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diary

 

St Petersburg, Florida:

The venue here cancelled and so we are given three precious days of sea and sun. A friend of Gabby's, our Titania, went to the venue today to ask about tickets and was told the bad news… apparently we were cancelled because the cast has a virus!!! News to us! Soon we will embark on a thirty day section that will give us only one day off and have us traveling from here up to Green Bay near Canada before winding our way down to Texas, and then across to the West, New Mexico and California. So this is time to enjoy…

I am looking out through my hotel room's picture windows on the third floor. Now I am flying across the top of a couple of palm trees, traveling now over lush vegetation, before swooping low over the white sands… and out to the sea… the constant of time… and on to oblivion.

Time can seem irregular. Some Times seems to go much quicker, other Times can drag… This last year, has had its moments of stillness, but all in all it has flown by. Was it really a year since we left the paradise that is Bermuda? It didn't seem like it, and yet there we were again… flying in low over the bluest sky, the clearest seas, to this little group of islands, alone in the Atlantic, warmed by the Gulf Stream, and that make up Bermuda.

A quick history:

Bermuda takes its name from the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermúdez, who sighted the uninhabited islands around 1503. The Spanish did not claim the islands, but they soon became an important navigational landmark for galleons crossing the Atlantic between Spain and the New World. Since Bermuda is surrounded by dangerous reefs, nautical misadventures cast the Spanish ashore on several occasions and littered the sea bed with enough booty for some people to consider scuba diving more than a recreational sport.

In 1609 Admiral Sir George Somers was en route from England with supplies for the recent British settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, when his ship, Sea Venture, was wrecked off Bermuda. Finding it a rather pleasant place to be washed up, the admiral built replacement ships of fine Bermuda cedar, sailed off and left a couple of men behind to establish a British claim to the islands. The experience of these temporary British castaways is thought to have inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest. Somers returned to Bermuda later that same year but died soon after arrival. The British renamed Bermuda the Somers Islands in honor of the admiral, but the name failed to stick.

The Virginia Company took a keen interest in the islands after hearing of their suitability for colonisation, particularly in light of Jamestown's hostile relations with the local Indians. Only three years after Somers' misadventure, the company organized 60 settlers to establish a permanent colony on the islands. Unfortunately the islands were not as abundant as was first thought. The shallow topsoil limited agriculture and the lack of water prevented commercial crops like sugar cane from being introduced. The settlers soon became reliant on food imports from the American colonies, which they paid for by supplying sea salt secured from the Turks Islands.

For many years the Virginia Company, and then the Bermuda Company, ran the islands like a fiefdom. This wearied the settlers so much they sued to have the company's charter rescinded, and in 1684 Bermuda became a British crown colony. Slaves were first introduced in 1616, most of them brought forcibly from Africa though some were American Indians. They lived in degrading conditions but were generally employed as domestic servants or tradespeople rather than agricultural laborers. The skills they learnt were to stand them in good stead when slavery was abolished in 1834. At the time of emancipation 5000 of the 9000 people residing in Bermuda were registered on the census as black or 'coloured.'

Despite Bermuda's reliance on trade with the American colonies, political bonds with Britain proved stronger during the American War of Independence when Bermuda remained loyal to the crown. During the War of 1812, the British Navy used Bermuda as a base from which to ransack Washington, DC. The Americans responded by confiscating the unprotected cargo of Bermuda's merchant fleet, devastating the local economy. The US Civil War proved more lucrative for the island. When the north blockaded southern ports, cotton traders employed small, fast vessels to outrun northern naval gunboats. These vessels were not capable of an Atlantic crossing, and Bermuda blossomed as a trans-shipment center on the blockade runners' route to England. Good at picking losers, the island's shortlived prosperity collapsed with the defeat of the South.

Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, is credited with putting Bermuda on the tourist map after paying an extended visit to the islands in 1883. The princess was the wife of the Governor General of Canada and was keen to escape the long Canadian winter. By the turn of the century, Bermuda was well on the way to becoming a fashionable winter destination for 'snow birds,' who flocked aboard steamers crossing regularly from New York to Hamilton.

