Archive for the ‘Travel Notes’ Category

Ottawa!

September 17, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

I’m at my brother’s family home in Ottawa. It is absolutely stunning weather. The sun is shining in a cloudless blue sky; it’s warm, and feels like late summer rather than fall. I sit and have a glass of wine with my sister-in-law in the back garden. Perhaps we are getting payback for those relentlessly rainy days of July. They are calling for beautiful weather all week! I’m sure the NAC has organised this! They are on top of everything!

The drive up was so pleasant. Such an amazing country we live in. It’s so stunning when you break into the Shield around Kingston. And the hawks were out in plenitude: hawk is the messenger. I trust that they are all bringing us good news.

We have learned that Josette will not be joining us for rehearsals in Ottawa. This is a huge disappointment to me. I am ever the eager one, and was hoping for some notes from the director, and a really fresh perspective. Rae McKen, our assistant director, is fantastic, but she has been with the process and watched it grow incrementally. I will be interested to hear what Veronica and Warren have to say, as they have not see the show since it opened. They will provide the fresh eyes and ears, I hope.

Ottawa is already treating us like royalty: in our welcome packages we have invitations from both the British High Commission and from Rideau Hall. “Smart Casual” is the dress code. So I can’t wear the “dumb casual” clothes that are the usual wardrobe. This is a big deal for the NAC. I hope we’re up for it. I hope our European colleagues are as excited to be here as we were excited to be in their stomping grounds.

The thing is, while we have had a week off at home, four of them have been doing their closing week of Macbeth and Macbett at the Northern Stage in Newcastle. And then they have had the same nightmarish journey that we had a week ago. So they will be jet-lagged and pooped. We’ll have to do our best to pick them up. I’m sure that the idea of making theatre in another country will energise them.

I look forward to rehearsals tomorrow. I’m sure there will be a huge flutter of conversation and exchange of news and excitement. And we will find out more about our absent director, and how things will proceed here without her. Stay tuned.

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Home now.

September 9, 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Home now. A simple girl from St. Catharines. Eating brown-rice sushi, in a warm house, with a bit of mildew in the basement. That’s life. Real life.

The crazy thing is, I keep coming back to the wig. It has become a symbol for me. This journey is not about me working at the RSC. It’s not about being prodigious, or crowning my career, or doing something that others may envy or deem important. It’s about wearing a wig that was worn by Alan Howard in Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1970. It’s about expanding my context: my sense of the whole. That’s what all theatre should be.

I’ll leave you for a short week, and catch you on the flipside, as the Ottawa door opens to reveal…?

On Our Way Home

September 8, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007

We’re on the plane. On our way home. Imagine. England begins to fade into the sunset. Literally. Plenty of melancholy accompanies this fading. The pain of closing one door, and opening another. Why is it that doors are vested with such complicated feelings?

I need to go back a bit. I haven’t told you about Friday. It was a good day. We had a media call to shoot some footage for Canadian television. It all went very smoothly. It was great to have a director and two cameras shooting, and to actually get coverage of certain angles and lines for editing. So often footage of stage work that is shot for television is unsatisfactory because you are trying to capture a large live medium on an intimate repeatable one. They are just not terribly compatible. But this situation was quite unique as media shoots go, so hopefully the product will be a little more watch-able than most of the two-minute clips you see on the news.

We had a good final show in Newcastle. So fast this little run. Oh, and I forgot to tell you that we had full houses for all four shows, which was great. They really liked our final kick at the can on these shores. Jim and Donna Wright, the High Commissioner and his wife, travelled all the way up from London just to see it! They were very supportive, and said they would tell all their friends in Ottawa to come out. So take note all you Ottawa diplomats.

We had a drink with most of the Macbeth/Macbett boys after the show, since they were doing a staged reading of the new Anthony Neilson piece that they are taking to London in November. It was good to have a little goodbye with them. Such great fellows. And as Kelly says, we have become very close even though we haven’t shared the stage with them. We are still somehow members of the same company. So that was nice.

