Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ribbons Down my Back

I'm posting this just because it's a good picture of me, I think. Christine snapped it just before our dance class on Friday. I'm wearing my twirly skirt, which became an essential and enjoyable part of each Elizabethan dance class for me. Hee!

Camp Shakespeare: Day 19 - A Crowning Glory

If my entries haven't seemed... well... odd the past few weeks, then brace yourselves. Today was such a lovely, magical day spent entirely in the Green World (as Sandy Mack would say), that I am not sure how to talk about it in a way that makes sense. So good luck and bear with me, readers!

Today we performed "Julius Caesar" on the Rose Footprint stage at Shakespeare and Company. I drove up with Meg, Dev, and Mel, leaving the dorm at about 7:30, arriving in Lenox an hour later. I enjoyed the car ride, since we each spent the vast majority of it muttering to ourselves under our breaths. A car full of actors, reviewing lines early morning, our words covered by the sound of the wind from Mel's open window. The rushing air gave me at least the freedom I needed to vocalize my lines a little bit, rather than say them only mentally. It created a bit of a sound vacuum - I could only hear myself, although I knew we were all reciting and reviewing. (A warning - those kinds of lapses into poetic language are probably to be expected from me when I write in this kind of mood.)

At the Rose Footprint, we all met on the stage as a company (what a fantastically true word for our group now!) for check in, warmed up with Bob, and then began to play "Julius Caesar" to our audience at 10:00. My brother has a theory that a show is counted successful if there are more people in the audience than there is on stage. Our audience today, in one sense, was small - it was made up of few spouses and friends, as well as our dear (I so want to spell that Shakespeare's way - "deare" - to give it the emotions it deserves) teachers. Those numbers made it small, but I realized afterwards that we the actors, were the audience too. When not on stage, we sat on the benches encircling the house; we cheered and clapped and watched and reacted just as much as any of the strangers there. We were the company - actors, teachers, and audience all; and we were playing for each other. Magical.

I am very pleased with the show itself. There were so many wonderfully goose-bumpy moments and feats of acting that I can't even begin to list there here, lest I go on all night with the compliments. I am proud to have done this play with these people, and it was so not perfect. We called for "line", people fed in others, I made two mistakes that I hate making (switching two words in my monologue and crossing in front of the upstage center door instead of behind it accidentally), we were not costumed, we had no set other than two columns and a bench, but we lived "Julius Caesar". There were moments where all the visuals melted away for me and I saw the world people were talking about. After I died, as I laid on stage under the sheet, I could only listen to the voices around me. They painted such pictures! I tend to not be so fond of Shakespeare when I read it, but when I hear it, I fall in love with it. I also realized that I could hear each person in our company, and I knew them by their voices. It was a tender feeling, actually.

Following the show, we had a quick chat with the audience, took a few group pictures, drank toasts of apple cider, and listened to a quick talk by Mel Cobb (shown here as Theseus in "Midsummer". I find this picture amusing. He spoke to us as such a director, it's entertaining to see him here as an actor). He made a great statement that we should "make common light"; meaning, stage plays so the actors and the audience are in the same light (literally, by the way). He also stated that one character can speak to another character on stage through talking to the audience; essentially, you do not need to look at the person you're talking to. I'm curious to play with both of those concepts in my theater.

The group checked out (quite emotionally), the dispersed. Meg, Mel, Emily, and I remained in Lenox for the day, much to our delight. We attended a performance of "Servant of Two Masters" in the Rose Footprint in the afternoon. The show was broken into two parts - one at 1:15, and one at 6:15, so in between we got some dinner, visited The Bookstore, and had some more delicious Creamery ice cream. "Servant" was hilarious - very comedy, very fun, with great character actors. The audience was lively and responsive at both showings, and we four were so exhilarated and relaxed after our triumphant morning we felt comfortable laughing great belly laughs (Bob would be proud). I bought a copy of the script to consider for future times. I also made several additions to my mental list of bits to steal (Note for me: especially the galloping circle walk done by the servant and the mountie, the seesaw, the filling of the trench). One moment I particularly enjoyed was when the servant proposed to the maid with an invisible ring in and invisible jewelry box. Not only did the servant take the care to mime the opening of the box and to mime tossing the box away when he was done with it, but as he threw it, another actor behind him, very subtly, caught "the box" and tucked it in his pocket. Meg and I laughed with such delight over a gesture that I think only we saw. It was marvelous - as good as the audience member who pocketed the coin during "Merry Wives".

All in all, a delightful day. I just spent about two hours talking with my friend, Jason, who was kind enough to listen to me talk all about today, this week, this month, and all the people I love here. He was moving into his new apartment as we talked, though, so I think he was pleased to have something to listen to while he decorated. In any case, it was an unusual role reversal for us, and he did not comment much on the cult-like aspects of my affections for this institute.

Tomorrow, alas, begins the countdown - it's the last Sunday here, etc. Before then, I'll record a few thoughts from today I want to remember. Two from Meg, two are mine:

"...the world of fire and light that Shakespeare is..." (isn't that a marvelous image she used?)

"I have known hippies." (This was the conclusion of a spontaneous and hilariously bitter monologue by Meg as we drove through Northampton).

