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diary

Last Chapter

"Melted into air..."

9th April
AChicago Tale

Chicago, Chicago... well we were not quite in the windy city.
At the airport on a highway.
But we were close enough to take the shuttle to the airport and from there the "L" into town. The great excitement of the day was a few of us had an audition with Steppenwolf. The company that boasts such luminaries as John Malocovich(spelling), Gary Sinese, Joan Allen and more, and who I suppose are arguably the most famous theatre company in the USA as far as their international reputation goes.
So it was with some delight and surprise that we found out that the were auditioning on our day off and that although they had a waiting list they were prepared to let us come ahead of others and present our pieces. I hadn't done an audition piece for about 10 years, if not longer, so this was like going back in time. I desperately searched around for something contemporary and ended up with George from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - hardly new, but the most modern I could find. Our little band, Giselle, Aussie Mark, Mark Pow and Drew, with Carissa and Kieron coming along for the ride, set off early.
The "L" loops delightfully over the top of Chicago which sits next to Lake Michigan, the Sears building towering high above. It was a beautiful day, up in the 80s, and it was strange to be in a city again. Steppenwolf is just a little out of the city centre. We unfortunately got off one stop too early and found ourselves walking in a pretty bleak area which the further we walked seemed to get worse and worse. It was then Mark Saturno announced that in fact we walking through Cabrini Green, one of the worst ghettos in America and it might be a good idea to grab a couple of cabs - pronto! Luckily these materialized almost immediately. The cabbie was amazed to see us, and told us gravely that we were lucky not to have been shot.

The audition was very easy and relaxed. We were seen by Steppenwolf's casting director, who was very nice and friendly and we all enjoyed doing something different, away from the Tempest and Wrath. I did George from Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? and it went really well. I didn't even bother with the second speech. Quit while you're ahead I always say. It was bizarre to be outside Steppenwolf's theatre - a little unreal - and to see all the photographs of those people... Malcovich's photo being outrageously camp with eyes clutching a cigarette in two hands and those famous lion eyes glaring through the smoke.

After lunch we headed down to the Navy Pier, which is on the lake and houses a huge Ferris wheel, all things touristy and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. We popped in to say hello and to our surprise found out they were auditioning also. Unfortunately this was for Sunday in the Park with George, the musical. However I left my cv and checked out the space which funnily enough was also presenting The Tempest. The theatre is a beautiful. Chicago Shakespeare Theater is Chicago's professional theater dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare. Founded as Shakespeare Repertory in 1986, the company moved to its new seven-story home on Navy Pier in October 1999. The theatre is a gorgeous 510-seat courtyard-style theater, the Main Floor, Dress Circle, and Gallery wrap gracefully around the thrust stage, making an intimate and dynamic space, rather like the Swan in Stratford. Only nine rows separate the most distant seat from the actors on stage. The Theater also features a flexible 175-seat theater on its sixth floor, a teacher resource center, an English-style pub, a Shakespearean bookstall, and a special events room with breathtaking views of Chicago's skyline. Peter Brook has directed there and Michael Bogdanov is directing in their next season. I made a note to put it on my list of places to work Stateside.

I then watched the others ride up in the Ferris wheel. Too expensive and, more importantly, too windy for me. Then we sat out in the sun by the lake for a while. Before making our way over to Wrigley's Field, the baseball home of the Chicago Bears and one of the big three stadiums of baseball in the country. There we had dinner and met up with the rest of our company. David Dunford had brought his friend Brian along with him. Brian works at the Goodman Theatre. David had been watching the tech rehearsal of the new Carol Burnett play written by her and her daughter who sadly passed away with cancer recently. David soaked up the atmosphere of the huge well-run theatre, the professionalism of the staff and the quiet way Hal Prince worked with his actors. David later went out with the crew and Mr Prince, and marveled at the glamour of it all.

The evening finished up at the Kingston Mines Blues Club where we watched the wonderful Charley Love and his band play some fantastic sounds. Our happy band danced away, but not to the small hours as we had a guided tour show at ten o'clock in the morning the next day. I have not been drinking for the last month and find that I don't really miss it at all. I don't know if Blues is really my music of the moment, but it made me laugh. Tired, but happy we tottered into our unprepossessing Holiday Inn and all decided that it had been one of our best days.

 

21st April

Now in Oshkosh, WI, on the shores of Lake Winnebago. Temperature down 50 degrees from Chicago. And snow forecast for the morrow and the beginning of our final week. But the hotel is nice and right on the lake. Sat in the bar late afternoon next to the fire with huge picture windows stretching to the roof which overlooked the lake and read and watched the sun go down. Wonderful. Oshkosh is like an old frontier town and being by the lake looks like it belongs in a Clint Eastwood western. We're performing at the Old Grand Opera House... which really should have Mel Brooks as Prospero and master of ceremonies and Madeline Kahn as Ariel in her underwear entertaining the prospectors! Went out to eat tonight and saw two classic western drunks being thrown out of the bar next door. One fell in the road and when his friend tried to help him up he took a swing at him. Luckily there was no horse around. Yeehaw!

