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Westward Ho!

We traveled on… now over 9,000 miles since the start of the Spring tour, and all by road. The company is bearing up well. It's fascinating to see how energies and personalities shift and adapt inside a group. This group is the first company that Aquila has had that has remained unchanged for an entire tour. The cold in the north was fierce and it was a great relief to leave the bitter winter of the north and east. We now drove south and west towards the Pacific.

The journey from Kansas to Avon, Colorado, was a day of contrasts. We drove across the gentle rolling prairie of Kansas… a vast wilderness in the winter. In summer it becomes golden with wheat fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. We played Eric Clapton singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow… of course… and scanned the horizons for twisters… a big sky over a big land where you can look out across the plains as far as the eye can see.

We stopped at a garage that looked like it could have come out of The Postman Always Rings Twice. It was in the middle of nothing. There wasn't another garage for another 50 miles. After traveling over three hundred miles, we suddenly saw the distant peaks of the Rocky Mountains. As we entered Colorado, the peaks came into focus and towered over the prairies. The city of Denver lay at its foot a sprawling flat city- with just a handful of skyscrapers. Then we were going up on a surprisingly good highway, ever higher. The weather closed in and the snow began to fall. By the time we were at a height of 11,500 ft and into the mountains proper, the snow had turned into a blizzard. I was driving at this time and we were reduced to a speed of 30mph as we battled our way through the white swirling maelstrom. As the light faded, and nine hours after we had set out we arrived in Avon, Colorado and the Beaver Creek Resort.


We are at a height of 8,500 ft here and the altitude has affected us here. The backstage crew told us that for the first two months after you arrive here, one is using only 70% of ones brain. There is oxygen at the side of the stage, and we all found ourselves tiring quickly. One is advised to drink a lot of water, avoid drinking and eating heavily. There is much less oxygen and humidity than at sea level. Up here, golf balls fly further and crisp packets explode. You are advised to take it easy for the first few days of arrival, but of course we were straight into two shows on our first day. The skiing here is some of the best in the world. I was so tempted to grab the time between the shows, but in the end I felt I just wouldn't have enough time and perhaps it was best to be responsible and stay safe. But it nearly broke my heart, looking at the gorgeous white powder snow and the enormous mountain playground laid before me.
Guy complained of feeling unwell just before the performance. Of course we have no understudies within the company; so, in the grand old tradition he went on. Just before the end of his first Puck soliloquy, he suddenly gagged, rushed off stage and was violently ill in a trash bin. The rest of the performance he struggled through manfully, gradually turning paler and paler. By the end of the show he was white and very weak. The decision was made without much notice to cut his last epilogue. After the show, he was rushed back down the mountain. The audience meanwhile had been completely unaware that anything was wrong. A couple of days later a detoxed Guy appeared, looking much healthier. A few days later Lindsay got the same bug. Luckily she was ill during the night, and although weak, she got through to the end of the show.

Leadville is 30 miles away from here. It is the highest city in the USA and has an interesting history. It was here that Oscar Wilde, on his USA tour gave a lecture under trying circumstances.

He was told that if he visited Leadville the miners would be sure to shoot him and his traveling manager. Nothing the miners could do to his traveling manager, he replied would intimidate him. He arrived and immediately sought out the local bar. Wilde described the miners as “the best dressed men in America”. The miners took a liking to him. They went out that night and drank heavily. The next day they took him to the bottom of a mineshaft. In those days the way down was in a large steel bucket. Oscar reported afterwards “we sat down to a banquet, the first course whiskey, the second whiskey, the third whiskey” When they were brought up the miners were near unconsciousness but Wilde continued to chat away as cordially as though he were at a London Tea Party.

In 1860, a prospector called Abe Lee had discovered gold in the California Gulch. The California Gold found in his pan brought in prospectors by the thousands ready to find their fortunes. In 1877 the silver boom began. In 1878 it renamed itself - from the rather romantic Cloud City, to Leadville, the source of silver. The following year they opened a beautiful theatre. Once billed as the finest theatre between St. Louis and San Francisco, the Tabor Opera House was built by one of Colorado's most recognizable figures, Horace Austin Warner Tabor. Many silver dollars were passed through the cashier's window to gain entrance to see great performers of the time, such as Harry Houdini, John Philip Sousa, Anna Held, Sarah Bernhard and Oscar Wilde. Visiting notables at the time included such legends as Jesse James, Buffalo Bill and Doc Holliday. I wanted to visit it of course. I would have enjoyed seeing the old Victorian boom town and to go to the theatre and tread in Wilde's Wild West dandy footsteps. but it proved just too risky with the schedule. But we were close and somehow it was enough.


