Sunday, December 11, 2011

Merry Christmas

After a week of holiday festivities, I am back in California for Christmas. Time is fleeting and I still have three 4,000 essays to write by January, but I think I will have just enough rest and relaxation to enjoy the holidays with my family and friends.

My first paper will be on 1 Henry IV and the four humors. Then I will be writing about Shakespeare and American Sign Language, using the performance history of Hamlet and Twelfth Night as case studies. Finally, for my third paper I will be writing on the early printed texts of Troilus and Cressida, comparing the quarto to the first folio. Needless to say, I have a lot of work to do.

I will be suspending my email and blog updates until after New Year’s. Until then, happy holidays and warm wishes for a wonderful new year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shakespeare Institute Christmas Party

Tonight was the Shakespeare Institute Christmas party. We all brought food and drink to enjoy together in the Hall. It was fun to see everyone dressed smart (as the Brits would say!). Our director, Michael Dobson, got down on his guitar. We danced the night away until they closed the hall at 11pm. It was a great night and a perfect way to end our first term.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Robin Hood Warms Hearts

The Heart of Robin Hood is the family show this season at the RSC. While the content and dialog of the show is underdeveloped, the visual spectacle of the production are truly remarkable. Reviews among students have been mixed - Let's face it, this isn't Shakespeare. However, the evening watching this play is quite enjoyable. A little too slap-stick at times, this play is charming enough in its tender moments of love and compassion.

It also helps that there are a few merry men, including Robin Hood himself, clad in leather pants, looking surprisingly fit for forest people.

As a slight reversal from the popular conception of Robin Hood, the lovely Maid Marion is the 'good guy' and Robin Hood a little less of a heroic figure. Yet loves conquers all in this entertaining adaptation.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

City of York

As a last hurrah before the Christmas holiday I made a short overnight trip to York with two of my best girlfriends. We made the 3 hour drive in Kristy’s car, parked at the local train station and dropped our bags off at the Ace Hostel located in the historic Micklegate area of York.

The English city of York has, since Roman times, been defended by walls of one form or another. To this day, substantial portions of the walls remain, and York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. They are known variously as York City Walls, the Bar walls and the Roman walls.

We began out adventures at Clifford’s Tower, exploring the outer circle and stair wells. It is amazing to me how such a precious piece of history currently stands in the middle of a parking lot on top of a large grassy hill. We made are visit for the bargain price of 3 quid.

York is one of the most important cities in England. The city served as an important base for holding and administering the north and was the site for two of the castles William the Conqueror built in the years immediately following his conquest. Construction for the principal castle was begun in 1068, as part of a campaign to subdue anti-Norman sentiment in the north. Unfortunately the castles were destroyed during a local rebellion the following year, but rebuilt by the Normans after suppressing the rebels and taking harsh reprisals on York. After several rebuilds, the keep was rebuilt in stone in the latter half of the thirteenth century. It was given a quatrefoil plan, of which there is no other example in England. The keep later became known as Clifford's Tower after Roger de Clifford, who was hanged there in 1322.

After exploring Clifford’s Tower, we made our way to York Minster, a beautiful Gothic cathedral in the heart of the city. York Minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe and serves as a stunning example of English Gothic architecture. While the first recorded church in the site was built in 627, the construction for the current structure began in 1230 and was completed in 1472.

We attended Evensong (Evening Prayer) and were blessed to listen to the choir. After Evensong we suddenly ran into a young gentleman on the street offering tickets for a ghost tour, which we bought. In addition to his clever sales pitch, he also happened to be walking on make-shift stilts and wearing a turn of the century town crier ensemble.

After an Italian dinner (which was delicious, but unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant), we proceeded to the ghost tour a little tipsy and full of anticipation. My friend Beth happened to have a fondness for our tour guide, who dragged us around the city chasing supernatural entities in his cheesy costume. Apparently his Northern accent was too much to resist because he slipped him her phone number after the tour and asked him to meet us for drinks.
On the way back to the hostel we stopped to have a drink at the Evil Eye Lounge – a bit of a dive, but swanky bar which served heavy handed drinks (Thank you, Helen, for the recommendation). After getting sloshed on 2 J├Ąger Bombs and 1 Rum&Coke  (MORE rum and less coke), we were pleasantly surprised when the ghost guide responded to our text message and asked to meet us for lunch the next day. Score one for the girls! We then made it back to the hostel and fell into bed.

