"Melted into air..."
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
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
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
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!
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 précis 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…