***


Another huge 11 hour journey from the mountains, and through the desert of New Mexico to Albuquerque. A few weeks later a massive snowstorm hit the mountains and the roads out were closed for two days. We have been lucky that so far, despite some tight and ridiculous scheduling, we have made our venues on time.
We are tired now.
The 10 hour travel days are starting to take their toll. I go into a semi-trance when I'm on them. Of course the roads are mostly dead straight and have their own hypnotic quality and the country and its vistas are stunning.

My daughter had a wobbly patch at college. She spent a week at home, until her mother dragged her in to the college for a chat with the principle. Then disappointment of her Rada audition, was followed by an 'emotional' problem.
I asked whether it was a boy. It apparently was over a young man, aged 25, of Greek descent, with a son of one and a half. Sam quickly added that he was nagging her to do her course work and would phone her to make sure she was going to college. I suspect she says this to reassure her worried father.
My son came on the phone. He has a new girlfriend aged 16.
Guess what Dad?
What?
I'm engaged
I see.
Is that all you can say?
I can hear your mum laughing in the background. She'll tell you I don't believe in engagements… why do you want to get engaged?
We're in love.
Well I can't argue with that.
I'm hoping this will motivate him in his life and career.
It's an expensive year. Sam reaches 18 and Charley has his 21st birthday. I, of course, remain 35.


Hotel rooms start to all look the same after a while. One appreciates the comfort, and those of us from the city appreciate the space, and of course the ability to have a bath, but there is a soulless air to them. I wonder if people and their lives leave a trace and impact on their surroundings. In fact as one steps into the hotel room and looks out the window, it almost seems as if it is the scenery that has changed and one has remained in the same place.
Having most of the day free, Guy and I went on an outing to the old town of Albuquerque and the Church of San Felipe de Neri.

The Old Town is the heart of Albuquerque's long and rich history and heritage. The first families settled near the banks of the Rio Grande River in 1706. Originally, Albuquerque was a colonial farming village and a military outpost along the Camino Real between Chihuahua, Mexico and Santa Fe. The village was formed in the traditional Spanish pattern where a central plaza is surrounded by a church, homes and government buildings. Some of the old homes are still standing and many have been renovated into businesses. Flags flying in the plaza represent countries of Albuquerque's history: Spain, Mexico, the United States, and... surprise The Confederate States of America, who ruled for a few short weeks. Much of the architecture of Old Town is Pueblo-Spanish, also called adobe . Adobe buildings and homes usually have very thick walls and are constructed of adobe bricks, which are mostly composed of mud and straw that are sun-baked, mortared with mud and protected with a layer of mud or cement. They are traditionally flat-roofed, with curved edges, often supported with vigas (wooden beams supporting the roof) which are visible in the ceiling or protruding through walls. Efficiently designed fireplaces called Kivas were traditionally a prime source of heat for adobe constructed buildings and homes. With the arrival of the railroad in 1880, many new building components became available. As a result, we saw several different styles of architecture, including Victorian and Contemporary throughout Old Town.


Dominating the plaza is the Church of San Felipe Neri. It is the most striking building and of course one of the most photographed. The original church in Old Town was built sometime around 1706 on the west side of today's plaza to serve the needs of the original 252 settlers who were guided by Fray Manuel Moreno. The church was originally named for San Francisco after Francisco Cuervo y Váldez, who established the villa of Albuquerque (originally spelled with an extra R). This first church, the third oldest Hispanic church in New Mexico, must have been quite a sight for visitors to Albuquerque in those days, for the adobe roof of the thick-walled church stood about twenty-five feet above the level of the plaza and an adobe arch holding two bells -- gifts of King Felipe V himself -- reached another six or eight feet into the open sky. Due to several attacks from the Comanches and heavy rains and floods in the mid-1770s, this old church began to fall down. Between the annual Comanche visitations and the lack of maintenance, Governor don Fernando de la Concha called for a new church to be built, which was completed in 1793 on the north side of the plaza.