 

27th April

Last day...

What a strange empty feeling now that he's gone.

All those thoughts and emotions, all that wisdom and poetry, now vanished "into air into thin air, and like the baseless fabric of this vision, leaves not a rack behind."

The last show was in a 1000 seat theatre which was full to capacity. The first time I saw the space was around noon on my through to do a two hour Shakespeare workshop with Aussie Mark in another part of the building. And it's hard to believe when I think of when I first started doing these back in September, but two hours is not really enough. In fact all day I seemed to be talking and listening and observing myself at the same time.
The workshop for instance I was amazed how much I now knew and what a good structure it had. I instruct them as if they were actors and first approaching text, and take them on a whirlwind crash course on tackling the verse with emphasis on meaning, on the joy of the words and of using their instincts to find the music and the beat of verse rather than scansion and that horrible phrase 'iambic pentameter', whose relevance I play down as I suspect that although you should know it for times you get stuck, an actor's mind really should be instinctive. In fact it's hard to shut me up between the exercises that Mark and I got them to play.
Then after a nap it's back for tea and the last warm up. I thank the company on behalf of the management, and tell them how proud they should be of their work, how professional and conscientious the attitude they have all shown, and how personally I think they are one of the nicest companies I have ever worked with. I tell them that I don't know how it works, but when you have done a job so well, life has a way of rewarding you back. I tell them to give themselves a lot of credit to themselves and take a moment when they get back to treat themselves to something. It's been a hell of an achievement.

A little emotional I then proceed at 7 o'clock to do a preshow talk with David Delgrosso to some of the theatre subscribers. This is in a lounge and is rather like an English tea party. Since the presenter turns out to be English and a charming lady called Valerie who's a dead ringer for Margaret Rutherford, this is not surprising. Again I can't believe how easy it feels and how at ease I am with the whole business. David does a wonderful prcis of the run up story to the play, which is told at breakneck speed with a wonderful gift for language and grammar, and I fill in with Shakespeare's sources, the magic of theatre, the electricity and energy that is unique between audience and actors, that when in tune, which seems to happens about halfway through a play on the good nights, it can transport us all to another world, and how grateful we are as actors to be able to have a chance to thank them for making the effort to come and see us.

And then to the last performance...

He was very powerful tonight. A big house helped, and the fact that the technical crew all seemed convinced that they had an acoustic problem, (which they don't, just other companies who don't do sound checks). He was also very compassionate, warm and funny. He really had become a complete article. "Ye elves..." even scared me because I didn't recognize the voice. I stayed pretty much in control until the last speech and "Now my charms are all o'rethrown And what strength I have's mine own, Which is most faint."

The audience all stood to their feet at the end AND ON THE SECOND BOW... usually if it happens, it happens on the third. Afterwards a shower and then a shave and startled to see my face. The cheek bones could cut glass and I look about 30... well 35... with the long hair I appear very gothic... and damn it, Scarlett... I look good!! In a Dracula scary kind of way. hehe My company of actors screamed when they saw me and were 'a little freaked out'!

And so to a local bar for a few drinks to day goodbye to the play and to an amazing character. Here was a man. When comes such another? 19,000 miles, over 60 cities. It's been emotional. I have shared it with a wonderful happy young company who have taught me a great deal and given me tremendous support and love.

But I must say goodbye to Prospero, at least for the moment.

"Lie there my art."

However a new adventure AWAITS... Brooklyn calls... I don't know why I'm supposed to be there, and I did think long and hard about returning to England. But having taken a good long look inside I find that apparently this is where I'm supposed to be just now. It's daunting of course, but exciting at the same time and I'm looking forward to it. I'm sharing an apartment with two wonderful gay guys, Carlos, and the wondrously talented and uplifting Louis Butelli from the Much Ado cast. It'll be like a Neil Simon play!

Meanwhile Lori, my wife, is in Washington, and working her special personal magic in Mama Mia. Some day I hope we can be together again and in the same city. What a strange life we lead!

Living with Prospero has been an incredible emotional experience. I have been blessed and cursed at the same time. But I am certainly a different person from when I started this whole adventure. Regardless of anything else, September 11th saw to that. The future is uncertain, but of course it always is. And now, incredibly in my 30th year as a professional actor, I find that feeling is a constant. However I now know that faith and trust in the universe and God or whatever you want to call it, faith in oneself, takes away all the negativity and that life is a constantly wondrous experience and the world is the most beautiful place.

Love and light

 

 

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