Perchance to Dream - The Fall Tour 2002
September 11th 2002
The build-up to the day of September 11th had been so intense that I suppose most of us in the city secretly wished for the damned thing to be over so we didn't have to think about it again. It's difficult may be for people who don't know New York to realize just how dominant the Twin Towers were. If you were anywhere below 14th Street and in the downtown area, they were a dominant marker of the skyline, often pointing the way to lost tourists which way was uptown or down. When they were destroyed it felt like a living limb of the city has been hacked off. Coming into the city after being away on tour I still felt a shock when I couldn't see them on the New York skyline. Their destruction I suppose was constant heart pain for any New Yorker. And I haven't even mentioned the thousands of people from 90 different countries that died in that devastation.
We had been called at 11am as many people in the city had, so we were free to pay our respects. Julliani, the ex-mayor, had said that people should pay their respects in their own way. I was a little at a loss to know how. Eventually I decided to go into the city early. The day was clear, but hazy; not the bright fall day of a year before. The train was half-full and silent. Coming out at 59th Street, I was struck by the solemn atmosphere of the crowds and the tension in the eyes. A look in people's eyes which hated having to remember, and visibly upset when they did, and the secret thought about what might happen the next time the terrorists made an attack.
Walking up Broadway I stopped to listen to a choir outside a building that was singing Mozart's Requiem. In between musical breaks, the names of the victims were read out. New Yorkers had stopped and had spilled out into the road to listen. I noticed many couples clutching one another, and felt immediately saddened that I had no-one to hold on to or to comfort. After listening and watching for a while, I eventually made my way over to Central Park. Passing through Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon memorial where a small group were being entertained by two Japanese young men playing guitar and singing 'Let It Be' in a perfect Liverpuddlian accent, I made my way across the meadow to the rocks. A year before this is where I had bought the Tempest company. That day we looked at the fighter planes above in a cloudless sky while going through lines of the play, before we knew the full extent of the horror. Today, a year on, I sat down and made a silent prayer for the victims and for my nearest and dearest. Just then the phone rang and a friend's voice from the UK sounded on the other end to tell me she was thinking of me and sending me love and sympathy for the city. I immediately felt better at the synchronicity of the call and where I was... and especially as I was in danger of feeling sorry for myself.
The rest of the day was spent slogging away with Bottom and The Dream. He's very tiring because he has a huge personality and boundless energy and enthusiasm. I am enjoying his laughter though and his boyish naiveté. It's not a bad thing to have in real life I feel. He will be fun to live with for 8 months.
Later that day a vicious wind whipped through Manhattan and right by where I had walked up from 59th Street, two plywood Boards fell off a construction site and struck a New Yorker below. The wind continued through the evening giving a ghostly energy to the end of the day.
Luckily I had been invited with Drew and Lindsay Rae to Shirleyann's and Alex's new home in Queen's. They are a delightfully devoted couple with a lovely caring energy to them. It was a little sad as they showed off their home as the last time they had done that, it was July 2001, and I was with Lori. They were showing us the Queen's area as Lori and I had contemplated living there. However a couple of glasses of wine and some wonderful food soon laid sadness to rest and we had a delightful evening of laughter and theatre banter. I counted myself lucky to have such good friends here and realized that the dinner date was another wonderful example of synchronicity... the universe telling me that even on a day like today... life is wonderful and carries on... I won't say regardless... may be carries on having regarded.
On Sunday I ventured out into the rain and caught the 'F' Train into Manhattan. I went to see The Fast Runner, a film recommended by Alan Rickman (name dropper!). It turned out to be an extraordinary film. It is the first feature film in the Inuktitut language, spoken by the Inuit tribes of northern Canada. The film, based on an ancient Inuit legend, is set at the dawn of the millennium. It's an epic tale of love, betrayal, and revenge, set in motion by an evil force brought to the village of Igloolik by a mysterious shaman. The film has been critically heralded worldwide, not just for its unique subject matter, but also for its drama and gorgeous cinematography. It was shot on digital video for a tiny fraction of what a typical Hollywood epic would cost. It takes you completely into the ancient frozen world of Inuit legend.
As I came downstairs and out into the daylight, the rain was lashing down onto the sidewalks. I stepped back into the doorway and glanced over to my left. Four feet away, Willem Defoe was leaning against the wall staring straight at me. He obviously was trying to work out where he had seen me before - it happens all the time - and being a shy Englishman I stepped out into the rain and left him saying to his female companion that he wasn't going out into the rain without an umbrella. Ah the vanity! I was pleased to see that he was the same height as me - 5ft 9".
Just saw Brian Cox looking very fat playing Daphne's Dad on Frasier. Fine actor. And the worse reader I have ever auditioned with.
Peter, our producer, came in to rehearsals to play all the musical segues he had chosen for our modern Earnest. All the tracks were from the seventies and eighties and has no obvious relevance to what we are doing. Is there going to be a discussion about it?
We had selected "I'm too sexy for my shirt" as an opening track.
Peter was not impressed. (cut to)
I spent my time sending people into the bubble. The bubble, which is a white energy field which comes down to surround you, is the safe company place brought in by me where no madness or tantrums or personal slanders can affect you. We lost Robert to Comedy of Errors rehersals and Peter took over. Actor's releationship with directors are developed over a rehersal period. they are close and it's hard to give that trust over. Peter came up with some great ideas though, and had some interesting ways of communicating them.
My director has said there is no sexual tension in my scenes with Gwendolyn. The tension mentioned is in deep cold storage. I'm going to have open the fridge door I suppose. But I'm a little nervous!!!!
I spoke to my brother online today and he told me that it looks like my Dad has got Parkinson's'. It's been a bad week. One of my dad's dogs died and the other is dying. Dad kept falling over and is unable now to really walk very far at all. I spoke to him on Sunday and although he was coherent, it was hard work with a lot of pauses. Peter reminds me a lot of the way my father used to be when he ran his theatre in Guernsey. It is sad to hear him losing his inner strength and health. I have felt quite homesick recently. Although I pinch myself that I'm actually working and living in New York City. It is such a tremendous place to be. Great culture and art with a wonderful vibrant energy.
Now off on the road again. Back in the city on November 24 th . I'm looking forward to it all. Life is a wonderful adventure…the pain and the pleasure.
After a manic week... a pause... which enables me to reflect on another opening.
We are settled into very comfortable digs - The Marriott Resident Inn. I am sharing my suite with two women, which is actually a little strange at the moment, but at the same time familiar and quite comfortable; the last 20 years being mainly shared with another of the opposite sex. Hmmm!
A question like: "Should I wear a bra with this sweater?" isn't odd at all.
Lindsay and I have our own rooms, and Clare our assistant director, who has come to us via Yale, has the pullout couch in the living-room. It has its own kitchen and dining area and a log gas fire. The biggest thrill for me was the bathroom and... a bath. In Brooklyn, we do have a bath, but the water is really only hot enough for luke-warm showers, and anyway, only a fool would want to lie down in our bathroom; a place of darkness and hidden corners, where unmentionable things might gather. So here in Springfield, I luxuriated in my first bath for four months. I felt like Clint Eastwood, who has been riding through the desert for weeks and comes into town - to the local brothel - and has his first shave and bath. It was truly blissful. The beds are also very comfortable, once you have removed the 'come' blanket. Lindsay insisted I get rid of it, as she said - "They never wash it!"
The theatre is small by our touring standards, only 450 seats. It caused a few difficulties, as it is a thrust stage, which is not typical of most of the theatres that we play. Peter although not lighting designer on this show had many suggestions for David Dunford.(cut to)
The rehearsal held up for half an hour while David changed the colors.
On Thursday Peter was back for our last run before the first performance. The run was scheduled for three, because this enabled Peter to arrive from the station. Unfortunately, the train was late and we did not actually start until 3.30. Throughout the run we could hear more suggestions for David, who told me later had meditated before the start of the day in preparation for the anticipated suggestions.
So to the first performance. I haven't done a lot of comedy, but I've always enjoyed it when I have. My first attempt I was aged 16 and played PC Ping in Aladdin in my dad's panto, which was a baptism of fire. The script just invited us to invent gags and bits of business. Playing Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy and watching Harvey Fierstein who I was understudying, probably taught me the most about listening to an audience and the art of timing. So a first performance is always interesting because you are not sure what is funny. But it seemed that most of the comic invention was successful, and of course, there were a few surprise laughs. They were most welcome.