Bermuda's strategic location in the Atlantic secured it a role in Allied military and intelligence operations in WWII. However, its proximity to the US mainland made it inevitable that the US take primary responsibility for developing bases on the island. Much to the locals' consternation, the British subsequently signed a 99-year lease handing over substantial portions of Bermuda's territory to the US military. The US constructed an air base on St David's Island, where the international airport is now located.

In the wake of WWII, women were given the right to vote and, after boycotts, some of the franchise qualifications restricting the power of black voters were removed. In 1963 the Progressive Labour Party was introduced, in part to represent the interests of nonwhite Bermudians in the face of a government almost totally made up of white landowners. The rest of the parliamentarians united to form the United Bermuda Party. The two parties worked together to produce the 1968 constitution which provided for full internal self government, while leaving security, defense and diplomatic affairs to the crown.

Although Bermuda had long prided itself on the relative harmony of its race relations, riots and race antagonism in the 1970s resulted in the removal of all de facto discrimination and the beginning of talks on independence from Britain. In the decades that followed, the independence movement became the dominant political issue, but a referendum in 1995 failed by a two-thirds majority as Bermudians became apprehensive about the political and economic cost of independence. Two weeks later they did, at least, regain control of 10% of the island's land mass when post-Cold War military cutbacks resulted in the closure of the US base on the island. In 1998 the PLP's Jennifer Smith was selected as premier, replacing the UBP's Pamela Gordon, who was Bermuda's first female premier and the youngest person ever to hold the office.

Once again, a trio welcomed us with gentle music, and a picture of the Queen gazed down… along with the usual suspicious looks from immigration. We were however better prepared this time with all the appropriate documentation, and despite carrying our set and costumes as extra personal baggage - this meant that we were all assigned an extra Aquila trunk, or in Guy's case, two rolled lengths of grass! - we were out in front of the airport in no time at all and were given an extremely warm welcome from our Bermuda ladies. These are the wonderful women who last year drove us to and from the airport, showed us around the island and catered to our every whim. It was particularly special for me to see Sally Madden again. On my day off last year, she had driven Nate Flower and I up to St George's where the shipwrecked crew, made so famous by The Tempest, had come ashore, and where Sir George Sommers had supervised the building of the two ships which eventually would take them to Jamestown a year later. Sally and I had kept in touch by email throughout the year, and immediately she was wanting to know all the latest details about my children and Brooklyn and the rest of my life that I had poured out to her.

There were four of us who had been on the island last year including Peter, our producing artistic director. For the rest of our cast and for Robert, our director, this was their first trip. Robert was unable to come last time because of green card delays, and I was especially happy that he had been able to make it this time as it meant that Peter wouldn't go making any unilateral changes… well, not without conferring with Robert first. The Bermuda Festival starts in January and is performed over two months. They have all sorts of arts groups who come over, including the English Chamber Orchestra. We are the only acting troop, and our arrival had been apparently eagerly anticipated. The four shows had been sold out and people were searching around for tickets that might be unwanted. Once again we were ensconced in The Harmony Club resort, and as soon as I had settled in… sharing with Guy for this particular week…. I took off for the ten minute walk down to the wonderful stretch of sand known as Elbow Beach.

 

Aquila was invited to play at Bermuda last year by the Bermuda Festival because the wife of the chairman had seen a performance of Much Ado About Nothing at Sarasota, Florida. This was the 60's homage version that Aquila first performed on tour and then took for a six month off-Broadway run. She had told her husband that we were wonderful and perfect for the festival, and so the arrangements were made.

May be because it's the mixture of American and British actors. We also have that slightly avant Garde image, which seems to cater to the Bermuda populace and the feeling that they are somewhat outside the normal boundaries.

Peter and Robert, producer and director, appeared to enjoy being away from the office. They have a curious friendship. Basically it is a marriage… they are chalk and cheese, but they compliment each other in a way that seems to work and bring results. It was quite touching to see them walk along the sand together, planning their next steps in the five or six productions that they are working on this year. Robert, who is like Eyore most of the time, a very hard man to make happy. seemed to physically relax and glow in the beautiful surroundings.

