The long gap since the last blog was the result of a trip to Rhode Island where nearly all the time was taken up with real rather than online things (such as visiting beautiful places in hot sunshine and drinking wine). It’s a part of the world we know well and to which I’d emigrate like a shot if only they had decent healthcare provision for all. People talk of New England in the fall and yes, it’s breathtaking then, but it’s beautiful the rest of the year, too.
We’ve been there in all the seasons. It started back in the 70s when my wife and I were doing a revue at the Edinburgh fringe and shared a theatre with a group of students from The University of Rhode Island. They invited us to take the show over there and that was the first of many other visits as a visiting professor and visiting artist. I gave courses on textual appreciation, creative writing and even writing sketches (or skits as they’re called over there). I also translated 3 one act Molière plays for performance there. My wife acted in one of them and I directed another.
I also had the enormous privilege (and I really do mean that) of being asked to direct Shakespeare there. It was As You Like It and, while I’ve directed plenty of plays and video/DVD shoots, that was the only time I experienced the full pleasures (and power) of working with a truly professional company. Costume and set designers, committed actors (all students in the Theater Department), technical staff – all treated me as if I knew what I was doing and helped to create a rich production. I have many memories of the rehearsal and performance process but I’ll just quote two, from both ends of the spectrum.
One was when the lighting technician asked me what sort of moods I wanted for different scenes in the play. The set was (of course) the Forest of Arden and the trees consisted of hanging verticals of a silky material (tree trunks), with swathes of various greens looped between them as leaves/branches. I asked the techie (a student) to create appropriate lighting for dawn, dusk and the four seasons. A few days later he was ready to show me what he had and I sat alone in the centre of the dress circle, the stage was empty, the house lights went down and I watched a sequence of shifting, indescribably beautiful scenes as he worked his way through his designs and colours. Tones and brightness shifted from mood to mood and, minute by minute, the seasons and times of day came and went among those trees. It was magical, and it was all for me.
Then, of course, there were the rehearsals and the notes I had to give to actors afterwards. Toward the end, when we were rehearsing the whole play rather than individual scenes, I mentioned to the student playing Rosalind that she’d made a bit of a meal of a particular speech, whereupon she smiled and several others laughed. I said ‘Oh, don’t you use that expression over here?’ Her answer was ‘We use very few of the things you say over here’.
Anyway, back to this trip and it was as satisfying as ever. The trees, the coastline, the lovely clapboard houses and, most of all, the people. In the UK, lots of our ideas about the USA come from movies and, just as Americans have a stereotypical idea of Brits, so we think we know what they’re like. But when you go there, you realise how wrong the stereotype can be. I’ve only been to New England, California and New Orleans, but in all those places, the people we’ve met have been welcoming, friendly, helpful, generous and nearly always upbeat. Waiters in restaurants don’t have the put-upon quality so many of them seem to have in the UK or the superiority their French counterparts are always keen to show. They chat, answer inane questions cheerfully and genuinely seem to care about the job they’re doing.
And I can’t end without noting an extra pleasure I had this time. I met Lynne Gobeille of the Origami Poems Project and spent 3 very interesting hours at a Starbucks chatting with Linda Faulkner who’s a good Facebook and blog friend but whom I’d never met before. It would need a couple more blogs to cover the things we talked about but one very striking feature we both noticed was that there’s a clear difference between the online images we present to the world and the actual people we are. But then, I’ve no idea how Linda would begin to generate on screen the energy and dynamism she exhibited as we chatted.
There are a couple of more specific things I want to share but this is long enough already so I’ll just end with an expression I’d never heard anywhere before but picked up there on this visit. If you haven’t yet been to the USA, ‘put it on your bucket list’..