Monday, December 18, 2006

A far far better thing

Two professors step onstage and lean over music stands at us. They're a little overblown, goofily in love with the insults that can be found in Shakespeare texts. Serious to the point of absudity, they assure us that they are scholars and this is an intellectual pursuit.

But within a few moments their dispassionate aura dissolves and the insults they are exploring as an exercise become arrows and spear they can throw at each other.

And the audience they are standing in front of is eating it up. Small - maybe 20 or so people - their laughter is compulsive and involuntary. And after "puke stocking" it's explosive.

i am witnessing one of the final evening shows by Heather and her partner Bill Langan as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's school tour. Schools as far away as Alaska and Kansas have paricipated at one time or another in the program which sends teams of actors out into the world after each OSF season ends to teach classes to introduce the Bard to kids. As part of that the actors also do school and public performances.

The tour, which lasts about 8 weeks, is grueling. Constantly on the road, work usually starts early and, as you'd expect, there are some schools and groups of kids that are more welcoming than others.

Heather and Bill have been assigned to towns along the Oregon and California coasts. Many of them have fallen on hard times. The lumber and fishing industries are both in the doldrums and sometimes, over the phone, I can hear the hardness Heather has experienced in the sons and daughters of that diminishment in her voice.

Interestingly enough Heather has also told me that many of the theatres in these schools are quite big and beautiful. Tonight's show is taking place in one of those auditoriums. I know it's used for many things besides the school theatre department - rallies, school conferences, ceremonies - but I also can't help thinking that it's a lot nicer than most of the theatres I've done work in in New York City.

The other thing I think about as I watch them is how selfless an act it is that they - Heather and BIll - are engaged in. Sure, there is a financial stipend, but it will never make them rich, much less even barely middle class (if they had to live on it year round).

Or maybe just saying it a little differently, I can see they're in love with theater and that they're there to pass that on.

It really humbles me.


D said...

I did the SF Shakes school tour for a little while and I saw some amazing theaters, one in particular in a town somewhere off 80, north of Sacramento, that was just stunning. It was a small, isolated, truck-stop kind of town. The school had this incredible yellow edifice - very deco-looking and the theater was huge and gorgeous.

Malachy Walsh said...

Some of these place really do have amazing theatres. There's definitely a coffee table book in there somewhere.