First of all we needed to try and remember the plays, and except for a couple of days in New York with some of the cast, we hadn't touched them for nearly two months… There were changes as well to incorporate. In May, we go to New York for a three week run at the New Victory Theatre. Although this is a famous theatre, right in the heart of Broadway, on 42nd street and Times Square, it is slightly unusual as it is geared towards the families of New York. Consequently, the Aquila contract with them stated that our production of the Dream had to come in at around 2 hours plus an interval. This meant that we were looking to cut around 15 minutes off our current show. Obviously some painful readjustments were going to have to be made. I had suggested to Robert that it might be better to wait until the rehearsals in New York in April to make the cuts, but he told me the boss lady of the New Victory was coming to see the show in West Palm Beach, and although they could have told her that we had a longer show for the tour, they thought it best to cut it down as much as they could for her… viewing of the goods.. as 'twere!
So on the Tuesday, we knuckled down to rehearsals. Bottom escaped most of the pruning, although I had suggested various little snippets. Robert consoled as best he could the ones who lost some of their favorite speeches, whilst Peter, as usual, took over every single technical aspect of the show. In fact most of the day was taken up with satisfying Peter's demands to various lighting and sound changes. David Dunford, who is actually the lighting designer, wore his saintly mantle in the company's eyes, by calming acquiescing to every change and adjustment to his lighting plot.

"I'll say this for, Peter:" said Kenn, "He always comes up with good changes. He's got a great eye."

Later when a change resulted in the cast not being able to see to pick up their umbrellas for the change into the forest, Robert pondered a while and was obviously trying to avoid asking Peter to change his new lighting plots.

"May be we can have glow tape…"

At that moment Peter appeared out of nowhere.

Glow tape, Glow tape!!! We're having no fucking glow tape on MY floorcloth. I HATE glow tape. No fucking glow tape anywhere. Over my dead body, or, better yet, one of you fucking actors! It looks absolute shit. Glow tape? Bollocks! Glow tape… my ass!

 

The opening night of the Dream went well as can be expected. The audience were very appreciative and the response at the end was enthusiastic. This was encouraging as they are probably one of the more knowledgeable audiences we will see before New York. It was gratifying to hear that the comedy was working well… I had a hairy moment trying to remember the fairies names. They are now fairy lights that fly in like a cobweb festooned around an umbrella. (Umbrellas are the theme symbol of our Dream) I had always had my fellow actors enacting them in the past. Now I had to say their names and then go into the speeches. It always seems strange to me how sometimes the most simplest of speeches can become an absolute minefield.
Next day, two very good reviews appeared in the local papers. I and Lindsay received honorable mentions in dispatches, I think mainly because the Northern accent that I use, drifts backwards and forwards across the Pennines between Yorkshire and Lancashire, and made the Brits nostalgic for that rustic bit of home.

On the Friday night it was time to face the fear, as once again we tackled Wilde and The Importance of Being Earnest. We have never really been happy with it as we have not performed it nearly enough. This time, all we had was a line run by the pool and one very nervous dress rehearsal, before launching ourselves out in front of the public and the Governor of Bermuda. We wondered how the Brits in the audience would react to our updating of the play.
The first half was a little frantic… and very very hot, both for us and the audience. However, with the A/C having been switched on, and our ex-pat audience rolling in much the merrier after their interval drinks, the second half bounded along pretty happily. Kenn, as Lady Bracknell, did flounder at one stage and suddenly started talking about "entertaining the troops." A comment that would have had Wilde scurrying to his manuscript as at the same time endeavoring to remember which person he had stolen from. Guy looked startled, but when Kenn started in on a speech a page further on, and realizing that a huge amount of his own dialogue was about to be lost, Guy stepped in manfully and rescued the situation! Apparently the Governor laughed all the way through and the general feedback was that the liberties that we had taken were delightful and great fun. To be honest, I found the whole evening pretty stressful, although wonderful to play again, and told everyone we deserved to give ourselves a huge pat on the back for actually remembering the damned thing after so long a break.
I mentioned it to Peter.
"It's what you're paid for, isn't it?"
I had to agree with him.