The play went very very well. It looks stunning. The theme of the play is French Impressionism, but could easily be 'umbrellas'. The wood is made up of umbrellas on the ground painted purple and green, with umbrellas above with fairy lights in them. The lighting, as Peter explained to me later, is trying to give those splashes of color that you find in impressionist paintings. Gobos abound and colored shafts of light shine through the haze - the hazer is on throughout the play. The audience was small, about 300 people, and the house is a lot smaller than the huge complexes which will be the typical venues on the tour, but their reaction told us that we had a show that was on the right track. The younger actors were very impressive. Three of them are interns and have been working 14 hour days, mending costumes, painting floor cloths, making props, etcetera. The unusual thing here is they are all playing important parts. They are wonderfully matched as the lovers and their youth is a definite bonus for the characters. For me, I thought the play within the play especially worked well. Bottom is called a clown and he has a wonderful charm. We have a bank of footlights which produces a wonderful effect, and lights the face beautifully, but I couldn't see the audience at all and had to use a sort of extra sensory perception and hope that I wasn't talking to thin air! However, warm laughter flowed back through the colored haze, so I realized I must have connected with some of them. Peter and Robert were very pleased and so there was relief all round. There was a moment, when I watched Kenn as Oberon speaking 'I know a bank where the wild Thyme blows..." his face up lit, the shafts of colored lights streaming through the drifting haze, where I felt considerable contentment and a sense of privilege that I was still making a living doing the thing I love, and have always wanted to be a part of - Shakespeare and theatre. Wilde and Importance will be an interesting contrast. I do hope Ives gets to see the Dream. I think he'd appreciate it, although I think our version is a little dark at the moment.
I realize that both plays deal with Love and Marriage. I sometimes wonder if plays are given to you at certain times for a reason. It seems sometimes that the universe has a perverse sense of humor.
Peter told me that there was a full house for Aquila's Comedy of Errors back in New York. This was after put a page advert with an old New York Times review. The advert cost $10,000.
Springfield suddenly became the centre of attention last week... not only had Aquila come to town, but "Magic Johnson' was being inducted in a brand new Hall of Fame, Regis Philbin was singing at the town centre Marriott and Paul Mcartney was performing in the town's rock venue.
I have managed to watch a good deal of the Ryder Cup being held at the Belfry, Sutton Coalfield. What a great competition it is. It makes me want to go straight out on a golf course and swing a club. It is now the game I love to play. I am looking forward to the day when I will be able to afford to play on a regular basis.
Guy and I decided to go through our scenes in Earnest in the hotel's Jacuzzi. Good decadence background work for our characters I thought. We are cooking a spaghetti dinner for the company tonight, after our matinee. being held in my suite. Well... I should say Guy has been doing most of the cooking and teaching me how to prepare a proper Italian sauce. He was married to a Sicilian for a number of years. At the same time, we will be watching Mr. Louis Butelli, my roommate, in Law & Order on NBC at 9 - Eastern Time!
My biog in the programme states that: - 'Richard now resides in Brooklyn, NY'.
I didn't quite believe it, but it's in print, so it must be true!
Pomona New Jersey's theatre is a very strange auditorium. The audience starts in the about 3 feet above the casts' heads and rises high up to the ceiling. There is just a flat floor where the stalls should be. So the whole effect is like being in a bear pit, or one of those strange Star Trek episodes where you and the crew have been put on trial by the Romulans. Aliens of a different kind greeted us for our 10 o'clock Guided Tour of the Dream. The audience were young and rowdy, and although we knew we entertained them, we never really gained a control - probably due to the fact that to them we seemed like little play figures in a toy theatre, which they were looking down on from a very great height.
In the afternoon I went with Andrew to give the first Shakespeare Masterclass of this tour. Guy came along to watch and to get ready for the future teaching experiences. We seem to have a great deal more masterclasses this tour. In the class, only had 15 people, so it wasn't too strenuous, but we were a bit rusty and a little under-energized. Although things improved when Andrew accidentally kicked the ball in the ball-in-the-air exercise in the teacher's face, catching her under the chin. She immediately pulled out of the exercises.
"These are no exercises for someone wearing bifocals," she said through gritted teeth.
Later when Andy was picking subjects for the Seven ages of Man,(an exercise where we have the ages formed by one member of the class being a sculptor) he picked the fattest girl in class for the justice, and then realized to his horror how inappropriate this was when the boy read out the lines of description: " And then the Justice, with fair round belly..."
I realized later that I had touched the students in adjusting their heads and bodies for the Alexander position on the floor. This was something expressly advised against by Peter. Sexual harassment apparently. But still, I cannot really teach without doing it, and it's just my way of being friendly. But I suppose one has to be careful!
He also advises against reading aloud any Shakespeare yourself. This I'm not sure about. I always learnt by hearing it spoken well. I personally think if they hear a professional read a piece it might trigger something in their artistic instincts and musical ears.
Still everyone seemed to enjoy it, and we shoved an awful lot of information their way in a brief space of time. Instructive, rather than constructive though, in the end. The three of us then slept in the Green Room till the others arrived for the evening show of the Dream. There was a little unhappiness when no hospitality food seemed apparent. Most of us had not eaten in preparation for such a meal and of course to save money. However David, our company manager and Allegra, his assistant, were tremendous and caused a fuss. The result was the Friends of the Theatre treated us to the theatre restaurant's menu which proved to be much more desirable than most hospitality meals usually turn out to be.
The show in the evening was very encouraging. We had our first real young audience in, and I mean young. Little giggles of children who could have been no more than six came raining down from on high. Our comedy of course was gobbled up, but what was so moving was how they got caught up in the story of lovers and Oberon and Puck. The play within the play is always great fun in any Dream and we seemed to have got the comedy alright, although we miss not having a Peter Quince as Kenn is being the Duke at the same time. I could wish for more bits of armor to really hamper my movement, especially on my arms and legs, but lovely bits of comedy are being invented, which of course any actor worth his salt will always come up with and the whole thing is a wonderful joyous spectacle.
Most of our masterclass students came backstage and said positive things... " Totally awesome - cool - mind blowing - great dude!"
The next day we drove the four hours to the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania passing through Philadelphia and up into Amish country. The technical crew and the apprentices were a little giddy as the next day was going to be their first day off for three weeks. It was good to get out of NJ and into the clean mountain air of PA. The hotel is comfortable and right next to a shopping Mall and cinema complex. The theatre was a beautiful modern auditorium, not too big like some of them are, and perfect acoustics, where you could speak upstage and into the wings with no discernable depreciation in quality or sound level.
I watched the show from the wings that night. It really does look tremendous. The umbrellas work remarkably well as the forest, although it is a little dark. I am hoping that at the New Victory, Peter might think about revealing a white background behind the ever-present blacks when the sun comes up on the lovers. The theatre was packed, the largest audience we had, but they loved it and we all reveled in that great sound of a full auditorium all laughing as one. There is a competition between Andew(Thisbe) and I to see who can get the round of applause at our deaths in the play within the play. He is leading so far 2 -1.
For the two shows that we have, it is amazing that they can all pack inside an ordinary van. The crews at these huge 1000 seat venues love us, because we have so little to load in. It is satisfying to see how professional it looks with the smoke and the lights and with the music.
Last night was Karaoke night in the bar next to the hotel, so after the show and load-out we all descended on the poor suspecting locals. Before long Guy and Lindsay were wowing us with their rock voices. Guy especially good with the rock scream and mike work. Renata and Ryan too got up to perform very well. Andrew got up to sing something about a Rose and a thorn.. or something... which seemed to be a good choice because the locals all as one suddenly descended on the dance floor as if they were aliens and had just received a message from the Mothership!
When I at last was drunk enough to have a go it was getting on for 2.30am. My rendition of Space Oddity by David Bowie was so impressive that not one person came up on to the dance floor - well, one, if you include Guy who came up to whisper in my ear that I was singing in the wrong key. After I had finished, the DJ hastily announced that that was that for the night and scampered away to pack up her equipment.
I tottered to bed chastened and laid wide awake for a whole minute... but not for long. As Oscar says:
"Whenever I think of my bad qualities at night, I go to sleep at once."
Talking of Oscar,
I have spent most of my day off preparing for the preshow talk tomorrow night. I know so very little about him and it's been a real treat to delve into his history, into his beliefs and philosophy, that explain so much about his own charector and his writings.
He was such a media celebrity of his time, and his whole life seemed to be constructed as a work of art. I'm also fascinated by his love of sin and wickedness as a virtue and something to be encouraged in an individual. I suppose I have been bad in the past in my own small way, but it's nice to have a positive light thrown on one's own guilty memories.
