America Day 59 – Macbeth and Education

It turns out it’s only about an hour’s drive from this little town we are staying in to Notre Dame, South Bend, where this madness started off for us. Also, we have a night off tonight, and married to that, our old friend Paul is at Notre Dame tonight doing his two man Macbeth.

Paul was one of the five of us five years ago, the first time I did this job, with Claire in the company too – and Jack, who I’ll be Carolling with on my return. We did Much Ado back then. We had a lovely time, so much so that I knew I wanted to go round again. And I have! Which allowed me to catch his Macbeth.

His life has changed so much since we toured back then. Since then he’s married an old friend of mine from drama school, who he met on this job. They’ve got one kid already and another on the way! They are all out in America, but I missed Hannah and their daughter. They are in Iowa to cut down on travel. Shame.

The two of them did a wonderful job of Macbeth tonight. It was clear and moving and funny and fresh. Such a portable show, so deftly told, and the whole story in an hour and a half straight through with no interval, so we got to hang out in the pub afterwards for one before driving back through the darkness and rain on the atrociously lit Indiana highways. Claire and I got a Burger King on the way home as it was the only thing open. I also grabbed one for lunch today and stuffed it into my face. They are the first two Burger King burgers I’ve had in as long as I can remember. Both on the same day… I hope I make it through the night.

I’m keeping busy out here… My extracurricular duty on this tour is “Education”. It’s an absolute shocker in terms of work. And the last week is the hardest one yet. I’m under massive time pressure to get it out – I’m already overdue. It’s to do with managing your and other people’s fear of the unknown.

We get sent all these incomprehensible class requests – and next week is the weirdest yet.

The academics who know the company already have a better understanding of what we bring and how to ask for it. The institution next week has never had us before and is talking to us as if we too are professors in philosophy and neurolinguistics or whatever they are professors in. But of course they are being like that. That’s why our actual heads will be helpful in their classes.

It made sense to just … divvy up the classes maximising practicality and individual relationships with tutors. I took the first early class and the only Saturday class, as the start of the week is always harder work before they’ve seen the show and have context and then the Saturday means the other four get a full weekend in Colorado. (The class does happen to be on Christmas Carol, so at least I know I can do it without stress – a relief considering it’s first thing in the morning.)

I took ages looking at timings whilst making sure that we all did the same number and nobody clashed with themselves or had too many in one day. Although it’s impossible to tell which will turn out to be hard classes, I arbitrated everybody a scattering of easy and a scattering of hard looking ones trying to take care of them and fit my understanding of their strengths as far as possible – (although everybody this week will have at least one hard looking class for them.)

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But before I sign that off it turns out I’ll have to spend a bit of time assuring people that they don’t have to be professors. Also nobody likes to be told what to do, so I expect I’ll now have to make some arbitrary changes as a result of arbitrating things in the first place. “The thing you told me to do is the only thing I refuse to do”.

So be it. Humans.

It’s the last week. It’s the worst week for classes. We are all actors not teachers. Let’s just get through it together. We will all be pleasantly surprised, as we always are.

America Day 58 – Bulls and Lizards

New York. 1849. The Astor Place Opera House. 22 or more people killed in a riot. Over Shakespeare.

Two different actors were in the city, simultaneously playing Macbeth. One English, one American. Different heads on the same role are always going to produce different results, but these two actors were sufficiently distanced in style and personality to cause a rivalry that boiled over, alongside poisonous international relations at that time.

Many factors were at play here, of course. But people wound up dead. And I’ve just found out about it. Shakespeare riots. Who knew?

How did I find out? Well, a professor gave a lecture about it as I stood by him ready to join his class. I’m an “Actor From the London Stage”. That’s how we are billed. So I’m the only English person in the room when he gives this short lecture.

In 1849 the mannered Victorian actor William Macready was programmed at the swanky Opera House in New York, built in colonial times still darkly remembered.

He was terribly English by the sound of it, William Macready. Awfully restrained. I know the type. Every gesture thought of beforehand and practiced. Every word practiced, worked, reworked and crystallised. Bug-eyed. Devoid of emotion. Incapable of actual truth, but masterful at the semblance of truth. Strangely hypnotic. A lizard.

Meanwhile, Edwin Forrest was the working man’s choice in the USA. An American actor at the height of his popularity. Another type I know well. A fighter. Every word becoming about action. Squat and angry, he would’ve roiled with rage and bombast, his Lady Macbeth no more than an accessory. Testosterone and fury. Attack over nuance. Reaction above thought. A bull. William would’ve been strutting and fretting. Edwin would’ve been sound and fury.

