Archive for August, 2007

Good night Swan. Good luck.

August 18, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This is the last morning I will be sitting in my bay window at The Old Ferry House, and writing an entry in my blog. It’s a dull morning, but not raining. There are canal boats moored up and down the river, and the rowers are busy… rowing. The Ferry is running but there aren’t that many people traversing the river as yet. The dogs are out running in the green with their various people in tow. The swans continue to swim to anyone who stands on the bank, hoping for a loaf of bread to
be pulled from a rucksack. There is one cygnet. When we began rehearsals there were three. The one who is left ten weeks later is big and strong, and soon to be a swan. Hmmm.

Two good shows to finish our run at the Swan Theatre. And the doors closed behind us. Now the Swan and the RST will go into major renovations and are scheduled to re-open in 2010. A sad time for many people there. There will be many lay-offs, as you can imagine, as what is usually a three theatre-space company is reduced to one theatre. That said, there is a desperate need for these renovations, and the proposed changes look miraculous. So I wish great things for the whole project.

For us there was sadness, and excitement and finishing our final show in Stratford-upon-Avon. Many people were in the house: Josette returned from Sweden, Peter Hinton and Paula Danckert were there from the NAC, Kelly’s friend Cedric Smith and her brother Bill came from America, my friends Julie and David, and my classmate Emma came. So there were lots of people to be excited about.

And we spilled into the Duck after the shows. A few from the Histories joined us. But others were already on their way: the next project, or home, or in Pippa’s case, a flight to Crete, were beckoning. So it was a motley crew that gathered. And stayed up to the wee hours.

The infamous Dirty Duck pub

When I come back to the blog in two weeks in Newcastle, I will report
on the various holiday adventures. But till then I will say adieu.

Oh. I will leave you with one little story that gives me an understanding of the legacy of this company, the RSC. Brenda in wigs told me last night as she was rolling my pin-curls, the wig I wear in The Penelopiad was built for Alan Howard in Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. Yes. That Dream. You know. The production that changed the face of Shakespeare productions forever. A bit on information that goes right through my body and puts me smack dab in
the middle of this amazing experience.

Good night Swan. Good luck.

The real name of the Dirty Duck–the Black Swan


The Aperture begins to close

August 17, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

An actor’s life is full of transition. So begins another one: packing, banking, finishing up what’s in the fridge, saying good-byes. The aperture begins to close on this picture of the Canadian girls in Stratford-upon-Avon. I don’t realise how close to the surface all this is until George hands us a poem to read in warm-up and I overflow with tears. It has been such an adventure. And I know the adventure continues now with holidays, and Newcastle, and then bringing the project home, but this mind-blowing stay in Stratford will be over in two sleeps.

There is a company meeting in the Swan at 6:30pm. Denise Wood, one of the producers, tells us the bad news. Though they have been working on various possibilities for transfer to Turin and Greece, these negotiations have failed and our option to extend will not be exercised. Disappointing, no doubt. I could have loved a paid holiday in Greece and Italy! But at least we know now, and we begin the mundane task of looking for work at home.

We had a hot show tonight. It was really good. Really focussed, and fun. These internal differences are so subtle, but since we feel them, I’m sure they are conveyed to the audience as well. I bashed my toe open again. It was so close to being healed that I didn’t have a bandage on it. And smash; I was bleeding all over the stage. Sitting there in my pretty silk dress, feeling the blood roll over my toes and splash onto the stage. And at the craziest point in the show for me: one quick change after another. So I run offstage after the scene. My wonderful dresser Keith is there, and there is no time to do anything, but can he give the heads up to the upstage left corner for my next exit. When I go back on I can see these little puddles of my bright red blood glistening on the shiny black floor in Bonnie Beecher’s perfect light. I do the scene and run for the next quick-change. Thank God for Stage Management. In this country, the Stage Manager sits on book in the alcove, while the Deputy Stage Manager calls the show from the booth. So Katie, our new SM came to the rescue. In about 15 seconds she had bandaged and taped my toe and I was able to go back into the scene without a hitch. You see, the drama is not confined to the work on-stage. Sometimes there’s just as much entertainment in the wings!