After each performance we were invited to a party. Last year we had just one on the last night, and I wasn't sure that actually I would have the stamina or be inclined to go to every single one, but the houses turned out to be so spectacular and the parties so lavish, that we all intrigued to see where we would go next. The welcome was also so generous that it would have been very churlish not to go. The first party was a 45 minute car ride from the theatre - cars are only allowed to travel at 25mph here - and we arrived 11.30pm. After driving down a palm-tree-lined driveway we pulled up in front of a beautiful white colonial house radiating warmth from its open windows through the darkness. The garden had been festooned with fairy lights of all colors… all was magic and light. A couple of dark and stormys later - that's dark rum and Bermuda ginger beer - I was in deep conversation with the owner, Kitt. In his 70s, Kitt was a little coy in describing what he had done for a living, but it seemed to involve having run 29 companies and being a Bermuda Cabinet Minister. His family had been on the island 360 years, one of the first families to arrive here - the areas of the islands were split between various lords and earls, and the parishes still retain their surnames. His wife, Denise, who was considerably younger, it turned out, had been at RADA, leaving there in 1969. So we swapped stories and spoke fondly of Hugh Crutwell. She hadn't heard about his death, and it was interesting to hear that she had felt the same as I had about our first experiences of Hugh. We both felt that he hadn't liked us, but that we had perhaps won him over in the end.
Kenn walked past.
"Denise, this is lovely food. Did you cook all this?"
"Well yes… well, at least my housekeeper did."
Kenn, the socialist, smiled winningly.

 

Later at dinner in conversation with the chairman of the Festival and Tony, a wonderfully erudite old gentleman and still a rebel.
"You're looking well, Geoffrey," said Tony… and indeed for a man of 68, Geoffrey did appear extremely well.
"I have to. That's what a younger wife does for you. Your wife is quite a bit younger, isn't she?"
"Oh… well, yes, she is."
"Well there you are… a young wife keeps one fit. They're good for keeping you on your toes."
And then the conversation shifted back to Yorkshire and Rugby - Geoffrey's other passions.

And so the parties continued. On Thursday night we were entertained by one of our ladies. Pam, in her 70s, had a beautiful home, and her family had been on the island since the early 1800s. Friday, we were welcomed by Robert, one of the island's top dentists, which confirmed that I would stay away from dentists for a while longer, as I could see around his uxorious home where all the money went.

Tony came to see Earnest and pulled me to one side.
"Jolly well done. So great what you did with it. Get so bored with bloody actors who just act the fucking costumes. I last saw this at the Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake. This was much better. I didn't want to come, and I'm bloody glad I did. Mind you, thought you were absolutely wonderful. You really stood out… you know, in that way that when an actor comes on stage, well… you get that feeling that… you know it's all going to be alright. This company's lucky to have you, aren't they really?"
I thought for a moment.
"No… fortunate may be, but I'm the lucky one I feel. I go to beautiful locations like this one, and I get to do what I want, in brilliant parts, around some beautiful young talents, whose energy I suck on like some grotesque vampire! I feed off them and grow strong!!"

The final party, and another beautiful home. I sit at the head of a lavish dining table and day- dream for a moment of being rich and owning somewhere… but quickly break off as I realize that I would never want a walnut dining table complete with silver candlesticks. I have a long conversation with the lady who books the companies for the Festival and do sterling work for Aquila pitching for Othello and The Man Who Would Be King for next year's festival. She asks whether I know any English theatre companies that she could bring over. I mention Shared Experience Theatre Company, but add that I am a little out of the loop these days. Once again, I feel completely confused about which country I actually live in at the moment.

Robert wanders over.
"Any notes for Earnest, Rob?"
"No… um… no… really very good…. very good. Were you happy?"
"Yes, although a bit scared."
"Yes… of course… oh, one thing: Do you think if you dyed your hair you'd look any younger?"
I immediately fast forward…age 92! "New York, Rob… if the show runs to New York, then I'll dye it for you… but at the moment, people are paying small fortunes to have these gray highlights put in! And I have to tell you, every single silver strand has been hard-earned!"

