Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Power of Memory

No one other than I, know how personal and powerful this journey to Edinburgh has been. My desire to bring African American theatre to a country where there is none, has been a twelve year journey borne from memories of when I was in graduate school in Glasgow, Scotland. When I started the M-Theatre Project three years ago it was with the idea that every third year we would perform the show at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival. It has been a process fraught with perils, pitfalls and discovery on the fly. How to make this work! The available student talent pool will always dictate what plays we can do and when I looked around at who as available I knew we had the talent to do an August Wilson play. August Wilson was Shakespeare re-born and in order to build this company of actors right, they needed to understand why August wrote: He wanted to write plays where African American culture was the subject of the play, not an object in the play. I hammered this point at almost every rehearsal, explaining what a responsibility as company we had to the play, playwright, culture, history and the society in which we live, and now that we’re performing it internationally, the world.
The trip over was easy, our arrival at our various flats uneventful as was our tech rehearsal. The performances have been very good, solid work from this group of actors and the audience numbers have been extremely good considering there are over 4200 shows here and the average audience size is four, we have been averaging double digit audience members and that will only grow this week. The students have been phenomenal! Their work ethic, focus and commitment to listening to the only adult chaperone they will have on this trip, have all been stellar. They found their footing quickly as most walk everywhere they go. They look out for each other, care for each other, cook for each other. They are all amazed by simple things, like the age of some of the buildings in Edinburgh, the wide variety of different languages they hear, the accents, the dress styles and hair color. I have enjoyed watching them as they laugh together and discover the city of Edinburgh and the Festival proper. We have had several moments they will never forget. Their first taste of Haggis, deep-fried Mars bar and Snickers, the very colorful money here and what a five pence piece looks like. They have learned to look both ways as they cross the street, that chips are really french fries and that crisps are potato chips. That sticky toffee pudding is neither pudding or toffee, but it is sticky and very good. I have enjoyed getting to know them better outside of what I know about them from the classroom and for some of them, their extraordinary eating habits! Some of these kids can eat!! I am encouraging them to explore even more of the city, see as much theatre as they can and to try new and different things. Many have been to the castle that sits at the top of the hill overlooking our flat. Some are seeing up to three different plays a day and all of them seem to be enjoying the experience of being in Europe for the first time.
I am struck by a personal sense of completion, one that includes the personal as political and stands as another example of each one, teach one. While there are over 4200 different shows here, you can count on two fingers the number of African American plays and one of those fingers would belong to us. Theatre remains one of the most powerful message boards we have ever known. It can teach, it can enlighten, it can open minds and in some small way, that is what we’re doing with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in Edinburgh, Scotland. I remember the very personal reasons why this was important to me and through the laughter, hard work and commitment of the cast, I am reminded of it’s importance to all of us as we seek to be the change we’d like to see. Memory can be a powerful thing when put into positive action.

Peace, Mark-

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Flag is Blue... and so is my Laundry!!!

I've gotten accustomed to seeing cars on the wrong side of the road. We all are getting used to using adapters for our outlets. In fact, we've all figured out how to use the stoves and the oven and the dishwashers; not to mention the weird water-heater, pull-chain showers! But today I met my match in the form of our washer/dryer combo machine!!

In order to travel better, I decided to travel lighter, which means that I only packed a small carry-on bag of clothes. This also means that this morning I awoke to the realization that I was almost out of clean clothes. "Lucky me," I thought. "The flat not only has a washer/dryer combo, but it also has detergent, fabric softener, and an iron!" I was totally ready for this Scottish adventure in laundering!

Problem number one: the washing machine stops. Beeps a lot (annoying, but helpful) and then, my clothes are still wet. Like DRIPPING. On the floor (luckily, right next to the mop, but still...).

Solution number one: put wet clothes in the dryer!

Unfortunately solution number one led to problem number two: after an hour of dryering my clothes are still wet.

Solution number two: set the dryer to run some more...

What eventually happened was this:
I went to take my clothes out of the dryer. They were all STEAMING. And still wet. Not damp--wet! and died blue. Awesome. So now our whole flat is covered with my clothes on hangers, hanging from doorknobs and coat racks. Hooray for us! Hooray for laundry! and Hooray that I didn't decide to wash the costumes before I decided to do my own laundry!

Friday, August 13, 2010

What's up Scotland?!?!?!

You know what really insults Scottish people? When you butcher their pronunciation of words. I was handing out flyers for MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM and when I incorrectly pronounced Lochend (which is where Venue 13 is located) it prompted a stern reprimand from two Scottish ladies. They proceeded to give me a lesson on the correct pronunciation and then told me to practice. I'm still practicing. Truth is we all are. We practice sometimes for hours straight in our flats, walking down the streets, in public places and more. When we get back to the States we will have the Scottish dialect perfected. Guaranteed!!

What's even cooler than the people is the all the cultures and people that have packed themselves in to Edinburgh for the festival. There are African Bands, Russian Ballet Dancers, Magicians, Comics, and people from all over the world in this city showcasing their talents. It's such an opportunity to be here representing Hamilton College and OURSELVES.

There's so much to do and plenty to see. But you can bet that the cast of MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM is out there rocking it every show!!!!!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oh The Places You WONT GO DUE TO DELAYS...