"To brush between the spirits of all the lives that have lived and died in this same space." (Me, trying to describe the magic of all theaters)

And, one last thought I want to cherish: I got to say "Et tu Brute?" and die on a stage the same dimensions and layout as the stage where those words were spoke for the very first time, before they were famous. I am humbled and honored by that.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Day 18

I want to write you a nice, detailed post, but I am just tuckered out. Today I
1) learned a Hebrew round as we worked on nasal resonance in voice class,
2) learned a renaissance country dance and a medieval traveler's dance,
3) attended a lecture on 1st and 2nd sleep, among other topics (I will miss you, Sandy Mack!),
4) participated in a choral reading of Antony's speech from "Julius Caesar",
5) did a tech run through of our "Julius Caesar" for our performance tomorrow,
6) attended a promotion for a new resource for teaching "Macbeth" (barely missing a huge downpour, by the way),
7) selected a group and a topic for our final projects next week (yea Stephanie!),
8) attended two graduate student presentations (Nicole's on the true history of Macbeth and David Quinn's on teaching Othello to seniors in high school),
9) helped write and rehearse two acappella melodies for death scenes for tomorrows show, and
10) had my nails painted (Thanks Mel!) while we sang spirituals.

It was around the time that I was laying on the floor for a while as the corpse of Caesar that I realized all my energy was draining away, and I haven't really recovered since then. And so, I'm off to bed. I think I will be there before 12:30 for the first time since the start of this institute. Hurrah!

Oh, by the way, Kim claims she can wrap her legs around her head, and that she hopes that's special enough to get her a mention on my blog. Voila, Kim!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A very special episode....

We interrupt this normally scheduled blog for a special new bulletin from Meg....

Hot Yoga: a dissenting opinion.

Amanda asked me to go under cover into the world of Bikram Yoga--affectionately called "Hot Yoga" by many of the Institutees. I am perhaps, not the best choice, since the two categories of people who make me nost nervous are Hippies and Fitness Professionals. Before I launch my commentary, allow me to say, in sort of excuse, that there are a lot of women I admire and respect deeply for whom Hot Yoga is an enjoyable passtime and valuable workout. I, in no way, mean to disparage, discount, or ignore their experience. I applaud their constitutional fortitude and ability to put mind over matter (for "matter" read: "searing pain." )
First of all, let me say that heat is not actually the main problem in Hot Yoga. And when a room heated to 110 degrees is not your main problem, sister, you've got PROBLEMS. The instructor bounds into the room--a man that struck me as the result of mating Moby and a Drill Instructor. The class began, and oh, how I longed for the gentle ministrations of Bob as the Instructor barked orders in a half-aspirated voice, encouraging us to lock our knees, suck in our stomachs, and hold tight, hold tight. I found it hard to hold tight to my legs while drenched in sweat.
And about the sweat: there is sexy sweat, and then there's just plain gross hog sweat. In hot yoga, you must embrace the latter. The Instructor takes us through a series of poses with names that sound just lovely until he gives you the English translation: "The Drowning Squirrel" or "The Widow's Displaysia." Of course, I soon learned that these were not the poses I needed to fear; it's the one with the names like "spring bunny" that are the worst. There was only one pose I was truly proficient at: "Corpse Pose." And oh, how fitting, as I lay on the mat, longing for the sweet release of death to resuce me from another set of poses.
I've done Yoga before, and really like the connection of mind, body, breath and spirit. I like the feeling of centeredness and peace. In hot Yoga, I knew no peace, and my inner monologue would have made a dockworker blush. Meanwhile, the Instructor is telling us to put our eyebrows on our toes, and open like a flower. Those of you who are so inclined can no imagine the tape in my head at that moment. Upon polling my fellow attendees, I learned that constant angry swearing is in fact, quite common and seems almost and expected part of the activity.
And so in closing, I doff my hat to the strong, beautiful women who go to and love Hot Yoga. For me, as long as there are passages of Shakespeare I have not read, as long as there are woods to explore and nice clean elliptical machines at the gym, I do not have time for another Hot Yoga session. Those that love it often say "It's like going through a war, but once you're done you feel great." I guess I prefer peace.
For a dissenting opinion, talk to Jessica, Kim, Sharon, Sandy, Stephanie, or Emily. At least I've got Mel on my side.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Day 17

Being Wednesday, today is a half day; but it's the first one we don't have shows in Lenox to get to. I'm really enjoying a relaxing afternoon, consequently.

Today I had a delicious piece of coffee cake for breakfast at the dining hall (du beurre, du beurre, et encore du beurre, as my father would say). As we walked to Ainsworth, we discovered most of our group outside on the steps. Steve, it seems, wanted a group picture. Not everyone was there, so there is need for a follow-up, but it was a pleasant start to the morning. It was made even better by the appearance of Bob, whom we've all missed. Bob lead us through a marvelous warm-up/work-out of voice and body, then we attended part 2 of Julian Bowsher's lectures. This one was much more interesting (plus, I was more awake), as it focused on what actually occurred inside the Rose, including photos of artifacts found (lots and lots of pins...). Julian was quite friendly, appealing to us as actors to help him in his wondering what the exact shape of the stage was (i.e. was it more proscenium or more thrust, to put it very simply). It was rather honorable to be questioned and listened to by such a noted scholar.

Julian's lecture was followed by two more grad presentations: Stephanie talked about applying the tools we're learning to non-dramatic texts, and Cheryl spoke about Elizabethan foods (including samples!). The talk about food put us all in just the right frame of mind for lunch, so Christine, Meg, Dev, Stephanie, Michael, and I walked downtown to try "Amanouz" a Moroccan place. The food was tasty, especially the tuna sandwich, although the service was a little slow, and they got two of our orders wrong.

After lunch, I branched off from the group for some much-needed bookstore time. I browsed the Broadside Bookstore for a while, purchased two books and some postcards, then got a frappachino from Starbucks and walked back to the dorm. All of my good intentions to do some dictionary work and line memorization flew out the window after I ran into Christine and she invited me to come along to run some errands. She was on a hunt for a cable for her son's X-Box, so we used that as an excuse for some much needed "retail therapy". We meet Trisha in the parking garage and talked her into coming with us. Together we hit Best Buy, Target, Old Navy, Barnes and Noble, and got some dinner from Panera to go. Oh! So wonderfully suburban! I highly enjoyed the entire afternoon.

