America Day 69 – Rocks

Dazzling morning sunshine. I stride out of Arnold Hall. Behind me a small circle of tough men and women are winding up after a lovely Christmas Carol workshop.

I get into the jeep. I change my glasses for sunglasses and button the engine on. Four miles through empty fields to get to the gate. I drive past deer and cyclists, young men and women training, a B52 bomber – on display. Past the guards with their sidearms. Through the gate. And off duty. Off duty.

America, you have been remarkable. Through ups and downs our little unit of five has stayed upbeat and kind. We have held our tongue when we needed to and spoken when we had to. We have looked after each other and the show, expending or husbanding energy as needed, and we have taken care of huge numbers of very different young women and men in the classes that we have been invited into.

Now I have a little tiny gap. The first I’ve had since June. I’ll be thinking about Scrooge, and keeping this show alive for the London shows. But this is about to be a whole week off. I literally have no idea what I’m going to do other than that it involves landing in San Francisco tomorrow afternoon and having a hire car available. North through the redwoods? Down to the Big Sur? Back to LA? I guess I’ll find out. It might be dictated by the economy of room prices. It might be affected by the location of various huge fires. I have long been comfortable with the unknown and right now I’m as likely to abandon the plans that I’ve been playing with as I am to go through with them. It’ll just be me I guess, so nobody will be worrying about where I’ll sleep.


I’ve now booked some Airbnbs. “You’ll only end up sleeping in the car. I’m not going to let you sleep in the car.” Thank God for true friends. Turns out there are people who worry where I’ll sleep.

I’m staying one night in somebody’s house on Airbnb, south of the golden gate. Then I’m banging up the coast northwards. I’m in quest of trees and solitude before the inevitable energyspam as Scrooge.

Today we found a large amount of rocks. We went to “The Garden of the Gods,” one of those parts of this ancient land where the red rock has been eroded into strange shapes over thousands of years. One of those places with ancient history and ancient story that is almost completely suppressed by the narrative of the new arrivals. I left no wiser than I came about the actual history of the place. I read a bit about some guys in the 1800’s, basically yesterday. And the usual single part of a sentence “used to be of interest to the native Americans of the area until…” Nothing beside remains. We joined the crowds of Veteran’s Day weekend tourists as they fumbled around the concrete paths with their howling children and their overheating dogs.

And in the process we took in the beauty, and started the long process of winding this glorious job out of our hearts as the reality of life beckons us back.

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America Day 68 – So tired

We are all so tired we’ve lost the ability to think properly. I found myself in downtown Colorado Springs having a panic attack about nothing. Now I’ve got to write a blog about today and all I want to do is stop and not write because I feel sick just thinking about it. My fingers are just winding through the words reflexively.

I have no idea where I’ll be sleeping on Sunday night but it’ll be somewhere in the vicinity of San Francisco. I should book an Airbnb but every time I attempt anything right now I feel sick and sad and I have to stop. I’m sitting in the foyer of this amazing hotel in this beautiful town and I’m all dressed up in a suit about to go for a meal with the air force and I don’t know if I can make conversation with anybody right now. I’m trying to get something written to allow me to relax as there’s a full on crash coming and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was in the next hour or two.

Tomorrow I’ve got to go and work with a bunch of cadets on their production of Christmas Carol. It’s about to go into tech. Funny that my last bit of teaching on this job is going to be directly to do with the next job. I guess it’ll help me switch my head into Dickens.

“It’s too early for dinner,” says Jono.

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Airforce and actors are on very different schedules. The Colonel rang me yesterday at 7.30am to ask me what people might want for lunch. Their view on time is not like mine. It is indeed too early for dinner, but an early bed appeals.

This has been a long job, and a varied one. Different time zones, different states, different institutions. A huge variety of different human beings who want different things from different members of this different group. The five of us will split up on Sunday and go our separate ways. Claire’s off home. Jono is off on a road trip to Arizona. Kaffe and Katherine are driving up to San Francisco, which is what I was going to do before I realised I’d need to be back sooner to make a new Christmas Carol for a new season with Jack. I’m looking forward to Christmas, to home, to consistency, even to getting back in the nightie. Home will feel very different and a little part of me is dreading walking up the stairs and not having Pickle say “Wurrp” to me and trying to get underfoot.

