When someone asks me what I do for a living and I say “I perform abridged Shakespeare plays in rural high school gymnasiums across the state of Idaho at 8 o’clock in the morning in the middle of winter.” It sounds less glamorous than it feels. It feels… important, and I truly believe it is. I know that an old school wooden gym in Hanson and the pulpit of a converted church in Sandpoint might not be the stage of the RSC… but I treat it as if it were. I think everyone in our cast and crew shares the same belief or feeling, which is one of the reasons we all work together so well and why I love this job so much.
Who knows, performing in a gymnasium may actually be the greater challenge. First off, you are in a gym. It is 8 AM You are performing Shakespeare for high school students and not all of them are convinced that they want to be there. It might be better than being in class for some, but maybe not much better. The best thing I will say for playing gyms is that you never step out of your light and by the third week of tour, you will know if you are supporting your voice properly. If not, that’s about the time it disappears.
And yet… places get taken, music starts and this amazing thing happens. I don’t see the walls of the gym for another 48 minutes. If we do our job then “neither time nor place” holds the audience down either and they go on the journey beyond the gym walls with us. Happy to say that most of them, most of the time, do…and that’s sayin’ somethin’!
Every year of tour is more incredible than the last and I am continually grateful for the experience. I learn so much each year about acting, teaching, Shakespeare and myself. Partly, because we have the opportunity to perform a single show 70 to 90 times. Even though we perform a cut down version of the script, Shakespeare’s poetry is so layered, it constantly yields new discoveries and insights. In fact it’s usually performance number 56 when you say a three-word line and suddenly, like a bucket of water in the face, you are hit with the true meaning of what you are saying in those simple three words. Moving from knowledge to wisdom through experience.
This year in particular has been special for me because it is the fourth year in a row I have done Shakesperience. It has been incredible getting to know the theater and literature teaching professionals across the state and the soon to be professionals they teach. I can say with pride that there are some amazing teachers and educators across this state and they are doing great work with the future of tomorrow. We have also gotten to know many wonderful administrators and janitors in the process, as well as the importance of protecting the shine on basketball gym floors. (We only leave boot scuffmarks, I swear.)
Some of the students I have gotten to know over the performances and workshops are graduating this year. I was able to talk with a lot of them that I have had the privilege of performing for and teaching each year they were in high school. It has been incredible to see them grow as artists and people over the years. It’s not only in the choices they make in the workshops but they way they talk about theater and Shakespeare and the growing confidence in themselves and their abilities. I know I learn so much about theater each year from the tour and from them; I hope the students see this progression in my work and might learn what I have learned, maybe sooner than I did.
My greatest hope in these performances is to share with students the passion I have in the belief that theater (and the plays of William Shakespeare in particular) truly help us to better understand ourselves and each other and how important that is. I believe this program creates that kind of theater because I have been fortunate enough to experience it first hand. I am so grateful for the students, teachers, schools, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the NEA and all our wonderful sponsors, Penske, rural Idaho diner’s with chicken fried steak, my tour mates, the director and design crew, the ISF office, and all the incredible people of this beautiful state that have shared your hospitality, directions and recommendations with us for the last 11 weeks.
This year I also developed a healthy respect for the curse of the Scottish play when I broke off the top of my finger in the middle of the show two weeks before the end of tour. I won’t bore you or gore you with details but I will say this. Adrenaline is the best numbing agent on the planet. Dr. Jeremy Frix and his staff must have all attended Hogwarts because they are magicians in their field as well as some of the nicest people you’ll meet. Thank you for understanding the show must go on and making it possible for me to help it do so. Sword fights with a broken finger aren’t easy but they’re not impossible. Thanks for that.
I have to give a quick shout out to the office and our tour management team for an amazing performance in coordinating 5 actors, two vehicles, 6,800 miles of road and uncountable performances and hotels. You rock!!!!!
Oh, and episode 2 of the Macbeth tour will be up soon.