'Don't be led astray into the paths of virtue'. 'Nothing is more painful to me than to come across virtue in a person in whom I have never expected its existence'. 'Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike'. 'Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others'…
Many misconceptions exist about him. People tend to think that he was a light-hearted dandy, that his comedies are nonsensical and his aphorisms not much more than just funny - that he really is not to be taken seriously. It seems he did everything he could to promote this picture.
"I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability."
But he had a phenomenal mind. One of the things he could do was read a novel very, very fast - unbelievably fast. He used to be able to read a book in 20 minutes and tell you the plot and then he could recite huge passages from a novel the size of Middlemarch. He read in German, Italian, French and Russian. He really had a quite extraordinary mind, he had read more than anybody else. He was an brilliant critic because nothing passed him by, he knew popular culture as well as anybody. At the time he was taken for a poseur but he was a great literary mind, a philosopher and a wonderful political essayist.
But I think Oscar's cleverness has all too often been overlooked because of his extravagant behavior. He drank absinth and smoked opium-tipped cigarettes, and threw himself into the gay world of Paris and London in the 1890s with abandon.
He came over here to the States in 1892 for very successful lecture tour that took a year. Richard Carte was promoting the Gilbert & Sullivan opera Patience which satirized Wilde mercilessly. Carte, a brilliant producer, persuaded Wilde to go over to the States as a side promotion for the opera which was due to open in New York. Wilde, always keen to promote his image and his myth grabbed the chance to become more internationally famous. He appears to have valued the stories that he gained from his journey more than the experience itself, and his last statement to an American reporter, "They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris. I would add that when bad Americans die, they stay in America," seems to sum up his feelings. I wonder if I'll feel like that on my return to the UK.
In the Victorian era so many things were forbidden that it must have been very tempting to break the rules. Wilde valued freedom highly, and he felt that the rigidity of Victorian society. The theory behind most of his writing seems to be this: Nature is inferior to Art. Wilde was a radical Humanist. That is, he strongly believed in Man and his intellectual powers. His contempt for Nature(reality) and Life sprung from the fact that he considered them too 'obvious': everyone can see them, they offer no challenge to the intellect. The world of Art(imagination)is not obvious, and exists only when expressed by artists and critics. Art, according to Wilde, does not mirror Nature - it is Nature that mirrors Art.
That is why Earnest is so interesting in the way if depicts lying. What is so important about lies is that they are not true. That sounds a bit simple, but it is really what it is all about. A lie is not obvious. It is something that has been consciously invented, and it requires imagination. It is the fact that a person has used his intellect to consciously devise a story which makes a lie valuable: it is a construction, a creation, something that did not exist until someone invented it.
Wilde stressed the fact that lying is not obvious by ranking it with poetry. He observed that both require a certain skill - there is, according to him, no such thing as a born liar or a born poet. Lying and poetry are arts. It is the contemplation of Art and Beauty, which allows the individual to develop his personality without limits.
Of course his own paradox and his homosexuality were fine with the Victorians until they became public knowledge... and then establishment at last could repay him for all the satirizing of Victorian hypocrisy it had endured under his pen. With his trial imminent, he had ample opportunity to flee the country, just like Roman Polanski did here in the States, when he fled to Paris; but it seems his mother who had a huge influence on his life had decided it all for him and that it was time to stand up to the English. He had become the main character in his own tragedy.
His death is predicted in Earnest when I as Jack Worthing invent the death of my fictitious brother, by having him die in an hotel in Paris of a severe chill. Oscar died in a Paris Hotel of meningitis.
I now know why I have always reacted badly to any authority of authority figures. I am an artist... at work!!!
" No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did he would cease to be an artist."
"When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy."
"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist - that is all."
I have no plans for the holidays at the moment. Although I am thinking about Xmas. I have five weeks off and it would be good to see family and friends. I told my UK agent to find me some work for Xmas and give me an excuse to come back. Although a solitary Xmas in New York has a certain romantic Oscarite appeal!!!
We have been up to the northern part of Pennsylvania, near the shores of Lake Eerie, and I couldn't access the internet. It is so strange to be away from the online world even for such a short time. I realize now how important is to me to keep in touch with friends and family in the UK, which throws a question-mark still over my stay here. However the work is rewarding enough, financially as well as professionally. But the means to what end? It's a question I keep asking myself.
We had an Earnest show last night, then up at 7.30 this morning to be ready for 9.30 show for schools. Then loaded out and then drove the 400 miles down through Pennsylvania, over the Appalachians and through the Poconos until we got to Wayne New Jersey at 6.30pm. Then our tech staff and apprentices had to load in because we have another 10 o'clock Dream show tomorrow and then an evening show at 7.30. It's been a hard couple of days. I have a day off on Wednesday and plan to escape to New York for the day. I am hoping to try and see my brother-in-law and his girlfriend if I can get to the hospital and if I'm allowed to see them. It will also be a chance to collect my mail and do a bit of financial stuff which is always a little difficult when you're on the road.
A comment to me in the talkback after the Earnest show from hip black schoolboy aged about 12. Imagine junior Samuel Jackson and same delivery.
"So yeah. Did I get this straight? You end up marrying your cousin?!"
Lori phoned with desperate news. Her brother, Jim, and his girlfriend were woken up by the fire alarm in their apartment. They thought it was a fire and jumped out of bed. It was in fact the steam heating system that had broken and had burst in their apartment. Consequently they jumped straight in to a six inches of boiling water. Jim got Jenny out, but then went back to get the cat. He fell and cracked his chin, breaking his fall a little with his hands. So he had received burns to his back and to his feet and hands. He got the cat and made it down to the fourth floor where he collapsed. By this time the whole apartment building were evacuating, and people were racing past him to get out because no-one quite knew what had happened. It was then a black guy, who Jim had never seen before asked if he was okay. Jim said he couldn't move because he had burnt his hands and feet. The black guy said he'd stay with him. Jim tried to tell him to leave. "I'm not leaving here without you," said the stranger. They were there for another ten minutes and the place started to get hot because of the steam. Of course they thought it might be a fire. The stranger said he would carry him out. Jim said he was a dead weight, but the stranger said that he was going have to carry him as he wasn't leaving without him. Somehow Jim managed to roll onto the guy's back as he crouched down and he was carried out of there. He was rushed to hospital and into intensive care. He had second degree burns to his feet and hands. That morning the doctors were not sure if he was going to make it. Lori flew back from LA and by the time she arrived the doctors were able to tell Jim and Jack that although they were going have to take it a day at a time, it was a good sign that Jim Jnr was in so much pain, as a third degree burn would have killed the nerve endings. Jen is in another part of the hospital, but it is not in intensive care. They say Jim will be there for at least four weeks. At the moment they are waiting to see how the hands and feet will heal and whether they will have to do any skin grafts. Jim has had two major car accidents this year, so this is the third... and of course Sept 11th which he just missed.
Lori emailed to say that both her brother Jim and his girlfriend Jenny are doing fine under the circumstances. Jim goes into surgery on Thursday.
Peter is trying to get Olympia Dukakis to play Clytmenestra in the Orestia next year. She came to see Comedy of Errors in NY and loved it. The Public Theatre who do the Shakespeare in the Park have expressed an interest apparently. So we may all be there next summer. Who knows?
I had two phone calls from my son, Charley in the week. He just rang up to say he was missing me. Ahhh! I worry about him. He has no real qualifications, although he has been an apprentice painter and decorator. One of the calls was at 11 o'clock at night.
"You've been drinking, Charley," I said.
"How do you know?"
"Well... it's four o'clock in the morning your time and you're ringing your Dad!!"
It's become very cold over here all of a sudden. There is snow up on the Lakes and a definite chill in the air. Driving through the mountains today was stunning. The sky was deep blue and the foliage of the forests on the mountainsides was a riot of color: burned amber, reds and fading green. I find the van curiously comforting. I don't know why. I remember that in times of stress driving could relieve some of the pain. Is a sort of meditation? May be. I have been awful dreams recently, but when I am in the van, I sleep soundly and well.
I am thinking of going home to the UK either between 12th or 17th December and leaving around the 3rd of January. I'm looking into may be renting a cottage for a few days to see if I can get me some country air and a log fire. And then off to a good and old English pub for a good pub lunch and some real ale!
