personal longing, I realise that. And a little naive, most likely. The most important thing is that it was special to the people who came to see it, particularly the people in Ottawa. It was a “hot ticket”. Something not to miss.
In between shows I went to the Byward Market with young Jenny. A chance to touch base with the person I was closest to through the entire proceedings. We had sushi, and a good chat about what had passed, and what was to come. Finding the perspective to move forward as we wrap things up. I think Jenny Young is the cat’s ass. There. I said it.
The market was also winding down to its close at five o’clock as we busied through the stalls to find a few items for our respective Thanksgiving dinners. It had been a crazy day for the vendors, I’m sure. And then Jenny went to the hotel, and I went to the actors’ quiet room, each for our little naps before the evening show.
It was a fine way to send it off. And also a reminder that anything can happen. Somehow, the cable that moves the trap over the pond got tangled, and when Lisa went to close the trap with a great dramatic gesture… nothing happened. You gotta love those egg-on-the-face moments. For Jade and I it was waiting in the vom for a cue light that wasn’t coming. So out we went onto the stage to see the pond still open. The cast covered reasonably well, I guess. Katie Vine later said she was about to stop the show, when miraculously the panel began to slide, Penny hung on, and the scene progressed as normal. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was grand.
We had a little champagne toast in the hall after the show. Corrine had friends that had flown all the way from Penticton to see the show. Michael Green, from One Yellow ￼Rabbit, came from Calgary. David Latham from Stratford. Caroline from the British Council was there, along with some girls from Grenville College in Cornerbrook. A national and international audience. Josette phoned from Sweden to congratulate us. And we had a good little send off from the NAC with a few off the cuff, heartfelt thanks given from Peter Hinton, and Andy Lunney, and from Moj on behalf of the company.
Then we marched over to Carmello’s, a little Italian restaurant across from the hotel. They were extremely accommodating, and we had a great meal with lots of laughter and conversation.
As is my wont, I was one of the first to go. And I just started weeping. I’m not ashamed. And I’m not self-conscious when I cry. I just go for it. I’m sensitive, and I cry when I’m sad. And it has been such an enormous experience for me personally. So I hugged and gave my love to all with the tears a-streaming. And very kindly, Moj called for a toast to me… as the “heart” of the company. And I am proud to wear that label, and to have the respect of my colleagues. My integrity as an actor is so important to me. And that was that. I drove off to the suburbs.
My brother and his family return from the cottage at midday and we will prepare Thanksgiving dinner. This gives me a little time for reflection, though I know that there will be plenty of time for that in the weeks to come.
For anyone who is still reading… I will submit a prologue and an epilogue within the next week. And then that will be that. We will say goodbye. And thank-you for caring about the theatre. As for me, I would certainly not still be writing if I didn’t care with all my heart.
Tomorrow it will be two weeks since we closed. Amazing. I think all of us are home now, with the possible exception of Derbhle, who is finishing a visit with her Aunt in Toronto. And Kelly who left Ottawa to go to a job out in B.C. There ￼was a great email from Jenny the other day about sitting with a cup of tea and her boyfriend, trying to remember her living room. It’s not that seventeen weeks is such a long time away from home, but that we covered so much land and sea, and so much happened that it feels more protracted than it was.
I was inundated with company upon my arrival home, and am only now settling and having some time for reflection. Such a long journey from a chat with Peter Hinton in his apartment last December, to this return home. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:
Almost two months before the auditions, my friend David bought me a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad for Christmas. This is what he inscribed in the front of the book: “I hope this revamped Odyssey becomes an adventure of your own… “. Prescient words.
I truly believe that the plays we work on as actors become our lives for the time we work on them. They effect us deeply. Consciously and subconsciously. And through our focus and dedication, we live them in our relationships and in our behaviour. As I say to my students, we don’t create the world of the play and the character outside ourselves, we discover the world of the play and the character inside ourselves. We hold all possible experiences already. Somewhere within. Eager to be divulged.
What was I thinking when I said I would live in the Ferry House?! Wacky. Here I am, a forty-something woman, with 26 years of experience of theatre housing… and I choose the place that is listed as “halls of residence”. Now Kelly and Jenny, and Jade and Lisa will be disgruntled as they read this… if they read this… because the truth is, despite my enormous reservations upon seeing the “digs”, I had a great summer in that house, and some fundamental relationships were developed, and we laughed and cried, and had times to remember, and earplugs to discard, and I don’t think the blog would have been the same without that remarkable view of the Avon River.
I’m so glad we had Newcastle and Ottawa. Because I discovered through the audience how compelling our play really was. How grateful they were to hear the voice of Margaret Atwood, telling the tale of a woman with faults and secrets and sins. Thank you to all who came. Theatre is an exchange.
Women are great. Not always easy. But great: “of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average; of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average”.
As I celebrate Jade and her luscious energy and creativity, I mourn the lost chance to work with and to know Frank.
I have had three life-long dreams come true in my career: I have played Hamlet, I have played Sally Bowles, and I have played with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Cool.
I am so grateful to all of you who have read, religiously or not, this record of an adventure in theatre (41,833 words at final count). I thank especially those who have had the chutzpah to comment online. All those interchanges gave me energy and an understanding of my readership. Thank you.
I am so grateful to Josette Bushell-Mingo for casting me and the rest of our band of warriors. And for her boundless energy, vision, and imagination. And to Deborah Shaw and Peter Hinton, who had a helluvan idea.
I am so grateful to the gods of the theatre for granting me this vocation. I burn thigh bones nightly in your praise.
I leave you with the great feminine wisdom of Margaret Atwood, which she expresses through the voice of Penelope: “Don’t follow my example”.
(A bit of a Zen ending, don’t you think?! Tee hee.)