Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Go Bainville Bulldogs!!!

Hmmm....let me think of the things I thought I would do in Montana....Nope, attending a Pep Rally was not one of them. But guess where I was last night??? The Montana Shakespeare in the Schools Company attended a Pep Rally for the Bainville Bulldogs Ladies Volleyball Team and Gentleman's Football Team. We performed at Bainville H.S. on Tuesday morning and they were an amazing audience! They laughed, they cried, they were totally with us. The students were incredibly well-spoken and engaged in the workshops and they invited us to eat breakfast and lunch with them.

As we were packing up, we had an invitation extended to us from Denise, a very involved community member who attended the performance, who invited us to spend the afternoon (and night) at her family's cabin. We were heading to Wolf Point for our Thursday performance and decided that we would have a much better time at the cabin than in the hotel. So we followed Denise to a remote cabin on her land and walked into a brand new, snack-stocked cabin right on the river! She and her husband built the cabin for guests - they both say they have been blessed with more than they need so they built this cabin to serve others. She told us to nap, explore, eat and make ourselves at home - her generosity and kindness was amazing. We spent 4-5 hours relaxing and enjoying the scenery before we went back to BHS to attend the pep rally and dinner to which we had been invited!

I had a wonderful conversation with one of the parents, Marilyn. She has four kids at the school and she is a bus driver and substitute teacher! She told me that we made quite the impression on all of her kids and she wished she had seen the show. She told me that the school cut the Music program at the beginning of the year and it was really hard on the kids. When she approached the school board about the cut, they told her that they viewed Music Lessons as something for which a Private Instructor could be hired. Hmmmm....but sports are apparently NOT something that one could do outside of school... She and I discussed the strong, and wonderful emphasis on sports in the community (in many rural communities) that unfortunately often comes at the expense of the arts in the schools. I told her about the feedback I had received from several teachers, all over our tour, letting me know that the kids that participate in our workshops are often the kids that are silent and not engaged in their everyday class. Marilyn and I discussed how sometimes the arts are the only thing that can grab a kid's interest, just like sometimes reading or math engage a student. They are truly no less important.

The community of Bainville is so close knit -the dinner was a pitch-in and the kids were in teh kitchen, serving the soup entree! The teachers wrote and performed a Wizard of Oz - style sketch dedicated to the Bainville teams. Then the parents participated in a game show where the kids tried to figure out the definition for little-known words. We all had an amazing time - Tyler even started a cheer by yelling out "Go Bulldogs!" after the Volleyball coach gave her speech. From there, we drove to Wolf Point that night for our performance the next day. Denise stopped us before we left and let us know that anytime we are in Bainville, we have a home at the cabin. I'll always have a home in Bainville, MT.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hobble Diamond Ranch

I just had, perhaps, the most amazing weekend of my life. First though, let me recap the week. We left on Monday, Oct 12th, and drove for four hours to Ten Sleep , WY and had various adventures around the state in Sheridan and Buffalo. I purchased a Western shirt with snap buttons ( just like my Pappa's) and two of the boys, Tyler and Chris, purchased cowboy hats which they proceeded to wear everywhere, including to bed. Needless to say, it was a good week.

Back to my life-changing weekend...on Thursday night we arrived for dinner to celebrate the first night of the Big Timber Arts Roundup. It is a weekend arts camp that brings rather affluent kids from Philly together with less-affluent kids from around Montana and they participate in painting, theatre, photography or writing all weekend long with professionals from each field. We, believe it or not, are the professionals for theatre and we get to perform our show and then work with the kids on Shakespearean scenes that they present at the end of the weekend. It was amazing. I don't think I can even describe to you what it was like. The food was exquisite - dessert at every hom made meal (it was very very dangerous and it had to end or I would have weighed 400lbs in a matter of weeks) and I don't think I was hungry once in the last 3 days - you eat when they tell you to.

I flipped my shit when I found out we were performing in a barn. A real barn. Not to be confused with a fake barn - it was a real functional barn. Montana Shakespeare in the Parks gave the camp their older summer tour set and they built it in the barn for us to use during the weekend. Friday night was our performance night and we spent a good part of the day getting to know the theatre students and then preparing for our performance. We ran thru the play and made adjustments to our blocking amidst mooing cows and barking dogs. I talked to Steve, the head honcho of the ranch hands, and he let me know that they were sorting calves this weekend, something that was usually already completed by Arts Roundup weekend. Hence the noise and commotion. I told him I loved all the bustle and he was just amused all day by our rehearsing. He was such a gentleman - he tipped his hat when he shook my hand and he told us to let him know if we needed anything. While the boys were running thru their fight scene - dodging the work dogs that thought the swords were part of an elaborate game of 'fetch' - Tonya and I snuck off with Jessie, the smartest 11 year old I have ever met, and visited the five draft horses whom we pet and fawned over for a while. Jessie's father and mother live and work on the ranch and he knows the ins and outs of the whole place.