A Delicate Balance

August 16, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

You have to love getting up at 8:30 to have your breakfast before going to see three hours of Shakespeare. Okay. You don’t have to love it… but I sure do. The Histories had their Press Day today: almost 11 hours of Shakespeare for those who were in for the long haul (audience and actors alike). I could only see one. Though I hunger for the experience of more.

Michael Boyd’s Richard II begins when two large metal doors in an enormous upstage column open to reveal the Court, who then proceed down the rectangular stage in a silent dance. All you hear as they step in precision toward their King is the sound of a single step in the repeated phrase where the foot is scraped along the floor. When the dance is finished and the Court parts to allow the entrance of the King, the bloodied body of the Duke of Gloucester is miraculously discovered in their wake, and the King placidly steps over the corpse as he ascends to his throne.

Richard II directed by Michael Boyd as part of the History Cycle.

It’s breath-taking. As is the entire production. If you’ve really been following the blog, you’ll know this is the second time I’ve seen this one. It was just as awesome, if not more so, the second time around. Three hours that go by in a blip. And an audience who sit enwrapped by this beautiful play and this extraordinary production. God, I love the theatre.

I came home at the end to grab some lunch and start packing. Jenny came up the stairs and we talked about our shared experience. How Jonathan Slinger has such astounding control over this part, and the words he has the honour of speaking.

And then, out of nowhere, I began to cry. Tears of grief. Expressing feelings of enormous loss. Loss for my gender. The resonance of this kind of theatre, of Shakespeare captured with so much integrity, is profound in me. I know I am not alone. And the women in this production were fantastic, do not get me wrong: Hannah Barrie, Maureen Beattie, and Katy Stephens all did exceptional work.

But Shakespeare wrote plays for men. Simple as that. And I am not a man. So I grieve. I grieve that I will never have the honour of speaking the words of Kings; of Richard, of Gaunt, of Bolingbroke; of playing in a castle which is essentially the demesne of men. Salt tears. And pain in the pit of my stomach. This is my penetrating loss.

But after art, life goes on. Packing. Sorting out what to take on the two week holiday, and what to have shipped to Newcastle. Laundry. Ironing. A little nap. That kind of thing.

And then off to do my show. To tell the untold tales of women. To see history from another perspective. To share the rare power of thirteen women on stage. To regain.

The party went into the long hours of the night, and was a chance to dance and laugh and share with the Histories company who have been so hard at work. The boys from the Mac/Mac company were there too. And at the end of a very full day, as I crawled into bed at 3am, my feet aching from high heels on a stone floor, things seems to have settled into a delicate balance.

Canadians in the crowd!

August 15, 2007


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I slept… and I mean SLEPT… for 9 1/2 hours. Do you think my body was trying to tell me something?! The dreaded bug is spreading – Rae, our assistant director, and Deborah Shaw, our Artistic Associate, both have it now. Some of us are beginning to recover, though. We learned relatively early in the day that Penny would do the show tonight. So that’s good. Back to our regular tracks, which provides a certain comfort.

The Cast in The Penelopiad, photo Ellie Kurttz

The show itself was a bit of an adjustment. It’s amazing how quickly one adapts to a new energy, and then how the scales must be re-adjusted. So a bit of a wonky show from the inside, not that anyone would notice. And there were Canadians in the crowd!

Jenny’s parents, George and Joanne arrived this morning from a few days hiking in the Cotswolds. (A curse and an blessing that Jenny could not get hold of them yesterday to say she would be on again!) And Peter Hinton, our fearless NAC leader, was in attendance.

It was so great to see him after the show. He is such a wonderful support, and such a gifted man of the theatre. To have him brimming with pride meant all the world to us. So some drinks in the Duck were in order. Though most of us made an early night, as it is the big press day for the Histories Company tomorrow: they open Richard II, and Henry IV Parts 1 & 2. All in one day! Many of us are going to see Richard II at 10:30 tomorrow morning. And there will be a big party to attend tomorrow night. Should be fun!

A Gentle day

August 14, 2007


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A gentle day. Catching up on rest. The day began with a massage for me. I’ve strained the groin again. A different set of muscles this time, likely compensating for the other ones. So thank God for Nick Hall, and his magic massaging hands. Writing, emailing, and reading took up the rest of the day. Pretty simple.