The thing is, both of these approaches can work for the part – (given the actor is good enough). Every actor’s way brings food for thought. These two it’s the old school manufactured war: head vs body. I expect the lizard Macbeth would’ve been as interesting as the bull Macbeth. But the two polarised approaches highlight the difference in our cultures. “Excuse me,” in London means “Fuck you!” in New York, and vice versa.

Somebody whipped up a storm though and made it about old conflicts. Suddenly it was about ownership and history and colonialism.

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So. Because of a production of Macbeth with two very different already rival actors from different countries and idioms with very different approaches, people took to the streets. And as usual over here the police started shooting, which is where the death toll came from. NYPD: “If in doubt, panic and kill innocent people.” I understand that was the motto back then – it still is now in some states.

Edwin Forrest had toured the UK in 1830 and Macready had been overbearing and high handed about him, dismissing Forrest as having no taste. Macready was the UK establishment player, with nothing really at stake considering their different approaches and types. He might have chosen to bury his pride – to see the things Forrest did that he couldn’t do. It feels like Macready wasn’t capable of that leap of empathy though, being a lizard. It feels to me like his privilege blocked him from empathising with someone so immediately unlike him in approach. He had had a fortunate beginning, dear William. It’s SO much harder to look backwards from privilege than it is to look forward.

By being antagonistic – and how could be not with all that privilege? – he made a very patient enemy.

Forrest went and sat on the front row and booed Macready’s Hamlet, then he seduced Macready’s wife effectively enough for it to come up in court, then he fomented enough distaste at home against the man to get a dead sheep thrown at posh English Hamlet in Cincinnati. Then he stirred up his New York gang friends to fuck up Macbeth properly, once and for all. It worked. Macready slunk off back to England after the show on the night of the fatal riots. He didn’t come back.

The professor today just touched on all of this, like it was a living cultural rivalry still, just before the class we had. (I researched it since and found the deeper detail included here.) But with THAT introduction: “and now, here’s Al. From England. To teach you about Shakespeare.”

I dropped my intended class, and instead did a class about how different a scene can be to different actors based on multiple factors. I spoke about different approaches to things like conflict, culturally, between England and America. I examined how different humans bring whatever their past is to their lines. It was a lovely lively class about helping people read out loud from a personal place.

But it was a very very strange introduction. Admittedly he tried to then read the CV I’d sent the company but I stopped him because it makes me want to stick toothpicks in my eye when they do that.

I don’t think he intended to frame me in such an awkward way: the representative of a defeated colonial power whose subject matter and approach had since raised people to the streets and caused fatalities. I think it was done with an intellectual sensibility that fails to take into account the fact it would be weird for me to be brought into the room like that.

It was a hell of a way to be introduced to a room full of strangers, to have an expert talk with slides about a fatal riot against an English actor by Americans (clearly, in his talk and his slides, favouring the American.) “And with that in mind, here is an English actor to work with you on Shakespeare.”


On the subject, I think that an inevitably shared culture has homogenised our approaches to craft now either side of the pond in acting. My class today was about finding individual voices. The styles come from the individual not the culture.

English actors and American actors are working in roughly the same field, and there are SO MANY MORE of us than there was back then when it was even worse in terms of “oh he’s good let’s let him play everything”. (Although the funneling still goes on.)

Perhaps emotional “state” is still preferred over here as a starting point. Perhaps active “target” back home. Or perhaps I’m working with younger people over here than I would be back home. I’m certainly having to push target over state when I work.

I’m seeing a lot of emotion with no basis.

I’m trying to give help that’ll stop their acting just being therapy with somebody else’s words, and make sure they are making stories that other people might engage with. We all know instinctively when someone is faking an emotion. Toddlers do it when they want something. We know we are being manipulated, because we have all tried it. “I want to STAY HEEEEEEEEERRRRRREEEEE”

I’m an English actor but in approach I’m closer to the bull than the lizard. So I know bull. And I dislike lizard. Even if I see and understand both.

America Day 57 – Winona Lake

A few hours drive today. That’s all. Just a few hours drive. North and East. Much closer to our starting point in South Bend. Winona Lake. Grace College.

“There are a two virgins in the cast,” says Claire. “Oh God, I mean vegetarians!”