Driven back by Tony that night, who rather alarmingly at one point drives on the wrong side of the road. His wife, rather sweetly I thought, gently reminds him that they drive on the left. It seems there are no worries about the drink-driving laws over here. I get a flashback to the 1950s and 60s and suddenly realize that this is what it must have been like for a good deal of the 20th Century, where people soaked themselves in cocktails, smoked happily, unaware of the dangers, and that drinking and driving were common place.

On our penultimate day I went to have lunch with Sally Madden. She has a lovely apartment with a huge balcony overlooking the sound and the harbour of Hamilton, where one can see the constant boat traffic go about their business. Sally tells me a little of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones who live on Bermuda. The Douglas family own Ariel Sands one of the most exclusive resorts on the island.
"I saw him recently. I don't know what he's done… plastic surgery may be… but with her, he is so happy, and he looks so damned good. Or may be its being a new father."
A huge tanker carrying new cars sounded its horn as it entered the sound. Sally told me that all the ships did that. It's a tradition, but probably most of the skippers don't actually realize why they do it. Apparently, it was all started by the skipper of the ship that traveled between Bermuda and the States. He and his wife lived on the edge of the sound, and so, dead on 8pm, on his return, for many many years he would sound the ship's horn to let her know that he would soon be home.
It was good to spend time with Sally and to catch up. We crammed our life stories and present lives into the afternoon. I felt pleased that we had managed to keep our friendship alive. This is what the touring life does. There are no tomorrow's, because tomorrow you will probably have moved on to another venue, so moments and experiences have to be grabbed immediately.

The next day Sally drove us to the airport, along with Pam, and the lady who cooked a lot of our party night meals and who glorys in the name of Delight Goodfellow. Before we faced the inevitable rigors of customs and immigration and the questions about our very strange luggage, Sally pulled me into a hug.
"You've all been adopted, you know."
I felt completely overwhelmed.

As we finally took off and banked steeply, looking down for the last time on the clear crystal and shimmering sea and the white roofs of the parishes of Bermuda, I remember…

After the Friday exertions of Earnest and the copious amounts of rum consumed to welcome the relief of having got away with it once again, we stepped out of the party and arrived back at the hotel at around 2.30am.
The night is moonlight and star-spangled. This had to be the time and the place. We had talked about it often enough, and had been threatening to do it ever since we knew we were coming here. Only Kenn, Robert and Peter are absent as we make our way down to the moonlit Elbow Beach. Ryan and Lindsay rather nervously say that they are virgins of the act, and others are taking swigs of the rum that Andrew has bought along to fortify us for the coming experience. A surreal sight greets us at the beach. On the steps, looking over the sand, floodlights from the hotel light up the beach in constantly changing colors. The beach is bright blue at this moment. The sea itself is noisy and bubbling. Down by a huge rock that screens us from the hotel, we gather in a group and nervously look at each other. I start to take off my clothes…. slowly. Others pick at buttons and smile weakly.
Suddenly a white flash and a squeal, and there is Renata, naked…. and running across the sand. We laugh helplessly. She screams and then cartwheels across the beach. Andrew, Guy and I, as one, tear off our clothes and run hell for leather across the shore, asses glowing white in the moonlight, and dive straight into the crashing surf. We bellow in shock as the first waves hit us, but this is immediately replaced by exhilaration as we feel the water around our naked bodies. I look towards the shallows. Everyone is naked and in the water. Our skin tingles. Salt water in our eyes, the spray sticky in our hair. Nipples harden. Other extremities shrink. But we are warm as toast from the madness of it all. We feel tremendous joy at sharing this as a group… a company. One or two of us are surprised at the depth of emotion that is surfacing. For a moment, we are a company completely together and there is something more: There is a love, an affection, and a recognition that none of us will forget this one moment… ever.

I laugh helplessly. We are children once more… shouting at the heavens, riding the white horses, diving fearlessly into the deep… the sea batters us, a huge moon shines, a carpet of stars wink… and the floodlights colors us purple.

And… I am looking out through my hotel room's picture windows on the third floor. Now I am flying across the top of a couple of palm trees, traveling now over lush vegetation, before swooping low over the white sands… and out to the sea… the constant of time… and on to oblivion.

Time can seem irregular. Some Times seems to go much quicker, other Times can drag… and other Times just replay in your mind over and over… and on to oblivion.