The next morning Kristy and I were fine. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the hostel common room. However, Beth was a little bit under the weather. Needless to say, we did not make it to any more attractions, except a quick lunch at the Guy Fawks Tavern with our new friend James (Mr. Ghost Hunter). As it turns out, James is very interested to check out his competition in Stratford, so maybe we will see him again one of these days.

Now we are on our way back to Stratford for our last week of classes before we break for the holidays. With several holiday parties lined up and term papers to start, I am sure this will be a busy week for us all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Titus Andronicus Casting!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be playing Saturninus in the Spring production of Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Institute! Jon Harvery will be directing this cross gendered production for the Shakespeare Institute Players, in which most the characters will be played by women (all except Titus). This allows me the opportunity to play a character that I would not normally be considered for. Our first read-through will take place after the holiday season, which gives me plenty of time to prepare for the role. I am looking forward to getting started!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Changeling Closes!

For the last few weeks I have been working relentlessly on the Shakespeare Institute Player's production of The Changeling. Playing Beatrice-Joanna has been a challenging and rewarding experience for me. With a short rehearsal process and only 4 performances, I have hardly had time to know my role as deeply as I would like. This production has been filled with many trials, tragedy and frustration - Yet through it all, we were able to collectively deliver what has been hailed as "the best Players production in the last decade". Bravo cast! Let's keep the good work on the rise with our spring production of Titus Andronicus!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be playing Saturninus in the Spring production of Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Institute! Jon Harvery will be directing this cross gendered production for the Shakespeare Institute Players, in which most the characters will be played by women (all except Titus). This allows me the opportunity to play a character that I would not normally be considered for. Our first read-through will take place after the holiday season, which gives me plenty of time to prepare for the role. I am looking forward to getting started!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I give thanks to all of my new friends at the Shakespeare Institute. Thank you for celebrating with me when I am so far from home. I feel truly loved.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Changeling Opens Nov. 25th!

Good news! The Changeling opens this weekend at the Shakespeare Institute presented by the Shakespeare Institute Players. Betrayal, adultery, murder, inescapable passions, alchemical lore and
bed tricks - A fantastic combination for a rarely revived masterpiece of Renaissance drama. I will be playing Beatrice-Joanna. I invite all my UK friends to come along for an evening at the Institute. For all of my US friends, we are filming the show and there should be a chance for you to see it at some point should you so chose. Let the festivities begin!

The Changeling by Thomas Middleton & William Rowley will be directed by alumna Joy Leslie Gibson. Performances will be in the Lecture Hall, Mason Croft (home of The Shakespeare Institute). Dates & Times: Friday, 25th & Saturday 26th November at 7.30 p.m. with matinees on Saturday, 26th and Sunday, 27th November at 2.30 p.m. Tickets are £8 (£7 concessions - students, OAPs, UB40s).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Changeling Transformation

The Shakespeare Institute Players production of Middleton & Rowley's The Changeling is starting to take shape. With only 4 rehearsals left, all I can say is: It's about time! All the players have been juggling busy schedule, doing research, studying, working and attending university classes and events. We are finally at the point where the scripts are out of our hands and we are able to truly PLAY. Wish my luck, everyone! This is my first full length production in the UK and I am excited to show my fellows what I really have to offer!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Written on the Heart

The Royal Shakespeare Company honors the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible with their new production, Written on the Heart. The play examines how the King James Bible was written and ultimately came into being.

The playwright, David Edgar, brings both historical events and the power of the faith and the heart into the forefont of his play. Though difficult to follow at times, there is no deneying the talented actors of the RSC. This is probably one of the best acted plays so far this season.

Stephen Boxer as William Tyndale and Oliver Ford Davies as Bishop Andrews give astounding performances in voice, body and emotion. It is the ultimate pleasure to hear and watch the two of them on the stage together, in a production that cannot be missed!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Midsummer at the RSC

An intriguing production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream closed last night at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The play began in a mod warehouse, with a cleverly laid out a plan for Hippolyta and Theseus to transform into Oberon and Titania. Jo Stone-Fewings and Pippa Nixon work beautifully together. The mechanicals appeared as maintenance workers in a dismal world of the 60's underground.

Bottom the Weaver, played by Marc Wootton, had his comic moments of inspiration - Although not always straying far from the typical nonsense of the mechanicals. This proved a little bit of a let-down in the final play-within-a-play, which proved funny but incessant.