Since then, I've done a load of laundry, and played "Oodles" with others in the parlor. I'm actually headed back that way now with my Julius Caesar script to do my duty (For I am a slave of duty!). Tomorrow, a special treat! We'll have a guest writer on this blog. Mme. Meg O'C. will be here to write about her adventures with Bikram Yoga (known around here as "hot yoga"). I myself could not be convinced to give up air-conditioned-economy-stimulations to twist about in a 120 degree room with scantily-dressed strangers. Thank goodness Meg is willing to be my proxy.

Until then!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Day 16

I think we're all getting tired. It didn't help that we had three lectures today (all fascinating, but still a lot to sit through), and it was yet another day without Bob. Fortunately, he is returning tomorrow.

Today we began in the Hubbard dining hall, which felt strange, since we've always started off in Ainsworth. There, we checked in, then listened to Sandy Mack speak about Julius Caesar (including his assertion that JC is a love story. "The word 'love' appears 56 times - that's a lot". I have to say that after playing scenes, I see his point. More about that later, though.

Following Sandy's lecture, we broke into small groups to rehearse. Then, after lunch, we listened to Julian Bowsher speak about his findings as they uncovered the Rose theater. (The photo here is a picture of him at the site of the Tudor chapel built by Christopher Wren for Henry VII's palace.) He was very informative, and the information intriguing, but I kept falling asleep. I felt bad, since I was on the front row, but I truly couldn't help it. Late nights, darkened room, just after lunch.... Good grief, I'm falling asleep again just typing that.

We had two more rehearsal sessions to round out the afternoon. That included more stabbing of me, this time with daggers. It was not at all scary. Here's an interesting discovery of the rehearsal: I found the moment where I shame Brutus. Kevin proposed the theory from James Gilligan's book "Violence", that all violence is a result of shame. We've been looking for proof of that theory in the plays, and it does seem supported. For me, as Caesar, I get so caught up in my speech to the senate, and when the senators lay prostrate at my feet and my voice rings off the walls "I do know but one that unassailable holds on his rank...!" So much pride, so much power - I point to Brutus, laying at my feet, and proclaim "Doth not Brutus bootlesse kneel?" Whoops. And I know it's a mistake. I know that's the reason why I must fall when Brutus answers my "Et tu Brute?" question. I wronged my friend. That realization, as I laid as a corpse on the floor of Hubbard dining room, surprised me - I didn't need to only forgive Brutus, I need him to forgive me.

It's an intense scene to play, and I do love it so. We're certainly doing one interpretation of the betrayal, but I like it. It's powerful, it's different, and it suits Ariana and me.

Sharon and I presented our graudate projects today. Sharon talked about some internet resources we found on Shakespeare (including the Royal Shakespeare Company's outstanding site), and I showed the group the Listmania lists I created on for all of the resources we keep suggesting. We were, as my 4th grade teacher use to say, "short, sweet, simple, and to the point."

Later in the evening, a professor here at Smith came over to talk with us about her studies on playing Shakespeare for children and young adults. I could certainly see the Shakespeare & Company influence on her philosophies, although she made some statements that set Kevin on edge. I enjoyed watching his diplomacy in address her assertion that children should be taught Shakespeare through adaptations first, then the "real" texts later. Kevin gentle pointed out that children encounter new words all the time, so they treat Shakespeare's language no different than our English. She was passionate, and very sweet, but I don't know that I agree with her proposals; especially after all the tools I've learned here.

Christine, Meg, Stephanie and I ran out to Wal-Mart (sorry, Christine) after that lecture to look for a cable for Christine's son. They didn't have it, but I enjoyed the trip 1) for the familiarity (see my recent entry on going to church) and 2) I found season 2 of Futurama for under $20. Dang cheap, but I am not sure I'm ready to expose that level of geekiness to this group yet. Although I think I just did. So, yes, I do like Futurama. It's a silly cartoon, that I take great pleasure relaxing with. Blame my brother.

We then met up with Kevin, Julian, and others at Packard's bar, and Kevin mocked me nicely for my pineapple juice. I'm kind of enjoying being the token Mormon again, I have to say. Those of you who know me from Utah, or perhaps just better, may be surprised that I was labeled "wholesome" tonight. The friends hanging out in the parlor when we returned from the bar decided to cast a movie version of our institute. It was suggested that Reese Witherspoon could play me. I'm not sure how to take that. The casting I best approved of is probably Jean Reno as Dave, although Catherine O'Hara as Jennifer is also good, as is Parker Posy as Stephanie. I do like a crowd that knows their Christopher Guest casts. :)

And now, bed. But as a bonus, here's something else I discovered about myself today:

You are Superman
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Monday, July 24, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Days 13, 14, and 15

Happy Monday to you all!

This weekend was wonderfully relaxing. I'll recap:

Saturday, we had a half-day of classes. The energy was strained - I think it was a mixture of exhaustion and, for some people, a preceding night of heavy drinking. We "exited" Macbeth and talked a bit about classroom adaptations. We wrapped up the week by beginning our transition to "Julius Caesar". Kevin announced our scene assignments. It seems that they (our teachers) have decided to give us "an impossible task" - we're going to do the entire play this week. Not a full production, but we will be performing a cut version of the play for an audience on Saturday at the Rose Footprint Theater in Lenox. Huh. We all returned to our dorm to get the lists of who was cast as what for which scenes. We are divided into three groups ("Friends", "Romans", and "Countrymen" - hee!), and each group has selected scenes given to them to perform. The cast changes with each scene, so there is no one Caesar or Brutus, etc. I'm curious to see how that plays out for the audience - whether they'll understand who is who. In any case, I discovered as I read over the scene list that I had been cast as 1) a senator in the soothsayer scene, 2) Brutus in the (heavily cut) scene where he and Cassius conspire with the senators, and 3) Caesar when he dies!

