Ole Missss

Hello, friend!

It’s your pal Louis here. Adventures in Gravedigging recently took me to Oxford, Mississippi and the gorgeous campus of Ole Miss to teach some masterclasses and put on our latest performance of Gravedigger’s Tale for Folger Shakespeare Library. If you haven’t, you can head over to Folger’s excellent Spotlight site to see some more pics from the trip. If you’ve come here from there, please note that nothing here represents the views of Folger in any way – just me.

I want to talk very briefly about the world of academia, something that has long had a pull and an appeal to me. I was ten years on the road with a theater company; more often than not we played college campuses, for many communities the only performing arts center, and interacted with tons of students, undergrads and grads alike.

I’ve always been drawn to teaching. Perhaps it’s in the blood – my parents were both educators. Plus, I think one learns when one teaches, perhaps even more so than when one is “taught.” I enjoy the dialectic, I enjoy the rhetorical experiment, I enjoy the sculpting of language in order to communicate as precisely as possible, I enjoy the surprise that can occur when a long-held belief shifts or clarifies. Primarily, though, I enjoy the company of students.

On this trip to Oxford, I had a chance to work with a fantastic bunch of students, all of whom are currently in rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Their professor Matthew Wilson, a friend of mine with whom I’ve crossed paths many times on the Washington DC theater circuit, is directing the play – and was about the most excellent host one could hope for at a tour site. What was meant to be two one-hour sessions with me turned into one long four-hour session, and even that didn’t feel like quite enough time for any of us.

I suppose what I’m saying is that, as soon as this acting thing reaches its conclusion, maybe teaching is the way forward. Feel free to contact me with nice tenure track faculty appointments. 🙂

gdt umiss wkshp bw

Now if that all sounds a little bit too highbrow for you, I want to assure you that the trip to Oxford was not without some revelry. Intent on showing me what else this college town had to offer, Matt guided me to the town square where we sampled some locally brewed beer at City Grocery. I loved the square so much I returned the next day for a catfish po’ boy at Ajax Diner. The city has a mystical quality – it very much reminded me of New Orleans.

gdt umiss ajax diner

We also joined several other members of the theater faculty for a dinner at chef John Currence’s restaurant Snackbar, whose raison d’etre is a fusion of traditional French technique with Indian flavors. I had a pork loin vindaloo that I’m still thinking about a week later. Soooo so tasty.

I’ve saved the best for last. Now please understand that I’ve traveled extensively through the course of my career and I thought I’d encountered most regional delights. But Matt told me there was a Mississippi delicacy I was obligated to try before returning to New York. Ladies and gentlemen: Chicken-on-a-Stick. Available at the food counters in local gas stations, this delicacy is exactly as advertised: juicy, succulent fried chicken breast speared on a skewer, and available with choice of dipping sauce. Best enjoyed in the parking lot, torn up with the fingers, while chatting with the friendly locals.

The aforementioned gas station:

gdt umiss gas station

Chicken-on-a-Stick:

gdt umiss chicken stick

Me with a friendly local gentleman:

gdt umiss local man

Me with the most excellent host, and all-around good guy, Matthew Wilson:

gdt umiss lou matt

And that’s about it for this dispatch. My next trip will take me to Columbia, South Carolina where I’ll do some more teaching, some more performing and will absolutely be eating as much barbecue as humanly possible.

I’ll close with this picture of the courthouse that sits in the center of Oxford’s town square:

gdt umiss courthouse flag

Until we meet again!

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MIAMI: Expel the winter flaw.

Hello, friend!

It’s your pal Louis here with a little post about my recent whirlwind trip to sunny Miami with our latest engagement of Folger Theatre’s Gravedigger’s Tale, currently traveling hither and yon to commemorate the big 400th anniversary of the dying of our buddy William Shakespeare.

If you’ve come to visit from Folger Theatre’s SPOTLIGHT blog then, by all means, welcome!, and please take a proper look around this site. Moving forward, my plan is to post brief tidbits on each Gravedigger gig to SPOTLIGHT with fuller and more detailed info here in this space. So share away, link away, “like” away, Tweet away, bring the full spectrum of emojis, do whatever it is you’d like to do. Nobody can stop you.