I have to stop here and tell you that I fell hard in love with Hobble Diamond Ranch. I felt dizzy all day on Friday from how happy I was to be there. I started to tear up on several occasions because it was so unbelievable to be performing with this company - this wonderful group of people - in a barn with cows and horses and cats and dogs for these high-school students and the other artists and teachers. I was convinced for a full 24 hours that my calling in life is to work on a ranch...but I think my calling is to do Shakespeare on a ranch. How much closer to the original Globe can you get? The smell of hay and wood chips and the crisp cold open night sky air. We were all heady with the heat of lights and the smell of animal crap!

After the performance, I approached and hugged cowboy Steve and asked him if he liked the show - I assured him that he was allowed to be perfectly honest. He looked up at the ceiling in thought and said, "You know, I did like this one. I don't usually understand what the hell you all are saying, but this one I did understand. Most of it." He told me, "You guys did real good" and it made my year.

There is so much more to this weekend than I can possibly write. I made some great friends from Philly - Lisa, Katie, and Matt - they are just awesome people and wonderful teachers and very talented artists. And the students were amazing - they were willing to take risks and play and they were so smart! I got to work with Tonya on a scene with Brigit and JoJo - the Desdemona and Emilia scene from Othello. They did such a beautiful job and the most amazing thing they did was listen to one another - something that professional actors often can't do if their life depended on it.

This weekend made me so proud to do what I do. More proud than any other time in my life. I feel like I have found happiness - I found the answer. Doing Shakespeare in the middle of nature - our monologues were answered with moos and barks! It was perfect. I feel like I have grown up - I have completed a right of passage that didn't come for me in college. And I feel like this weekend really bonded us as a company - as we crossed the Hobble Diamond threshold for the final time on Sunday night, I felt a sadness and longing in the van - a quiet contemplation for all the wonderful things we shared over the weekend.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chocolate Milk and Sloppy Joes

It has been cold and snowy all week - on Thursday I announced to everyone that it felt like the week before Thanksgiving. I had a strong wave of homesickness and I was seriously craving pumpkin pie and apple cider. Now it just feels like January - it was 2 degrees here last night and it might just get up in the 40s on Monday. But it is beautiful. The snow here stays white for a long time because there aren't as many cars and not so much smog. We had a 3 hour drive back to Bozeman from Wyoming on Thursday and we decided to go through I have never been there before and I hardly saw the tip of the iceberg, I know, but it was stunning. And we lucked out - we saw a couple hundred bison - two separate herds - plus we stopped for a bison crossing the street and he stared at us (which was a little scary) and we took pictures of him. We also saw a bald eagle, a coyote, antelopes and a beautiful herd of elk. Elk are so magnificent - their coloring and their size is just unreal. I was holding out for a moose, but I guess I will have to wait for Maine next year.

Tour was super fun this week - very tiring and a lot of work, but very fun. I really loved Wyoming - a lot of people with very different life perspectives from me (many, many anti-Obama bumper stickers) but incredibly nice and gracious to us travelers. For the most part, everyone is so grateful to have us there because they have seen the summer shows or they know kids who have seen previous fall tours. Two women we met at the Elk Horn Grille were very dismayed that our show wasn't announced in the local paper like in past years and they were asking us if the Preschoolers would be able to see it. We said we didn't know who would be in our audience, but it was a rather intense show for preschoolers. The next morning we played at Meeteetsee High and lo and behold, all the kids K-12 were there to watch. It was really interesting playing to seniors and kindergartners - if the high school kids did something, than the younger kids would do it ten-fold. So there were a lot of kissing sounds, giggling, and meowing during the Tybalt scenes. One of the teachers at Meeteetsee told us that this was her favorite day of the year and she had coffee and spice bread for us when we showed up at 7. I don't think I have ever felt more appreciated as a storyteller than in these schools. I mean, there are almost always going to be some kids that don't care and are just happy to be out of class, but there are so many of them that are enthralled and excited because there is no local theatre for them to go see. When we ate lunch with the kids, some of them had the idea of we ended up spending most of the period signing our autographs on napkins with dry erase markers amid chocolate pudding and blue Jello. I met the cutest 2nd grader named Mark who wouldn't talk at all to start with and by the end of the period he couldn't stop. He really liked the play, especially the sword fighting. And he told me that he is allergic to milk. And the sun. We ended up having to escort our Juliet out of the lunch room for fear that the children would overtake her - I am amazed we haven't ended up with a 1st grader hiding out in the van.

On Sunday, we have a four hour drive ahead of us to Ten Sleep. We aren't coming back to Bozeman next weekend, so it will be two weeks on the road. We are going to a ranch and staying for 4 nights to do Literary Roundup, which I don't know a whole lot about, but when I do I will let you know. As I understand it, there are groups of kids that choose to study theatre, music, art, etc at this camp on a ranch. And the ones that choose theatre spend the weekend with us - we perform the show and we direct them in Shakespearean scenes that they all present to one another at the end of the weekend. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I am hoping I can ride a horse while I am there.

