Monday, July 28, 2014

On The Set With Cora Bissett

Cora discussing Roadkill with the Company
If asked to summarize Cora Bisset’s Roadkill, I’d pick something along the lines of provocative, shattering, and tragic. However, after reading Roadkill prior to our master class with Cora Bissett, it was very comforting to walk into our rehearsal room and see a brightly colored and fashionable woman that would bring to life to our empty rehearsal room with her ideas, sense of humor, passion, and her overall uplifting personality. It was an honor to have had a wonderful and engaging master class with the highly acclaimed musician, actress, writer, and director.

During this master class Cora Bissett showed us short clips of Roadkill, discussing her choices and reasons for her directorial vision for the production. With the large television screen reflecting protagonist Mary's cry for help as the cover photo for the play, Ms. Bissett calmly discussed difficult and thought provoking topics with us including her own personal story that influenced her to write Roadkill. Also she shared how people initially reacted after seeing the intimate apartment staged play and finally, she shared her upcoming project which speaks against female genital mutilation.

After the master class, the Company and I attended a poetry reading by the legendary Liz Lochhead at The Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Even there, the room suddenly brightened as Cora Bissett entered to enjoy and support her fellow artists.

Friday, July 25, 2014

An Open Table

What is theatre exactly? How do we define it? Should we define it? Is it sacred? Or should it be free for anyone to claim as their category? These are the questions I have been consistently confronted with while traveling here. From cheesy musicals, to carnival performances, to poetry readings, to puppet shows, to concerts with political excerpts, this past month has exposed me to a variety theatre-ish-like-things, and have made me rethink the definition of this art form and what that means for my future as a theatre artist.

Embracing the spirit of these new forms of theatre, the Religion class performed a piece composed entirely from verses of the book of John, arranged by their professor Dr. Donald Smith, where they sat with the audience around a long table imitating the communal atmosphere that the disciples and Jesus shared. Here, is a small poem-ish-like-thing which I think is appropriate for describing the experience I had as an observer of yet another theatre-ish-like-thing.
  • Leaving expectations at the door
  • Warm hands, warm faces, warm souls 
  • “Good Morning! Welcome!”
  • A hug, a pat on the back, a grin
  • “Come, sit with us.”
  • A table spread
  • Sit down
  • Someone speaks
  • More speak
  • All speak
  • What they are saying is familiar
  • A Bible mashup if you wish
  • A disco surprise
  • Water to wine
  • Drink! 
  • Loafs of bread 
  • Eat! 
  • Jesus crucified, Jesus survived
  • Rejoice!
  • A floating flute melody weaves 
  • All of us still 
  • Sitting together

-Sarah Lindsley

Thursday, July 24, 2014

David Harrower: Secret Revealed

Daunting. Unfathomable. Overwhelming. Unattainable.

As our season of master classes draws to a close, these adjectives lingered in the back of my mind, the part one is not allowed to speak of due to the pessimistic thoughts living there. But in fact, after meeting so many spectacular and brilliant individuals I find myself feeling increasingly like a grain of sand on a very, very vast beach. The success of each professional who has so graciously come in to mentor our Pepperdine troupe has dazzled us and stoked our creative embers. However, some part of their capability leaves me a little frightened at how far along they are and how far I have yet to go; which is precisely why David Harrower's honest and personal acknowledgement of the moments of self-doubt that all artists face was a breath of fresh air.

Mr. Harrower first shared how he has come to be the successful theatre and TV writer he is. Unencumbered, he also shared some of his more challenging and 'uninspiring' career moments, both past and present. Oddly this was more inspiring and refreshing than I could have imagined. It was as if my soul let out a deep sigh knowing it was not alone.

In fact, he approached us students as equals in the creative process of devising. He allowed us to develop improved scenes based on one of his unfinished/unpublished plays. Each group brought material to the table that Mr. Harrower watched, commented on, and drew his own ideas from. It was inspiring to be able to collaborate with such a brilliant and knowledgeable individual.