Penny’s illness is more serious than we hoped, and she was off again tonight. Jenny stepped up. The second show is usually the most difficult for the understudy, as the power of the adrenaline has waned for both the actor going on, and for those who are supporting.

But Jenny Young disproved this theory by taking her work to a new height. It’s like watching a child learn: how quickly she digested the information she received from her audience the night before, and took a huge leap forward. She spoke many sections of the play in her own voice, and that voice is so clear, and funny. Lovely Jenny. Great work.

My heart goes out to Penny, too. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be in her shoes, and to be forced out of the game to sit on the sidelines and heal. This is a very difficult place for an actor to sit. So, Penny… know that our hearts are still with you, and your presence in our work is missed.

The Understudy goes on

August 13, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Okay. This is nutty now. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Jenny Young went on tonight as Penelope. Swear to God.

It went something like this: After a nice recuperative day off, we began preparations for the understudy run. Jenny had an 11am call to run solo work with Rae, and then the company was called for a 2 o’clock warm-up and a 3 o’clock run. We knew there wouldn’t be that many people there, but Sam Jones, the head of casting was coming, along with Deborah Shaw, so it was important to do a good job. And to give Jenny a solid facsimile of what it might be like if she were to go on. All good.

The run went very smoothly. Jenny sailed through at the helm, and the rest of us manned the ship in our different roles, and picked up the slack where pieces were missing, and it ended up being a very pleasurable run of the play. We had tea and cakes in the Ashcroft Roof Room afterwards, and I spoke with Deborah Shaw, and she was very impressed.

We didn’t have much time between shows. It was already 5:15, and warm-up was scheduled to begin at 5:50. But most of us figured since we’d done the understudy warm-up and a run-through, we could forgo this extra call. So we had a quick meal at home: Jenny and Jade and I.

And I praised Jenny for doing such a comprehensive understudy, and how well that reflected on her in the eyes of the powers that be. She lauded Rae for getting an early start to the understudy rehearsals, even though it seemed a burden at the time. And we expressed our relief that all that was behind us now, and we could get back to just running the show.

And the Gods of the Theatre laughed, pointed their wands, and went: brrring-brrring! The old pay-phone in the hall rang.  Jenny got it because she thought it might be her boyfriend, Gord.

“…This is Jenny. … Yes. … Really. … Okay. … I’ll be right there.” I ran out into the hall, “You’re going on!?” Jenny’s inimitable introspective giggle. “Yuh”.  Lots of expletives out of me, and then, “Okay. Let’s go. Here we go!”

So many thoughts. She is so ready. Thank God we did the run this aft. Thank God it’s now and not three weeks from now. The timing couldn’t be more perfect – she already had her hair and make-up done!

Penny had come in to warm-up, but after an in-depth session with Charmion, she simply didn’t have enough voice to do the show. This damned cold! So we gathered to assess the consequences. And of course there is a huge trickle-down effect: Sarah will cover Jenny’s lines in the first chorus, I will cover the second chorus and her Spartan suitor. Lisa will cover Jenny’s maid, Jade will cover Lisa’s maid and so on and so on. The long and the short of it is that when one person is out in this show, the ensemble has to kick into gear. Everyone rallied behind our Queen for a Day, and the show went on. Seamlessly. What a pro. She did us all proud.

Jondon brought some champagne to the dressing room, and we sat around there for a while laughing and re-living in disbelief the events of the day. Telling the tales again and again as a way of pinching ourselves to make sure we were awake. Then the pub, and more regaling.

Bonding. Like an anomalous family celebrating a strange birth. Congratulations to all.

And for our dear Penny, who was sidelined by this dreaded lurgie… our prayers for swift recovery. We await the return of the Queen.


August 12, 2007


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Four more weeks, and we’re home. It’s strange. I can already feel myself hanging on. Not wanting it to finish. Wanting to buy all the food at Marks and Spencers that I haven’t tried yet. Don’t miss anything. And questioning: have I done enough with my time here, or have I frittered away opportunities? Funny. We want to have it all, and are so rarely able to enjoy the experience we have. I have to accept that resting is a valid choice.  And that M & S will be offering a whole new line of food the next time I come to England! So four weeks is four weeks, and as the house playwright once said, “That that is, is”.

