America Day 28 – History

My car says 85/Gasoline. I have no idea what that means. The pumps just have bullshit words on them to make them sound appealing, and numbers – all of which are over 85. None of them say diesel. I miss the colour coding in the UK and the clarity it brings. I try to ask at the counter but the guy just looks at me like I’m a fucking idiot. Occasionally he says the word “gasoline”. Either his English is atrocious or he thinks my English is atrocious. I think that there’s just no diesel here.

This country is so different, in so many subtle ways, to the multicoloured shitexplosion that I grew up in. Most of all in terms of history.

History here starts about 200 years ago. Everything before then is summarised in a disinterested and vague sentence. “The native Americans lived here with a religion that was to do with nature. Then we came and built a fucking great stone mission and provided them with shelter and food.” They had shelter and food before you brought your stupid ideas. They lived in harmony with nature, we live despite it. It’s such a destructive pile of arse. The arrogance and ignorance of religion! You find a new world and the first people over come to try and persuade the people there about how this ‘idea’ that someone hammered into you as a child is the only right ‘idea’ about why the moon shines, why we find beauty, why we are capable of love, why we can be momentarily breathless with happiness at something outside of our understanding.

It takes a zealot or a speculator to shoulder the risks related to being in a place that’s as raw as the wild west. Those missionaries had the money from the church. They literally were on a mission. They went out and probably spread more disease than they spread the word but managed both. We in the lazy West had a much more interesting selection of diseases. Good will sent them, sure. But it was good will fueled by the idea that people that don’t think like us or understand the world like we do are wrong. Aka spectacular ignorance. Still, better than it just being the Columbus types, who were about plunder, rapine and self importance. Bring on my ancestor Bartholomew de las Casas, out at the same time, trying not to be a destructive force with all his being, making a positive difference in “the West Indies”.

The amazing human beings that would have walked these wilds would’ve been working examples of Darwinism in humans. Sustaining themselves in nomadic communities over the size of this huge country – their only real dangers being each other and wolves. Problem is, survival of the fittest pays dividends over generations of time. You can’t evolve guns. It all changed too quickly as wet faced Europeans shuffled over in great big boats with bullshit beliefs, impossible weapons, incomprehensible rapaciousness, entitlement and microbes borne of decadence.

These stone buildings would’ve been so irrelevant to the true inhabitants of this place. And now those same men and women are often confined to reserves, most of which are under threat too in the ongoing drive for oil and plunder and land, as this blustering orange tyrant sews seeds of personal wealth and power through division, money, hate and fear of the other.

So yeah. History. Sure, we too in the UK were conquered in 1066 and they built a fuckload of castles which we didn’t know how to bring down. The oppressed population eventually assimilated. Some people think it’s important to use multisyllabic Norman words to appear refined. Pardon instead of Wot. Toilet instead of Bog. And other people think the opposite. Fuc those Frenc Dics.

I like this place. But I always feel like I’m living on borrowed lands, as people tell me how they’re Irish or German or Swedish or Scottish or French, but not American in the true sense.

I suspect the pumps have nothing but adverts on them because there is no way you can put the wrong fuel in the engine and blow it up. This constructed society has been sharpened towards the market and the less people have to think the less they think.

Where is the actual history? Lost to all but the specialists. Here we all are at a mission…

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America Day 27 – Texas Wind Down

Everybody is milling around near me. They’re closing the show bag, or packing their own bags, or snatching the remainder cakes, or recycling plastic bottles, or signing autographs for those few audience members resourceful enough to find us in our basement. We are in a recital hall again, after that beautiful theatre yesterday, but it didn’t take away from the experience of doing the show together. It was sold out and they were up for it. Maybe 400 people and lots turned away. Our last show in Texas and word is out. We are involved in the bag pack, but my bit of it is complete. Now if I were to get involved in any aspect of it I’d just be a hindrance. So I’m starting this in the hopes I get it done by midnight.

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A little bit later and I write as we trundle to the minivan. I’ve got my accordion on one shoulder and my costume on the other. The cicadas cry in the wet heat. We are inevitably going to drive to The Flying Saucer, where a number of the people who have made this possible will be raising a glass with us.

San Antonio and Austin are both very vibrant towns in terms of the people, although the culture is certainly in Austin more than San Antonio. In Texas terms though they’re next door neighbors. Under two hours driving between them.