“It’s a Christian campus. There are plenty of both here,” our escort responds with a grin.


We are surrounded by cornfields. The crop still stands, drying in the field, to be harvested when dry enough as time is cheaper than money when it comes to the drying of corn on this scale. It’s strange to drive through all these fields with dead looking husks of corn. I wrote this on the way before I did any research:

“Indiana. A small town. One of many like it, and the highways run like scars through open country. And beside these highways, even at this time of year just look. Do you see it? Just there. Everywhere. The corn. Brown armies of the stuff. All brittle and bowing in the same direction. Look at it closer. This state is full of it, but how can this be profitable, these drying dying husks in serried ranks? Food for the nation? Or just employment for farmers? Will this go to starch, to bind together the Halloween candies? Or landfill? Well, this is down to the American appetite for waste. Meanwhile, look at it. Sad. Bedraggled. Row upon row of it. Lost brown plants, once useful, now neglected. Will they be used? Or are they just filling the quota? This is what we do with the natural world.”

It’s not really the right start for a blog, but it was my head. Amidst the drying dying corn, a little pool of loving living light. Grace College, and the delightful young men and women on the campus. They all have faith. They also have a tiny theatre that is filled every night but Halloween with audience for us. We will be going in and helping them with their Addams Family musical rehearsals. With their self written religious plays. It’s an amazing job, this. It’s so varied. But we don’t take into account the stress of it.

I’ve got wind. I’ve actually got anxiety but as a result now I’ve got wind. The wind is because I’m not breathing properly. The bad breathing is the anxiety. Another strange place, another group of strangers, another different idiom, once again so very far from what is familiar. I love the unusual. But it mounts up after a while. I’ve been tense today all day and then I put food and beer on top of it.

I’m teaching these kids and prisoners and old folks about breathing. I should be able to breathe for myself. It does actually work, all that body and breath stuff, otherwise I wouldn’t spend my days on it. I walked into my first day at Guildhall a “floating head”. They dropped me into my body and my voice. Now I can help other people walk that journey. Safe use is the only way to sustain a career. With my habitual attack and without the craft I was taught those three years, I would have permanently damaged my body and my voice by now. But right now I’ve got wind, and a full belly. The only thing I can think of is fingers down the throat.


Yep. Worked a treat. Maybe I shouldn’t have had those prawns and scallops. Certainly not the hot sauce. Hopefully the offending article is no longer inside me. I think I might get some rest. Thankfully the working day is long over and I’ve got a king sized bed. And Blade Runner soundtrack just showed up on Spotify. Rutger Hauer, may he rest in peace, telling us what he’s seen.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I simultaneously belched and threw up scallops in a Holiday Inn in small town Indiana. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

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If I’m going to be sick, this warm comfortable room is a true upgrade on what happened more or less a year ago today…

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America Day 56 – Supermarket

A very lazy Sunday. Now I’m in a supermarket. I don’t even know why. Claire is stocking up on miso soup and snacks.

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I’m walking through the aisles astonished by the sheer quantity of stuff. Cinnamon and Apple everything. Instant roast cow with horns – just add water! Sugary drinks galore. Carbonated water that advertises itself as being “caffeine free” leading me to wonder if you can get fizzy water that has caffeine in it here somewhere as well. I wouldn’t be surprised. Piped music and adverts – this shop has its own radio station for customers.  Open fronted fridges belching money into the atmosphere so you can just grab the thing. I haven’t got a basket. I’ve been rinsing my per diems on expensive meals so I need to make sure I don’t impulse buy 300 bags of caramelised pecans like I did in Buckys, and end up broke with nothing but snacks for my roadtrip at the end of the job.

It seemed a clever idea to start hitting the double whisky last night after the gig. As a result I lost the best part of the day. Never clever to mix drinks, but if I haven’t learnt by now I expect I never will. This morning found me curled up under my duvet occasionally scratching steaming and hissing when the light came close to me. Now I’m in a supermarket looking for miso soup and it feels like an adventure. It’s dark outside, and the reality of this season is beginning to dawn on me. The clocks went back in the UK. The long nights are upon us, and I got myself precisely no vitamin D all day.

Claire and Jono had a lovely day exploring the local area while I mouldered in my own stink. They regaled me with photographs and stories as I sat next to them unresponsive and in my own private hell of hunger. I’d like to have explored a bit, seen the creeks and the bridges, but until about half an hour ago I was completely and utterly useless. Now I’ve achieved a supermarket and that’ll be the extent of the day.