Also, this seems like a really good time to mention: any and all views expressed here are my own; in no way whatsoever do they represent Folger Theatre or Folger Shakespeare Library. Those folks are all way smarter than I am. Plus, they’re located right next to the Supreme Court, whereas I’m located across the street from a Subway sandwich shop and a liquor store. Appointment of new cashiers here is simply not in the news.

Right now, I’d like to get into this a little bit: eleventh graders are simultaneously the most terrifying people in the world and the loveliest people in the world.

Our Gravedigger’s Tale booking in Miami took place at Florida International University. They have two campuses. One is further South and deeper inland, and is where the First Folio was displayed for the gig. The other is located right on the water – the Biscayne Bay, to be precise -and is home both to the theater where we played, and a couple of charter high schools. We did an evening show for the general public, followed by a matinee for some two hundred or so students from the high schools there and…it couldn’t possibly have been more fun.

Here’s what I mean about eleventh graders. First of all, they are scheduled within an inch of their lives. This means that they all showed up at once, in an enormous and riotous pack, exactly five minutes before curtain. They were excited about a change in their routine, and thus fairly rowdy. They are at an age wherein they have a fair number of things going on in their minds and bodies, not a single one of which includes a middle-aged actor saying Shakespeare words to them. They were close to losing their minds at seeing the other kids from the other schools, at figuring out who would sit where and next to whom, the energy in the room was a chaotic torrent, tempest or, as I may say, whirlwind of passion. I wasn’t sure I even had the nerve to walk down the aisle, where several of them were still standing, in order to begin the show.

But begin we always must, otherwise the venue doesn’t give you the check, and I would probably have to reimburse somebody for my plane ticket.

Our show begins with me doing some silent tomfoolery (“clowning,” I would call it, if I were better at doing it) which varies in length depending on the venue and the crowd. Perverse soul that I am, I decided that I would not only not shorten it for the eleventh graders, I would actually extend it, just to see what would happen.

Do you know what happened…?

They went for it. Ohhhhh, they really went for it. They got that I was an odd little man with a problem, and that I was going stand in front of them and go about trying to solve my problem. And this is good news because, when the words finally started, we were already kind of all on the same team.

And the words? They listened. They understood. They laughed. They were vocal in responding. They were alive.

In the show, I pull two people up from the audience onto the stage – a male to play Hamlet’s father, who I lead in a pantomime of “death by poison-in-the-ear,” and a female to play Hamlet’s love Ophelia in a brief scene. By the time we got to the boy coming up, the crowd were so ready for him that they actually cheered for him – just his walking to the stage. By the time we got to the girl coming up, and she was soooo good, I could feel their despair when they learned later about how poor Ophelia drowns.

It’s possible that some of my fear of eleventh graders stems from just what a mess I was when I myself was in eleventh grade…and by how little I’ve changed since then, psychologically speaking. But what I learned in Miami, and what I will try to tell myself the next time I’m in the midst of a social exchange that returns me to my eleventh grade self, is that the very first things to bubble up in any of us, when faced with a new or unusual situation, are recognition and love. Love for our fellow human beings.

I agree that it isn’t as simple as that. Something always gets in the way.

What gets in the way of our natural impulse to love? The same thing that gets in the way of good acting: worrying about what somebody thinks about us. Worrying about being judged. Worrying about how we compare with other people. Worry, worry, worry.

What fuels that in the year 2016, 400 years after Shakespeare died? I don’t really know. But I think there is a prime suspect: our constant reliance on devices. I’m just sayin’.

And if you’re reading this on a device? KEEP READING!!!! And then follow me on Twitter and stuff.

But for real, though. I’ll keep writing stuff if you keep reading it. And why don’t we try to be our best eleventh grade selves? Curious, engaged, passionate, full of all that life has to offer, sitting on the cusp of all of that life will take away.

Next up, University of Mississippi. “Ole Miss.” “The Old Man.” “Deee-eee-eep River.” Come back if you get the reference, come back if you don’t, just come back.

Thank you, friend!