And the Flying Saucer happened. And I’m already an hour and a half after the (notional) deadline. Midnight is too bloody early for it to be six o’clock in the UK. But we are engaged in the slow process of saying farewell to the Lone Star State. This state has a special place in my heart, partly because of excellent childhood restaurants but as much because of the human beings who work with Shakespeare here. We have met and worked with so many extraordinary humans. People who are so full of understanding and of specialist knowledge, who give so much of their time and energy to making our time in their city into the most wonderful time it can be. Our schedule can be pretty hectic. It is often crazy busy and varied simultaneously. My acquired skillset of having no expectations and of efficiently rolling with whatever I receive with as much charm and calm as I can be bothered to manufacture – it works well on this job, so long as I don’t lose patience.

Tomorrow we have a day off – outside of lesson planning. We are going back downtown. We can hit up The Alamo again and see what else is available at the heart of this city. I’m going to soak up as much heat as I can! Next week it’ll be autumn and I’ll be wearing jumpers and shivering in the evenings. I’m gonna take advantage of this Texas heat while I can.

There’s still such a long time left of this excursion – of this wonderful crazy varied job. Our fellowship is locking in.

 

America Day 26 – The Embassy

I’ve found a shady little bench in the grounds of The Alamo. Nobody comes here. It’s just me and the birds. It’s peaceful and people aren’t trying to sell me anything. I can sit here and calibrate my head.

We were persistently harassed by bees at lunch and it made it extremely hard to wind down. I’ve gone off to do so here instead. Strange that this little corner of this historic mission can prove to be the most restful part of downtown San Antonio that I’ve been able to find.

We are all a little bit sick. I blame the aircon, as we’re constantly going from hot climate to cold climate. Our bodies just don’t know how to prepare themselves. The fact we’re sick isn’t taking away from the work ethic though. We had an afternoon free today but we chose to spend it on the stage of The Empire running and activating notes to make the play flow tighter and smarter. I love that we still do that sort of thing. We still want this to be the best it can be.

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The Empire stage where we’ll perform tonight backs more or less directly onto the stage at The Majestic. The Majestic is not a misnomer either. It’s incredible. We would be swamped by grandeur performing on that stage. It is perhaps the single most opulent theatre I have ever visited. We were all strolling around in muted wonder at the sheer balls-out ostentation of the place. It’s like a more permanent version of the set for a big budget Christmas Show at The RSC. It seats over 2.5k punters. Seeing it makes me want to make that Davy Crockett Musical, although I get the sense nobody plays for more than a few nights there. The walls are all made up of Cats and Miss Saigon. A hell of a theatre to visit but the 500 audience we have booked for tonight would be rattling around like dry peas in a bucket in there.

“You see that high up balcony there? That’s from segregation times. We never use it at all now. There’s a separate door, separate lift, separate waiting area. There’s no way to get between it and the rest of the theatre. And the the view’s terrible if you do.” If I was on stage I wouldn’t be able to see anyone standing at  that balcony. It’s designed like that…

Anyway, I’ve got a 500 year old play about love and death to make funny just down the road.


It was lovely. Again. Even if we are all sicker than we’re letting on. We all had to sign autographs in a line after the show. It was like we were at a convention. They all came through shaking hands with us all, and getting selfies, and now there are loads of posters and programmes with our names on them on shelves or in drawers or bins or cabinets in San Antonio. They’ll be worth millions one day, I tells ya.

America Day 25 – Gruene Hall

Gruene Hall stakes a good claim as the oldest dance hall in Texas. We were all there. I was in my cowboy boots. They’re still pretty expensive by the minute of use, but they’re getting cheaper over the time I’m in Texas. It was a local band playing – Silvercloud. Steel guitars and drums, all behatted, good looking young men with music. We had a fine dance.

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Their last song was almost certainly not called what I think it was called: “I’m not mad (I just had some crisps.)” Still, we danced to it like we had had way too many of those crisps and it was a blast.

We were experimenting with lifts on the dance floor by the end, fueled by the necessity to burn off a steak the size of a dead badger that I had just forced down my gullet. It was fun and physical. Now I’m exhausted and so happy. The band thanked us for the dancing. We thanked them. We were eejits. And we loved it.

Bridget is driving us home. What a glorious Texas night. I’ve had a great time in the Lone Star State so far and this night and this band have added to it.

“I think they were very genuine,” says Bridget. “I didn’t like country music until I started dancing to it. I didn’t do the two step in Illinois. Now I just … feel it.” I know what she means. That band tonight were local and – yes, very genuine. They told us on the mic how often they had been on the dance floor watching other bands play, and now here they were on the stage.