Today's master class was a mile marker for me in terms of how I deal with the voices that try to discourage me as an artist. The ones that will awaken you in the middle of the night and whisper that you are not enough--not good enough, not trained enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not talented enough. Those thoughts are isolating, and steal the artist's creativity, but David Harrower had the courage to be real, and break the segregating power they have. I feel my artist's soul refreshed and ready to create, now--ironically--unafraid of my own fear.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lynda Radley: The Communal Act of Sharing

The Company, staging Dorm with Lynda (right)
Lynda Radley, playwright of Futureproof, a play about what intrigues people to watch fantastic “transformation stories” and what the life of those being transformed is really like. Furutreproof was a definite favorite of our Contemporary Scottish Theatre class, which was read and studied the play.

Lynda’s philosophy was that the best way to work with something is on its feet; and that we did. In our short amount of time, Pepperdine Scotland’s actors and designers came together to work on various scenes not only from Futureproof, but also from her as-yet-unproduced play, Dorm, as well as The Art of Swimming, and I’ve Got Girl. Whirling from one extract to the next, we were all able to explore and work with space and what that means to our characters and to our audiences. Each piece so was different from the next, that as actors and designers it kept us on our toes for transforming one piece to the next. Lynda has a beautiful and diverse writing style that I really enjoyed working with and opened my eyes to different styles of writing beyond basic dialogue, including use of stage directions and contrasting monologues.

Tasia and Karolina take on the roles of Lillie and Millie
Futureproof has characters from a traveling freak show, all with various physical abnormalities from conjoined twins, an extra-large man, and a woman with no arms and a beard. We worked with Lynda on what embodying that physical trait means to our character and how we approach it. Being conjoined by neck ties and one pair of pants to Karolina (even just for an hour) was a difficulty in itself! Dorm explores shared sleeping spaces of strangers, like an airport lobby, a sleeper train, or a hotel. In a short amount of time we took on the challenge of creating these different spaces all within the same room and flowing from one scene to the next while taking the audience on a journey through the rooms. Working with and creating these different spaces changed how I work as an actor and made me realize the importance of your surroundings.

Lynda talked about plays being “the communal act of sharing something” and that is definitely what we got to do in this master class.

Hakuna Matata,

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Citizens' Theatre

Image courtesy The
Today, our company had the pleasure of exploring Glasgow’s “Citizens Theatre,” and from the moment we arrived, it was obvious that this theatre was ripe with history.

Built in 1876, the theater was due for some remodeling. During our tour we got to see the reconstruction of a seating section - this renovation will be careful not to destroy any of the intricate details of the house, including the many red and gold figures and reliefs that personify various styles of theatrical art.

Our tour took us behind, above, and even below the stage as we explored the various crafting areas (rehearsal spaces, wardrobe rooms, and prop storage areas) as well as the old machinery in the bowels of the theatre. Altogether, this theatre is the perfect monument to the eternal and colorful vitality of theatre.

A conversation with Artistic Director, Dominic Hill, revealed that the truly impressive component of this theatre is not its mechanics, but its dedication to the public. The Citizens Theatre was once called the Royal Princess Theatre, and proudly displays an old window heralding that chapter in its history in the Dress Circle Lounge above the foyer, paying tribute to the old elegance of the venue.
In 1940, the Citizens Theatre Company was forged to provide affordable theatre to all social classes. Today, the Citizens Theatre upholds their foundational tradition of providing free previews and programs to its audiences and offering the best theatre experience for the lowest price, in addition to amazing work with minority groups and the regular citizens of Scotland.

The Citizens Theatre was a fantastic stop on our trek through Scotland as it gave each of us a reminder of the spirit of theatre. The stage is not a pedestal for actors and designers; it is not a screen for audiences to merely watch and be entertained. Rather, it is a place to gather communities to unite in shared laughter, grief, silence, and applause. That is the pride and the power of the Citizens Theatre.

-Caleb Wright

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Out of Body Experience

You know those moments in life where it feels as if you’ve floated up out of your body, watching yourself? Or how about a time when something hits you so hard that for a second, it almost takes your breath away? Today was one of those days.

