I finally made my way to Stratford, Ontario, Canada to attend the Stratford Festival to take in a Shakespeare play! In my thank-god-its-friday excitement I felt quite happy as you can see:
Now, however, I feel a little bussed out. As we made our way into the town passing by a lot of signs with the word Shakespeare in them I knew we were nearing the action. It took me 5+ hours from Ottawa to Toronto on a Greyhound to pick up my company for the trip (and to have a place to crash for the weekend). A bus trip in Ontario looks a little something like this:
Interspersed with many bales of hay, a few grazing animals, barns of various shapes and sizes, a few rocky hills and many, many trees… the route also looked like this:
On the very convenient two hour coach to Stratford from Toronto I am so happy I wasn’t alone. Irena and I have studied in the same classes so we got to spend the ride home rehearsing our next future fictional gig! We also discussed inspirations. Fellow actors Sarah and Mat were rehearsing for a scene. Woohoo!
It’s funny. While we were reading the scene it started to sink in – Irene and I spent a few months in New York rehearsing a scene from Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls and playing sisters. I was so excited I got to step into the shoes of older sisters by playing Joyce to Marlene (to my excitement since I usually ‘play’ the kid sister in life). A modern play was able to evoke very human and deep universal emotions once we did all our homework, trusted the text and rode the wave of emotions that rose as a by-product of our rehearsals and actions. How interesting how that humanity-thing works. Woohoo!
As for Stratford… I had NO IDEA what to expect! As we approached the festival I found myself hiding excitement. The main reason for going out of my way to attend this year was to see one of the Stratford stage veterans, Martha Henry, return to play Prospero in The Tempest. The Tempest happens to be one of those plays that resonates with me heavily. I discovered the play long before discovering King Lear, or Cymbeline, or A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. It turns out, “according to my research”, that Henry (Prospero; or Prosper-A?) earlier played Miranda at Stratford; and has come full circle to the titular rule she finds herself playing now. Such is the stage her dreams are made of!
The set was minimal and I thought this set looked like it would be nice to act upon. It was easily convertible from ship to castaway island. We found Prospero sitting on a perch above home (or hut) conjuring the storm to sweep Ferdinand and past woes to shore. At one point a large bird (I think it was a Pheonix) takes the perch over – although this element could have been distracting – I enjoyed that part. It made me think about the cloak that Prospero wears. At points she drapes it over Miranda like a wing. Without turning the metaphor into overkill, Henry was able to subjectively evoke a sense of protection and pathos through gesture. In some way I understood their relationship a little better– the parent who does not rest while the child sleeps. I was reminded of my own mother’s patient resolve.
There were a few moments within this production that I didn’t expect and am left wondering about. Mainly it was an interlude, perhaps a flashback, with several women dressed in very elaborate gowns singing as if from another dimension or consciousness. I got a distinct sense that Prospero and Miranda were separate from the fantasy being recounted. Maybe it was my comparison of the play to other productions (Shakespeare in the Park) or my own bias because I love the story, or perhaps some knowledge I don’t yet understand… but the interlude was just not resonating with me.
I didn’t really want to leave the theatre at the end of the play. Although the seats in the balcony were experiencing slight overcrowding and could use a little more leg room… all the seats offer very good views of the house and I felt nested as I was peeking over at the events unfolding on stage.
Once Irena and I had travelled back to Toronto we started to think and to talk. Irena and I had a conversation that led to us asking: At the end of The Tempest, why does Prospero reason, take off her cloak and return the powers she was lent from the island? Perhaps it was watching a female Prospero, usually played by male actors, that made us question the conclusion of this play; I am not quite sure. Unfolding was the same action that always serves the same plot of this famous Shakespeare play that has been renewed for centuries – the returning of the cloak and the alchemical power of the island. This time I questioned the ending a bit further. Why does Prospero let go? At the beginning of the play, upon Miranda’s sympathetic pleas to allay the storm, Prospero stands ground.
I actually started to sense the letting go and I started to understand it a bit more subjectively, as opposed to intellectually, up there in my balcony perch. Prospero learns from her past; she builds a nest; she raises her daughter Miranda knowing the world that must be navigated; she prepares and prepares and prepares and watches and waits and nurtures and carefully makes sure Miranda is prepared; and then ensures that Miranda responds to her environment; and then she lets go – but not a second before. Prospero chooses Miranda, loves Miranda, supports Miranda – her offspring. Prospero functions as Miranda’s wings until she doesn’t technically need them anymore. Sounds kind of cliché (leaving the nest etc. etc. ); but for some reason this play repeated over time with life’s lessons woven in helped me to sense the phenomenon strongly this time round.
And then what weekend getaway doesn’t just go smoother by clicking the right lucky shoes? I was thinking to myself, “There’s no place like sparkly shoes!”.
In the spirit of resolution, as with The Tempest, and in dedication to the fragile little bird within all of us……. the saying actually goes:
There’s No Place Like Home!
…In particular, we will ask to what extent it is possible to use recent scientific discoveries about the Earth to develop a deep reverence for our planet home so that we can then engage in actions consistent with this reverence, for science is a dangerous gift unless it can be brought into contact with wisdom that resides in the sensual, intuitive and ethical aspects of our natures. As we shall see, it is only when these other ways of knowing complement our rational approach to the world that we can truly experience the living intelligence of nature… (Animate Earth, by Stephen Harding).