I had to learn the two step and I still don’t quite get the pattern but it goes a little something like this: “Slow, slow quick quick slow, slow, quick quick slow slow quick quick sick pant quick quick blow flow oh no quick quick go woe thick twit no yo? slow shit shit NO no no that’s my toe!”

Today I got a group of young men and women to baa like sheep, and commit to it. I called it education. We were looking at The Second Shepherd’s Play in The Wakefield Cycle and my thinking was that if they’re going to be exploring it for comedy somebody would need to be confident and loud with sheep noises. It’s the one where a couple pretend a stolen sheep is their baby when the shepherds come looking. That’s been my actual work.

I’ve also had everybody on the internet shouting at me about a non-existent leak from my flat which has been stressful and wearing in the extreme when I’ve been totally unable to do anything about it and when Brian is literally busier than he’s ever been in his life. It might be something invisible. But I think unfortunately it’s the rain. The guys we paid all that money to in order to fix it – they didn’t fix it. More money, I imagine. It never rains but it pours.

I’m back in my room, remembering that I’ve got to get these boots off before I can crash out and dream of something other than flooding please. It is literally all kicking off at home at the worst possible time. And here I am and all I can do is my best. Another useful lesson in zen, while everybody is shouting at me.

America Day 24 – San Anton show day one

My dreams keep taking me to London, weirdly. I’m very happy here but London’s calling. I live by the river! I keep dreaming mundane dreams about my friends. I even dreamt a brilliant birthday present that I’m probably going to put into practice in due course. Variation is the spice of life though. And San Antonio is sufficiently unfamiliar to keep me happy.

I woke with the cockerel – early but hungover and knowing I’d have to go in and talk to 45 young adults about slavery. It turned out to be a very positive session, but the first ten minutes involved me getting us all to say “Yes!” to each other in a circle in various different ways, mostly as a way of shifting our slow shared energy into something positive together. It worked. It switched up the group. There was some good engagement by the end of the session.

I like this split focus, workshops and shows. The daytimes are spent examining how we go about our craft and trying to communicate it to people from many different walks of life and cultural backgrounds. Then in the evenings we all go on stage and make a story out of nothing but our own belief in it and one man’s ancient words.

When one of us is tired or upset or distracted it shows in all of us. We are all so bonded now and in effortless comprehension of each other’s state of mind and body. We look after each other as best we can, and we really do, and know how to.

The music feels much more organic as we go through. I love how my accordion has ended up on tour with me. We’ve made room for it in the show. I get to practice a little bit every day, and before long I might actually put it on my CV. But we can all stand on stage playing something and have moments of musical togetherness, and the power of the five of us with nothing is, essentially, the whole point of the job. Yes we tell the play, and do it skillfully. But the major USP to my mind is the fact that it’s just five actors and a suitcase being idiots round America. We’ve got each other. And that’s a lot. We’ll give it a shot.

I’ve been writing while eating pizza. We ordered some in. We were starving post show but by the time it came I’d had a few beers and lost my appetite. I managed two slices before sliding back and getting started on this. The guys appreciate my antisocial tendencies. Especially since it’s late tonight. The time difference doesn’t blend well with my ill hours.

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Our next show is Friday night at The Empire Theatre downtown. It’s basically a West End venue. They have told us where the scene dock is so we can unload the van. We will arrive with a blue suitcase and no van, and have three lighting cues. I’m curious to see how they react…

America Day 23 -Birthday Meal

I couldn’t really remember the Alamo so it was nice to swing in again.

Jono was as excited as I had been the first time. We were both reared on various ethically questionable swashbuckling tales and films and so the mission where Davy Crockett met his bear had always featured in our imaginations as a significant place. A borderland problem between Mexico and Texas, borne out horribly in blood on both sides. Crockett and his companions holding out impossibly until the last. A glorious defeat that helped towards a more lasting victory.

“Remember the Alamo,” said the signs in the Texas Lone Star restaurant in Gloucester Road when I was 12. “Do you remember?” my dad would ask with a glint in his eye. “Remember what?” He’d point at the plaque on the wall. “Remember the Alamo.” I’d forget by the time we went there again. That was my dad’s sense of humour. Year after year. Until one day, 16 year old “over it” Al mumbled “Yeah dad, the Alamo,” at which point he immediately pointed at another sign I hadn’t even noticed saying “Remember Sabine Pass,” rolled his eyes and said “You kids never remember Sabine Pass, all you care about is The Alamo,” and in so doing won my begrudging teenage respect for a joke many years in the making.