After that, Christine was craving "flesh", so a group of us walked through town to find a meaty place for lunch. We wound up at Smokin' Lil's BBQ. I had hushpuppies for the first time since I went to Chincoteague, with a pretty good tangy-honey sauce.

I walked back to the dorm after lunch and met up with Sharon to work on our grad project. We can get graduate credit for this institute, but in addition to paying $500, they wanted us to do some sort of "special project". Kevin, delightfully, decided to have us present something to the group rather than having to do a research paper of some sort. Sharon and I are presenting together on media tools for teaching Shakespeare in the classroom - internet and movie resources, mostly. We spent about an hour searching online and found a fantastic website. It's so good, we're actually going to focus most of our presentation on that. And thus we finished that work - hurrah!

Saturday night about 10 of us ordered pizza and read through the cut version of "Caesar" to refresh the play for ourselves.
Afterwards, Meg, Christine, and I branched off from the group to get some ice cream at Herrell's. We did our theater thing and dissected the casting as we ate. I was apprehensive - nervous, really - about playing Caesar in the assassination scene. Not so much for the largesse of his office - I can be in charge. I was nervous about playing the stabbing and the dying. It's so physical, and I am really not used to being so physically expressive in such a demanding way on stage. Or off stage. Let alone the fact that of all the people here, why me for THE famous scene? Meg and Christine, in their infinite wisdom, told me their guesses on Kevin and company's casting. They supposed that it's because I am learning here to become vulnerable, and this scene is going to push me in that vulnerability - to be the betrayed and the wounded. It's scary for me.

Sunday, dear Meg drove me to Amherst so I could go to church. The ward was very small, although since the members there kept commenting on the size, I suppose it was unusual for them to be so few in numbers. I stayed for the full three hours, which was delightful. I think it was because church had so much familiarity - the schedule, the procedures, the hymns, the lessons - I knew exactly how it was going to be, and after two weeks of newness and exploration, that predictability was comforting.

After church, I took some more time for myself, and did something rather mindless and wonderful - I watched 4 episodes of "Sports Night" in a row. I'm working through the series through Netflix and I am on disk 3. I think I'll to buy the complete series, though - it's that enjoyable, just as I've always heard. Then, since I had a bit of time to kill before dinner and since there was no one in the parlor downstairs, I raided the sheet music in the piano bench and played piano for a bit. The piano is so old and out of tune, but it was a nice mental shift to do something more mathematical and tactile for a while.

Because it was Jennifer's birthday, a large group of us joined her for dinner downtown at Fire Cuisine. It was an okay meal, but I'm getting tired of pasta since we get so much of it in the campus lunches. Jen regaled us all with tales of the massage she and Jessica and Emily just received. It seems they found a man who gave massages for $25/hour. He said he believed massages should be available for all who want them - how peace! It was at this gentleman's house, which made the three of them rightly nervous. Jen asked if they should have a safe word to signal the need to leave, should occasion demand. Jessica suggested "Let's get the f*** out of here!" for their safe word. :) apparently, the man was not at all creepy. He even offered Emily some cereal to eat when she said she was hungry. There are so many strange characters out here. I love it.

Half the group went to see "Wordplay" after dinner. Since I saw it a few weeks ago in Denver (and I do recommend it), I joined the non-movie group for dessert at Starbucks (I got a double chocolate creme frappachino - chocolatey, non-caffeinated, and cold... mmm....). When we returned, I called my parents and chatted with them for a while, then returned to the parlor to hang out with others until bed beckoned.

Thanks to such a peaceful Sunday, and to some much-needed alone time, I went to class this morning refreshed and pleasant. We checked in, had a discussion about the dynamics of "the third week" (mainly some tips on conflict resolution since the honeymoon period is over), entered "Julius Caesar", and then broke into groups to begin rehearsing our scenes. I enjoy rehearsals, but my spine and I missed our daily sessions with Bob. He's excused, since his daycamp is putting up Peter Pan this week, but we're all counting the days until Bob returns.

The rehearsals went well for our group, I think. We fed-in all of our scenes, and spent the third session working specifically on the assassination. I'm beginning to feel pretty good about it. It was such a gentle transition, too, from nervous and defensive jocularity, to being almost comfortable and definitely eager to die. Poor Ariana is cast as Brutus for that scene, and as Titinius for the scene where Brutus dies, which means she holds the sword, literally, to kill two friends. She took our rehearsing my death over and over much harder than I did. I was more unnerved by seeing Kevin cry. This was in response to our discussion after blocking the scene. I don't want to give much away, but I do want to record that I found that death is not always a betrayal. I was amazed to find, too, that I felt no anger or hurt towards Brutus as Caesar. I like the difference that appeared in our version of the scene. And I'm excited to die again tomorrow. I will say, though, that I am definitely wearing my contacts tomorrow. I was in glasses today, and every time I died they got smushed against my face.

Tonight one group is going to karaoke at Packard's, and another will congregate in Dev's room. Supposedly, the group going out are doing so because they are the "twenty-somethings", but I am invited to the group staying in because I have an old soul. I think that was unfortunately true when I was younger, but I'm finally growing into it now. Thank goodness.

Happy Pioneer Day, to my Utah readers! (And I find it highly ironic that I left Utah for this month, only to find myself in a place named Pioneer Valley, MA!)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Camp Shakespeare Day 12

You may have noticed that I skipped a few days in my title. At first, I was not counting weekends, but since every single day here is so full, I need to account for them all. Thus today marks day 12.