I didn’t do much with my Sunday but try to recover from this dreadful cold. A big long sleep, a couple of hours of writing, an hour or so on the internet, some reading. Hot compresses on my sinuses. Some phone calls from home. A great curry dinner that Jenny made, that we ate in the garden with Ryan, one of the fellows from the Mac/Mac company who has become the Ferry House cat. And then, at 11 pm I walked out the front door, stood at the end of the Ferry dock, and looked up at the stars.

It was a beautiful night. The river was lined with sleeping canal boats moored along the bank-side. In the distance I could hear the thrum of the motorway several kilometres away, and under my feet the occasional fish jumped so close it made my heart skip. Not a swan in sight, not a ripple on the water, a bit frightening actually, in its blackness.

I made a tacit agreement with myself, that I would just wait for one.

Nothing. For fifteen minutes. There was quite a bit of air traffic, and I thought for a while that I would miss them because of the distraction of planes. But then came the first one. Light, but unmistakable. The briefest dash across the sky. The stars seemed to multiply and turn up their light. Then another. Almost imperceptible.

Like a subliminal message. Three. Four. But it was Five that was worth waiting for. A bright streak through the sky above the darkened green, with its long tail fracturing the sky for a full second. Meteoric.

What a great word. What a singular experience.

It is a time. A time that cannot be captured. A time that the eye of the mind can retain, but never hold. A time to release.

A good week

August 11, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Had a pretty rough night with my head exploding and not being able to breathe, and I was feeling rather vulnerable at warm-up. So I stuck to myself and prepared for a two show day. There’s a big bikers convention on just outside of Stratford this weekend, so there must have been hundreds of bikers in town this morning, showing off their metal and their leather. Somewhat incongruous with the idyllic Avon river bank, but we love those juxtapositions.

Corrine came in to tell me that her taxi-cab driver had asked her on a date. She had expressed interest in going to the big biker concert tonight after the show to take pictures, and he had asked to take her. I mean, not take her in his taxi, but take her. That gave me a good laugh and brought me marginally out of my morning funk.

A good matinee never hurts anyone. Matinee audiences are a singular lot. They are people who really enjoy the theatre. They have not won tickets from their local charity auction, or been coerced into coming by their sister-in-law’s bridge partner. They choose to spend a gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon in the dark, listening and watching a two thousand year old story told by thirteen chicks in Hades. We love them.

Home for a quick rest in between shows. And to meet up with Hilary and Kev, and their friend Michelle, who are coming to the show tonight.

Oh. Guess who else is coming. Peggy. Oh yes. That Peggy. Dame Peggy. Hmmm. No pressure.

I can’t imagine what Penny is going through. She speaks Margaret’s voice. And she is at the end of her rope with this cold. Poor thing. But Penny Downie remains undaunted. She goes on, as do we all, and give our story to Margaret, to Hilary, to Kev and Michelle, and it is the story that we have come to own with determined dedication to our “low art”.

Penny Downie as Penelope in The Penelopiad, photo Ellie Kurttz

It is strange though. One cannot help but be conscious that the thoughts you are speaking originated in the mind of a small, curly-haired woman who is sitting in the fourth row. That she has rolled these thoughts around in her head and on her page time and again, shuffling them, defining them, refining them. And you know that the chances of your own voice echoing in any way the voice of that small, curly-haired woman, are very slim. That the relationship you have with those words is active, not reflective. That you are acting, not reading. Simple as that. Through necessity, it becomes a different language, a different voice. My voice. And so I pull the curtain, and step on to the stage, and do what I have to do with my fellow actors in any given scene. And leave Ms. Atwood out of the equation. Sorry, Peggy. I have to. That’s my job.

Dressing Table with flowers from Margaret Atwood

We met in the Duck afterwards for a drink. She seemed happy to meet us all, and pleased with the production. I’m sure it will take some time for her to digest. And perhaps we will never know her real thoughts. A few informal pictures were taken, and then I went off to have pizza with Hils, and Kev, and Michelle, who had really enjoyed the show.