At eleven o’clock this morning, I had the pleasure of attending a master class with playwright Peter Arnott and actress Janette Foggo. Long time collaborators, they tag-teamed to create a dynamic experience for our company. We focused primarily on the relationships between a performer, the audience, and the text itself. As a stunning example, Janette Foggo presented a forty-five minute, one-woman show written by Peter Arnott. In this piece originally intended for pubs, Janette depicts the internal struggles of a woman with little left to hold onto. By the time she was done, many a mouth stood agape. Once we all regained our mental faculties, we were then able to workshop scenes from “The Breathing House.”
Ultimately, much of what we discussed hinged around this statement: “truth is always the most powerful choice on stage.” Simple. And yet, how often do we forget this as artists? As our company continues to create the world of “Forget Fire,” it is my desire that we always keep this truth at the forefront. Every audience member brings a unique perspective to the show. How are we to anticipate what lies within each person’s universe? It is not our responsibility to push answers on anyone, but rather be genuine in our questioning and straightforward in our pursuit of truth.
So, onward Pepp Scotland! Be changed by what you learned today.

-Madison Erceg

Monday, July 14, 2014

Progress of the Show & Rehearsal

Royal Conservatory of Scotland
Two weeks into devising here in Glasgow finds us, the cast and creative team of Forget Fire, deep in the midst of the creative process. Rehearsals, which are held from 2:00pm until 9:00pm, are packed full of exploration and plot exposition. Now that the early drafts of the script have been created we are all diving into more focused work on the script; building the show piece by piece.

      Working in the room with director Cathy Thomas-Grant and playwright J.C. Marshall, the cast and designers have begun to give the show the much anticipated structure that will become Forget Fire; a process that has, from the onset, been one of collaboration and investigation. 

J.C. Marshall working with the Company
With actors working directly with the director and playwright, the rehearsal room is one of creativity and energy; a safe environment where failure and success go hand in hand. Designers have the unique ability to be in the room as the creation of the show takes place and are able to offer their visual, auditory, and aesthetic eyes as requested to the formation of the show. The set and props are in the rehearsal space and the possibilities are endless. Thus far the show is on its way to becoming that which it has be waiting to be…Forget Fire.

- Paul Dufresne

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mark Fisher, English Class, and Modern Drama (@MarkFFisher)

Mark teaches a session for Modern Drama: Scottish Theatre.
We have been very busy in our Modern Scottish Drama class! Not only are we tackling a number of Scottish plays and analyzing the text and style, we have been fortunate enough to have a number of sessions with Mark Fisher, a professional freelance journalist and Theatre Critic here in Scotland. Two weeks in we have already had three classes with Mark and what an amazing experience it has been!

Mark is incredibly knowledgeable about the world of Scottish theatre, and has shed so much light on how to look at a piece of theatre subjectively. During our first session with him, he taught us how to approach writing a review.

He presented three questions to address when reviewing a production:
What was it trying to do? Did it accomplish that? Was it worth doing in the first place?

I personally struggled with the first assignment, a review of Ophelia at A Play, a Pie, and a Pint, because I wasn’t sure how opinionated I was allowed to be or how much background information I was expected to give. Mark was kind enough to read each of our reviews and grade them for us, giving us thorough feedback and talking us through our strengths and weaknesses. Our second assignment showed great improvement and we have had such a wonderful time engaging in stimulating conversation about the shows we have both seen and read.

Today Mark talked us through a timeline of theatre in Scotland. It was fascinating to listen to him shed light on the origin of the texts we are currently studying in addition to giving us the history of a number of theatre companies that have been mentioned, some many times, on our three week journey. We are very much looking forward to having one more class with the kind and brilliant Mark Fisher next Monday!

-Alexis Fitting

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Master Class with Nicola McCartney - Rachel's House - @nicolamccartney

 Today, Nicola McCartney visited our company to speak with us about her life as a playwright. After briefly telling us her story Nicola introduced us to her most recent play, a verbatim piece called Rachel’s House. It powerfully displays the stories of eight women who are residents of Rachel's House, a recovery program for ex-convicts. Nicola mentioned that she doesn’t usually like verbatim pieces but that this was the only way she could think to do this story justice. 