Guy and I wandered in to the back of the church. A few locals were praying and trying to ignore a family who were noisily inspecting the statues and alter. I settled down and said a few prayers of my own. When I looked up again, the church was empty. I was alone with the simple statues and objects of worship. The sun streamed through the windows on one side and bounced off the whitewashed walls, filling the space with a warm diffused light. I quickly took the opportunity to snap off a few shots of the interior. I love churches. I think they have the same energy as the auditoriums that we work in… spiritual theatres. This church was founded by a Franciscan. At my prep school, our chapel was Franciscan and four five times a year one of the friars would visit us and take the service. I always was drawn towards their simple approach. They had the ability to make religion appear less authoritarian and more accessible.

Once outside Guy and I separated to explore a little. I wandered into a shop which turned out to be the only one in town selling Indian works of art and worship actually owned and run by an Indian family. I chatted away to the owner for a while. He was a powerful bull of man with skin as red as the desert earth and piercing black eyes. He started to show me the small carved animals that were displayed around his shop.
A Fetish is an object which is believed to have magic powers. The Zuni Indians of New Mexico believe strongly in six cardinal guardian Fetishes. Each is symbolic of a direction and has a specific color with which it is associated. The guardian Fetish of the North is the mountain lion (yellow). The South (red) is the badger, the West (Blue) is the bear and the East (white) is the wolf. Additionally, the mole is the guardian of the Nadir of Inner Earth (black) and Zepath (the air) is the eagle (all colored bird forms).
Most Fetishes relate to animals. Most always these animals are animals of prey. They are acknowledged as the most powerful providers in life; so, they are likewise accepted as having the greatest Fetish powers. They are generally admired for their strong hearts. The most prevalent belief is that the power resides in the spirit dwelling within the fetish, rather than the fetish itself. The difference between a carving and a fetish is purely a matter of belief. If a particular object is believed to possess power, then it is a fetish. The owner's voice took on an hypnotic quality as he explained the old ritual.
A boy becomes a man by going on his first hunt. He is taken by his father. First of all, he is given a fetish usually by his grandparents. Sometimes the fetish has been in the family for many generations. Father and son go the medicine man and he takes the fetish and gives it power. The young man would then put the fetish in a small pouch at his side and he and his father would go and hunt. After they have made their kill, the young man will take the fetish out and bring it's nose down to the blood. He asks his animal to feed first. And for the rest of his life he will treasure the fetish and always after he has made a kill, he will ask his animal to feed before him.
Many Indians believe their strong hearts make them dominant and therefore, survivors; the hunter rather than the hunted. The power and strength of a Fetish is obtained by placing the nostrils of the fetish to one's mouth and taking deep breaths.. Most Fetishes are made from semi-precious stones, minerals and shells; made of malachite, azurite, pipe stone, soap stone, marble, jet, sugilite, turquoise, coral, spiny oyster, amber and several varieties of serpentine. It is decorated with turquoise, arrowheads, coral, etc. as a means of adornment. This adornment is a show of affection and appreciation by its maker and/or owner. The better treatment a fetish receives, the better performance it is likely to provide.
The owner looked at me.
What animal would you choose?
My favorite animal has always been the big cats.
Eagle. I said instinctively.
We looked among the animals displayed, but there were no eagles.
Are you sure you won't have a lion? How about a bear?
No thank you, but if I get one it has to be an eagle.
The dark eyes looked at me and the dark face smiled.
Yes. Of course. Good luck on your search.
I later found out that the eagle meant a personal ally in nature that Indian calls upon for protection and for strength, courage and wisdom to follow his vision and dreams…
Yes… of course


We traveled west to Palm Springs. It lies beneath a range of mountains and on the edge of a valley. Across the valley floor is a huge wind power farm. They stretched out like implacable alien giants harnessing the energy of the sky. The newest inhabitants in this area's history.
In the late 1700s, Spanish conquests throughout California allowed for the expansion of Spain's empire into the Colorado Desert lands. Yet, in spite of the vast growth of Spanish dominance, the Cahuilla Indians remained in Coachella Valley, embarking upon new trades of growing corn, squash and beans. However, by the mid-1800s, many Native Americans died from a small pox epidemic, leaving a dense population of Cahuilla Indians in this territory.
Meanwhile, the United States government took an interest in Coachella Valley and sent a survey party, led by William P. Blake in 1853. Creating the first wagon route through the San Gorgonio Pass, Blakes expedition paved the way for additional parties to travel through the Palm Springs area. In fact, Palm Springs was added to the Bradshaw Stage Coach Line in 1872, serving as the stop between Prescott, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California. Southern Pacific Railroad soon followed the stagecoach industrys lead, completing a railroad line through these desert lands in 1877. At this time, land sections around the railroad were divided, with Southern Pacific gaining ownership over some territories and the Native American tribes holding the remaining lands.
The first permanent Anglo settler, Judge John Guthrie McCallum, bought land from Southern Pacific and built his home in the Palm Springs area in 1884. The McCallum Adobe still stands, now serving as the oldest remaining building in Palm Springs. Other settlers were not far behind and by the early 1900s, Palm Springs boasted a post office, hotel and several buildings. Numerous important institutions followed, including the first schoolhouse in 1914, and the first newspaper, named Desert Sun, in 1927. In 1928, the El Mirador Hotel opened as a gigantic facility, able to host 300 guests. The town also developed its first golf course, as well as tennis courts and a racquet club. Meanwhile, the adjacent town of Cathedral City became home to numerous gambling establishments.