(The artist formerly known as Macbeth)
Out, Out , Brief Candle
The end of tour is always bittersweet. On one hand you’re saying goodbye to long hours, long drives, and way too early mornings. But on the other hand, you’re saying goodbye to the wonderful students, the most precious towns, and this show that you have lived with for 3 and a half months. This is life in the theater. Learning to say goodbye to one good thing and embrace the next. So even though, I am going to miss it, I can walk away knowing that this tour has made a difference. There were so many amazing moments that reaffirmed why I do what I do. Idaho Shakespeare Festival does such an incredible thing with this tour and I’m not just saying that because they give me a paycheck. My tour mates and I have witnessed first hand what tour does. I feel like the greatest testament to this is during almost every load out when we have one or more students come up to talk to us. They want advice and, I think, someone who they can relate to. Someone who is doing exactly what they want to do. And that is a precious thing to have, especially in high school and even more so in high school in Idaho. So I wanted to include a list of my favorite moments, in no particular order:
Students recognizing Dakotah and being very upset that he changed his hair.
Noah experiencing his first time teaching a workshop, and being so inspired by the kids that he wants to teach more.
During a talk back a girl said that she didn’t want to watch because Shakespeare is boring, but then she found herself really enjoying the show.
All the schools that made us signs welcoming us. Especially the sign that said “Thanks Shakespeare for revealing me to me”
All the students who came up to us to tell us how inspired they were
“The Luke Crew”, as we call them, which are the students who have seen Luke each year through high school. Especially the one who said that Luke was the reason he got into acting.
All the workshops
Holding a baby goat in a gas station
Every girl wanting Sarah’s cool hair
Autographing backpacks, shoes, and arms. (I’m sorry to the moms about that)
Working with my fabulous tour mates
Working with Sara Bruner. (Enough said)
Seeing all that this state has to offer
Being Lady Macbeth!
And lastly, and maybe most importantly, feeling the energy in the room when we know that a group of high school kids are actually engaged in Shakespeare. It’s a wonderful feeling and one that proves that this tour makes a difference.
Well, that’s it for me! It’s been a great ride! Thank you to the schools, the teachers, and the kids that make my job so wonderful!
–Veronica Von Tobel
Behind the Scenes Video: the making of the tours!
Enjoy an incredible glimpse into the making of our tours- Shakespearience and Idaho Theater for Youth. It takes a village and they are talented!
Thanks to all involved- especially Lori Regan, Jessamine Jones and Kiely Prouty.
“The service and loyalty I owe, in doing it, pays itself.” Macbeth I.iv
Rules of the Road: We’ve just finished the second full official day of touring, and I thought I’d take a moment to give you a glimpse of what being on the road means. These are our “rules” by that, I mean, these are things that make all of our lives a lot easier on the road, both as an acting company and as friends traveling together. So, in no particular order, other than the first rule is the most important and most often used rule:
The Rules of Shakespearience:
If somebody wants a Twinkie, stop and get them a stinking Twinkie! This is a rule we have inherited and respected from the late, great Danny Peterson, who used to do this same tour some years ago. Basically, this rule is if someone says, “Hey, I’d really like to stop and get a bite to eat.” or, “Gosh I could really use a coffee.” or even, “I need to read the newest issue of Vogue RIGHT NOW!” Just oblige. Everyone will be a lot happier in the long run if everyone’s needs are met on the road.
No texting while driving; actually, no anything while driving other than driving. That’s why there are passengers, to help you navigate, DJ, man the walkie-talkies, call schools to let them know the roads are icy but we will be there soon, etc.
If you see a cologne dispenser in a road-side restroom, don’t put a quarter in there and assume to get a mini bottle out of it. It just sprays you. Right in the face, if you’re not regular trucker height. Veronica learned this the hard way. Then the rest of her van mates learned it the hard way with her.
Never hit the road without making sure Luke has had a coffee, and Dakotah a food (see rule 1).
Always lock the vehicles. Always.
Leaving fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure time is leaving on time.
Tour buddies eat together whenever possible. We try to eat together once a tour day, even when we’re not out of town. It’s a good time to talk about the show and how things are going.
Minivan always leads the Penske truck, unless we’re driving back roads at night, then the Penske leads because it’s more likely to survive hitting an animal that the mini van.
Never snap at each other during load-in or load-outs. You’re either going to realize how silly the thing you were mad about was in five minutes, or you’ll forget about it entirely.
Don’t break the seal. Meaning, don’t pee until you really have to. If you break that seal too early, you’ll just have to go every thirty minutes, and on a ten hour drive, that’s just rough.
If you fall asleep in the minivan at anytime, you must be Von Tobled (meaning Veronica will take a picture of you sleeping and immediately post it to Facebook).
You must get the free, fresh baked cookies from the Comfort Inn promptly at 8pm each evening. If you do not, you are a fool.