But I’m just fragile today. Endings and beginnings. We are all completely knackered, and in about a minute and a half we will walk into a restaurant with unspecified numbers of lovely people who want to talk about Shakespeare and acting under the cold of the Colorado moon when we are running on fumes…


Food has improved my mood and my state. The guys all get up at 4.30 so we are already finished. It’s only half seven. I’m going to have a pleasant drink with the company and then tomorrow I’ll walk into the last day of work.

America Day 67 – Altitude

“I’ve brought you some oxygen,” says Colonel Bill. “And some Gatorade.” I barely register. I’m standing for the first time in this 4000 seat auditorium looking out over the rank upon rank of empty chairs, many of which will shortly be occupied by someone in fatigues, watching the five of us throwing energy and words and meaning at each other.

It’s 5.30pm. We go up in an hour. I’ve been awake for 30 minutes after a power nap. I’m a little more nervous than usual here. And now he’s brought some oxygen. Why? Because this huge theatre is at 8,000 – 9,000 feet. Ok, I get breathless skiing sometimes. Every time I’ve ever finished The Cresta Run I’ve been hauling in oxygen as I fumble my helmet off after the finishing banks. But winter-sports don’t necessitate nigh on constant high speed targeted muscular speaking. I think I usually hold my breath and press my body down to the toboggan as I’m riding the ice. I only really learnt about breathing after I stopped doing tobogganing so I guess I’d have to go back to find out. Going back doesn’t appeal as I figure there’s no way on God’s earth I’ll ever come close to my times back then when I deeply cared about a few hundredths of a second, so it’ll both depress me, fuck my handicap and if I try too hard to get back to where I was I’ll probably only lose a few fingers or break my neck.

I can see why he brought us oxygen.

Up until showtime it had been a reasonably unstressful day. I’d been part of a Q&A session with lots of lovely academics asking strange questions about the way in which an actor approaches text. We ate free pizza and we answered as best we could. I found myself rolling out some of the same old stories, some new. Mostly I just let other people talk as the questions didn’t really make enough sense to me to be able to answer them adequately. I reckon about 20 percent of what I said was helpful. There were no ridiculous questions, which was a relief. I don’t think anything will ever top the woman at Steppenwolf who asked “How long was the show?” “Uh… The show you just watched?” “Yeah. How long was it!”

After the questions, Kelly from yesterday took us all on a tour of the campus. We can’t get in the chapel which is the famous bit, because it is being extensively refurbished. They’re taking the whole thing apart and putting it back together. But we get to see the dorms, and some of the other halls. The views are amazing and the sun had just burnt through a low hanging freezing cloud, giving the whole place a fairytale beauty, as ice has momentarily clung to all the trees like cold white winter blossom.

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And then I stood in that theatre wondering if I was going to pass out in the middle of a scene.

None of us passed out, and it went down a treat. I probably inhaled twice as often as I would in a normal show, and I reckon I drank two litres of either water or isotonic stuff. I had a few hits of oxygen in the interval as well, although it’s really just a can of air. If you know how to use your lungs it doesn’t add much. I think it’s more for shallow breathers.

I am still loving this final residency. I would never have expected it. The classes looked terrifically difficult on paper, and they are certainly making full use of us being here, but morale is high, as much as anything else because of the astonishing beauty in this gated place.

America Day 66 – Pike’s Peak

This morning was mostly spent in a small room with lots of extremely healthy young men and women. It ended up mostly about me working them through the Sebastian and Antonio scene from The Tempest: “What art thou waking?” “Dost thou not hear me speak?” It’s a good one in terms of waking people up, and it stands up to quite a lot of mining when it comes to meaning, intentions and context. I had some backup scenes in case I felt that it wasn’t rich enough, but I didn’t need any of them. I’ve just done The Tempest in Oxford with Creation, and the two parts were played by very dear friends. I missed them while teaching it.

Kelly was the teacher and officer in charge. She starts the class by saying “Who wants to start the class?” Often before she has finished the question they are all on their feet at ease and whoever self selects calls them to attention and gets them all to salute the start of the class. Then she gets one of them to close the door. Witnessing it once was unusual, twice and I understood it, three times and I thought it was a stroke of genius. She is respected, and she is worthy of respect.