And when it came time to say goodnight, and goodbye, I found myself inexplicably crying. I just let that happen, and ended up sobbing most of the way back to the hotel in the taxi. It’s all been so big.

Now here comes the nasty part of the story. I’m going to blame it all on Corrine (teasing! teasing!). Since her flight was at 15:30, and the drivers were concerned about roadworks, and traffic on the M25 (how many times have I heard what a parking lot that highway is, only to go through it like you know what through a goose?!), we were picked up by a small coach at 4 o’clock in the morning. That is cruel and unusual when you have just closed a show, and a run, and have suitcases the size of steamer trunks to drag down the stairs, and there is no breakfast, let alone NO COFFEE!!

Dear Katie Vine, our new Stage Manager was there to see us off, even though she has an old cat who is critically ill at home, and wanted nothing more to get back to her pet the night before. (A little thought for Katie’s cat. And an enormous thanks to Katie for being such an awesome addition to our merry band of wanderers.) But lest I get distracted by positive and happy thoughts, let me lead you back to the hell that is a people mover stuffed with six exhausted actors and their luggage, and two unwitting drivers who happened to be the messengers we wanted to shoot. We tried desperately to get back to sleep once we set off, but to little avail. The seats were impossibly uncomfortable, it was either sweltering or freezing, and the drivers would insist on talking loudly to each other to keep awake!

We stopped for a toilet and breakfast break at around 7:30. Hysterical. Blood shot eyes with last night’s stage make-up still in the corners, and hats covering the bed-head, we staggered into the service centre. As a side note, I need you to bear in mind that when we got on the bus it was dark, and that we picked Kelly up at a separate location, so there is some understanding the following sequence of events. We’re standing in a queue to pay for coffee (the Saturday morning breakfast rush was apparently on), and Kelly walks up to two men in the line-up that she assumes to be our drivers and says in a rather coy, Marilyn Monroe voice, “Excuse me gentlemen, but is this our half-hour break?” Corrine and Lisa and I are already laughing cuz we have seen the bus drivers and know that these are not them, and these poor men aren’t quite sure what to think of the crazed looking woman in a cloche who is beseeching them, but one of them gently replies, “We don’t have a clue who you are, dear”. Kelly nearly dropped apoplectically to the floor in horror, and began apologising profusely to the strangers she’d accosted, while the rest of us howled with laughter. All chalked up to no sleep.

We managed to get safely back to the bus. And arrived at Heathrow at 9:30. Yes. NINE-THIRTY. What was expected to be a seven-hour journey had become a 5 hour journey, and now we were six hours early for even the earliest flight. This left us all somewhat bewildered. At this juncture we had to say goodbye to Corrine because she was leaving from another terminal. And Pippa too was off to Gatwick to make a connection to Rome where she is heading for a week. So five of us gathered luggage carts and piled them high with bags that were likely over-weight. But we couldn’t check any of this luggage through until noon, so we were stuck wheeling it around the airport for a couple of hours.

Check-in and security at Heathrow Terminal 4 is a nightmare. When they tell you to be there three hours early they mean it. We came up from our second breakfast to stand in a one hour queue for baggage check-in. Then there was another 1/2 hour getting through security.

Very strict, too. Only one carry-on, shoes off through the metal detector, liquids in bags. No joking around. But once on the other side only another 3 1/2 hours to waste, without sleep or prospects of it! I think we all had tears at least once in that time. It’s just too much to ask- a five hour bus ride, an eight hour wait, and then an eight hour flight.

But now we are homeward bound, and excited about seeing friends and family (my friends David and Pam are picking me up! can’t wait), and not excited about having to catch up with banking and accountants what might be growing in my humid basement, and all the realities that have been existing at home for three months without us.

Reflective too. It’s so strange that it is suddenly done. And yet, not done. Too tired to be clear. And yet, clear in my gratitude for all this, regardless of the incomprehensible travel day. Clear that I will have these memories to cherish, and will hold the relationships that have been struck with so many wonderful people over the past three months.  Sleepy, but clear.