BYOP. (Bring your own pillow).
Take up knitting. Yeah. Knitting. Only one tour member this year has yet to learn, give me two hours and this will be remedied.
Bring a swimsuit.
Never trust Google maps implicitly. The successful tour uses Google maps, an Atlas and, this year, a GPS.
If you can’t find something… did you check your ditty bag? (It’s a bag that hangs with your costume that holds small costume items, glasses, phone props, bracelets, etc.)
If you get to drive the van in town, you drop off the dry cleaning.
Wash your costume regularly. No one wants to be the smelly kid on tour.
Always bring your road kit, in-town show or out. Actor’s road kit includes: Water, Ricola. Emergen-C, AirBorne, Water, Tums, Chapstick, hand sanitizer, ThroatCoat Tea, IBProfen and water.
In Pocatello, you go to Buddy’s and you get a salad. In Sandpoint, you go to Eichardts and get anything (or everything) and you always take the suggestions of the locals. Always. (Especially if that suggestion is, “You really shouldn’t take that road at night.”)
Shakespearience Macbeth Week 2 Video
Shakespearience cast of Macbeth shares their thoughts on week 2 of rehearsal.
Macbeth: Blood, Sweat, and Fears
We are now, officially in full swing of rehearsals for Shakespearience’s Macbeth. “Why, Whatever is this Shakespearience of which you speak?” one may ask, if they spoke in a very formal manner. Well, I could tell you, but it’s a rather lengthy explanation, and it turns out someone has already done all of that for me. Basically, it’s a bunch of really cool organizations (click here to check out the list of awesome supporters) stepping in to make sure everyone who would usually never get to see Shakespeare, gets to see some Shakespeare! Shakespearience is wonderful for a multitude of reasons, but mostly, right now… Guess who’s got two thumbs and isn’t waiting tables? This girl! That’s right friends, I’m making money doing what I love more than anything in the world, and things are starting to look up.
I thought I’d devote a little time to break down exactly what being in rehearsals means. It’s only recently become apparent to me exactly how foreign the theater world is to those of you who have “real people jobs” (meaning that you either have an office/cubicle, you spend a large portion of the day looking at the computer or you work from 9a-5p (or more, in some cases, days a week). Similarly, how foreign having a real person job would be to me.
In case you didn’t follow the link above, this particular production is a condensed version of Macbeth which is focused on making the play accessible for high school audiences (more on that later). The day-in-the-life picture of the rehearsal process looks something like this:
Get up early. Warm up my body. Coffee. Not too much. I’m thankful every day for the espresso machine my sister and brother-in-law gave me for my graduation. It’s saved me a lot of money on early tour mornings, and likely a few heart palpitations. Go to rehearsal around 8:10. We’re very lucky, it’s about a seven minute walk to the space, and taken briskly is an excellent warm up. Set up. Set up involves putting coffee on in the office (where the admins have real people jobs and work in a theater! Amazing!) Getting out weapons and putting the set together… er… what we have of the set so far. This year it’s two ladders, a ten foot tall rolling staircase, and three large flats to hide us when we’re not onstage. Then; rehearsing.
Right. What does that mean? Our main job as actors (not to mentions the director, set designers, sound designers, costume designers, etc.) is to tell a story. To tell a story that’s over four hundred years old in a way that’s very clear to understand to you, the audience. As actors, we know our lines and mostly know what they mean (certainly will by the time we open) So the main job of rehearsal is to make things clear. We run scenes, work scenes to figure out how a certain moment can be more clear, or more specific, figure out how to indicate the passage of time from one scene to the next without saying, “Meanwhile, back at the Macduff’s house…”. Our job is to let you know what’s going on so you can sit back and enjoy the story, because that’s really what this is all about; the story.
So. We rehearse for six hours, with two ten minute breaks and one twenty minute break. We work on the timing of our entrances. Dissecting exactly what we’re saying, working different moves with umbrellas (lots of umbrellas in this world of Macbeth), tracking where props go, figuring out who will be backstage to hit a sound cue, etc.
We go on like this for three weeks, which never feels like enough time, but we always pull through. This year, however, we missed the first three days because designers were brought in from out of town, our fight choreographer couldn’t make it yet, etc.
So. That’s pretty much rehearsal life. It goes by pretty quick, and we’ll be on the road performing in one week from today, which is an entirely different job and thereby, will have an entirely different blog post.