The classes all started with 20 alert young men and women ready to go. I could then channel a bit of chaos and a bit of joy and just … make it different for them whilst grinding my axe about how this stuff changes when it’s spoken out loud. Kelly is an inspiration, and so are these students. I’ve never got so many layers into the focus game, but there was so much surprising room for mischief that I felt totally at home. As soon as they realised this was a class where anything goes, they stepped up to bar and had fun and allowed mischief. I had a great three hours, and I think they did too, and hopefully will have taken stuff from it. It’s weird teaching when you’re not identifying as a teacher. It takes the pressure off and it puts it on…

Today’s play was The Tempest. It’s a constant shift with this job. Sure, we are performing Twelfth Night but it’s often not what the people we are teaching are studying. We could do a class about Twelfth Night under the terms of the contract, but it’s nicer if we can find a way to bring in their active text. So I did.

After an amazing morning with these remarkably fit and willing students, I had the afternoon off.

In San Antonio, the guys who are officially on tech duty told Jono and I – (travel and education) – that we didn’t have to come to tech. At first I resisted – doing the tech was a big part of my first tour. “I want to come and make sense of the space.” Then I realised that I should trust the others, and that the extracurricular jobs have been arranged like that for a reason. Then I realised that it gave us both an evening off. So I embraced it.

It takes 45 minutes to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak from the pay point. It sits at over 14,000 foot in altitude at the peak and for the princely sum of $15 PER PASSENGER they let you drive up there through all the switchbacks. The cadets we ate lunch with hike up there frequently, but they’re made out of rocks and we don’t have the time. You need to carry a tent. Jono and I finished work at lunchtime and we went on a mission by car, knowing that they chase you down at 4pm when they’re about to lose the light.

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It was stunning up there, even if the top of it has been turned into a construction site temporarily. We got up there and saw panoramic views across the state to the plains beyond. It is incredible being here, truly. Having done no research beforehand, my expectation of Colorado was South Park. But the weather so far has been so astonishing here at the the base of the mountains that I’m already happy to say that this is the most beautiful residency I’ve had the pleasure to do with this company over two tours. It beats Utah.

While Jono and I were up the mountain, the tech guys looked at the theatre, and sent us a video. It’s fucking humungous. Row upon row upon row. 4,000 seats on two levels.

I’ve been teaching breath work across this country. I’ve started most of my classes with breathing. I am going to have to get finely onto my breath in that place tomorrow – into my resonance – sharp with my articulation. All the things I’ve been teaching the more drama related students, I will have to practice what I preach. Because in a place that big, it’s radiate or die. And if I’m not on my voice it’ll be unsafe use for me. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m a glutton for punishment. It’s gonna be intense. Boo-yah.

America Day 65 – Air Force Academy

Right in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains here we are, the five of us, this motley crew, surrounded by 4000 cadets.

The Air Force Academy is sprawled over acres and acres of land. “I’ve seen bears here,” says Bill. “Great big deer. Loads of wild turkey.” I can believe it too. Beyond us it’s just wild. You drive a long way from the gate to the first building. There’s a B-52 bomber sitting by the road. Then it’s just trees, and the occasional cadet doing exercise in the morning light until you get to the squat grey buildings, huge and labyrinthine, in which we do our classes.

I had three of them back to back first thing today and I’ve got three first thing tomorrow. Thursday is more relaxed for me although I’ll be chauffeur for the early morning class, back in for the obscurely named “Brown Bag Tour” and having to be still awake and full of energy to do the show in a 4,000 seat auditorium at high altitude in the evening. Considering how much I sweat when we are at sea level, I’m expecting a workout. And depending on the layout of the theatre we may or may not have to do some serious vocal warm-ups. We are a low-fi show and this theatre has an orchestra pit between us and the audience. The first row of seats is going to be a very very long way away from us. It’s going to be a huge shift, having just played our smallest venue, to bang it out into a larger one. But at Denton five years ago we played to an audience that was twenty feet away with an organ between us and them, and it still landed, although we had to make a few changes to bring things further forward.

At lunch they all march in, forty squadrons, accompanied by a brass band. They do it every day. Then they eat together in a huge hall overlooking the foothills. Freshmen on one side of each table, seniors on the other, mixing up the year groups. “It takes years just to get from one side of the table to the other,” quips Bill. We are eating on the officer’s deck, above them all.

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We are unexpectedly introduced over a tannoy and encouraged by our escort to wave like the Queen to the sea of cadets below us. 4000 people clap us for smiling. It’s a staggering experience to be here like this. We are the first AFTLS group that has come into this particular institution. It feels like it’s where the work is most necessary, with people in tight regimes, to open up the possibility of personal connection to making art, poetry and beauty. As with Maryland so with Colorado and I only wish that we could come to an army college as well and fully understand the difference between the three services.