Out running in the New Jersey suburbs. The manager had been a small man with brief authority and had not written us passes for the local gym because we were not staying that night. We had stayed there for three nights previously however. Andrew said he was very nice about it all. I said if he was that nice he would overlooked the fact that we weren't staying that night and written us the passes, especially since we were a large group bringing in good business to his hotel. So I was running down the leafy lane with Tony Soprano-like houses on either side. It is the strange thing in America, but unlike England you will never see the same house next to one another. They are all individual. I was just passing a white brick building, with polished oak doors, when a deer ran out in front of me and out into the road, she stopped for a moment. looking slightly bewildered and then bolted across the highway, up a drive. Gaining speed, she leaped the iron fence... and straight into the back yard swimming-pool. Swimming, splashing and I imagined cursing to herself, she staggered out and disappeared into the trees. I didn't break step as it seemed it had been laid on for my running entertainment. And anyway I was 15 minutes in and into the dark zone - contemplation, meditation breathing and body as one.
Sad about Richard Harris. We have a quote on our fridge door in Brooklyn from Peter O'Toole: "If we actors don't behave badly, then what use are we?!" I remember when he was asked if he regretted his drinking and hell-raising with Richard Burton and O'Toole, just after Burton died, Harris replied: "Oh, but we lived, we lived more in that short time than most people do in three lifetimes."
We had a day off in Frederick. I had therefore a chance to meet up with William Cochran again. William is an mural artist who has paintings on some of buildings of Frederick. His largest work is the Community Bridge. A group of us, Renata, Gabby Ryan, Guy and myself, had arranged to meet him at the bridge. We arrived a little early, which gave us time to admire the wonderful transformation of an ugly concrete bridge to a beautiful piece of art. Suddenly his car arrived and he stepped out, a man in middle age, balding red hair, could be a banker or stockbroker's face, an energy of gentleness, watching for detail, illuminated by eyes that seek and look deeply... William disappeared into the back of the car and appeared with his baby son of 10 months, Quinn. His wife Teresa appeared with the their other four year old son, Connor. Teresa dispatched the children with William and proceeded to give us a wonderful tour of the bridge and of the symbols and figures found beautifully painted on its surface. The bridge is a Trompe l'oeil work of art.
Trompe l'oeil is a French term literally meaning "that which deceives the eye." Community Bridge is one of the most unusual trompe l'oeil murals in the world. The entire bridge was painted by hand to create the illusion of an old stone bridge. The illusion is so strong that art professionals sometimes stand next to the bridge and ask where the mural is, unaware that they are looking right at it. Tour guides have noticed birds trying to land on the gate that is part of Unfound Door, an image on the bridge which depicts an wrought iron gate which is in front of a wooden door. Several times birds have been observed attempting to alight on the fountain image on the bridge.. And the city of Frederick receives regular complaints from visitors excited about the mural project but aghast that the city would allow ivy to grow across the priceless mural, unaware that the tendrils of ivy they saw climbing the painted stonework were themselves part of the painted illusion.
What William asked thousands of people in the town of Frederick and all over the world through his website was "what symbolizes the spirit of community to you?" The answers he received were carved and painted as symbols into the bridge.
William describes the project like this:
"A bridge connects divided land and makes common ground. That is the central metaphor of this effort. Bridges connect. A bridge like the one I have painted is built with stones of all sizes and colors. A good stonemason understands how the different colors and sizes relate to each other. The beauty in each stone becomes most evident when the stone is seen in relation to the whole. Diversity and balance are the keys. No stone can be removed without diminishing - and weakening - the bridge.
Differences between people are often seen as barriers rather than as bridges. People are defined by those differences, rather than by their place within the whole. The small illusions I create with paint are nothing compared to the large illusions we all insist on being fooled by every day. What if our sense that we are separated from each other by all kinds of differences and barriers is simply an illusion, no more real than the images I paint?
What if we are all connected in ways we don't fully understand, connected not by modems and phone lines, not by highway systems and laws, but in ways that are less obvious, more subtle, and more profound? "
You can find out all about the community bridge can be found at http://www.bridge.skyline.net/
We lost Gabby at some point. Connor adopted her and proceeded to introduce her to his wonderful imaginative world, where everything was something else, magical and fantastical. We'd look over at times to see Connor directing the action and Gabby stretched out on the ground or them both taking giant steps across a planet or evading tarantulas.
At dinner later William explained that the mural I and Giselle (Ariel in The Tempest) had sat for looked like it would go through very soon, however it was now a community project and therefore there was no guarantee that we would end up in the final version. It's planned for a building right opposite the theatre. However I have the feeling that if he his way and that if he feels its right, Prospero and Ariel will still feature as a Frederick attraction.
Renata had expressed frustration with her performance in The Dream. It's something you would be surprised at if you saw her perform, however all actors have that frustration. We all want it to be good at each and every performance. It's one of the reasons people like Anthony Hopkins don't act on the stage any more. The repetition and the summoning of feelings and reactions, and keeping it all fresh and real and clear is always a challenge to a stage actor, I think.
I asked William if he ever got frustrated with his paintings. When he replied that it was something that happened a lot, I asked him what he did to combat it.
"I look at it from a different perspective, or I turn it upside down... or I leave it and come back to it later and start afresh."
Connor interrupted me:
"Richard, would you do me a monologue?"
My mouth drops at the four year old's precocious vocabulary.
Teresa had said he would be too young for Shakespeare, but I told her of seeing my first one at five and that you don't have to understand the words. Then, with Connor watching and listening opposite me I proceed to give Bottom's speech - Bottom's Dream. Connor's eyes widen, drinking it in like the sweetest soda he has ever tasted. The rest of the restaurant falls silent. I finish. Round of applause. Connor promptly asks for another and Renata obliges with a Helena speech. I idly imagined that one day an older Connor might have a distant memory of night and magical words from a magical world.
At one point I was left holding baby Quinn and found I rather liked it and wondered just for a moment if I would ever have any more children. Looking at Connor, I decided that you would have to enough money to hire an army of preschool, tutors, and helpers to cope with the enormous energy that a young child demands. I asked Teresa how she managed, she being a woman of a certain age.
"Oh, there's a marvelous invention called preschool!"
Connor actually goes to a preschool which is for young artists. He is currently doing drama and obviously is having a wonderful time. We were all enchanted. And left, after a great dinner and conversation with William and Teresa discussing art and theatre and life... felt like a grown-up.
The week has been spent in Greenville , South Carolina . This is the hometown of Lindsay.. well the nearest big town for her, she actually grew up in Anderson a few miles away. It is also where David Dunford went to school. So this week was a little mini-homecoming for them. It also was a big look-forward-to for us as we were stopping in one place for a whole week, something that hardly ever happens on the tour. We were also in the downtown area of Greenville and not out on a highway which also meant that we had access to shops and restaurants and could walk to the hotel. The weather, which had been giving some much needed torrential rain to the Eastern seaboard, also relented and provided us with some beautiful of crisp, crystal, damp-leave smelling, warm, sun-glowing, flame and orange autumnal days.
We had a rather unusual schedule here with a two guided shows in the morning with the rest of the day free. The guided tours are the shows that are especially for schools. They are a shortened 50 minute version of the play with 10 minutes for a Q & A at the end. We show selected scenes with the gaps being filled by one of us stepping forward to the lectern and relating the story. I don't like them particularly as I always feel we are short-changing the kids... and I'm arrogant enough to believe that they would enjoy our full show a lot more. But it's better than them not coming at all and we are always conscious that, for many of them, this will be the first time they have stepped inside a theatre.
I am always the first one out to the lectern and it can sometimes be a little intimidating facing a theatre full of rowdy school children. I always have to decide whether to be benevolent uncle, serious actor, or frightening father-figure to quieten them down and get their attention and themselves ready for the play to come. Sometimes I just look at them and do the "Jonathan Pryce" stare and wait until they are quiet. A risky maneuver and one that doesn't always work... but it wakes me up at 10 o'clock in the morning!
The questions at the end can range from the insightful: " What happened then to the Indian Boy?" to " Is any of y'all married?" "How much money do y'all earn?"
It was after two of these shows and feeling a little battered that Guy and I ventured out to The Governor's School to do a Shakespeare masterclass.
The South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities is a private school which offers talented young adults the opportunity to live, learn and play together in a community environment.
The South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities is on an 8.5 -acre historic site overlooking the Reedy River Falls . The architectural design replicates an Italian village, with sculpture, open courtyards and fountains. An idyllic place to study and be creative.
The Drama Program provides pre-professional actor training for students who demonstrate artistic instinct, dedication, enthusiasm, talent and maturity. Admission is by audition, though previous experience is not required. The demanding two-year curriculum is built on a conservatory model, and includes courses in acting fundamentals, voice and speech, movement, rehearsal and performance, and special techniques.