The faeries were a bit tedious, and Hermia not-so-lovable. But, all was saved by Lucy Briggs-Owen as Helena, rightfully making her RSC debut. Her Helena appeared beautiful, yet somewhat ill-witted. Her clever and original depiction proved most comical and heartfelt. Although she worked against the verse at times, her Helena seemed more truly felt then any other character in the play.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Visit to Salisbury and Stonehenge

Day 2 of my road trip with Tanya and Laura - We have just returned from a picturesque trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge.

Today we visited the medieval cathedral in Salisbury, cleverly named Salisbury Cathedral. In addition to being England's tallest spire, the Cathedral is also home to the finest of only 4 original surviving copies of the Magna Carta (1215). Plus the cathedral gave us some relief from the rain, which seemed to be coming down in buckets today.

(Above:  The world's oldest working clock, built in 1386 - it has no face and only strikes the hours.)

(Above: Site of the Shrine Tomb of Bishop Osmund - 1099 - Osmund was made a saint in 1457).

After we had investigated every corner of the cathedral, we jumped back in the car and continued our road trip. Soon we found ourselves at Stonehenge.

Archaeologists believe the iconic stone monument was constructed anywhere from 3000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. Now what can be greater than standing before a prehistoric monument? You tell me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Lovely Visit to Bath

My new friends Tanya & Laura invited me on a two day road trip to Bath, Salisbury & Stonehenge. Compliments of Laura's old “reliable” car, we made the 2.5 hour trek to Bath today. On arrival we quickly met up with a free walking tour to get our bearings and hear the history of the city.

Bath is a beautiful city as many of the building are made a limestone. It was first established as a spa with the Latin name, Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis") by the Romans in A.D. 43. However there is evidence that Bath may have been known before that time.

After a quick walk around the city we decided to visit the Bath Abbey. The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Bath, commonly known as Bath Abbey, is an Anglican parish church and a former Benedictine monastery in Bath, Somerset, England. Founded in the 7th century, Bath Abbey was reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries; major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s.

We paid for a tower tour, which included a 212 step climb to the bell tower. On the way up, we visited the ringing chamber and bell chamber. This is where the bell ringers ring the bells on Sundays. We then stood on top of the Abbey’s vaulted ceiling, peering down through a tiny hole in the floor to the chapel below. We were even able sit behind the clock face. At last we made it to the top of the abbey roof where we had the best vantage point in Bath to enjoy the spectacular view of the city.

Bath is so called because it is home to the Roman Bath House. The Romans built baths and a temple on the surrounding hills in the valley of the River Avon around the natural hot springs. The baths are stunningly beautiful. I have been wanted to visit them for many years and am glad I finally had the opportunity to do so.

At last we ended our visit with the Thermae Bath Spa. A modern spa, where we enjoyed swimming in the warm water of their rooftop pool, scented steam rooms and luxury pampering. It is the original and only natural thermal Spa in Britain.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

9 Days Wonder; Or 2 Days for Me

I just got back from a 2 day walk through the Cotswolds. You may not believe this, but I actually walked 33 miles! Wow!

Three of my new friends at the Shakespeare Institute have decided to walk for the Ketterer’s Men Trust. Over 9 days they will be walking the 146 mile path Shakespeare took from the Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe in London. All this in honor of their late friend Liz Ketterer. You can find out more about the charity and sponsor the walk here:

For my part, I knew that 146 miles might be a tad far for a amature walker like myself - not the mention the dent it would create in my wallet after eight nights at B&Bs. However, I did want to participate, not only to show my support, but also for the challenge. Thus, on Friday morning I set off from the Birthplace to Shipston-on-Stour.

The walking trail started off well. Although it quickly turned rough as we made our way through ploughed fields. What was meant to be a 17 mile walk turned into 18, with a slight mishap. I saw many a sheep, cow, horse and even several alpaca!

The next day was 14 miles to Chipping Norton. I day I wish to forget, as it was mostly uphill. We even had to stop for some emergency foot surgery for our friend Gareth - who had developed 3 blisters on the bottom of his feet which needed to be let out. About mile 10 I started to slow down. I now have an incredible pain in my hip, but I have made it safely to the hotel. I wish I could continue with the group, but I think it is time to pack up my walking shoes for a bit.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mirate/Sade Strikes Hard at the RSC

I have to say that I expected more from the RSC when I went to press night of Mirat/Sade. I expected to be shocked and horrified - or at least vaguely impressed. However, I felt none of this as I left the theatre. Perhaps I came to the theatre tonight with too many preconceived notions about what I was suppose to see.