There is something really fun about living off of what you can carry in your suitcase - it just makes everything more simple. It is really nice to go into a different location every day and do the same thing with the same people. And it is never really the same, because every show is different and every school is different. On Friday we performed at Bozeman Public Library for some Home-Schooled youth and the ceiling wasn't high enough for our balcony railing to fit. So that was an adventure. And on tour, you know there is a place to sleep and there is stuff to eat - we live off of Continental breakfasts and school lunches - I have had sloppy joes and chocolate milk twice this week!!!

It was really great to be back at the dorm in Bozeman this weekend and we celebrated one of our own's birthday with a big ziti dinner and going out about the town. I was very pleased to have finished Eddie's Bastard - what a great book! - and am now onto Little, Big which I have been told I will love. It sounds like we may go back out to Norris Springs this evening. It will be much, much harder to get out of the water, but I think it will be fun to go when it is so cold outside.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Okay, I apologize for the lack of updates of late - last week was our third week of rehearsal and tech week so we were rehearsing 8 hours a day and also had our 'tech' which was figuring out sound cues and who was running which cues etc. We also added our beautiful costumes and figured out how our set comes down and packs up. The way the sets at MSIP work blows my mind: the scenic designer comes up with a design that must be able to endure being taken down and put up 5 times a week and it all goes together WITHOUT TOOLS! We use bolts, wingnuts, and pinned hinges to hold everything together, including the balcony that people jump and walk on. If that doesn't impress you, this should: it all is designed to fit within a certain cubic space in the back of a massive flat bed pickup truck. Apparently the sets in the summer work the same way, except that they are three times as big and so they add a trailer to the whole thing called 'the whale.' So all of our set, sound equipment, costumes and other items (first aid, hair and makeup) fit into the truck or our 15 passenger van and that is what we cart around from town to town.

We are leaving Bozeman for the first time in about two hours to drive to Columbus, MT where we will be giving our second school performance tomorrow morning. It was incredibly weird to pack a suitcase for 5 days out of the limited amount of stuff I brought. I definitely won the packing game - I brought very little - but as a result have picked up some stuff while I have been here. It is super dry and for the first time in my life, conditioning my hair has become a must and it is just very strange to be somewhere that dry after living in Chicago where it seems like there is always moisture in the air.

Speaking of moisture, it has been spitting snow all day, which is very pretty. Doesn't look like it will stick . We did have a snow that stuck on Sept 30th - I woke up and looked out at everything covered with white and was absolutely shocked. Hopefully we will get some sort of autumn before winter really settles in, but we shall see. I am reeeaaally glad I brought my down vest and have been getting my money's worth out of it this last week. Naturally, since it started snowing, Laura (our lovely Juliet and my partner in crime) and I went to get yarn to start knitting Christmas presents and have been doing that all weekend.

But - back to Friday. Friday was our first school performance at 8:45 am which meant we were there at 7am which meant we left at 6:40am which meant I got up at 5:30am. Which was a shock to my system after 10am rehearsals and being up until midnight the night before. Nonetheless, we got into their beautiful gym and set up everything for the first time and things went fairly smoothly. The show was great and we only had one minor setback - one of the actors came off stage, high on life from her scene, and knocked the sound computer off of the table. All of our sound went out and didn't come back on until someone had the ingenious idea to reboot the computer so that we had the last two sound cues. But in the meantime, we got very resourceful and old school and used an actual bell to make the 'bell sound cue' and our voices to make 'voice sound cues.' Back to basics.

The kids were pretty amazing - I realized that I don't think I have ever performed in front of a more appreciative audience. Of course there are always going to be some kids that are just glad to be out of class and don't care where they are, but for the most part they were thrilled and excited to see this play. Their teachers had done a great job prepping them for us and they were familiar with the story and even called us out on some of the stuff we had to cut for the sake of time. The teaching afterwards was kind of scary for me, but I know it will get easier - I just need to be confident that I know what I am doing. We were invited to stay for lunch and I was bowled over by the food! These kids have a salad bar and fresh spinach and it was pizza day!!! And if you eat all of your 'growing food' (aka pizza and salad) then you may have a brownie. Truly, the food was fantastic (especially compared to the crap I ate in school) and it is all made on site, not frozen, and meets certain health recommendations like having multi-grain and a vegetable and fruit. The principal told me that it is a program predominantly in rural Montana schools where there is a small enough student body for one to cook. I gave the kids the "In my day..." speech about overcooked green beans and iceberg lettuce being the only green thing in the lunch room when I went to school and they looked at me and laughed.

I met a 4th grader named Eliza and we were both very excited that someone else had our names. In the talk back, one of the kids asked us all what our first play was. My answer, of course, was The Sound of Music in 4th grade and I heard a giggle erupt from the middle of the audience. I later found out, when I was approached by a gaggle of 4th graders, that the school musical this year is The Sound of Music - it went something like this, "We are excited because you said your first play was The Sound of Music when you were in 4th grade and we are in 4th grade! and we are doing The Sound of Music this year! And you were in 4th grade and we are in 4th grade! isn't that cool?" And it is.