World War II brought significant changes to Palm Springs, as the notable General Patton traveled to the desert with his troops for training sessions. Patton administered training drills in the Palm Springs area to prepare his troops for the North African desert invasions. During this time, the El Mirador Hotel was transformed into a hospital, serving wounded soldiers. An airfield was constructed as well, which would become the Palm Springs Airport.
The once-modest city of Palm Springs skyrocketed after World War II. Several Hollywood stars began to build houses in the area, including Kirk Douglas and Frank Sinatra. The beloved Bob Hope was appointed Honorary Mayor. In addition, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Ford all visited this flourishing town.
Palm Springs continued to prosper, booming from one golf course in 1945 to over 85 golf courses in the present time. Some of these courses are internationally famous, such as the Tahquitz Creek Resort Course (designed by Ted Robinson) and the Legend Course (managed by Arnold Palmer).

We were billeted in the Holiday Inn Desert Resort which had a very attractive outdoor pool area. Suitcases were flung open and from the very bottom of them we pulled out our summer gear and bathing trunks which we hadn't used since leaving Florida. The afternoon was spent enjoying the 80 degree heat and dry desert air. Palm Springs itself was our first taste of West Coast life, of a certain Hollywood razzle on the streets. Expensive shops, expensive restaurants where the beautiful and the rich in their convertibles and in their expensive clothes pose and spend their riches. A large statue of Sonny Bono stood next to a fountain. He had been Palm Springs mayor for a time. My impression was it's a town where one really should have money.

The next morning, I arose early with Gabby and Ryan and hiked/ran up the mountain that towered over the hotel. As one of the locals had already told me: If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated out here in the desert, I took plenty of water. The views over Palm Springs were spectacular. I know I keep saying it, but this country is vast. One of its states, Texas, in fact, where we performed briefly, is the size of Iraq. Talking of Texas, I walked in to a garage and was fascinated/appalled that a man who was neither a policeman, FBI or -as far as I knew - a member of the CIA, had a handgun in a holster attached to his belt. And while I'm off the subject altogether, Texas is the biggest state and yet it's two biggest cities they built right next door to one another - Fort Worth and Dallas. There was an oil conference in our Fort Worth Hotel and big Stetson hats and boots were in abundance. I wondered if it was purely a coincidence that the Texan president is invading an oil rich country? Oil is the blood of Texas. Now I really have wondered off the subject. In the same way as Gabby, Ryan and I at one stage wandered off the path that meandered up the mountain. Scrambling up the rocks, I paused before every footfall and hand grip to scan the earth for scorpions and rattle-snakes. An hour's hike and we were perhaps halfway up the mountain. We paused and drank in the desert view surrounding us, mountains, sand, and sky.


Did I tell you that I got a card from my mother? Gabby said.
Ryan laughed.
What? I asked, looking at them both.
Ryan laughed again.
What is it?
Tell him
Well… I got a card in the mail from my mom. A credit card. There was a letter from my mother inside. It said: Gabby, the government have said we need a contingency plan if there is a nuclear attack or a major catastrophe. Now listen. I want you to use this card. I want you and your brother to buy a ticket to DR with this card… jump on a plane and get there. Daddy and I will make our way there too and we will find you. This is our contingency plan.'
My contingency plan is to take a deep breath in.