She also noted her mandate that whenever Rachel's House is performed, the actors must hold the script. Why? To remind the audience throughout the performance that the performers speak the words of real people. I thought that was truly fascinating and a perfect way of keeping the audience engaged but still aware that what they are seeing is all a true story. 

And Nicola didn't just talk about the piece, she also gave us extracts to workshop and perform for the group. I was particularly surprised by this portion of the day because despite my regular role in the room as Stage Manager, I was actually asked to read one of the characters.  I immediately became emotional when reading over the lines. These women were all so honest and open with the audience, which is not something I am used to. Society has trained us to keep to ourselves, or only share with a select few people. These women - these abused, sad, resilient women - were completely open, letting Nicola jot down the deepest parts of their stories. The fact that she just listened to these women’s stories without judgement, but with a genuine desire to listen and to retell their struggles and triumphs is amazingly powerful.

The women of Rachel's House may be damaged but they are strong. I feel inspired by them and their stories - I am blessed to have been able to hear even small portions of them. I feel honored to have met the woman who wrote them all down. And I feel blessed and driven to simply practice the power of listening.

I greatly enjoyed Nicola’s master class and I know that the entire company is very appreciative of her kind words of encouragement and advice.

Thank you!

~ Chandler Payne

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Edinburgh, the Royal Mile, and Scottish Parliment

This week the entire group and I have officially become a family under a blanket of intense classes and

rehearsals involving music, philosophical questions, poetry, movement, and 21st century discussions. We listen to each other, inspire one another, and encourage each of our artistic capabilities. Professor Cathy Thomas-Grant (our director), Alex Fthenakis (our producer), JC Marshall (our dramaturg/playwright), and our group of 18 theatre students have created a warm, and engaging atmosphere during our 6 hour rehearsal days. However, it was be great to take a day off and explore the culture and architecture around us. Edinburgh, here we come!

Today was our first field trip to the wonderful city of Auld Reekie (also known as Edinburgh to the rest of the world). Our group of 22 boarded the 45-minute express train from Glasgow, excited to visit the city where we will perform in only a matter of weeks! During this day field trip, we explored the innovative Traverse Theatre, a theatre known across the world for its support of new and innovative writing and production.  A critic from The Observer wrote that the Traverse Theatre is “one of the most important theatres in Britain”. With that in mind, it was truly an honor to walk through the backstage area with our own personal guide, Sunniva Ramsay. As I looked around the group while we walked though the hallways, which were adorned with inspirational quotes written by 14-17 year old aspiring playwrights as part of an emerging artists project, I couldn’t help but think that someone could follow the steps of great artists like Nicola McCartney by submitting new, risk taking pieces of theatre.

After the tour, we met with our Religion teacher, Donald Smith, who accompanied the group as we walked through the medieval cobblestone streets of the Old Town in Edinburgh, along the Royal Mile (a long street in the middle of the town which is exactly one mile long), which is naturally a tourist hub delightfully surrounded by pubs, contemporary stores, delicious fudge boutiques, many street performers (including an absolutely terrifying Yoda), a medieval castle, and Reformation era buildings. However, during the Fringe festival, the Royal Mile will not only serve as a location for tourists but it will also be packed with brilliant performers and unique artists who will bring their contemporary art and ideas to this Medieval town.

The Company in the Main Hall of the Scottish Parliment

As we reached the end of the Royal Mile, I saw a large, postmodern building, which clearly did not blend in with the rest of the High Street. The building before me was our next destination, the Scottish Parliament. Built on the architectural concept that the Scottish Parliament should reflect the relationship between the Scottish people and nature, the building consists of leaf shaped motifs and large windows to view the beautiful mountain in the distance. Again, we had another tour guide who walked us through the political building, discussed the Scottish Referendum and most importantly, briefly mentioned that Queen Elizabeth has a palace directly on the other side of the street. Once our tour had ended, we gathered outside the sycamore and oak walls of the Parliament as we discussed return train tickets and sites to see for the next few hours. Suddenly, we see a crowd of people who had gathered to the streets and it was at that very moment when Ms. Grant yelled,” THE QUEEN, THE QUEEN, THE QUEEN IS COMING!!!” Just another magical day in Scotland!