I didn’t buy anything. I probably should have bought some fruit. Meat meat meat, this country. With fries. But rarely a vegetable to be seen. Bread and meat and starch and sauce and booze and ranch dressing. I have no idea how the vegetarians have managed it. They’d have eaten nothing but cheese for weeks. Vegans would be dead. Your tomato soup has crushed bacon on top. Your vegetable soup is definitely made with beef stock. Your Bloody Mary comes with a dead pig. Pigs and cows and chickens. Chickens cows and pigs. Conveyor belts into grinder, down our gullet and all the way through us, get some more. No wonder they put caffeine in the water. Speeds up the digestion. I’m having a bath. Then I’ll probably get back into bed and sleep some more. You heard it here first, people. Rock and roll? Rock and fucking roll.

 

America Day 55 – Watching people work

It’s a Saturday and the rain is pouring down. The last thing we want to do is run a Shakespeare workshop for a mixed age group of kids. But here they all are. These enthusiastic young people. Running through the rain to get to a room that will be run by the two of us. Oh God.

Claire and I sit in the car watching them arrive through the rain, these happy people with their colorful shoes. Neither of us are feeling ready but we are about to go and be fun with them.

The good thing is that we’ve got each other. With the two of us there’s no possibility of a humongous brain freeze, as happened to me in one class in Annapolis.

The rain is a solid wave. We extract ourselves from our seats and challenge the elements for the tiny ten feet or so we have to travel to get to the door. We start tired.

Fifteen minutes later, we are both wide awake and enjoying ourselves hugely and exploding energy from all orifices. The two of us have a shared moment of connection and we both notice the distance between where we were just before the workshop and where we are now. Dr Theatre works for workshops as well as theatre it seems.

This evening we have the chance to watch somebody else work. Post Modern Jukebox happens to be passing through Greencastle and we have free tickets. We are towards the back but the theatre is packed. I’m writing as the MC works the crowd and incorporates his glass of bourbon in his banter. This is a man that knows how to sustain himself on a tour of the provinces.

It’s a strange auditorium and a familiar kind to me now. Organs, weird curtains and no real way of making sure anybody can actually be seen in any of the lighting states.

Somebody in sequins in singing a 1920’s loungeroom remix of Britney Spear’s Toxic.

As we are, these artists are doing their thing all over the place. As we are, they seem to be enjoying themselves in the process. I’m going to sit back and enjoy them working for a bit.


This is incredibly chilled and I’m exhausted. I’ve got back on this blog as we are in the back row so it’s not going to be noticed on stage. These wonderful people are singing for us all, and it’s making me feel cosy, warm and sleepy. Rather than letting my head fall back into a snore I’m letting it fall forward into a screen. “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’re having a good time,” says the MC, and I am but I think my habit of putting piano music on when I’m winding down towards sleep, combined with the fact that it’s the end of another very full week is making me less than the ideal audience member.

“Welcome to the new wave,” sings the MC and we all obediently chorus “radioactive” and somewhere within this perhaps it’s ok to have a little snooze…

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And then there was a total power outage to the area. You couldn’t make it up. Heavy winds have brought down a cable somewhere. “Now we’ll see what they’re made of,” I remark to Jono. “They’ll either pull the second half or if they’re artists they’ll hack together an unplugged set.”

They came together, stood with each other, held tight in their little community, said “the show must go on,” and let us hear them without the tricks. Until the health and safety crew shut them down in case someone tripped and hurt their ankywankle. Wonderful work.

America Day 54 – Unexpected space

Broad Ripple. It’s not really Indianapolis but it might as well be. We drove in, Claire and I. We found we had some time. It’s only an hour’s drive each way which is nothing when you compare it to the ground we’ve covered. The scale of this country!

Lunchtime found us having French Onion Soup by the canal. La Petite Chou, with incomprehensible amounts of cheese and a small glass of Laurent Perrier. Life is pretty fucking good. We then wandered around this suburb of Indy, as they call it. There’s an old railway, now concreted into a path and used as a cycle lane. Thankfully the law over here states repeatedly and visibly that pedestrians have priority, so you don’t get crusty shouty lycra clad beardfaced cockbuckets passive aggressively insulting you as they zing past on the wings of virtue and entitlement like you do in London ALL THE TIME. In fact a few cyclists wished us a good afternoon and we shouted it back after them.