These moments with my English “family” make a long week, struggling with injury and illness, worthwhile for me. It’s so great to have my childhood friend come to see me onstage, to be proud of me, and on top of that, to really enjoy the production and the story. It makes the whole experience somehow more real when it is put in context of the whole of my life. Good. A good week.


Ah, adrenaline

August 10, 2007


Friday, August 10, 2007


In the middle of the night, the cold moved in big time. I haven’t been so sick with a cold in years. They grow their germs nasty here in England. We began the technical rehearsal for the understudies at 10 am. So we were in costume at what felt like breakfast time. Yuck. I begged Rae to go home after my bit, and she gave me the allowance. I stayed in bed all afternoon.

The good news is, Sarah’s family emergency has passed, and all is well. She was back in to do her bit at the beginning of the understudy run, too, and then went home. The cold is moving through the company in varying degrees, but the worrisome thing is that Penny is also quite sick with it. Three more shows and then a day off. These down days seem to become more important, when one would think we might be getting some tourism done. No. Just time to recover from the onslaught of the week.

And now, a short treatise on adrenaline: oh blessed hormone! For the understudies, it kicks in like a magical drug that allows you to throw yourself into fear inducing states that would otherwise leave you catatonic. With adrenaline, you walk through fire, and come out the other side shouting, “bring it on”! At the same time, it is the best possible medicine for a cold, or a voice that would otherwise not have the power to fill the kitchen, let alone the theatre. It pumps you up, you do your job, you have enough energy left to meet friends at the public house for an hour or so, and then you crash soundly on your pillow and allow the body to recuperate. Sensational. Ah, adrenaline.

According to Jenny and Kelly, the rest of the tech went well, and things are ready for the run on Monday. There was one little hangover from the tech: I went into my first quick change into Eurycleia to find that my costume had been altered for Corrine for the understudy run, and they had not restored it! Hmmm. If you know Corrine and you know me, you can see how this could be a bit of an issue. And I was a bit cranky about it, as my wick was shortened by the cold… but on you go in a rather strange looking frock, and for the next change everything was back to normal.

Corrine Koslo as Icarius in The Penelopiad, photo Ellie Kurttz

Straight home after the show. A hot toddy to put me to sleep, but a wretched sleep awaited me.

The Theatre gods are laughing

August 9, 2007

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Okay. What did I say about not much to tell? The theatre gods are laughing.  I’ll start with the big news. Understudies went on tonight.

Yup. We had moved quite handily, if raggedly, through a stumble-through in the afternoon. It’s always quite entertaining to see how people throw themselves in to parts they are essentially copying. So it breezed along, and we even finished a half-hour early.

After a quick dinner break we headed back to the theatre for 5:50 pm warm-up, and found out that Sarah Malin would be missing the show because of a family emergency. This had quite a tumble down effect: Kelly would be playing Odysseus in addition to her suitor, and maid; Lisa would be playing Helen of Troy; Jade would be singing Kelly’s verse in Princess; I would cover Sarah’s lines in one of the choruses. Spacing would be adjusted in some of the numbers, people would pick up extra bits and pieces, etc. etc. Good thing we had done the stumble-through that day!

The Company in The Penelopiad, Photo Ellie Kurttz

What is truly remarkable… the show moved seamlessly. And although things were different, and there were some very bright eyes on the stage from time to time, all the girls did an amazing job. Penny surfed ably with all her new scene partners. And the audience took away the same play that they would have seen any other night (no disrespect to Sarah). It is the sad truth in this business: once the story is in place, the actors are all dispensable.

So. That was an event. And on top of that we had a talk-back after the show, which was fun; lots of great energy to share with the folks who stayed. And then Jondon took us all out for champagne at the Duck.

Kelly had pumped enough adrenaline through her system to jump start a train (Lisa and Jade had their fair share as well), so there was a good evening of regaling those who weren’t there with the experiences.

Kelly McIntosh

The Histories company had also had a big day: their first three show day of Richard II and the two Henry IVs, so there were plenty of actors in the pub. And I met some of the people who will be our hosts when we take the show to Newcastle. So much for nothing happening.

It’s so exciting to be part of all this.