The First Day at the Northern Stage

September 4, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We had our first day at the Northern Stage today. It is a modern, recently renovated theatre on the campus of Newcastle University just across from the Civic Centre. It exists in such sharp contrast to the Swan in so many ways. The backstage is all brand new: bright clean hallways, a spacious well-equipped green room, and WINGS! Yippee!

There is actually room for props tables, quick changes, and a bit of milling about. This makes the process of teaching a new crew so much easier.

And the onstage space is completely different also. Well, the deck is the same, and they have constructed the set to duplicate exactly the upstage balconies and staircases at the Swan. But the house is completely different for playing. Whereas at the Swan the house is sharply vertical like the old European opera houses, the Northern Stage is long and deep, with only a small percentage of the seats at the sides of the thrust. So some alteration in the playing style is necessary to better serve the majority of the audience. This became pretty clear for us once we started staggering through. That was the job yesterday. The crew had been working overtime.

Macbeth had it’s technical rehearsal on Sunday, dress on Monday afternoon, and first show last night. All went well. But then there was a changeover from the Macbeth set to the Penelopiad set, and enormous alterations of lighting and backstage life that accompanies that changeover. So the crew were pooped.

It didn’t show. They all had their game faces on, and our technical rehearsal went very smoothly. We even finished an hour ahead of schedule! That meant a little extra time in the pub before heading back to our hotel in Jesmond.

A View of Bjornefjord (continued)

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Curled up in the chaise lounge

Apparently it rains 275 days of the year in Bergen. Considering these statistics we were oh so lucky. We had sun for two of the three days we were there. Most of these days were spent curled up in the chaise lounge chairs reading. I barely moved the first afternoon. Oh maybe I sat in the gazebo for a while when the Maritime men were on a coffee break and their laughter and conversation became a bit intrusive. The option was spending time in the spa, which we both did, with massage, a Finnish Sauna at 90 degrees Celsius, 0% humidity, a Sanarium at 55 degrees Celsius, 50% humidity, and a Steam Room at 70 degrees Celsius, 100% humidity, not to mention a swimming pool with the same extraordinary view of the fjord. Paradise.

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Solstrand View

Oh. And the food. If you like seafood… and I do… you’re lost. You can have fish three meals a day. There is a whole table of fish for breakfast! True! I passed on that. But I did eat fish at every other  meal. The chef was fantastic. The first night we had the chef’s selection, which was a fixed menu, and the second night we ordered a la carte. Both were fantastic, but I must say my monkfish on the a la carte night was a euphoric experience. Corrine’s plate of creme brulee looked pretty good too.

This is the kind of holiday I have never taken. Simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money on myself. But every second of this was worth it. It is a memory that I will cherish for a lifetime.

All the girls had their tales. Pippa spend two weeks on a yoga retreat in Crete. Pam spent time in London, Edinburgh, and Paris with family and friends. Jenny was on a canal boat with her family in Oxford, and then hiking in Scotland with her partner, Gord. Lisa spent time with her husband in Ireland, and then on her own in London seeing shows. Kelly went down to London and to Canterbury and relished the history, and then, unfortunately, spent some time sick in London in the care of friends. It was a great holiday, and a deserved break. And we are all so grateful, and ready to return to playing our play for the people of Newcastle.

Back: refreshed, excited and in Newcastle!

September 3, 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hello loyal readers! Ah, it is good to be back: refreshed, excited, and in Newcastle! The land of the Geordie! Newcastle, the great city packed with imposing streets of Georgian stone architecture. And if that’s not impressive, the nightlife certainly is, complete with the babe parade in short, short mini-skirts or hot-pants, stilettos, and big blonde hair. And that’s only the men! Kidding.