I've been busy setting up a blog and an online photo album for the institute. Doing so has apparently led to a lot more traffic on this blog. More than one person has told me that they are emailing a link here to their families/friends to keep them up to date on what we all do. If you are one of those people visiting, well... welcome! Thanks for stopping by! I really like your child/sibling/spouse/parent/friend.

Oh, which reminds me. I would like to note that I had a delightful conversation with Meg and Stephanie last night. There I was, finished even with my technology tweaking by 10:30, thinking that I would get to bed before midnight. But I heard laughter in the hall and went to investigate. There's so many fascinating people here, I want to soak them all up while I can - and thus I was up past midnight. And again tonight! It's 12:53 right now. I could go to bed, yes, but I want to chronicle today's events before I do so to "check out" as it were.

So, a run down of today. We began with a session with Bob - primarily a review of the voice/movement work we've done up to now. I am feeling much more relaxed vocally. His work, by the way, is based on Kristin Linklater's theories. It may seem a small thing, but I am surprised by how much more comfortable I am standing in a poised, relaxed position. I am much more aware of my so-called "genital clutching" (i.e. any sort of defensive posture - arms crossed, hands clasped before or behind, weight on one leg, etc.) and I feel much more comfortable standing neutrally.

After Bob, we Dibbled for a while (i.e. had another marvelous session of Elizabethan dance taught by Susan Dibble). Today's photo is one of Susan - it's wonderfully full of character. Today's dance was based on Macbeth, appropriately, and was much more challenging for the men. Then again, all I really had to do was skip around my partner while he walked backwards, and I could barely do that. The thing I really loved about doing this dance, besides wearing my twirly skirt, is the story in it. It's so plotted, especially at the end - the man and woman circle around, tension builds. He whispers something in her ear ("Beware!" Dev breathed in mine), she swiftly turns and kneels. A few counts, he approaches, she spins around to slap him and he catches her wrist. That much Susan gave us - and then she let each pairing choose for themselves how to end the story. Ah! It's so wonderfully dramatic. Fun!

We also took a moment to look at playing out scenes without preparation. Kevin "directed" half a dozen volunteers in the scene where Macduff's wife and children are slaughtered. It was piercing, and many of the participants agreed that it was the best version of that scene they've seen. Christine and Ariana really shone, I have to say.

Following lunch and another session with Sandy Mack (during which we were broken up into small groups to look at and title the final scenes of the play. My group was assigned the last scene where Macduff brings on Macbeth's severed head. We named our scene - "All's Well That Entrails". I have to say that I am a little proud of that title), we each presented our assigned scenes from Macbeth. This was fantastic to watch - every scene brought new ideas to life, and each one was so engaging to watch. I loved this sharing if only because it showed what potential to "play" exists in every one of us. We have a wide range of acting experience at this institute, and yet every single scene was both enlightening and compelling in some way. I also had a bit of a self-realization, but I'm trying to keep this entry short (ha), so I'll just note it's existence and see if I can come back to that later.

So. After presentations, a large group of us headed to Amherst to see one of our fellow participants in a production at the Ko Festival on the campus there. Dev (shown in this picture, along with Kim and Jessica) has been working on this show for over a year, and it happened to be performed this weekend nearby. It will actually be moving to the La Mama theater soon, which is quite exciting. The show, a portrayal of Napoleon's final days in exile, was interesting (forgive me Kevin). I enjoyed many of the actor's performances - Joan of Arc and Dev in particular. One thing I have loved about Dev in class and enjoyed even more seeing in a production, is Dev's ability to focus entirely on being in the moment every moment on stage. The play had sound effects created by the actors on stage, which was rather fascinating to watch. I'm always impressed by the people who can make a dripping sound with their mouths, let alone a heartbeat with their throats. The technical elements were also strong. However, I just didn't get it. It was a confusing play. And weird. It was a strange play from the start, but then they flew in horse chunks from the catwalks, whipped out a large tongue for a picnic/sex scene, and then, just as Napoleon and Josephine were either dying or climaxing (I'm not sure which, but it was not just a "little death"), Napoleon pulled out a puppet of himself. I just didn't get it. But, as Meg pointed out, here's the beauty in the show: 20 people went to the theatre tonight because we wanted to see our friend in a play, a friend we all met last week. Less than two weeks, and yet we all love Dev and happily spent Friday night and $15 supporting him. I don't know if those of you who are not here at Smith right now understand that we are not just colleagues here. There's been magic these past 12 days, and very true, very real friendships exist.

Anyway, it's not 1:33, and we do have class tomorrow, so I'm off to bed. Good night!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Day 7 & 8

Glory be, the heat wave's broken. It's amazing how the spirits lift with comfortable temperatures.

Here's a run-down on the past two days:

Yesterday (Wednesday), we began with a session on clowning, including some more work on the status game. I forget how funny very small and simple things can be, so this lesson was a fun reminder.

After that, we had another Elizabethan dance lesson. This time, we learned a modified version of the jig that closes their current production of "The Merry WIves of Windsor". I wore a skirt this time, which made all the different. We all enjoyed romping and goblin galloping and poking and pinching Kevin (the program director). I'll include a picture of Kevin (shown here as the fool in "As You LIke It") so you can see how sweet and good natured he seems to be. I've decided to describe him as Dick Van Dyke with 12 years spent as a monk (true!).