We were met by Daniel Murray who was the drama teacher for our group. He showed us into a wonderful spacious studio theatre where 26 students all dressed in black were doing warm up games with frighteningly precocious ease and spontaneity. I immediately upgraded the masterclass in my head and realizing we were dealing with smart people who had been already well-taught a lot of the drama skills. Of course our biggest defense is that we don't pretend to be anything but actors, and by saying we're not teachers we immediately immunize ourselves against any criticism. The Shakespeare masterclass format is slightly different from the last tour, but all the basics are the same: giving them a quick run-through of how an actor might approach these a Shakespearean text with four major tools for unlocking that text along the way. To demystify the iambic pentameter to almost irrelevance... listen for the rhythm and the flow and feel your way through rather that marking out beats... steal from the best... and above all use your instinct and nobody else's! It was good to have Guy in tow as he disagreed with a few of my feelings which immediately showed them there was no set way to approach it and that everyone has a different way in. We found the afternoon a great joy because we were working with young people of around 16 to 18, who were already committed to drama and the arts and were drinking in what we were trying to put across. The ice was quickly broken when we were playing the 'yes' game. Guy messed it up and said loudly" "Oh shit!" Great laughter. Greenville is a very conservative town and I imagine that expletives aren't heard that often by authority figures. Although we cut corners because they were so advanced we were still left struggling for time and in the end they cancelled a class for us and we stayed for two and a half hours with 45 minutes of that time taken with answering questions on all manner of subjects. We were more than pleased when we an email to Ellen, the presenter at the theatre from Daniel at the Governor's School got posted up outside the dressing-room. It said: "I expected that if we could put such accomplished actors in the same space as our students, something exciting would come about. It did. Guy and Richard are the real thing, and there's a gulf talking about the life/artistic process of a professional actor and experiencing it first hand. These gentlemen bridged that for us. They were passionate, eloquent and generous of themselves and their time... It was exactly the kind of forum we need to offer our artists-in-training."
Hurrah! I put this in here not to blow a trumpet, (well may be a little, with my inferiority complex over my lack of educational qulaifications)but just to reaffirm for me that the great thing about the masterclasses is that you can actually see the effect you have, which of course is not the case usually with an audience. The next evening we had our full show and afterwards our class of 26 students waited in the lobby. I met them and brought them to the Green Room and we had an impromptu Q&A about the show. This is something I would have very daunting a couple of years ago especially with teachers looking on, but it's now a thing of relative ease, and of course I am being taught something at the same time. It's great to be learning and pushing the barriers still. Must never stop that.
On the Friday night we all drove out to Lindsay's parent's house and the place where she spent all of her childhood. I am always in awe of people who have grown-up in the same place. I spent my childhood moving from place to place and school to school (13 in total). Lindsay greeted us outside a little nervous, as she had every right to be as very soon we were pouring over the photographs and scrapbooks and investigating her bedroom, otherwise known as the shrine. We had wondered what to expect. Ken had asked Lindsay's father the night before what he had been up to and was a little startled by the reply.
"Oh just shagging and hanging out!"
Shag or shagging in the UK is a slang for having sex. It turn out that in South Carolina however it is a dance, which when enough alcohol had been consumed Lindsay's mum and dad performed for us in their living-room.
What is a "Shag" you ask? It's a phenomenal dance craze that started in Myrtle Beach in the 40 and 50's. Local teens invented the dance step that is most suited to Rhythm & Blues music. But "Shag" is much more than a style of swing dancing, it is a way of life for people from Virginia Beach to Florida! Some may even refer to it as a "religion."
This is learning to shag. There is no dance more associated with the South than shagging, and no place more accommodating to shaggers than the South. Learning to shag is learning to be a Southerner. It is learning to hear the ocean in your head and the music in your step. It is learning to bend your knees, relax your shoulders, and shuffle, slide and spin while The Embers sing about wise men and falling in love...
Of course for a Brit, a shag is a "fuck" pure and simple, and in our puerile British way we spent the evening with huge smiles on our faces as we told about the quick shag, the slow shag, nice n'easy shag and shagging positions and maneuvers. There was something very moving though about seeing Lindsay's mum and dad dancing together. A couple who had been married for a long time still connecting and dancing in an easy and sensual way. It seemed only natural that we should progress from "shagging" to "swinging". So swing dancing was taken up by Allegra and David, who were excellent dance partners. Gabi of course being Puerto Rican was soon teaching Lindsay's mum how to salsa. It was a real treat for us to be inside someone's home. David's parents who are friends of the hosts came along as well, and a lot of the night was spent looking at photos and hearing stories of their childhood and then watching David and Lindsay squirm!
Saturday a day off, and a few of us went up into the Appalachian mountains towards Clemson in the Northwest of South Carolina. Upper Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. The falls plunge an amazing 411 feet! South Carolina's Lower Whitewater Falls drops another 400 feet. Because of the escarpment's difficult access and rugged terrain, much of the area receives few visitors and has remained wild and undeveloped over the years. In the cool, moist shade of steep slopes and rock cliffs, wildflowers and salamanders abound. It was here we met David's dad and sister and then proceeded to go the falls and of course go right to the top and the rocks above. They filmed a lot of the Last of the Mohicans around here and the countryside was looking its best decked out in its fall colors. From here we could see far out into the distance. A time for reflection and for breathing in the clean air and - as they say in Norway - 'get into the nature". Gabi especially quiet having to make a decision to either stay with the tour in the Spring or go to a company in Minneapolis who she has always wanted to work with and have now offered her a contract. For us of course it would be dreadful to lose her and then the workload of rehearsing someone else to take her place will be awful. The shows never recovered when we did this last year when we lost our Caliban for the Spring. I think of course she has to follow her instinct... as always.
Guy jumped into the driver's seat of the van as we were leaving. "Are you sure you want to drive?" I asked. Guy was adamant and then promptly reversed into a car. Luckily no real damage was caused except to Guy's ego. Mr. Dunford not impressed and ordered Guy from the van and into the passenger seat in a very curt manner.
Saturday evening was Gabi's night. Her birthday is today and she had chosen a Sushi restaurant for her meal of the night. We had a banquet of Sushi and Sashimi and lethal saki. The evening was soon jumping. It was then decided - mainly by Mr. Dunford - that the perfect way to round the proceedings off was to go to a lap-dancing club called "Nepals" (geddit?) I -and I mean this - really didn't want to go as I'm not drinking just at the moment and in those places I really do need to be happy! However it was Gabi's birthday and she, Allegra, Renata, and Guy believe it or not) had never been to one of these places.
The highlights of the evening was Allegra and Gabi getting lap dances of their own. Allegra's eyes wide like a child seeing Father Xmas for the first time, and Gabi a mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. They then proceeded to chat away with the lap dancing girls as only girls can do, getting information on underwear, personal history, the clientele and tricks of the trade. This was too much for Guy who had to disappear to another corner of the club to get his lap dance in private. I opted out as I still cling on to the foolish notion of beauty and romance going together... and am being very protective of my self just now... The only way to go to these places is for fun and laughs, to recognize how sad the men are who take it seriously and that at least the girls have all the power and make a decent amount of money...
Two weeks to go. I wish we were going into December. I enjoy the tour life just now. A refuge and sanctuary probably, but it's buying time for when major decisions will have to be made. Difficult at my age... of 35!
The final week has begun of the Fall part of the tour. Aquila's Comedy of Errors closed yesterday in New York, and we are now the main focus in the Aquila world. We are bracing ourselves for the visit of our producer and director, Peter and Robert. Will they like what they see? The last time when they came to New Brunswick, all hell broke lose. This was in February during the last tour and the Tempest. After the show, which happened on a sleepy Sunday Superbowl afternoon with a small audience in a 1400 seat theatre, we were subjected to a dressing-down and the now infamous "chain of command" speech. We were somewhat hampered havng to find our own accommodation in New York the previous night, which of course meant that a lot of people were sleeping on sofas because they had sublet their apartments out for the duration of the tour.
Luckily this time, Mr. David Dunford, is in charge of the hotels, and although a suggestion was made that the company could go back to New York for a night, it was quickly rejected, and I now find myself in the Hilton Hotel, East Brunswick on the 10th floor in a tastefully decorated room. Even a mini-bar, which sits as an ever present unspeaking temptation to my finances, is provided. We await the arrival of the "command" team with their "chains" for the 10 o'clock full show tomorrow to a full house of 1400 high school children. It could prove interesting.