But I’ve skipped the promised report on the two-week holiday. Wow. I don’t know where to begin. Oh yes, I do. I took a few days off. I went to my family in Essex and chilled. The weather was crap, so it was a perfect time to just visit and talk with some amazing people that I only see every five years or so. I did go to London for two days to have lunch with some old school mates, and to meet up with Corrine. But I don’t want to bore you with the endless details of an action packed two weeks. So I will tell you two short stories.

Rickshaw Anyone?
Corrine and I met at Waterloo Station to catch the noon train to Newcastle on the Sunday after we finished the show in Stratford. This is how the day began: we figured (crazy canucks) that since we had booked 1st class tickets as a treat, we would go to the 1st Class Lounge to use the WC. The woman at the desk laughed at us: our 1st class tickets were not 1st class enough to use the 1st class lounge.

Okay. I thought I’d use the facilities on the train, so we boarded a bit early… into the first class cabin. But when we looked a little closer at the itinerary, it showed that we would only be on this train for 18 minutes, to Hatfield, at which time we would be transferred to a bus (you read correctly… the old rail replacement bus, the part they don’t tell you about when you book for travel on a Sunday) that would take us to Peterborough. That’s what happened. But no time to use the loo! So as per itinerary we ended up in Peterborough just after 2pm… holding it. Finally a chance to use the highly disgusting, and ever so smelly railway platform toilet. Eeeyew. So much for 1st Class.

Okay. So. We’re supposed to be catching the train to Edinburgh at 2:20. Then comes the announcement that the train has been delayed. And they don’t know how long the delay will be. After 15 minutes the announcement is made: please schlep your heavy suitcases up over the bridge and down the other side to another platform and join all the other suckers already waiting for the train to Aberdeen. Oh. And no more seat assignments are valid, so those 1st class bookings you made? Well, see if you can beat the rugby team to whatever seats are left. Good luck. Oh no. I forgot. They never actually said good luck.

But on my team was the great bulldog Corrine Koslo! (The crowd goes wild.) Never underestimate the determination of this pint-sized woman on a mission. When the train arrived, she put her head down and zoomed past the rugby team, getting us seats in the first class car! Yippee. We were the lucky ones. There were a number of people that were left without any seats at all, left to sit on the floor in between carriages with the smell of the toilets and no air conditioning.

Through it all our comrades in the coach maintained a jocund sense of humour, and we all had quite a good time. But that was the end of any 1st class privileges. We got water. By the time they got the tea and coffee to us they were out of cups. And food? Forget it. Oh well. We were thankful to be on our way. For a few minutes.

We stopped suddenly and sat on the tracks going nowhere. Now what. A few different explanations came over the speaker system with dutiful apologies. Nothing that gave us any indication of when our journey might resume again. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. A cup of tea would be brilliant right about now. The seven people in our section decided we could share from the one cup that had been left on our table by a previous passenger.

Then another dreaded announcement. The train could not carry on through to Aberdeen because of electrical issues, so we would be changing to a diesel train at York. Not a terribly happy group at that point. Have you ever noticed that suitcases somehow increase in weight in relation to the number of times you have to hoist them from the overhead bins. But the bulldog was ready. (The crowd goes wild again!) She dashed across the platform, suitcase bounding, securing us seats on the new diesel train. But this time we saw some of the real consequences of the railway foul-up.

An elderly woman was struggling. A group of young girls had come to her rescue and were carrying her case, but she looked frightened, and certainly not well. Corrine helped her settle herself in a seat in our foursome, and after a time she relaxed and felt better and started offering around items from her packed lunch. All the other members of our little enclave from the previous train had found seats. We finally got our tea. Amazing how a cup of tea can hit the spot. So all was well.

We braced ourselves for what might happen next. Rickshaw anyone? But the old diesel train got us safely into Newcastle station two hours later than our scheduled arrival. Safe and sound. And with a bit of a tale to tell, which is never a bad thing.

