We’ve been to the
USA 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 when I was a
visiting professor and 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. 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
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 house lights went down and I watched
a shifting, indescribably beautiful sequence of woodland 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. 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 expressions you use over here’.
Anyway, back to this trip and it was as satisfying as ever. The trees, thecoastline, 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,
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.
If you haven’t yet been to the
USA, put it on your bucket list. At