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October 26, 2004

On Tour With The Scottish Play, Part III

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a renowned Equity LORT company, is currently touring the NEA-US Department of Defense-funded Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour of the "Scottish Play." It opened on Friday, September 10, 2004, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and will visit 13 military bases in seven states before returning to the Virginia Samford Theatre in Montgomery. The cast includes William Brock, Aaron Cabell, Rodney Clark, Suzanne Curtis, Paul Hebron, Jennifer Hunt, Warren Jackson, James Knight, Alex Knold, Joe Kolbow, Sonja Lanzener, Mark D. Leslie, Kathleen S. McCall, Chris Mixon, Howard W. Overshown, Philip Pleasants, Remi Sandri, and Frederick Snyder.

Equity's website asked the cast to send us a travelogue about this unusual production. Following is the third installment - "impressions from the road," by actor Paul Hebron, who plays Duncan.

On to Charleston, Camp LeJeune and Quantico!

(September 16) Charleston is a beautiful city, and we have a wonderful time there. We are actually staying in North Charleston, where the Naval Base is located, and happily, this turns out to be the last gymnasium we perform in. Unlike Kings Bay, there is actually very little reverb in the space, and we're able to make use of the microphones (which are only being used for support, not projection, anyway). Our dressing rooms are in a series of racquetball courts behind the gym, and they prove to be surprisingly comfortable, plenty of space to stretch and warm up. The show goes well, but is remarkable in my memory for comments made before hand by Base Commander Captain Edwards. Everywhere we play, military base personnel - often the service commander or someone in charge of such events - introduces the evening. Opening remarks were prepared by ASF and the NEA, so we’ve all heard them a few times - but Capt. Edwards doesn't use them. He mentions that someone asked him about MACBETH and why it was chosen for this tour (a frequently asked question). Yes, the NEA approached us about touring and for logistical reasons it had to be a show in our then current rep season, all of which led to MACBETH. In his response, Captain Edwards goes a step further. He challenges his personnel, these men and women of the Navy, to reflect on how their traditional values of "...honor, courage and commitment..." might be reflected, in varying ways, by tonight's play.

That's a helluva question. How might values embraced by our military be illuminated by Shakespeare's play? How do the choices that his characters make, reflect where each of them stands on those values, and how do those same choices change them? Because they ARE choosing all the time; the people in MACBETH aren't just pawns of the magical elements in their world. And that, in turn, strikes right at the heart of the play: that Good and Evil are things that we call to us by the choices we make. If the cliché of military life is the unthinking "obeying of orders", then this Captain's thoughtful question, for me at least, breaks down those stereotypes.

(September 20) We move on to Jacksonville, NC, where over the course of four nights we'll play twice at Camp LeJeune Marine Base. From the ridiculous to the sublime, the space we play here must have functioned at least at one time as an actual theatre, since there are real dressings rooms on both sides of the stage, on first and second floors. Phil Pleasants, Aaron Cabell and myself land our own private dressing rooms downstairs, since we have three of the fastest costume changes during the show (and not as a concession, as someone suggests, to our relative "maturity of years"). The shows go well enough, and the first performance is highlighted by a large group of high school girls blocking the entrance into the women’s' dressing rooms at intermission, demanding autographs. After failed attempts to satisfy all of them, stage management gets wind of it and ushers them back to front of house. We learn after the show that their English teacher was awarding "extra credit" for signed programs- a clever way to ensure the kids would stay through to the play's end. They end up claiming they're glad they stayed, though given their age and other comments made I suspect this is as much southern courtesy as anything else. The important thing is they came.

Camp LeJeune is memorable however, as the place where three of our actors (Warren Jackson, James Knight and Kathleen McCall) run the obstacle course! That's right, the same course the Marines train on, the type you've seen in countless films, where some poor soul is desperately crawling through mud and up ropes, while Sarge screams obscenities at him. Several company members wondered if we could get on the course and our road manager Tom arranged it. They all finish with varying degrees of accomplishment; after careful consideration, I decide it's better if I don't die, and spend the afternoon napping.

(September 24) Quantico Marine Base is next, exciting to us for its proximity and access to Washington, DC, and because several folks from ASF will be joining us there. The space is the most challenging we've yet attempted. The upstairs dressing rooms at this old movie theatre will only (barely) accommodate the men; the women end up changing in a separate hallway. But the bigger problem is the size of the stage itself. There simply isn't any room offstage on either side, and it ends up creating unique problems during the performance. A last minute decision to change the exit of the portable scrim, used for projecting Banquo's future progeny onstage, is forgotten, and the following scene is graced by stagehands in the "wing" dismantling said scrim in order to get it offstage at all. Swords are forgotten and knives left behind in fight scenes; nothing that can't be covered, but to us at this point in the run it's pretty frustrating.

Night after night we come into a strange space, and find ways to make that particular place work for us and for the show. Ah well, as every high school football coach says sooner or later, "Sometimes you get the Bear, and sometimes the Bear gets you.” Most of the cast goes out afterwards, where we're staying in Dumfries, VA, to celebrate surviving, but there's only one restaurant/bar still open, a Guatemalan/Mexican place, and it's too crowded for us to get in. We buy beer and chips and head back to the motel, and sit up telling lies in the "continental breakfast room" until late. It's somehow the perfect end to the day.

Paul Hebron

Next stop: Tennessee, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico

Click here for archive of the first installment

Click here for archive of the second installment

Click here for archive of the third installment

Click here for archive of the fourth installment

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