Following class, Christine, Mel, and I ate lunch at a nearby pizza place. We were joined by Kevin and Karen (his assistant). Kevin asked about our plans for the afternoon, and when we said we were planning on visiting the Mount (Edith Wharton's mansion in Lenox), he had not a few words to share with us. The brief story is that Shakespeare and Company found the Mount when it was an abandoned and run down building. They made it habitable, and both lived in and performed there for several years. As they restored the building, they won a grant from the Historical Preservation Society. As a stipulation of the grant, though, two seperate boards were created - one for the Company, and one for Edith Wharton's house restoration. Following that split, the ladies of the restoration committee kicked out the theater troup in a none-too-pleasant manner. Hence the bitterness (I won't print here what words Kevin used to describe those ladies. You can imagine, though).

Anyway, Kevin tells us this story over lunch. He also tells us, though, that the third floor is haunted by an angry, angry ghost of a servant, that some people have seen Edith herself lingering there, and that he has had sex in every single room in that house. And thus we were haunted in more ways than one as we toured the building.

Actually, first we toured Emily Dickison's house in Amherst. She was short. Somehow, I tend to picture her tall. As a part of the tour, the guide gave us poems to read out loud under the oak tree outside her house. Again, my wearing a long, swishy skirt was very appropriate. I also learned (thanks to Jen) that every poem Emily wrote can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

On our way out of town, we discovered a Trader Joe's, which brought us much snack happiness.
At the Mount, we sat in on a reading of Wharton's first book, "The Decoration of Houses". We also walked through the house
and admired the gardens, which were outstanding. We then played models with the camera for a little bit before driving back into Lenox for dinner.
We ate at a bar, and luckily ran into Rachel and Kim there, who joined us. The food was decent, and apparently Lenox is starved for women. We were the only females in the bar, aside from the waitress, and it did not take more than five minutes before a man with a few teeth hit on our entire table and put a Prince song on the jukebox 'just for us'. It was kind of creepy. And that's why I don't frequent bars.
After dinner, we had just enough time to stop next door for some yummy ice cream. Then we drove to Shakespeare and Company's theater to see "Merry Wives".

As a quick review, I'll say that 1) I'm glad to know why Falstaff is always depicted in antlers, 2) This show reaffirmed my dislike of bawdy low-brow sex comedies, 3) Consequently, I want my students to see this show to realize that Shakespeare is not stiff and academic, 4) The minor characters were excellent, as was Mistress Quickly.

It was a late night, which lead to many tired participants today. We had a nice vocal session with Bob this morning, though, i which we explored our soft palates and choked ourselves by pronouncing the letter "k" while breathing in.
This afternoon, we discussed a bit more of Macbeth with Sandy Mack, then broke into our small groups to continue working on our assigned scenes. Have I mentioned those yet? We were each cast into parts for short scenes that we have been rehearsing this week. I'm (ahem) "Old Man". Whoo.
Actually, I have been having fun with that part. It's the scene just after Duncan's murder is discovered, and Ross and I describe all the scary stuff that's happening in nature. In our groups, we have cut the scenes, practiced "feeding in" (which will revolutionize my rehearsals at school), and tomorrow we perform them for each other. I'm kind of excited.

Tonight, Mel, Jen, Cheryl, and I went to a yarn warehouse. I got some baby alpacha yarn to try to make some fingerless gloves out of. We missed dinner to get to the warehouse, so we got some pasta from a restaurant in town to go and joined Craig, Ariana, and Steve to watch "Raising Arizona" in a classroom near our dorm. A great movie, I must say. And that brings me to here and now.

Whew. Long post. Shows what happens when I skip a few days. Next time, I'll let you know what happens with our Macbeth scenes.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Day 6

Today was not as wonderful as the days before. This is not to say that it wasn't informative and beneficial; but it didn't sparkle like the rest. There was a bit too much sitting in the afternoon. And it's sticky hot. Ew.
Some highlights:
We learned about cutting text - how long to aim for, prioritizing the lines, why cutting is good, etc. An interesting thought: Take out far more than you feel is necessary. That way, you can reward your actors by giving them additional lines. If, however, you discover during rehearsal;s that you need to cut, your actors will feel like they did something wrong.

We talked about the significance of language - specifically, we're trying to name our feelings (as opposed to just saying "Good" or "Interesting".) We also looked at researching every single word in a Shakespearean text with your students.

With Sandy Mack, who gave a wonderful lesson, we studied a passage from "Anthony and Cleopatra". It was a great modeling exercise for doing close textual readings with your student, and I found the passage we used to be just a glorious piece of poetry - especially the last image. (You can link to the speech here)

Tonight was quite fun, too. Yesterday, as I was doing laundry, I found a room with a locked door in the basement of our dorm. Upon peeking inside, I saw an air conditioner lodged in the window. So, after dinner tonight, Kim and Sharon and I tried to pick the lock to the door to get to the air conditioner. Alas, we failed. But we had fun hanging out down there on the stairwell. Later, a group of about 12 of us met in the parlor and played "Encore". It was a terrific game - highly competitive, with a diversity of genres of songs. And, hurrah, several people besides just me sang showtunes! Next time, we'll play one of the board games my brother was kind enough to mail to me. Everyone is excited to try out both "Apples to Apples" and "Shakespeare: The Bard Game" (and doesn't that statement alone prove our inherent geekiness as a group?). Speaking of packages, I received several today, including a bathrobe (thanks, parents!) and a very hard-to-find recording of the musical we picked for next year. And, just in case I have any eager students reading my blog, no, I won't be telling you what it is here. You'll just have to wait until the Hello Assembly! (Ha ha!) :)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Happy Talk

Here are some quotes I heard this week at NITS (National Institute on Teaching Shakespeare) that I'd like to remember: (Some may not make sense to you since the explanation is too lengthy for me to go into here, so just remember to ask me about it next time you see me if you'd like to know.)