Karolina Keach

Monday, July 7, 2014

Touring the Necropolis with Donald Smith

Today I went to the beautiful Glasgow and Necropolis and Cathedral. In just one mini field trip I felt connected to a small part of Scottish culture. Donald greeted us with the surprise of none other than another wee walk. Feeling my feet already ache in pain from the memory of Eddie’s adventure I was a little hesitant but I sucked it up and followed him in the Necropolis. It literally had beauty that was deathly.

Walking up the small hill and reading the names that enclosed memories and a lifetime in one tombstone was very powerful. It was in no way a normal graveyard. It carried the stories of many influential people in Scottish history. Once we got past a stinging nettle scare and a couple steep, rocky hills, we reached the top. There we were met by a breathtaking view of Glasgow. Each horizon had a slew of places to see form historic architecture and buildings to the greenest grass only Glenelg can match. That sounds mushy and a little too good to be true, but it was an amazing experience for me. Next, Donald took us on a tour of the Cathedral. The tour took us through a typical traditional medieval Scottish day in the life starting from entering the doors of the massive house of God to the market they would go to after the day was out. There were so many rooms with beautiful ceilings, structuring, and stained glass. His temple, God’s sanctuary was so important that it was built with his beauty in mind, and that is plain profound.

The Theatre and Religion class itself has proven to be quite interesting. Its not the same old religion class were you sit and you listen to countless details you’re bound to regurgitate. Donald has created an atmosphere of creation, collaboration, storytelling, and finding the spiritual in the world of theatre. It strangely (but most likely purposefully) parallels with what we do in rehearsal. I find myself thinking about the things we learn in class and bringing with my in rehearsal and it forms my ideas. I appreciate that and look forward to doing it more as we get closing to making Forget Fire even more tangible.

Jalon Matthews

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Master Class with Sarah Rose Graber: Movement Master (@srgraber)

Mathew and Sarah Rose Graber at the Royal Conservatory
Recently I have gotten in touch with nature; becoming a bird and flocking with others; uniting almost upon instinct in order to serve the greater good. It was an experience like no other… all in the name of theatre. That was the day I learned what “flocking” really means.

What a blessing it was to have Sarah Rose Graber come in and work with us on devising using techniques based in movement. Among the exercises we participated in were “thumbs”, “line up”, “flocking”, and “chair duets”.

A couple of things we learned were that often a leader is, and needs to be, a follower. The reiteration of this fact hit me deeply. Often times, especially in theatre, collaboration is key. In order to increase productivity, promote innovation, and spark creativity, we need to make way for each other’s ideas; which is something made apparent early in our devising process. Another thing is that on occasion, others will see something in your idea that’s different, and although it really holds no similarity, it can move your work in an intriguing direction you’ve never expected, which is truly a beautiful thing to behold.

Movement based devising was nothing short of a blast. It’s much different from creating and developing scenes off of ideas, which has been the bulk of our devising process thus far. “Chair duets”, for example, called for us to choose very pedestrian moves (either random or in reaction to our partner) and perform them for the class; after which the class would decide what type of scene/relationship they saw and we would then proceed to perform the “scene” to the different interpretations and see an organic form of development.

Also, and what was perhaps everyone’s favorite, was the “flocking” exercise. For those who don’t know, the exercise is almost parallel to “follow the leader” in a way that changed the leader every time someone new was at the front of the group. That was interesting because it displayed the relationship between productivity and success; a positive relationship that ensues from relinquishing everyone’s desire to be the “leader”. It was wonderful to see everyone willingly lead and follow when called upon to do so; and being called to follow isn’t an idea that’s normally emphasized in life.