The week began in McLean, Virginia; which is just outside Washington DC. I had been a little worried because I seemed to have burst a blood vessel in my eye. When I looked this up on-line as to what could be the possible cause, I was given a few choices: a brain tumor, diabetes, stroke, or... a burst blood vessel. So I was cheered up no end that a few friends appeared after the shows here. Tara Hugo came with her husband Steve to see the Dream. Tara and I played husband and wife in Spin by Robert Sherwood at the BAC and White Bear in London. I played a Democratic candidate for President and she my domineering political wife. We both thought it strange that here we were meeting on the outskirts of Washington, a thing that neither of us would have envisaged when we first met up. She and Steve are in A Christmas Carol at the Ford Theatre in Washington. This is the theatre of course where Lincoln was shot. It seems that A Christmas Carol is the Xmas show over here. In Aquila, during idle moments, we often dream of presenting the American theatre public with a traditional British panto. Although how you sell it to the family church-going public of America is a little beyond me.
"Well there's the dame and she's played by a man... and there's the lead man and he's played by a woman in boots, but the young leading woman is a woman... and there's a song sheet...!!!"
The following evening for "Earnest", Katie, Cindy and Lonnie, some of the cast of the Much Ado About Nothing that I was in earlier this year in Elkins, WV, came to see the show along with Katie's mum and Dad. They were all agog when I told them about the drama between the artistic director of the Elkins Shakespeare Festival and the leading actress. Too long and involved to go into, but the gist of it is the director accused his leading lady of improper conduct and unprofessional behavior, and threatened to try and prevent her working in the area again. This unfortunately was not even near the truth and one thing led to another, and suddenly I had an email from the Dean of the college asking for my opinion on the running of the Festival... which I endeavored to give him. It now seems that the director's job might be on the line, which is sad, but as Miss Prism says in Earnest: "As a man sows, so shall he reap!" Looking back at my past theatre jobs of recent years, havoc does seem to follow me around!
The following night we moved to Shepherdstown in West Virginia. We were doing the Dream this night and just before the curtain rose, a fog machine blasted out a huge amount of smoke filling the stage. We were all taken by surprise as usually the stage is filled by a the more subtle smoke from the Hazer that we take with us. On stage, Guy, who was preparing for Puck by sweeping the stage, realizing that the audience had gone quiet and the curtain was about to rise, desperately tried to dissipate the billowing fog with his broom, which he wields at the beginning of the play. Unfortunately at that moment Ryan decided to try and cross the stage.... and consequently got whacked right in the mouth. He spent the rest of the performance with a highly colored pugilistic mouth which gave Demetrious a rather dangerous edge a young Marlon Brando look! Luckily no teeth were lost and nothing was broken... except apparently the hazer, which was the reason for the fog being there in the first place.
Lots of drama for Gabi in the week with Peter contacting directly the company she was going to work for in Minneapolis. Aquila has the option to let people go, as they have in the past, after this part of the tour. Not this time. Gabi was witness to the full glory of a man doing what he does best - fighting for his company - doing all he could to make sure that the company stayed together, and that the Aquila budget and holidays and all plans they had made for January would not be changed due to Gabi's departure. Luckily for her, Gabi's parents came to McLean and were superbly supportive, as well as being down to earth, intelligent, sincere and sensitive. Her mother commented that she could understand and in a way could admire Peter. . "if you look at it from a business point of view." We are now awaiting to see if a compromise is going to be reached; or whether, by some miracle, Gabi might stay after all.
During all this, we received an email stating how pleased Aquila was with us, and how the company expected us all to stay, and giving glimpses of a promised land in the Summer, which not only includes a run at The New Victory Theatre, 42nd Street of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but also Earnest for two weeks in The Hamptons, the next tour of Othello and The Man Who Would Be King and that Aquila received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for Othello named the "Shakespeare in American Communities Program" in the amount of $155,000. One of the largest first time NEA grants ever.
That also Midsummer would go out for a bit in the summer, including the 5000 seat open air Mann Theatre in Philadelphia. And that Comedy had been asked to form part of the season next year at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. We were also told that Olympia Dukakis was working once a week with them on The Oresteia and that Frank Langella and Johnny Depp have both had conversations about the project and are very interested in joining.And finally the DUMBO theatre space project was back on the boil and they were about to enter lease negotiations with the developer.
. I heard that there was annoyance when it was found out that Mark Saturno, who left the Comedy cast to go and do a new play in Massachusetts, was walked in to see the Comedy of Errors in NY as Mark Pow's guest. Mark Pow had taken over Saturno's role and Mr. Pow was obviously pleased that Mr. Saturno had come along and was interested to see what his friend would think. However others not impressed.(cut to)
I had a conversation on the phone with my children, who, rather movingly, considering that they are 17 and 20 respectively, were hugely excited that they were going to spend Xmas Eve and Day with their father. I am now trying to get an earlier flight back to the UK, as I realize that are an awful lot of people I want to see and catch up with.
Good news this week was that Lori's brother, Jimmy, who received awful burns to his hands and feet when his apartment's heating system burst its pipes and he stepped out of bed and into six inches of boiling water, is making tremendous progress and that the operations have taken well. He has now left intensive care and the hospital and is back home with Lori's mum and dad, along with Jennie... and the cat!
American Television is a very mixed bag. Most of it is pretty dreadful. If you watch a film, on most of the stations, it will take forever because of the inordinate number of adverts. Sex scenes will be removed, bad language dubbed, but of course all the violence left in. The one shining beacon in the wilderness is HBO, which produces The Sopranos, OZ, Six Feet Under, shows films uncut and without interruption and has specials such as Robin Williams Live in New York. We are now being bombarded with the Xmas and Thanksgiving adverts. These two holidays with New Year makes this particular festive season for me rather an obstacle course and one that I'll be very glad once I have reached the other side. Still the up-coming Aquila trips to Bermuda and Florida for January will certainly help!
I will miss the hotel life. I have now a set routine. First to be unpacked is the scented candle and the josticks, so I can give the environment my own smell. Kneeling stool next to various spiritual books - of all kinds. (I use all sorts of religions and combine them into a conglomerate all my own) Books on table. CD cases out and ready, with usually a calming Mozart playing. Computer unpacked and then the anxious wait to find out whether I will have a local number which will enable me to stay in contact with the world. I am a master and always have been in adapting to space and environment. I've had a lifetime's practice!
I went for a truly invigorating run through Shepherdstown, WV. For us, the town is highly unusual because of its character and its age. Thomas Shepherd founded the town of Shepherdstown in 1734, long before West Virginia became a state. The town is the oldest community in the mountain state, and it has been carefully restored. Shepherdstown has largely avoided the turmoil of nearby Harpers Ferry( a civil war battle) and many of the buildings from the early 1800s still stand. Shepherd College, part of the state university system, where we performed, is one of the largest employers in the town. It is located on the site of Fort Shepherd, a fortification used during the French and Indian War. The town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with 398 out of its 467 buildings having historical significance. The Shepherdstown Historic District includes examples of Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian architecture. A granite column overlooking the river in Shepherdstown is dedicated to James Rumsey, the Potomac's own pioneer of steam navigation. Apparently this was where one of the first steam boat trips took place.
I ran through the historic town and down to the huge Potomac river. The weather - light incessant rain, and the smell of wet leaves, wet grass, wood smoke - took me back to the English countryside... except in England you wouldn't come across the stripped and rotting carcass of a deer, ... as I did on the banks of the Potomac. I went back into town later to look at the shops, which is also unusual, this being the land of the shopping mall. I spent a glorious lost two hours in the local book shop where as usual I spent far too much money. The only constant I have in my life are my books. I never throw them away. In an attic in London, I have about five boxes full of them. Each book has a memory I suppose, and I just cannot bring myself to get rid of them.
I was suddenly rung up by Johnson & Liff and asked to audition for Gail Edwards and The Washington Shakespeare Theatre for their production of Richard lll. With all the shenanigans around Aquila I was sorely tempted. I had already auditioned for them in the Summer, and a part of me is keen to see how a well-financed and big theatre company works over here. It wasn't a great part, but I knew that I would probably have to go in there at a certain lever to earn my spurs, as it were. Apparently once you are in the company, you could stay for years. Stability, in other words. Isn't that what all actors are intrigued by? However after much consideration I informed them I wasn't available and will invite them to hopefully come and see me in New York playing Bottom.