I had a bit of chauffeur work to do in the morning getting people back and forth to classes, so even though I’d booked a day off I lost the morning. The afternoon saw Jono and I trundling around exploring San Antonio with no set plan whatsover. We fell into The Esquire just in time for Happy Hour, and as a result had an extremely tasty American style tapas for next to nothing.

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Sometimes stumbling really is the best way to find a new place. The Esquire overlooks the Riverwalk and is full of taxidermy. We enjoyed our food. I just worried for the poor lynxes.

I booked a table tonight at a restaurant I found on the internet. Bliss, it’s called. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but the menu looks fab and I want a good birthday meal with plenty of wine. I’m driving in to UTSA at 8am tomorrow to get a bunch of young men and women to engage with a poem about slavery. I don’t want to be too vulnerable in the morning, although if I have to demonstrate emotionally available work those tears are very close when I’m hungover


Ok so it’s before midnight and I’m in my room. That’s a win, yes? Sure I blew about $300 on high class alcohol and tasty bits. But that’s nothing in the scheme of things. I had a lovely night. I also had foie gras in a room with two right headed vegetarians – people who are denying themselves nice things on purpose because someone has to bellwether. I used my birthday as an excuse. And I had a yummy meal with them 

Bollocks I’ve got to get up early tomorrow, and be coherent and inspiring. Plus it’s past midnight here which means blog time. Morning, uk. 🙂

 

 

America Day 22 – San Antonio

It’s the autumn equinox and I’m lying under palm trees by a pool in San Antonio thinking about home. This business with Thomas Cook. Shape of things to come? Millions of British people stuck in foreign countries. Millions more stuck in their own country and upset about being unable to get out?

“We moved over here a year ago,” I’m told by one of the people I’ll be working with in San Antonio. She’s from the UK. I’m going in to a class of hers to help her literature students understand how to bring out emotion through language in poetry recital. She’s chosen a Hannah More poem about slavery. It looks like an interesting session.

She used to work at a university in Bristol before here, hence perhaps her choice of a Bristolian bluestocking writing iambic pentameter about the slave trade. “I loved my home life in Bristol, but the state of Humanities Education in the UK…” Her eyes finish the sentence. It’s not in a good state according to those eyes, people. Newsflash.

“My husband can’t work yet, but I’m happier in my work over here,” she continues. “We live as well here on my wage as we did in Bristol on combined wages…” She hasn’t found her crowd yet though. Her eyes are hungry for company. It must be strange relocating completely like that. San Antonio is very unlike Bristol. Especially right now, when it seems the UK is on fire. I miss London a bit now despite the impending car crash. I miss my friends, Pickle and a plate of food in a restaurant that has vegetables and leaves you hungry.

I’m reasonably sheltered from UK news over here as we aren’t really that important to the USA, even though they kinda like the English in the same way they kinda like chipmunks. They occasionally find themselves engaged: “awww look at that ancient half blind chipmunk. It wants both of the nuts and it can only have one. It’s smashing them both and hurting itself. Stoopid little critter. It’s gnawed off its own leg now! Shall we help it? Nah. Let nature take its course.”

We are basically a bizarre ancient nation of narrow people with bad teeth and funny accents dismantling themselves in some sort of sad inevitable international grand guignol clown-show. Slowly slicing our noses down the middle with razors, pulling our tongues out through holes dug in our throats with our filthy desperate fingers, popping out our shining hopeful eyes whilst rasping the word “sovereign” until we lose so much blood that we can rasp no more.

And I’m just sitting by the pool letting it unfold and observing it. At least we’ll get that money for the NHS I guess.

All five of us are tired after travel day, even though it’s been a light journey. It’s a lovely fellowship. We just get on with it but stick together. Katherine is planning an early morning lesson. Kaffe and I are both blogging. He’s writing the official showblog, which is infinitely harder as you can’t just indulge in ridiculous Brexit similes. Claire and Jono are working out details of the cars tomorrow. Claire is looking out for my interests as she knows I’ll want the car tomorrow for my birthday for a few hours just to do my usual thing of jiggling around and looking at stuff. Without wheels we are trapped in this hotel. But this whole unit of five is remarkable. We all fit well around each other. We all bring something to the table. And we all have fun when we can. And sit in a circle working if it seems the right thing to do. Feels like a true fellowship. And there’s a lot of ground to cover yet.

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