The class was simply a joy to be a part of. The fact that we got the opportunity to partake in a new way of doing something none of us are really experienced in made it something really special. Hopefully the lessons we learned will continue to stick with us during the next month and a half as we go forth in collaborating to create something we hope is truly inspiring.

Thank you Sarah! Until next time…

God Bless Everyone!!!
-Mathew San Jose

Friday, July 4, 2014

WWOOF in the Highlands- Organic Farming Volunteers

In the highlands, we received tip top highland hospitality from none other than the amazing Donna Stiven. Every afternoon and evening, the company would gather together to eat at her and Eddie's beautiful warm home and I can safely say that none of us had a single meal short of incredible. I had a wonderful time helping Donna, Margaret, and Donna's WWOOFer, Louis, in the kitchen several times and it was really interesting to learn more about the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

According to Donna, “Wwoofing" is all about learning and teaching sustainability
and skills pertaining to organic growing. Mostly, she says, she learns from her WWOOFers. She began hiring WWOOFers when Eddie was working in the South of England for 2 years and everything in her backyard "went to crap." (Her words, not mine!) Her dear friend Amy at the company's new favorite Glenelg coffee shop, The Wagon, has had WWOOFers for a long time and Donna figured she would give it a shot! She told me that all of her WWOOFers have been young people who have a degree of sorts and a passion for traveling (you can be a WWOOFer anywhere in the world) and that they all have been very pleasant and kind people. WWOOFers are so hungry to get picked up by a host family that Donna says she receives three applications every day. Those are mostly folks from Europe (especially Spain, France, and Italy), but she has received one from as far as America. WWOOFing is particularly appealing in areas where the poor economy is affecting young people who say they have nothing back home for them as far as careers go.
The Wagon, another organic farm in Glenbeg

As a WWOOF host, Donna provides Louis food and housing as well as all the supplies he needs. The WWOOF Organization states that the WWOOFers are allowed to work up to 7 hours a day, 6 days a week but Donna says that's too much and has Louis working a flexible schedule of 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, weather dependent.

The company at The Wagon
I asked Louis what his favorite thing about WWOOFing was and he said that he loves being immersed in the culture of each place he visits as well as learning about farming. He has WWOOFed all over Spain and this is his second summer in Scotland, but first time with Donna. He's a 32 year old biology graduate from Valencia and studied organic farming in graduate school where he obtained connections to WWOOFing and has been doing it for three summers now! Next he is headed to Bonar Bridge and later this summer he will be in Iceland. It's incredibly exciting for Louis to be headed to Iceland because due to their strict laws regarding importing goods and energy, everyone only eats seasonally.

I feel like I really learned a lot from Donna about WWOOFing as well as hospitality and I certainly learned a lot about Scottish cooking! Everyone in the kitchen was always all smiles and kindness and I'm so glad I got to sit down with Louis and Donna and talk about their relationship with the WWOOF Organization!
-Arielle Fodor

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ceilidh: Do Not Sound It Out

Constance and Jalon, Balent
Sitting in a muggy, midge infested tent in the garden of Eddie and Donna's beautiful and peaceful home, we took a company vote to elect the "fir-an-tighe" [Gaelic: Man of the House] [English: Master of Ceremonies] of our Pepperdine hosted Ceilidh. To pause a moment from the narrative and explain, the word is pronounced like the female name "Kaylee" and is much a like a talent show but has a greater depth of tradition and is steeped in cultural richness. Everyone comes--typically with drink in one hand and a fiddle in the other--to share their folk stories or music or dance or any other talent they possess with the community. So, let me hit play and return you to the stuffy tent in the garden.

Hands were raised, persuasive arguments expressed, and yours truly became the co-host of the procession alongside the hysterical Jalon Mathews. As Friday night approached, Jalon and I gleaned what we could from Eddie as to what exactly was required of us: kilts, or bag pipes, or log tossing? Luckily, none of the latter was requested, just an ability to make people laugh between the mind-boggling talent of the individuals in the room and to figure out how to arrange the running order so as to make it flow seamlessly. Friday night came, and I was quite nervous. Why you might ask? Putting on a traditional Scottish event without really knowing what it was, how to pronounce-much less spell-the event title, and doing it all as Americans without a concept of what highland spirit and tradition truly encompassed is not the most calming of thoughts. But, we were going to at least take a swing at it. And swing we did.