For better or for worse, I have tied my banner to the mast of the storm-tossed, leaky, brave, mad and crazy ship that is – Aquila.
The interest of the week was what our producer and director would think of the Dream.
Peter and Robert, a dynamic duo.
Peter - tall, red-haired, eyes, that search, but never reveal; soldier's vocabulary, a keen intelligence; Greek Scholar. Passionate in pursuit in obtaining what he wants. (cut to)
Robert - bald, large, eyes huge and expressive; mouth thin. Face like a full moon... which sometimes turns into a guilty schoolboy. A Surreal humor which is wonderfully un-PC; generous, but with an occasional acidic tongue. A very, very good director A Big heart, A romantic but also a worrier, and pessimist.
Last year when we were in the State Theatre of New Brunswick - a big 1400 seat barn of a theatre - Peter commented on our lack of preparation.
This time we were put up in the Hilton in East Brunswick. David Dunford, who had given up a very lucrative gig in South Carolina to stay with us, had a whole day to make the stage ready. Consequently we were all refreshed and the show looked wonderful. We used the whole depth of the stage, with the black cloth set right at the back, giving the lights much more intensity. The stage was washed in brilliant water colors, with shafts of purple, green, white, orange and blue, set off by the haze, shining down through the dark, as if the sun or moon was penetrating a magical cathedral wood.
Our warm-up for the arrival of Peter was a full show at 10 o'clock in the morning to a full house of high school kids; wild as an unbroken stallion... or something equally unknown and terrifying... a stallion? Well, sorry... but that's what occurred to me at the time the lights dimmed and we heard the howls and screams that erupted from the auditorium. It's always a kick to go and face an audience like that head on... the danger, the unknown... Anything could happen. God, what a rush! It certainly woke us all up.
So later... and Peter's visit...
The show was as good as it ever has been. Peter's first comment to me when he came back.... "Well we finally beat the space!"
A drink was in order to celebrate his happiness. The first bar was charging a cover, but when the second told us they were closing, Peter said we should go back and get in that first bar without any charge.
Talk to them. Look at this place. What the hell happens here? Are they going to turn all this beer away?
Go on, Peter, after you, I said half-jokingly.
Suddenly he was gone and striding towards the bouncers on the door. A couple of minutes we were ushered inside... at no expense. I don't know how he does it.
Once inside, laughter and mainly relief.
Robert giving notes, but as happy as one could expect. Peter non-stop talking, Aquila plans.... Later in deep conversation with Gabi. It transpires that she is going to stay with us after all. Her decision, which had been agonized over for the last couple of weeks was greeted with relief and great joy. I don't know what changed her mind, but I'm glad she did. She is the emotional heart-beat of the company. It's the first time on any Aquila tour that an acting company has stayed together through its duration.
Next stop, after another 10 o'clock full show, was Purchase, NY. That night we drove over into Connecticut to Allegra's parent's home in the town where they filmed the Ice Storm. The home was modern, spacious and welcoming. Allegra's Mum had been an actress, and was the original Sandy in Grease on Broadway. Her Dad, owns an advertising company. I worked out they must be in their fifties, but they looked about 10 years younger. After walking through the hallway, past a six foot Rabbit in a waiter's outfit... (I kid you not!) we walked into a huge open planned living-room. The kitchen was awash with tempting appetizers, and copious amounts of alcohol. In an adjoining room a log fired threw up flickering patterns on the walls and warmed our cheeks.
In the dining-room, a huge round table dominated, and later 15 of us sat around it to a sumptuous meal of salmon, vegetables and salad. How good it was to be out of a hotel-land and to feel a little human family contact. In the basement, the Games Room kept the boys happy with Pool and table-tennis.
I drank some wine that night... my first drink for a while... and it tasted wonderful...contributing to a magical evening, which ended outside...in a hot tub... at midnight... under a full moon... and the stars... and the ice in the air, the wind in the trees, the scent of pine, candles flickering... and the steam rising from our bodies... as we ran laughing, wet and dripping... faces glowing, wrinkled fingers... to the fire inside... and the warmth within.
has become a diamond;
Hard, cold, dark,
A precious stone.
And I travel, and I travel,
My heart inside the diamond.
A jewel - flawed
... and unbreakable.
Never write when drunk on red wine!!!
The next day was free except for a Shakespeare Masterclass which rather strangely started at 7pm. Ryan came with me to watch and learn. However I tried to get him involved as much as possible. He is a natural teacher and communicator, with a wonderful ability to remember people's names. I was very envious. The group was enthusiastic and eager to learn. We were watched by their drama teacher, Joan, who must have been in her 80s. She listened intently throughout the two hours we were there, and never even batted an eye when I tore into 'scansion' and 'iambic pentameter' (whoever invented that phrase was no actor.) It's interesting with Eminem riding high in the charts and with his semi-biographical film 8 Mile at No 1 at the US Box Office to make comparisons. I think Hip-hop, playing with rhythm and with words, in a way, mirrors Shakespeare.
Nobody better test me, cuz I don't wanna get messy
Especially when I step inside this bitch, dick freshly
New Lugz, give the crew hugs, guzzle two mugs
Before I do drugs that make me throw up like flu bugs
True thugs, rugged unshaven messy scrubs
Whippin' 40-bottles like the fuckin' Pepsi clubs
Down a fifth, crack open a six
I'm on my seventh 8-ball, now I gotta take a piss
I'm hollerin' at these hoes that got boyfriends
Who gives a fuck who they was
I'm always takin' someone else's girl like Cool J does
They probably don't be packin' anyways, do they Fuzz?
We walked up, stomped they asses and blew they buzz
Mics get sandblasted
Stab your abdomen with a hand crafted pocketknife and spill your antacid
Sprayed your motherfuckin' crib up when I ran past it
Fuckin' felon, headed to hell in a handbasket
Talkin' shit will get you, your girl and your man blasted
Kidnapped and slapped in a van wrapped in Saran plastic
Get your damn ass kicked, by these fantastic
Furious four motherfuckers
Flashin' in front of your face without the Grand Masters
Slim Shady, ain't nobody iller than me
Ain't nobody iller than me
It's the Mr. Fuzzy from the 313
No one, no one is iller than me
It's Eminem and Swift from the 313
No one, no one is iller than me
It's Fuzz and Buzz-arre from the 313
Now if Eminem could channel his anger and his talent into writing a play...
The last performance of the Fall tour. We were only 40 minutes away from New York in Purchase. Rumor had it that there were nine people from the board of the New Victory who were coming to see the show with a view to extending its run. As well as the usual warm-up before the show, we also had to perform certain scenes for a New Victory film crew. Each one had to be repeated three times. The last being a scene with Titania and Bottom that we begin with a wild frenetic dance. I was on my knees by the end and needed a shower. I immediately wondered what the physical impact would be if we were doing the show, eight times a week, for any length of time. I had already jarred my knee, coming on to the stage - believe it or not - for the curtain call. Although it healed up in 24 hours, it certainly brought home how vulnerable you are as a physical theatre actor. I have kept pretty fit and run every day, in the hope of being able to do this kind of work for a little longer.
During the sound check, I lost patience with the mikes in a theatre that wasn't all that big; about the size of the Leicester Haymarket. The sound through the speakers was thin and false. When I asked if we could try it without the mikes to hear the difference, the reply came back:
"That isn't an option."
Looked over to Kenn and saw immediately he felt the same way as I did. Discussing it later and we agreed it was just a waste of time and effort to influence the powers that be - To explain why it would be better unmiked would be useless.
The show was very slick despite the reticence of the audience for the first half. They're always like this at Purchase - very slack about arriving on time, with all the students up in the circle and the older crowd down in the stalls. However they woke up in the second half, and the play within the play won them over completely. I sank to my knees at the end…exhausted. Bottom dances on after the Bergamask for a little solo prance… well it seemed like a good idea at the beginning of the tour!!! A very good reception at the curtain call - we had sweated blood to get it. All management happy… and a special delight to see Lisa, who was her usual positive self. I will be sorry when she's gone. She's off with her new husband, Todd, to LA where they are going to try their luck. (We will be there in February and I'm very interested in what I will think of it. I've never really fancied going there.) After the management left to catch their train - forcing us to wait another half hour at the get-out for the van's return - we adjourned to a local pub, where we celebrated with a mixture of relief, excitement, abandon and sadness.
The next day, we piled into the van for the journey back to the city. There is always a thrilling moment when you return to the Manhattan after a length of time away. Although one misses the twin towers, the skyline still sends shivers of excitement through you. After you have traveled around the country for a while, you realize how unique New York City is.