Set in a mental asylum during the French revolution, Weiss's play shows inmates re-enacting the last days of political agitator Jean Paul Marat's life under the direction of the Marquis de Sade. The only thing I really took away from this production is its inherant questioning of societal behavior and griping music.

It was clear that some of the audience was a bit disturbed by the subject matter - reportedly an average of 30 audience members leave the show at intermission every night - yet this was not a production that inspired any feeling in me whatsoever.

This revival of a landmark production at the RSC, featuring many shocking theatrical devices and subject matters including torture, rape, insanity and other filthy behavior. Yet this inauthentic version is not impressing the critics. The Daily Mail calls it a "shocking waste of your money".

I suppose this is one of the LOVE / HATE shows. You either LOVE it, or you HATE it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Merrymaking

Last night my friend Matt threw a pre-Halloween bash at his flat. Some of us decided to turn the event into a costume night. Here in England they call it "fancy dress". Needless to say, I think we all had a pretty fabulous time!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Character Study of Edgar in King Lear

I attended a fabulous lecture this week by Ewan Fernie, Chair of Shakespeare Studies and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute. The topic of his seminar revolved around the presence of possession in the character of Edgar in King Lear.

Edgar is Gloucester's legitimate son. His half-brother Edmund, frustrated with his social status as a bastard son, frames Edgar of plotting to kill their father. Edgar is forced into exile in order to avoid the rage of his father and his own imprisonment. At the end of the following speech he adopts the disguise of "Poor Tom," a mad Bedlam. This personae carries him through the majority of the remaining action of the play.

I heard myself proclaim'd;
And by the happy hollow of a tree
Escaped the hunt. No port is free; no place,
That guard, and most unusual vigilance,
Does not attend my taking. Whiles I may 'scape,
I will preserve myself: and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury, in contempt of man,
Brought near to beast: my face I'll grime with filth;
Blanket my loins: elf all my hair in knots;
And with presented nakedness out-face
The winds and persecutions of the sky.
The country gives me proof and precedent
Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices,
Strike in their numb'd and mortified bare arms
Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary;
And with this horrible object, from low farms,
Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes, and mills,
Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers,
Enforce their charity. Poor Turlygod! poor Tom!
That's something yet: Edgar I nothing am.

“Edgar I nothing am.” – This line cements the casting off of Edgar’s self as he deconstructs himself into the personae of Poor Tom. What does it mean to be ‘nothing’? Perhaps it is the abandonment of self for a time. Perhaps he is a shell of his former state; or contrary to that belief, perhaps he is liberated to be more than himself. In this the actor has to play multiple characters, layered on top of each other in the fabric of the dialog.

I found the topic fascinating as Fernie described Poor Tom as being “more alive than Edgar.” He is possessed – someone or something speaks through him – and this possession allows him to speak in “communal voices”. His feigned madness allows Edgar to speak truths he may have otherwise stifled.

From an acting perspective, I was also struck by Fernie’s questions to his listeners: Does the actor possess the character; or does the character possess the actor? Is human identity threatened by acting? Is there an inherent risk of possession in acting?

He says, perhaps even Shakespeare was aware of possession as a necessary condition.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Play Reading Thursdays!

As part of the numerous weekly social events at the Shakesepare Institute, we have playreadings every Thursday. I am very excited to take part for three reasons - First, the playreadings will introduce me to plays of Shakespeare's time which I would otherwise would not have read. All the plays read must be of Shakespeare's time, but not Shakespeare. Second, it will give me a chance to develop my cold reading skills. This is a skill that I struggle with at times in auditions, but also in life when I need to read outloud from a text. Third, it brings members of the institute together for discussion. I can't wait to meet new friends at the readings. Word has it that there is wine during the reading and a pub visit after, which will make the event all the more enjoyable.

Tonight is my first play reading. We will be reading Edward II by Christopher Marlowe. As I have performed in an adpatation of this play, I am familar with the text. It should be a great evening!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stratford-upon-Avon Mop Fair

Today and tomorrow the Mop Fair is in Stratford-upon-Avon. What is a mop faire you ask? Well, to this American it looks like a street carnival. However, apparently there is a deeper meaning:

Farm workers, labourers, servants and some craftsmen would work for their employer from October to October. At the end of the employment they would attend the Mop Fair dressed in their Sunday best clothes and carrying an item signifying their trade. A servant with no particular skills would carry a mop head – hence the phrase Mop Fair.