Company member Caleb Wright performs at the Ceilidh
We gave the Glenelg community our very best, which included: patriotic music and tales, songs that held relevant meaning to our experiences there, steamy serenades and romantic dance numbers, passionate poetry, uncensored jokes, colorful paintings, heartfelt professions of love, brilliant humor, and we can't forget "boy sheep." Moments of laughter and tears (throughout the span of even a single performance) were readily had. I continue to be blown away by the magnitude of talents that each company member hides beneath a thin layer of "average Joe" skin.

 In return the incredibly generous and warm village of that twinned Glen shared their stories, music, traditions, and very own hearts with our humbled, young company. (That includes you Cathy!)

Glenelg Locals join in our ceilidh

We were made to feel like insiders on an intimate secret, trusted with a rare glimpse into the ravishing beauty known as the Highlands of Scotland and the natives who guard its sacred history. There, one is made to believe in magic, in wishing on shooting stars, and the joy of catching faeries in the moonlight.

Wander on my friends, for there is much beauty to be explored and flabbergasted at in this world.

With God's big grace I am yours truly,

-Constance "Consty" Egli

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Whisky Kisses and Haunted Hotels: Pitlochry and Dunkeld

View from the Royal Dunkeld
After spending a week in Glenelg, a rural part of Scotland, we have made our way to a slightly (but only just) more urban part of Scotland: Pitlochry. While we only stayed for a day, it was quite an eventful one at that. We spent our day seeing two shows at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre: Whisky Kisses, a musical, and Perfect Days, a play. This was my first time seeing live Scottish Theatre and I had no idea what to expect. Perfect Days was a drama about a woman who has decided that, at the age of 39, she wants to have a child, but there is one problem…she doesn’t know who to have a child with. Full of twists and turns comparable to that of a daytime soap opera, this show was surely entertaining to say the least. Whisky Kisses was next, a musical comedy about a Scottish distillery that is closing its doors and auctioning of their last bottle of their most prized whisky, the “Glenigma”. Two bidders battle it out for the whisky, in the mean while finding love and friendship along the way. Whisky Kisses was packed full of memorable moments and laughter. It is something that I am positive I, and the rest of the Company will never forget.

The company "On the road again!"
That evening we went back to The Royal Dunkeld Hotel. The hotel was enchanting. It reminded me of a Scottish “Disney’s Haunted Mansion”, full of plaid carpet, eerie black and white photos from many years past, and a creepy toy doll that roamed the halls. I swear I heard a yelling in the middle of the night, but I brushed it off as someone outside just being loud. The next morning company members Natalie and Karolina tell me that a staff member from the hotel told them that the hotel is haunted and known to have weird happenings in Room 306…exactly two rooms away from where I was sleeping that night! Were some ghosts roaming the halls that night? We will never know, but it definitely added to the vibe of The Royal Dunkeld Hotel!

While we only got one day in Pitlochry, it was definitely a memorable one full of entertainment, laughter, whisky kisses, and a little spook. Now, off to more rehearsals and the start or classes!
- Tasia Jungbauer

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Master Class with Dolina MacLennan - The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil

Dolina MacLennan
On Thursday of our magical week in Glenelg, we had the pleasure of being absolutely blown away by our new friends and inspirations, Dolina MacLennan, and Catherine Robins. Dolina is an original cast member of The Cheviot, The Stag, And The Black, Black Oil - a groundbreaking ceilidh style play after which Pepperdine Scotland and Peter Arnott previously modeled their Fringe First Award winning piece, Why Do You Stand There In The Rain.

Cheviot was put on by 7:84 Theatre Company. The numbers in their company's name stand for the fact that, at the time, 7% of Scotland's population owned 84% of the country's wealth, similar to the recent outcry against the "top 1%" in America. Dolina explained the situation to us by saying that there are hundreds of thousands of acres in Scotland owned by one person.