Joe the huge cadet today was talking poetically in a workshop about the light on the corn back home, and how it meant it was football time. So many cadets today just connected with something unusual to them through the lines in Shakespeare and their own lives. If I can go away and one of these cadets gives themselves permission to write something beautiful about how they see the world up there in the stratosphere at MACH 2 or whatever, then it’s worth all the early mornings and more.

This tour is coming to an end. It’s been amazing. What a place to end it. Dear God it’s beautiful here, and if this weather holds it’ll be a stunning final residency.

A year ago on Camino, Mel caught up with me in O’Cebreiro. The weather was much the same. Shocking bright sun on a snow filled world.

America Day 64 – Colorado Arrival

We are driving from Denver airport to Colorado Springs, and the first thing that strikes me is the quality of the light here. It’s a sharp clear day, with patches of snow by the side of the road. On one side, The Rockies. On the other, the great plains. Another aspect of this impossibly vast country. It feels different here.

This will be a full week, with lots of very early mornings, so it’s a good thing that the jet lag works in our favour. We will mostly be finished with masterclasses by noon. After two peaceful weeks in Indiana I think I might find myself trying to catch the sights. Who knows if I’ll ever be here again?

This is the continental divide, the mountains. All the rivers east of The Rockies flow east. All the rivers west of them flow west.

By the roadside, trains snake through pine forests sprinkled with white. “It came early this year,” says Jason, the driver. “Once we get a cold snap like last week we’re usually mild for a week and it all melts before another one comes. But this one came from the north. That shouldn’t happen. It might be different with this. Probably climate change. This year it’s El Niño too. It breaks against the mountains. Brings snow.” He indicates the mountains. We are much closer to them now. They huddle round us, the sun behind them silhouetting their outlines against the sky.

“There’s the Airforce Academy.” He points, and we see it right by the mountain. Of course. They’re all flying over The Rockies these training pilots. Pissing off the bears and the occasional hiker with their sonic booms. In Annapolis they were flying over the sea, mostly. We look around and notice there are tons of planes in the air. Some are towing gliders. I find myself wondering if any of us will manage to get up into the air over the course of the residency. That’d be nuts.


It’s high altitude here. We feel it right away. We are dry. A bit dizzy. When we lived in St Moritz I used to wake up and spit blood if I’d been snoring. I’d go to bed early the first few nights. Dad had a huge 1980’s humidifier by his bed up there. He could make the house vibrate with his snoring so it made sense for him to make sure the air had moisture, even though we laughed at it as kids. He still got throat cancer. He taught me to put a glass of water on the radiator. The air is dry at altitude, particularly if you’re not used to it.

Booze is more effective too, which is all very well but we’re up every morning much earlier than we’re accustomed to. I’ll be in unseasonably early tomorrow in order to teach a load of pilots about communication. Thank God for jet lag. My uk phone and my internal clock both still think I’m in Indiana so they’re telling me it’s half past ten. In actual fact it’s only half eight, so my six o’clock alarm tomorrow will ring at 8 my time. It’ll ring and I’ll rise, wipe the sleep out of my eyes … and hit the day.


I left my toothbrush in Indiana. Had to go to reception. Reminded me of my Holiday Inn ad…

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America Day 63 – Amish Acres

“I knew a girl from London,” says the guy in the gift shop. “I went to London to meet her family. I lost her. I still don’t … I don’t know. The one who loses all will gain all.”

He works the gift shop in Amish Acres. It’s the Amish safari near Warsaw. He takes our money and encourages us to watch the “free movie”. He isn’t Amish. There is nobody Amish to be seen. It’s the Sabbath. They’re hiding. We buy the house tour with no clue what we are paying for, and browse the gift shop.

There’s a theatre here. They’re playing Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys. The director (probably) is on the phone through a door and Katherine, Kaffe and I all stop to listen as he’s ranting about theatre and we all know these rants. As in London, so in Amish Acres. “They’ve made so many changes I don’t recognise it. It’s like watching a totally different show,” shouts the man. “I’m … there’s no point in … I’m not watching Act 2.” Bless. I haven’t seen it. But I suspect that anyone who throws their toys out of the pram to that extent is not a collaborative artist.

We don’t see the show. We go to “the movie”. The movie is a slide show, largely incomprehensible, skipping and jumping through biblical history with an eye to Luther, and to the Anabaptists and Mennonites from which this determined little sect grew. The Catholic/new age musician Enya provides the entirety of the background music. It is narrated in a monotone and you can hear the narrator’s lips. I shiver. I imagine the tickling of beard on ear. He is saying these words to me but they make no sense. The images don’t correlate with the words. Flicker picture lipsmack words. It’s like I’m in an experiment. I absently check the sides of my head for electrodes. Is this an eventuality that the simulation programmer didn’t think through? Did he give the creation of the Amish film to the intern?