A View of Bjornefjord
We then spent two days travelling around Northumbria, first to the west and an amazing day walking Hadrian’s Wall. The history in this part of the world is awe inspiring, as is the scenery. Then a day trip to the south, to Durham, which is a charming, hilly town with narrow cobbled streets reminiscent of an Italian village, with a fantastic castle and cathedral at the top of a cliff looking over the river. Gorgeous.

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Hadrian’s Wall

And then we boarded our “big boat” to Norway. The weather, I must say, had been great for us. Not hot, and not completely sunny, but not raining. Magical skies that would hide and then reveal the sun in counterpoint. We sailed out of Newcastle on a smooth sea to watch the sun set over the piers full of cormorants and the ruins of the castle at North Shields.

The journey to Norway was smooth, though it is rather distressing to wake in the middle of the night and think about the fact that you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the very black, very cold North Sea and have neglected to check thoroughly the emergency procedures. I had dreams about getting Corrine up to the seventh floor and the life-boats. Or was it the life-jackets that were on seven, and the boats on eight? Now I know why you pay extra for a cabin on the sixth floor. Oh dear.

We saw the shores of Norway at about 1pm the following day. Magical. Like travelling past hours and hours of Peggy’s Cove. And sometimes like the Sunshine Coast, Corrine said. It was brisk on deck, so we bundled and faced the wind. Two hardy Canadians standing on the top deck of the ship, completely alone, singing Northwest Passage at the tops of our lungs, warming ourselves on the cooking-vents from the kitchens two floors below. It was smelly, but it was the only thing that kept us up there. And the skies! Oh, the skies. Sun sparkling intermittently on the barren landscapes dotted with sea-houses.  And our “big boat” inching its way between rocks on this side, and islands on that. We made port at Stavanger, then Haugesund, and finally at Bergen. (There is a hilarious tale to tell about our night on the ship in Bergen, but in the interests of time for both you and I, that will have to wait until the published version of this blog!) The following morning at 6:30am we were in a taxi on our way to Solstrand. We had no idea what to expect, really. We’d seen a few pictures on the web. It looked grand. But doesn’t every advertising photo on the web look grand? And then you arrive to the mildew, and the tiny rooms of the average European hotel.

But Solstrand is a hotel that cannot be captured in photographs. OH MY! I don’t even know how to describe it to you. As you come over the hill from Osoyro you are greeted with the extraordinary beauty of Bjornefjord, with four tree covered islands in the foreground, and misty mountains rising in the distance. Nestled along the coast is a yellow gingerbread hotel that has been run by the Schau-Larsen family for four generations. Borrea Schau-Larsen was our hostess. She is hands on in this going concern. There are almost 300 rooms in this hotel. When we arrived there was a think-tank for the Maritime industries going on which Solstrand has played host to since the family has been running the hotel. So they all know each other, and it was almost like a family reunion. There was a banquet scheduled, which meant we had a private dining room for our lunch, and shared one of the small dining rooms with other guests for dinner.

More tomorrow.

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Solstrand Hotel

The flood of 2007

July 21, 2007

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Avon rowboats before the flood…

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Avon rowboats after the flood! 

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It was a night filled with activity. I left the pub at about midnight, and stood by the river for a while. Already the swelling waters had burst their banks, and the flood plain across the river was now a lake. The swans were huddling, slightly dazed, under the young oak tree by the Ferry dock. And the rain continued to fall.

In the middle of the night I could hear someone knocking on the downstairs window. Some of our neighbours were warning people on the ground floor to move to higher ground. Although I was drifting in and out of sleep, there seemed to be a steady stream of activity regarding encroaching water. So I had lots of two by two dreams, and was awakened in the morning by the gathering of locals and tourists alike agape at the devastation of the landscape.