And I suppose I owe you an explanation for the not-so-positive-sounding-post-title.
Blood: Rehearsal does not come without muscle soreness or bruising. My legs are coated in bruises from different fights (let it be noted that I may be the only one, as I bruise much like a well ripened peach). I did also gash my thumb open on a particularly ornery umbrella.
Sweat: Aside from the menial “work-out” I’ve been doing in the morning, Shakespearience shows are marathon acting. If you have anytime backstage, you are not resting, you are doing a quick change, running a sound cue and helping someone else with a quick change. Usually all within fifteen seconds.
Fears: Actors are sensitive. It really is true. We put ourselves into a job that opens us up for criticism and rejection from every angle, Also, considering we’ll be performing for a high school audience, usually around 8am, it sometimes can seem like an uphill battle. Seriously, do you remember being ready to be thoroughly entertained by an assembly at 8am when you were in high school? It’s nerve wracking and sometimes devastating, but it is so entirely and absolutely rewarding.
“I have begun to plant thee…” Duncan, 1.4
The first week of rehearsals have come to a close and things have started to take shape. This is a part of the process where the production is full of possibility and mystery and potential. It’s a little crazy to think we only have two more full weeks of rehearsing left before out first preview performance, but our fights are choreographed, and the first quarter of the show is roughly blocked out and in all of our little actor bodies and minds. I think most of us wish we could go back to rehearsal tomorrow instead of having a day off, but breaks are good for you, even if you don’t want to take one, right?
As we leave our first week of rehearsal on simmer, we’ll leave you with a few more photos and a little end of the week video.
Shakespearience: Macbeth. First Blog Post!
This time of year is probably the most exciting for those of us headed out on the Shakespearience 2012 tour. True, winter is starting to get even colder, the sun doesn’t seem to stay up nearly long enough, and all of the really exciting winter holidays have passed–but for us, today marked the very first day of rehearsal! A day most of us have been looking forward to with eager anticipation since at least December, when we were officially cast (If not since last year’s tour ended and we went through some major Shakespearience withdrawals.) And so, without further ado, allow me to introduce the cast of Shakespearience 2012’s Macbeth:
Early this afternoon we set out to meet with our really super fantastic fight choreographer, Michael Mueller, who brought a variety of (very real, but very much dulled) weapons. We spent two hours wielding everything from daggers to fancy looking foils to machetes to bowie knives. Now, I hate to be that person, but I now feel obligated to put this* here (see bottom for details).
Our fights are far from done, but we learned a great deal about what it takes to properly and safely stage a pretty awesome looking fight today. After fights, there was a photo shoot for our promotional pictures (coming to your school or city soon!).
You won’t be seeing this shot, of course, this is a “fun one” I snapped of Luke and Veronica while the photographer was changing his batteries or something.
Tomorrow, we look forward to our first “official”, and full day of rehearsal, which means we get there at 10AM, we’ll meet with designers and they’ll show us what sort of world they’ve created with our director for these characters to inhabit (what they’ll wear, where they’ll be, what sounds will surround them), then we’ll start the rehearsing. We’ll break for the day at 4p, head home and individually go over our lines and what we did in rehearsal that day, making sure it sticks for the next day. Rest assured, many of our homes look something like this right now:
We’re all in heavy study mode, memorizing, interpreting, brainstorming and mostly, being really excited about what will come from all of this. Shakespearience for us not only means that we get to explore a new (or in Dakotah’s case, re-visit a new) Shakespeare play, but it also means that the five of us are going to spend the next thirteen weeks traveling together, sharing living quarters with each other, eating together, relying on each other and mostly, working together to uphold the integrity of this performance, whatever it ends up being.
So, a little different from prior years, this year the cast is planning on documenting a lot more. Well, a lot more publicly. In the next few weeks keep your eyes open for some videos, plenty more photos, fun on the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Facebook fan page (click here for ISF Fan Page), food reviews from the casts very own chicken fried steak connoisseur, and hopefully a lot more! For now, I leave you with other “fun ones” I snapped today while the photographer was taking actual photos.
*Do not attempt to do any kind of fight choreography without a trained professional. Michael has degrees is this stuff (yup! You can get a degree in stage combat!) Any weapon, dull or not, is still just that: a weapon.
That’s it for today. More photos and other fun things to come!