(On Sksp's use of iambs) "It's your heartbeat. Shakespeare wrote in heartbeats. It's the first and last sound you will hear." - Kevin Coleman

"mill - v. to move around in churning confusion. In Western United States, 'to run cattle in a circle, sometimes deliberately, in order to halt a stampede.
seethe - v. to churn and foam as if boiling, to be noisy with activity." - ("Mill & Seethe" is a daily opening exercise for us)

"Let [your students] walk into Shakespeare through the door they are most comfortable with." - Kevin Coleman

"Now with 10% more Globe-i-ness" - adapted from Frank Hildy

"Check your balance" - David "Scooter-Boy" Q. (he asked us to use this phrase to remind him of the balance between talking and listening)

(on "Concept" Shakespeare) "[Those directors] didn't trust the play." "It trivialized the play." - Frank Hildy

"I can only write about what I thought!" - a critic in 1880's when theaters began turning off the house lights during performances, on his dismay over not being able to see the audience anymore.

"It's not a concept if it works." - Jenna

"The teachers led the revolution." - Tina Packer

"Shake loose your pink basket of ribs ('cage' is such an awful term)." - Bob Davis

"Touch the pain on your partner's face." - Bob Davis

"Do it for the polar bear!" - All of us who went to see "An Inconvenient Truth"

"We few. We happy few. We band of brothers." - Trisha's suggestion for our t-shirt quote (from Henry V)

"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt." - Kim's T-Shirt suggestion (from Measure for Measure)

**Jennifer's story of the Roma children and the stairs.
**Michael's story of the "Abominabable (sic) Snowman Speech"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Carrying the Banner

The front page of today's New York Times Theatre section features the production of Hamlet we went to on Wednesday. I pretty much agree with the reviewer, except I liked their solution for the play-within-the-play, and I did not like Jason Asprey's Hamlet very much at all. Give it a read, if you like.

I stayed in last night and wound up having some interesting conversations with others in my dorm. It was nice and relaxing. Today, we had a half day of classes in the morning, mostly focused on how to adapt these "games" from the past week for the realities of our classrooms. After that, I joined a group for lunch at a Mexican place in town (we've dubbed that sort of food here "MassMex", since those of us from the West agree that Massachusetts Mexican food just can't be as good), and a bit of shopping/walking around town. We found a very cool store called "Essentials" - lots of fun, artsy/cool-type stuff. In a few minutes, I'm joining others to see Al Gore's movie and then to go out for Indian food. Mmm.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Day 4

Last night a group of us from the institute went to see a local production of "Glass Menagerie". I actually enjoyed it. It was an all African-American cast, which was an interesting and very appropriate choice. In fact, this was the first time I actually sympathized with and liked Amanda Wingfield, the mother character. It was funny, too, more so than I remembered from studying it in high school.

Today was still emotionally-startling, but fun at the same time. This morning we continued our daily voice work with Bob Davis, including a fun group round of a song-ish chant "Belly Mambaiay" (I'm guessing at the spelling). After that, Elizabethan
dancing! I thoroughly enjoyed myself with that, and was told by some fellow students that I was "really good at it". Yay me! Today we learned a courtly-type dance, and next week we continue with a country-style dance. And I'm going to wear a skirt that day.

In the afternoon we continued working on our monologues with our "Basics" classes. I'm keen to try this approach to workshopping with my drama students. It's a very different approach to a monologue performance, but I think it will be far more effective and bring higher rewards for my students.

After Basics, the founder of Shakespeare and Company, Tina Packer (left), came to speak to our group. She talked about the origins of the company, Shakespeare's education (and a lot about rhetoric), and about her performance as Gertrude in Hamlet. Interesting, but I was tired by then and not fully engaged. Now it's post-dinner. I'm not sure if I'll be going out tonight. I'll have to see if any of the proposed activities entice me, or if I just want to read and sleep.

We have a half-day tomorrow. It's supposed to be hot, so the activities suggested for the weekend all involve either air-conditioning or water. I'll let you know which one I choose.

Happy Bastille Day!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Camp Shakespeare: Days 2 & 3


We just finished classes today, and I am reaching exhaustion, both physically and emotionally. Physically because of the late nights, emotionally because of the risks we all took today.

I think this is very, very good for me as a teacher to be here. When I ask my students to get up in front of a class and recite a monologue, I know it's a risk and it's scary. I acknowledge it's a risk to them, and then I force them to do it, but doing that same exercise here forces me to not only "know" it's a risk, but to feel the risk. How brave my students are! And I think I know how to be gentler and more compassionate in getting them to take that leap. Or at least, I hope to learn how to do that by the end of this institute.

I am coming to love these people, too. We're surprisingly different, more than you would think for a group of people who do the exact same thing for a living, but in just a few days I have gotten to know these 30-odd individuals and feel affection for almost all of them. This is just such a powerful thing we're doing... it's amazing.

Can you tell I'm overwhelmed right now? This is coming off a bit touchy-feely, that kind of emotional purging theater people indulge in. It's like EFY's spiritual rush, but in a non-secular setting. Kind of. I am aware of you, my reader, and wonder if you are laughing at me for this kind of rambling. If nothing else, understand that we are doing things here that will change me, so it's a little hard to articulate what's happening without sounding... odd.

I not only stood in front of a group today and did a monologue, but I let them direct me, and they got me to stop the theatrics and just be me and just let the words speak. No gestures, no foot movement, just slow and deliberate words. And if you've seen me teach, you know how unnatural that is for me. It was really hard to be vulnerable in that sort of way. Good for me, I think, but it's probably one of the most challenging things I've done in a long time. I couldn't hide, and I couldn't divert my group's attention to the ideas, or to my gestures and energy, or to themselves. It was just about me. And, oddly, that kind of delivery gave so much more power to the monologue.