By good fortune, the water seemed to have stopped just at the foot of our doorway. But the entire street was flooded. And across the river, I could see the swans enjoying the opportunity to swim in the lawn bowling enclosure. The entire green, as far as the eye can see, is still covered with water. And it was only a few hours later, when the water had receded about a foot, that Waterside became passable. Word came that several of the cottages where actors live were flooded, and that the Mac/Mac shows at the Swan had been cancelled because the basement of the theatre was under water. And as I sit here writing, the river is running a torrent, with plenty of debris, felled trees, and bits and pieces floating along in its wake. The ferry has disappeared. The row boats are completely surrounded by water. And there are constant cries of incredulity from the people who are coming out to witness the flood of 2007.

Arriving

June 9, 2007

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Arriving

Well. We’re here. I’ve never been so tired in my life but we have to stay up until the end of this day. They aren’t kidding when they call it the red-eye. Crazy things happen when you’re beginning a trip like this. Jenny and her boyfriend, Gord, ran out of gas in the parking lot of the airport just before they parked the car! That’s true. So she checked in and then ran out to him to leave her CAA card with him before going through security. Kissing him goodbye and all the while looking over his shoulder to see if the tow truck was coming. And I was so nervous I thought I lost my passport. Jenny patiently looked over my shoulder as I checked the seventeen compartments of my carry-on for the third time… and then found it in my pants pocket! Oh yes. Wound up like a top.

The long and short is that after we had a bit of a bumpy ride flying through the thunder-storm which had caused our 40 minute delay, the journey was a smooth one. And I was so glad to have Jenny as a companion.

We were picked up by a car at the airport, and a very fast hour and a half later we were at the Stage Door of the RSC meeting Jondon, our company manager. Then there was a barrage of information of which I understood “Welcome…” , and they took us to The Old Ferryhouse on Waterside, where we are staying. It is a Georgian house looking over… the Old Ferry! And that means the Avon River.

But all of this was lost on me. All I could see was a grubby room that was not my home, in a house that I would be sharing with three women from the Penelopiad, and two men from the Henrys (who will be arriving early July). Food was what I needed. And Jenny, too. So we went to the Green Room at the Swan.

It’s all a bit surreal: we met Sue, the stage door person, marched through the backstage of the theatre, then met Ruth, the Green Room manager, and everything she said sounded like it was in another language. We had no idea what time it was, and what meal might be served. But I think she took pity on us, and said that a hot lunch would be there in a few minutes if we would like a cup of tea. Thank you, thank you.

We got that sorted out, and then headed off to discover the town. And that’s how it all begins this adventure in Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This Odyssey of ours.

Leaving

June 6, 2007

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Leaving

Okay. I leave in less than 48 hours. My bwain huwts. I can feel the stress headache all around my jaw and my gums. I keep talking to folks on the phone, saying goodbyes, and they’re all saying, “You must be so excited!!”. But to be honest, I think I’m too old to be excited. Or… I am just thrumming at a very low frequency. Let’s say that. I’d rather say that than I’m scared. Oh, I don’t mind saying that I’m scared. I’M SCARED.

There’s so much to take into consideration. I’m leaving my home: my house. So there’s organising keys, and ceiling fans, and burglar alarms, and lawn cutting. And all I can say is: I’m grateful for good neighbours! And then there’s the packing: stage make-up, and opening night outfits, and too many skirts, and not enough socks, and how many pairs of shoes?! And books, and papers, and projects (because the career in Canada must also continue), and pictures of the cat: I’m grateful for generous sisters! And do they sell the right razor blades in England. And do I need a transformer or just an adaptor for my computer? Blah.

But onward. Tomorrow: more downloading of CDs on to the computer. $100 each for the neighbour kids for taking care of the lawn. Colour my hair. Pick up my best friend in the whole world from the bus, for one last visit. Put mulch on my flower beds to deter the weeds. Hang out the last of the laundry. Go for a walk in the Short Hills to get the last few breaths of the Ontario summer and the last taste of the woods for a while.

And then Friday, seal up the house, load up the car, head into Yorkville to the place where I know they have the ADAPTOR. Then drop the friend off, take the car to the other friend who is going to drive me to the airport. Meet Jenny Young who is going to be my travel companion. And once we are through security, I’ll write more.