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)