We leave before it’s finished because it seems to be endless and we worry we are stuck in a loop.

Finally we go on a tour of a freezing wooden house. I’m sure it would’ve been nice if the stoves were lit. But they’re not. Not for the “English.” Apparently anyone not Amish is called English. Our guide keeps referring to herself as “English” where she’s evidently not. By the way, this account is the contents of my head, not her tour. She spoke, I looked at the cracks. That’s my way.

The Amish are “the fastest growing faith in America”, but not through evangelism – through breeding. They’re popping out babies like wet gremlins.

This sect of a sect of a sect evolved in Switzerland, I’m told. They hate the “German” army. Buttons? Not for them. When they’re ten years old they stop having buttons and have to use straight pins instead to fasten clothes. Buttons are for the army. Moustaches? Absolutely not. That’s for the Kaiser and the Prussians. Or is it the Germans? Apparently they don’t like the Germans, that’s what we are told. It’s at odds with what I’ve been led to believe, where they came over in the 1750’s before Germany existed as a nation. But like with the Mormons there’s a lot of “shhh stop looking at it so closely” going on here. And I reckon many of my friends don’t properly understand the Austro/Hungarian empire that gave rise to WW1. And I’m amongst them. But back to the Amish:

Even though they can’t look in mirrors they have a bit of polished tin to keep that Kaiser moustache away. This has me thinking about messages via facial hair. The Kaiser with the lavish moustache that the Amish eschew. Hitler with his unusual squared mini moustache – surely a symbol too. Talking about what? Lack of flamboyance? The need to trim back? But I keep getting distracted. I’m not writing about moustaches. Oh the Amish.

What do they believe in? Outwardly it’s an austerity and a desire not to embrace labour saving devices.

I’m no expert. But it seems to be about making sure life is busy and hard – If you’ve got too much time to think you think too much. I can understand that. Thought damages faith. Minimise thought, maximise faith.

In this community, they bought a swamp for cheap, and then with single-minded determination and almost impossible degrees of faithful hard work they turned it into this calm dry fertile community we visited today.

They collect rainwater runoff, stored under the house, but that was their drinking water as well as their washing water. Since that’s an invitation for typhoid, someone suggested building a mill to pull water up from deeper down. “WITCHCRAFT!” Shouted half the village, and left their own homes in high dudgeon. Half of the rest died of typhoid before the mill was finished. It was “Too much of an increase in technology.” But it stopped people from dying. Surely it was ok? But maybe it was God’s plan that the casualties took themselves out of the very limited gene pool. With this evolutionary process working over thousands of years you could breed a human that is immune to typhoid. Problem is, said human would be prone to all sorts of other nasty conditions that come out of limited gene pools. But that’s ok. Amish people likely don’t believe in genetics. God’s plan.

And this is what’s curious. They pick and choose what is acceptable. At what point is something too modern? Who decides? They have ingenious devices for coring apples, grinding meat, making butter. These devices are all manual. That’s likely a part of it. But they are still technology. A wood burning stove is technology. I’m not here to unpick it though. I’m mostly curious as I’m always looking at the edges of stuff. With any belief system, after a degree of unpicking you arrive at “Just because.” (AKA faith).

But what I see is people making work for themselves, in a good way. I see that bringing them together as a community. I see that binding them together, with a very strong sense of themselves vs OTHER. And I kinda like them, the weirdos.

They work with their bodies from waking to sleeping. They don’t give themselves time to think. They just do. And they know how to make things into other things. They make soap and detergent out of time and byproducts.

In this polarised world the Amish are not subscribing to the religion of opinion. They’re living sustainably. They’re absent from debate but have managed to strike a balance where tax is paid even though they are separate from the system. In California more people have opinions about flame wars than wildfires. In Amish Acres they’re working too hard to give a damn about the latest celebrity feud.

It’s a shame it’s based in faith. But social justice is a religion just as much as the old faiths are, and social media is the temple. We are always going to police behaviour based on nebulous beliefs, and identify ourselves into groups based on what we think about ideas.

The Amish sing lovely songs, and live carbon neutral. Their eating habits didn’t work with our company though. “Even the beans have got ham,” our waitress tells us.

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