Our show at Palm Springs was in the Desert museum. For the load-out we had to carry our set and costumes through the museum and past beautiful works of art. Earlier, our hazer had set the fire alarms off all over the building. Fireman swooped down on us, much to some company members' joy

Pasadena is at the foot of more mountains, on the edge of LA. LA itself is a sprawling metropolis. There is no one place that you can call the centre. My preconceptions are mostly negative. The first surprise was the countryside was green. I always had imagined a dusty desert landscape. When it's not covered in smog, the climate is very pleasant. When it becomes hot, it doesn't suffer from the unbearable NY humidity. Six months ago, Diana, who played Beatrice in Much Ado in West Virginia, moved here with her fiancé, Steve. We met up for dinner and reminisced about Elkins and subsequent demise of our director. They assured me that although the initial first three months in LA were hard, the climate was great, it wasn't that expensive, work was there to be had and that one could experience the desert, the mountains and the sea in a relatively small area. Since the place was mostly inhabited by actors and writers, an actor coming here was treated like a human being, and especially if one had some New York credits on his resume. They thought I should give it a go at some point. I would like to have the LA experience, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to go without a job. Lisa(Aquila's Beatrice) and her husband,Todd, who have just arrived out here, also came along to see us. John Lawler, a great director I worked with in the UK, moved out here on the day I arrived. Meeting him after the show for drinks, he expressed no regrets about leaving New York and praised the LA life to the hilt.
In a previous life, my then-partner spent a good deal of time here doing a series called 'Dynasty' and I have been influenced by her memories of the place and also by remembering the way she was when I first met her - an LA TV actress. (Always intrigued about the entourage that seems to go with all that: - lawyer, accountant, agents, personal managers… and then of course your home staff - the maid, the cook, the pool man…) I found out recently from a worried friend that she is writing her autobiography and was touting the outline around London publishers, which described our subsequent marriage in unflattering language. A quick phone call and the first contact after six years, and I was reassured that this was completely untrue, at least the unflattering part, and that my reputation, which is bad enough as it is, was not going to be stuck with any more mud. We shall see. I personally don't really care what's said about me, but there are children and family and friends who it can impact on and who are deeply affected by all that… stuff

Peter and Robert descended here. Again they picked one of the worst venues. There was no fly space and very little stage depth. However they both seemed pleased enough. We know that there will be various changes technically in New York for the Dream. Peter seems very keen to give Earnest a run in New York this summer, which would be a great thrill for me. To show my Bottom, followed by Jack Worthing in one New York summer would be a time to treasure.

Our next stop was Davis, California. We had a week of masterclasses here ending with both shows. Davis is an hour and a half from San Francisco, and I took the opportunity to grab a lift with Robert and his wife, Dionne, for a day trip. By coincidence, Robert had a meeting at ATC, the best theatre company in the city and one of the best on the West Coast, whose casting director I had auditioned for in the Spring of last year. As she had invited me to drop in if I was ever in the city, I did just that. I was impressed to see my resume and photo on her desk as I walked into her office. I'm not great at schmoozing, but I made a brave stab at it and rewarded my bravery by indulging myself for the rest of the day.

I liked San Francisco. It is more expensive than New York, but it has a laid back feeling, and a diverse and liberal population, and of course its extraordinary topography. Robert and I were like children riding the cable car down to Fisherman's Wharf. The hills are wonderfully spectacular and the view across the Bay, the stoic façade of Alcatraz, with the Golden Gate Bridge dominating the skyline, is majestic. The following day Dave and Allegra crossed the bridge and saw a man hanging over the edge from a rope. We learned later that he fell to his death. He was a peace protester. In this part of the world, the peace movement is alive and kicking. In San Francisco, the police arrested over 1400 protesters who brought the city to a standstill. On my travels around the college campuses, I am encouraged to see that there is a huge discontent with the war in Iraq among the young people in this country. They are well informed, intelligent and brave; especially in the current climate which, as I write, is the involuntary knee-jerk, 9/11 payback, flagwaving, gung-ho, 'we're going in', U-S-A…attitude which is America at war. They are not swayed by the barrage of 'cynical propaganda', or 'liberating Iraq' rhetoric coming from the Bush administration. They point to Israel and its constant flouting of UN resolutions over a period of 30 years. They feel that the whole thing is over oil. It's an accusation that the government constantly denies. I hear from people that are close to them that the troops are happy to be in action and doing the stuff they've trained for. Personally… well I think an actor should be apolitical… as much as one can be. That way, we don't try to comment or try to persuade… but just present. I'm not sure however that anything can be apolitical and that this attitude isn't just a complete cop out.

We are now about to travel back to the East coast and the last lap. We are all gritting our teeth and pushing our way towards the finishing line. I realize that my writings have become taciturn and workmanlike. I'm weary…although the fittest I have been for years… I'm very tour tired… but with current world events, everyday happenings and mundane troubles become rather irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

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