The company may not be as fiercely close as last year, but we have all bonded well, and something happens on these tours which is not easy to explain… yes, we bond, but we also adjust and move to each other rhythms and energy… I think it's something to do with spending such a lot of time traveling in the vans. So we will - despite our excitement of time away and seeing friends and family - miss each other.
"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."
However the following night we all met up again for the Aquila end-of-year party… everyone who was involved with the company from the past year was invited, with a few notable absentees who were currently out of favor. Peter and Robert greeted all at the door… like two bouncers at a club. Inside the party was going with a swing. It was really good to see so many old faces from all the different companies. Most of us had experienced the Aquila madness and ecstacy in some form or another, and had lived to tell the tale. Another bond there. A band were playing in one room, and, of course, were largely ignored as everyone was much more interested in talking to old friends and some new acquaintances.
We were all slightly nervous because Peter was presenting the Aquila Awards.
Surprisingly the awards were pretty tame. I can't remember them all, but a few favorites were:
Louis Butelli -most hair-loss during a run.
Gabi Cofey - most downward inflections.
Cameron Blair - most extraneous movements and noises during a performance (everyone holding their breath, but she laughed… well… with a lot of extraneous movement and noises.)
And me… for best hair performance. (It's very wild at the moment)
Peter gave a little speech at the end about the company's achievements this year, which have been impressive. He seems to be veering away from off-Broadway runs. The Orestia, which he is planning with Olympia Dukakis next year, is going to be a huge, one week, event. I'm not sure how he will fare though with his jobbing actors though. But then again he could change his mind after Xmas!!
Much wine and beer consumed, although I was surprisingly restrained and stuck to Coca Cola… my comfort drink. The evening ended with Guy performing Mustang Sally… an achievement because the band were playing Johnny Be Good!
Let's hope the future with Aquila isn't like second marriages.. "The triumph of hope over experience" … (Would third marriages be masochism?)
Later I found myself with the younger members of Aquila in a downtown bar. Paul Ferrel, whose class I had given a talk to at Classic Studio during one of Robert's classes, was holding his 21st birthday party there. It was a double celebration for him. He has just been cast as Benjamin in The Graduate on Broadway. So it was like Christmas and birthday all rolled into one. A young man just starting…Looking at him, took me back.. to where I was at 21. Non-stop with tv series in those days -Diary of a Nobody for the BBC. 31 years as a professional actor. Jesus… I can hardly believe it. I lingered long enough to suck their energy and youth like Nosterfaru (spelling?) before departing back to Brooklyn.
Back in Brooklyn...
A cold, crisp, and crystal winter's day. Blue, blue sky and dazzling sun, but with an icy gale that tears around the wind tunnel that is Brooklyn and New York City. The last time I was here, the Fall had just begun, and although the summer had all but gone, it was still warm enough to walk outside without a coat. And we city dwellers, who had braved the stifling humidity and heat of a summer in the City - especially the ones with no air-conditioning - were drinking in the cooler air with relief.
Now winter has arrived, and New Yorkers are wearing their heavy coats and assorted headgear and gloves; all areas protected against that wind... which screams down Broadway, whips through the entrance of the Times Square subway, and momentarily freezes the breath as you step out of Grand Central.
The first half of the tour is over. We have traveled to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Louisiana.
I sit in my room with my suitcase on the floor, still unpacked, the way it would be in an hotel. I'm trying hard to adjust, but in truth it's strange, as I'm still trying to work out if this is really going to be my home for the foreseeable future.
And after a couple of trips into the city I feel a lot better. For instance stepping into a Post Office, where an old man with a portable tape-recorder was singing Rogers & Hammerstein tunes… with great gusto and superbly flat on the high notes… and this was in the Post Office for goodness sake!!! Only in America. Everyone just smiled and let him carry on. He would have been thrown out in the UK. The city has all the festive lights up, the shops on 5th Avenue have their Xmas displays. In Union Square, the Christmas Fare is spread over the gardens. Only handcrafted objects are allowed here. Live Jazz was playing and in another area a lone opera singer belted out an aria from Tosca.
There is something completely romantic about this city.
Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes are in a film called Maid in Manhattan, which is yet another love story to the New York… and Manhattan is so intimate and small and incestuous, that you just can't help being swept up in the craziness of it all… and if you don't well then I suppose you end up like the previous manager of the Grammercy Park Hotel - where Guy stayed before flying back to the UK. Apparently three weeks ago, he went up on to the roof some 18 floors up… and jumped to his death.
Listening to the radio and rather startled to hear the wonderful Ian Holm advertising for a hospital. It seemed so incongruous. But then I thought, why not? He has to pay his cancer medical bills somehow. Only in America.
New York has a small crisis at the moment:
Mayor Michael R Bloomberg outlines plan to pull New York City through its worst fiscal crisis since 1970's, calling for 25 percent property tax increase and $844 million reduction in services to close gap of $1.1 billion in current fiscal year's budget and projected $6.4 billion gap in fiscal year beginning July 1; plan would cut size of police force, close fire companies, reduce new day care slots for children and shut centers for elderly; City Council members question size of property tax increase they are being asked to approve before Jan bills are sent out; state lawmakers who would have to vote on income tax, including commuter tax proposal, say it will be tough sell; it is six times size of commuter tax legislators repealed in 1999; Bloomberg vows not to let service cuts endanger public safety, harm instruction in schools or lead to dirtier streets. Then, in a twist, Mr. Bloomberg not only asked for a 25 percent increase in the city's property tax, but also asked commuters to take on an income tax to help bail out the city next year, while lowering the personal income tax rate for residents. The plan was denounced by the governor, the Republican state legislators needed to pass it and suburban leaders in the metropolitan region. Mr. Bloomberg responded with smiles, shrugs and promises to push ahead. The mayor is also seeking changes to the city's laws on smoking, and has insisted that he will not back down on his plan to ban smoking in every public place in the city. City Council members, however, expect to reach some type of deal with the mayor early next year.
However, most New Yorkers are too busy with the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday and then Xmas to worry too much just yet about the fare rises and the tax increase. And besides, the first snow storm of the season is forecast over the next few days.
I plan a quiet Thanksgiving. I'm hoping to go into the City and see the big Macy's Parade and then off to find a local restaurant for some turkey, then may be a movie… or sit in front of the TV and order pizza.
It's a bit of a strange time for me personally this particular holiday…
and anyway, why inflict yourself on other people when you can have so much fun doing it on your self?!!!
So… I meet Lori.
My Father-in-Law, who had heart surgery in November is now busy looking after Jim and Jen who are recovering from their dreadful accident. Jim has to wear these kind of lycra body stockings over his butt, legs and arms for the next two years. So it wasn't the time for me to turn up on the doorstep. Lori, who had a few days off before they open Mama Mia in Denver, came into the city. After dropping my bags in Brooklyn, we went into the city to Union Square and had a walk round the Christmas Fare, which is stalls full of handcrafted artifacts. The slowly made our way up 5th Avenue looking at the Xmas displays, lit a candle in St Patrick's Cathedral, and looked at the tree and angels in Rockefeller Center. It's her birthday next week, so I took her out for dinner at Chez Josephine's - a really nice theatrical French restaurant, owned by one of the sons of Josephine Baker, with a pianist playing old Broadway tunes. There we talked and retraced steps and tried to find out where we were in our lives. It seems we're both sad…
"It's incredible how much the fact of being loved contributes to our security and strength and confidence, and when the love is wrenched away from us or gradually dissipates, how difficult it can be to find that in one's self again. Or at least, it has been this way for me." And for me, I think it's the shock and trauma at the beginning which is so… surprising.
Thanksgiving the next day.
I had a few invites to family dinners, but on a cold bright day and after the night with Lori, I just wanted to hibernate and enjoy the loneliness of the apartment. But then like a Woody Allen film, my telephone comes alive. Giselle calls me and asked me to share a drink with her at the restaurant where she works in the Meat Packing District on the West Side. Then Mark Pow, who worked with me on The Tempest calls to see if I would like to meet him in the City. He's British and Thanksgiving is just another day… well may be, but it is hard to ignore it when it's all around you.
So I take it as a sign and venture to adventure.
I absolutely refuse to become one of those emotionally burnt-out embittered men.. and the only way I think to avoid this is brutal honesty, compassion for myself and others and keeping that child alive inside. But Fuckshitbollocks it'ssometimesisfuckin'difficultinthisfuckin'world!!!
Also good to let those negative feelings out too… from time to time.