The play was written about the effects of the Highland Clearances - the situation in the Scottish Highlands where people were forced off of their land and away from their homes to make way for sheep. Scottish International, a popular magazine in Scotland, knew John McGrath and when he was writing Cheviot, he asked if they knew any Gaelic singers. It turned out that they did, and that's where Dolina made her entrance into the process! She was in her 30's, and came from a little village that had about 25 houses. She had built herself quite a reputation during the late 1950's as a folk singer as well as a Gaelic speaker in Edinburgh, where there was a sort of "folk song revival," as Dolina called it. When John McGrath asked Dolina to join the company, she told us she replied "What company?!" But she joined on anyway, and her adventure began. The 7:84 company had no stage management team - They did everything for themselves as a company. Even the research was divvied up among them. The show was blocked out into 8 parts, and each person was asked to research one or more topics that they were knowledgable in. Then they brought it all back three days later and wrote their play.
It was to premiere at the Scottish International Weekend Conference which was entitled "What Kind of Scotland" that year. The only problem was they had not written the play at this point, and they were told to read the play to an assembled crowd that very same evening. By some miracle though, it was finished. When it was read to the crowd, Dolina remembers that there was nothing but stunned silence, followed by applause for fourteen minutes straight. Despite this immediate success, they decided that they were never finished writing and growing because, Dolina says, "it never belonged to us."

Something that was shocking to me was that the people in the play were actual names of the folks involved in the original Highland Clearances and some people were downright offended that they were not mentioned! There was an incident, however, where a woman stood up during a performance and put a curse on one of the actors playing someone who had done horrible things to the people of their Highlands. Despite this, Cheviot had quite a following. People who couldn't get into the sold out performances would follow the company to their next location, and once, people stuck their heads into every window all the way around the hall so they could watch the legendary play that touched so many people's hearts. Even those who could not understand Dolina's Gaelic songs said they understood what they meant.

The Company, at the Glenelg Village Hall with Dolina and Christine
Although we had the incredible opportunity of meeting a woman who was so connected to her own people's history, this was not the case country-wide. Children were not taught about the Highland Clearances in school, and it is rare to hear of them being taught about to this day. Dolina said the children learn more about the industrial revolution of middle England than their own history. What's more, speaking non-English languages was often forbidden - and not just with Gaelic in the Highlands. Dolina spoke of visiting a community in Wales where if children spoke Welsh they were given a knotted rope round their neck, and the person wearing it last during the day got a beating. This turned into the entire school day being consumed by children trying to pawn it off on their friends so they were not the ones beat come the end of school.

Dolina had a few words of wisdom for our company as well. 7:84 always kept Cheviot rough, which Dolina said was essential. For example, once in the news at 1 PM, the company heard a news story about the "Lord of the Oil" and immediately began creating a piece about it for their show where the US oil companies and Westminster government were shown puppeteering the "Lord of the Oil" and singing a silly song. This was in the play that night. Something else that was really stressed to us was the idea of creating a community with your audience. 7:84 did this right away by contacting every village with a town hall through the 'elder' of the village, and that made everyone feel like the company was doing this show special for them. Over everything, communication with their audience was key, and she suggested it would probably be the same for our piece. Something that really stuck out to me was when Dolina said "Turn the audience into your community." She said that if you are to ignore your audience when you're trying to get a message across, it suggests arrogance. We were told that standing ovations are near impossible to get in Scotland, so what 7:84 would do was pick out an audience member who "looked alright" and tell them to stand at the end of the performance. Dolina said that the entire audience would then follow suit, and this was hugely impactful.

Although the play was incredible and the impact was widespread and important, Dolina still was tired, just like we all are. She told us the biggest struggle was just keeping going. If The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black Black Oil can do what they did with less than what we've been given, our company can surely keep going as well, despite the jet lag and the midgies! Catherine's words of wisdom to us captured this idea perfectly. She said, "If nothing else, you should see now that it's all possible."

- Arielle