Much has changed since 1988, when the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express (now the ASC) first hit the road. Jim Warren, artistic director, recalls getting lost at night on the way to a venue and pulling over to a pay phone, scribbling down directions in the pouring rain. Things are a bit cushier today. For one, the actors now have GPS technology on their smartphones. There is one thing, however, that has not changed, and that is the fierce dedication of the ASC On Tour to deliver high-energy, quality performances everywhere they tour.
The 2011/12 Almost Blasphemy Tour recently hit the road, taking the magic of the ASC On Tour to performing arts centers, colleges and high schools throughout Virginia, the northeast and New England, with 38 performances scheduled this fall. During the 2012 spring leg of the tour, they will tour in the south and Midwest, with another 39 performances scheduled.
It takes a lot of talented people to launch three shows and 12 different workshops (and then keep them going throughout the duration of the tour) and some of them are not as visible to the public as the actors are. One of these people is Glenn Schudel, assistant director and tour manager. Before the tour left town, we sat down with Glenn to learn more about his role in the 2011/12 Almost Blasphemy Tour.
So… what have the last 10 weeks of rehearsals been like?
The last 10 weeks have been really busy! They’ve also been a lot of fun. I’ve had a good time getting to know the new troupe; I’ve had a great time working on these three plays. I learned a lot about the way this company works. I’ve worried a lot about life on the road, but I think we’re getting all of our ducks in a row. So yeah, it’s been really hectic and I’ve gone to bed tired every night, but I’m having a great time.
Tell me about the cast?
There are 11 actors, and they play multiple roles in three different plays. And they’re really good! I think it’s a really strong group this year, talent-wise. They’re delightful people to be around. It’s interesting, we have two married couples, they of course already have a bond and now they’re bonding with each other too. Also a lot of people who are pretty much right out of school. And then we’ve got a couple of people who have done theater in New York for a few years or taught college…so it’s a really good mix of people, it’s a really diverse group. And so far we all seem to getting along really well, so that’s the most important thing, I guess!
What can you tell me about the three shows? What kind of reaction do you expect on the road?
I think they’re three really great scripts. When I heard the season, I was more excited than ever about the job. I was talking to one of the veteran actors in the resident troupe who said “if you’re going to be watching the same three plays over and over again for a year, what a great slate to be watching.” And it’s interesting, I’ve been in rehearsal since July 11th and we’re now into mid-September, and I’m not tired of any of them yet. Even though I’ve watched them over and over again, there’s always something new to learn. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, which is almost perfectly put together with the layers… you’ve got lovers, the farce with the mechanicals, the magical fairies and the way it threads through all the story lines and ties things together (or doesn’t tie things together)—it’s really interesting.
I wasn’t a huge fan of The Winter’s Tale. I read it a couple times and had seen a production I wasn’t too crazy about a few years ago. They did it this year at the ASC Theater Camp, and it was really wonderful! And I got excited before we started working on it, and I would say right now it’s one of my favorite plays. It’s a really lovely story about redemption, and it’s got everything. The first act is really tough because it’s so heavy—there’s humor in it too, but a lot of bad things happen to mostly decent people in the first half. And then the second half is just so joyful—the redemption, it’s great.
‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore — it’s a weird play, certainly, by 2011 standards, but again, it’s got this weird sort of mixing of really awful, horrific tragedy, and just really witty, quick stuff. There’s a lot of heart in the play too. People talk about it, asking if there are any likable characters in the play—there are at least four or five. And even the people we don’t necessarily root for, we can understand why they are doing what they are doing even if we don’t agree with what they are doing. The language is so good, the motivation so strong.
What do you see as your core functions on the road as troupe manager and assistant director?
The main job, in terms of assistant director, is to maintain the vision of the directors. And that’s why I’ve been so busy staying in rehearsal, I don’t leave the rehearsal room very often unless something comes up. Jim Warren directed The Winter’s Tale and ‘Tis Pity She's a Whore, and he’s got really strong ideas, really great ideas. We’ve had great previews this week, people seem to really like the shows. So I want to keep them as close to the way they are now. Things grow, things change on the road, you come up with ideas, but you don’t want the show to run away while Jim is not keeping an eye on things.
Kate Powers (guest director) has done such a lovely job with A Midsummer Night's Dream. It’s such a good play that it’s easy to do mediocre productions of it. And Kate was really focused on telling the story and making the characters not just these weird people who speak in rhyme all the time, but people who feel actual emotions, who have goals and obstacles. It’s a really clear story; the pace is great, it’s funny, so I want to keep that as close to the product it became.
In terms of troupe manager, it’s been described to me as making sure that every night we have something to eat and somewhere to sleep. Where do we need to be right now? What do we need to be doing right now? It’s managing the time of the actors, doing everything I can to keep morale up. As excited as I am that we’re going to be traveling all these miles and doing all these shows and meeting all these people—life on the road living out of a suitcase can be difficult.
How are you feeling right now, what are your hopes, dreams —fears?
I feel pretty good right now; I’ve got our first eleven days on the road scheduled, so once we are on the road, I know where we need to be, what we’ll be doing. I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve lived in NY, Chicago, New Orleans, I’ve been overseas—but there’s a lot of this country that I’ve never seen. I’ve never been to New England; I’ll be spending several weeks in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, and that’s exciting. We’re going to be doing shows in the spring an hour from where I grew up in Florida, so my family and a lot of friends are going to see the shows I’ve been working on. I’ve never been to Texas, and we’re doing two shows in Austin. Everyone who’s been there is crazy about Austin. I think I have realistic reservations—living in hotels, being in a van all day with the same people for 21 weeks…there are gonna be days that are better than other days, but I think right now I’m more hopeful and aware than pessimistic about anything.
Any parting thoughts?
I really do think these three shows we’re working on are REALLY GOOD. I think we’ve got some great actors, great scripts, great direction. The previews here in Staunton—the reactions have been awesome. So if you’re thinking about coming out to see a show, I think you absolutely should. A lot of hard work and a lot of love has gone into them and I think it shows in the final product.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream
Sunday, August 30, 2015, 2:00 pm
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