The old railway is called The Monon Trail. We walked northwards down the line through the autumn trees, burning sharp to amber and blood red. We followed a man on a motorised skateboard when he cut right, into a residential area.

We suddenly found ourselves in a historic neighborhood. Big old stone houses. Signs all over the place advertising that it’s a Halloween Party Street. All the houseowners have been making an effort. Silly gravestones in the gardens, pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins. Dangling skeletons and giant spiders and cobwebs and bats. Monsters in the windows and projections on the walls. We still have a week to go but this state is gearing up for the big day. The houses we walk past have likely already spent thousands of dollars on candy between them. People will drive their kids ages to let them walk down this street next week and load up on sweeties.

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It’s huge over here, Halloween. Last time I had an American Halloween I was working for this same company, in Denton Texas. We went round a load of frat parties. We made an effort with costume that day thank God. Everybody else had. This year might not be … quite so crazy. We will be in a very holy place.

I’ve been writing this town up as a small town. Next week is going to be smaller and considerably more religious. I think next week is the sort of place where I risk getting burnt at the stake if I admit that I play Dungeons and Dragons. I’m still up for trying to make Halloween fun there, although we have a show that night so it might be tricky with timings. We might be exhausted.

We got back to Greencastle from Indianapolis in time to reconnect with the unit. There are only five of us on this crazy tour. We have covered thousands of miles together. All things considered, we are getting on extremely well for people who have been in each other’s pockets for so long. Only two weeks left of work. Time past time to work out what is happening next…

 

America Day 53 – Tiny

We decided to go to the tiny cinema in Greencastle.

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We had no choice but to watch The Addams Family. Not the most inspiring script but it passed the time, and the projector didn’t conk out. Apart from the 5 of us it was just a guy and his daughter. The guy had a shirt on that said “I have a beautiful daughter. I also have a gun, a shovel and an alibi.” I think there was only one popcorn bought – inevitably by Claire. And it was reasonably priced. For screening the movie, the cinema turned over about $50…

Now we are in Moor’s Bar. Pete the owner just came up and introduced himself. “You guys have been in here a few times now,” he says.  He’s the owner. He’s just saying “Hi”. Maybe making sure we aren’t dissidents. But it feels friendly. It feels American.

Pete is from here, went to college here, moved to Florida for thirty years. Now he’s come back home with his wife. She wanted a restaurant, he wanted a bar. They bought this place which is a little bit of both. The food all comes with bread. It also has extra salt so people drink more. But it fills a hole. And it just has.

This week is a needful slowdown. Not too many classes in the daytime which allows rest. Everything is in walking distance. The sun is still valiantly shining but there’s a chill in the air now. We are all feeling a lot lighter already though, from being out of the mix.

Silicon Valley was … interesting but there’s something in the air there. The energy of all that money being made, the potential at any time to suddenly find yourself underwater, the history of ambition and longing and crime.

Now we are just in a little green patch with friendly people and not a huge amount of history. The freight trains come by and lay their horns down on the crossings. Dillinger robbed the bank here. He got a good haul out of Greencastle bank, for all the good it did him. Another one that didn’t know when to stop.

The barman, Bailey, knew what all five of us were drinking as soon as we walked in. The people in the shops already know the five of us by name. Claire, Bailey and I ended up having a remarkable conversation about art and the film industry. The people I’ve met here have lived lives.

You can see how these little towns draw people back to them in retirement or depression or necessity. It’s pleasant and relaxing to feel the tiny boundaries around you. To feel you’re safe in your little place, and the big old world can turn, out there beyond the campfire. I’d literally be trying to eat my own face after a month here. I know I’d struggle if I went back home to The Isle of Man or Jersey. But this small town mentality is comforting, in small doses.

Which is just as well considering the politics back in the UK.

As far as I understand, the latest plan is to fill the English Channel with petrol and drop a match in it but blame it on the Germans. The fire won’t spread to the land anyway because we’ve always been safe in the past and fire doesn’t spread. If it does we can just throw hospitals and poor people at the fire until it goes out. Then we can skin anyone who we don’t like, hail the dead eyed aryan midget, and get on with making the world into the illusion of a meritocracy where merit comes with birth.

I need a city already. I just went to the hotel bar in my pajamas  The barman knows my name. Fuck. It’s nice here though. We are all feeling much more relaxed.