Briefly, I'll also note that we saw "Hamlet" in Lenox last night. It was interesting. Overall, I wasn't too pleased with it, although there were some ideas I will steal. While there were many things I disagreed with or didn't like, in discovering those issues and in trying to figure out how to fix them, I realized a lot about the play. So even though it was a dis-satisfying performance, I learned quite a bit from it. I'll also note that I loved some characters for the first time, particularly Polonius and Horatio. They were both marvelous, and Laertes brought out some wonderful new meanings. I felt, for the first time, that Polonius, Ophelia, and Laertes were a family - a loving family. Which, of course, made their endings all the better. :)

I'm off to dinner now, then I'm joining a group to see "Glass Menagerie" in town. I can't say I'm especially excited about that play, but I feel a sense of obligation. I've never actually seen it performed, so I go out of necessity. I hope I enjoy it. As much as one can enjoy Tennessee Williams.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Drink With Me

Camp Shakespeare: Day 1

Hello my friends! It's just after 11pm here, and I thought I would debrief myself a little so I can hopefully sleep better tonight than I did last night. There was a lot of tossing, but everyone here seemed tired today, so I think we're all adjusting to the new enviroment.

This morning began at the lovely athletic facilities (see photo) with a group check in, then a class on movement. I enoyed stepping back into the role of the acting student. Something I noticed was that I was revertiing to the personality I had as a student. I was much quieter then, and more of a follower. It's interesting to go back to those qualities again.

It's odd that it's only been one day, too. We've done so much and have developed as a group so much that it seems like it's been a lot more than 24 hours since we all met. The different personalities are coming out, we're finding sub-groups and friends, and we're learning so much. This morning gave me some marvelous ideas for my acting classes, particularly in how to create those necessary baby steps between "Welcome to Drama" and "Perform your monologue". The faculty are great so far - really welcoming and quite excellent at putting us at ease while asking us to take risks. Taking risks here is good for me, I think, since I haven't done that in a class setting for a while. And if I get a little nervous with some of the things we're asked to do, I have to imagine how nervous my students probably get. You're prone to forget about those nerves when you're the one creating the situation.

After lunch, we had a group discussion about "why we are here", which mainly concerned Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. Following that, we had part 1 of a lecture from Frank Hildy, concerning the reconstruction of the Globe Theater. It was fascinating to hear from such a specialized scholar. My education in theater history has come from 1) books, and 2) a marvelous class by Marilyn Schraine. But here's a man who has dedicated his career to not just "theater history", but to ONE theater. Amazing. And interesting, too.

As professional as we all are, the group preference is to "go find alcohol" in the evenings. Last night we happened upon kareoke night at the closest bar, and participated enthusiatically. And no, it was not all showtunes. Thank goodness. Tonight we went to two different bars, mostly because the group did not like the atmosphere of the first bar. The second wasn't too much better, but we decided that we would have to be the atmosphere. I'm actually using that "we" rather liberally, since I am one of the quieter members of the group so far. They don't seem to mind, though, as we do have a nice dynamic. The others have been thankfully moderate in their drinking, and are absolutely cool with my pineapple juice (which, they pointed out, looks like a "real" drink anyway). In fact, I was deemed the "designated walker" for the group. Any of you who have driven with me will enjoy that joke, since the title apparently means I am the one in charge of leading the group back to the dorms. I warned them all that I have a talent for getting lost, but they just laughed. That was, of course, after the first bar of the night. :) But hey, I got them all back without any cretaive detours tonight, so thus far I have filled my roll well. I reassured them that if we did get lost, I would just lead them to a nice-looking house and tell them that was the dorm, so one way or another, they'd feel like they're home.

It was a comprehensive first day, really. Tomorrow we have a half-day of classes, and an evening performance of "Hamlet". TTFN!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Off to Massachusetts

I've been saving that particular song title just for the occasion (it's from "Little Women", by the way) - I am in MA!

Yes, friends, I have arrived at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Today marks the beginning of the Shakespeare & Co. Institute, which I will be attending for the next month. I have unpacked, moved furniture around, taken a walk around the area, discovered the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library (just around the corner from me - see photo), and, of course, set up my laptop. Whoo! In about an hour, they're taking us on a tour of the campus, then there's a welcome BBQ, then some sort of meeting.

I'm quite happy to be here. As I was walking, I had to remind myself that I was in Massachusetts. It was one of those things that I knew, but I didn't realize, if that makes any sense at all.

I got a corner room, which is grand since it's a little bit bigger and has two windows. Right now, I'm sitting between the two with a fan aimed at me, and it's almost pleasant. Fortunately, most of the classrooms we'll be in have air conditioning. I can always go visit Calvin, too, since his library is likewise cool (ooh, sorry about that - unintentional bad pun).

On the planes here yesterday, I finished the required reading for the program - "Macbeth" and "Julius Caesar". I liked Macbeth better, although Caesar, I think, is better written. I am looking forward to getting academic again - playing the student and such. Already I have been going metacognitive - as I've worked on the monologue we're supposed to prepare for tomorrow, I have been reflecting on the process, since this is a task I require of all of my drama students. It's healthy for me to have this assignment, I think, since it forces me to consider what I am specifically expecting my students to do verses what I have taught them how to do in terms of "preparing" a monologue. I'm still not sure how to go about teaching this process - largely because I was never really explicitly taught the procedure myself, I suppose. Still, I'm glad to be doing it.

Well, I'm going to explore the dormitory itself a bit (see picture). I'll keep you all updated as things get interesting. For now, though, Happy Monday!