After diligently devoting so much time and effort into this comedic yet gut wrenching tale of Ma Rainey and her infamous back bottom, the dream team seemed to have a little trouble getting out of Syracuse. The cast had boarded the small plane expecting to take off on time and catch their connecting flight to Edinburgh with plenty of wiggle room. Yet that was not the case. The Flight CO 8690 W out of Syracuse was suffering from electrical problems just moments before take off. The cast tried to remain positive when the captain explained that all of the technical support staff at the airport was released early and that it would take at least an hour to correct the issue. Yet the heat and possibility of missing their flight out of the country had gotten the best of them. But after waiting about 40 minutes, the captain then announced that there was never a problem and that the plane would be taking off soon.

Once at Newark-Liberty International, the cast booked it to the terminal of the connecting flight, believing that they had only 10 minuets to make the plane. Luckily technical difficulties seemed to be the trend, because flight CO 36 W to Scotland was not going anywhere until the bathrooms and air conditioning was working properly. Yet after things were all straightened out, the 6 hour flight was well on its way.

All that to say... no fear, we're here... with jet lagged actors, limited cell phone service and a tech rehearsal in the dead of the night. Who's ready to see how this goes tomorrow night?!?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

10 Months to Tomorrow

Our day of rest from a rigorous schedule of perfection driven exploration, self analysis and repetition seems only like a short breath, a single beat taken between lines. And in many ways, what has been a 10 month long journey is now ready to take off tomorrow. I am incredibly proud of what Hamilton's "Ma Rainey" has achieved: the three dinner theater performances in the Barn which moved the Hamilton community and did justice to the message of Martin Luther King Jr. whom we commemorated, the laughter and tears (well tears more on the side of laughter) we drew from the Union College audience, our ability and privilege to share "two different versions of the song" that August Wilson wrote with two different casts. But I think of the significance of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and what that means to us as aspiring actors, as an ensemble and as representatives of our school. Although we have reblocked the play in the last week to accommodate a smaller performance space, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" will never be performed by us on a bigger stage than that of the Fringe. For most of us, the limelight will never burn much brighter. I know how important this trip is for so many people including me, and I have been told a lot about what the next two weeks hold for us. And yet all the speculations of my imagination as to what Edinburgh will look like, sound like, smell like, and taste like are only vague images in my mind. I find myself lost in the hype of what we are about to accomplish. It is a surreal feeling to know that I am leaving the country tomorrow with part of me planning for the experience of a life time, and the other part still unconvinced that there is going to be a plane waiting for me at the airport, that the cast is not still sitting in KJ 104 running through lines while I daydream about what it will be like to be on stage as Irvin for the first time. To think that there was a point when I had to read the lines to hear the story August Wilson so brilliantly wrote. Now his words flow out as naturally as breaths of air. We have all been involved with some form of theater, but probably none of us has been with a play for so long. And in 10 months the play has not been perfected or mastered because there is always something new to be discovered about the characters or their actions right up to the delivery of the last line of the final performance. But "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" has become a part of us. It is a source of countless memories. It is responsible for our personal growth as both actors and people. Its characters have crawled out of our personalities and our hearts and our minds. We have bonded in ways that family and friends have not. And we have certainly spent enough time together to call ourselves a family! And for every bit of success and glory that we find individually in Scotland, we will have found so much more from one another. As an ensemble we have translated ourselves through the voices of Levee, Cutler, Toledo and Slow Drag, Ma, Sylvester and Dussie Mae, Irvin, Sturdyvant and the Police Officer. When I heard the news back in February that there was a possibility we would be going to Edinburgh, I began to prepare because there was no doubt in my mind it would happen. Our ensemble was ready to take on the world (literally) and we were blessed to be in an environment where so many people wanted to support us on our journey. So when I lay awake for the rest of the night and remain awake for the duration of our plane flight it will be because a dream has become a reality. "Because I know [we've] got [our] time coming."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Inside the Actor's Studio with "Cutler"

Being one of the few actors working in this productuion who is not extensively involved with Theatre at Hamilton College, one can only imagine the difficulty I would find in investing the committment that has been necessary to make the most of this endeavor. However, the importance of this play and performing it on the Fringe stage does not fail to resonate in such a individual's mind.

A brief academic course in acting was just something I desired to add to my workload at the start of my Freshman year, but I have now grown to find both an appreciation and a fondness for Theatre as a rising Junior. As I will be taking advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime by traveling to Scotland to perform "Ma Rainey" once again, the appreciation I have come to gain for becoming involved with acting here at Hamilton is at its peak.

Aside from my personal appreciation also comes the importance one finds within the play. The social and racial commentary August Wilson chose to illustrate throughout "Ma Rainey" is that of something I could possibly never find solely in the classroom. Detailing the events of Reverend Gates and the abuse he had to endure is much different than reading about such an occurrence in one's textbook. While the piece has many moments we may all lightly chuckle over, no one can detract from the somber display of sorrow and hardship when discussing the plight of African-Americans across the United States throughout the 1920s. Such commentary is essential to the impact we as students must make to the diverse culture of our campus's community.

And as we now head out for Edinburgh in a mere matter of hours, I can only think to myself, "Where's my Coke?"

Where We Are

Well, today we just had our final run-through before we fly across the Atlantic to the land of the Scots. Morale is high, the mood is good, and confidence is raging inside of us. Now that our departure is simply around the bend, this experience seems surreal. It's really happening, and we feel good. We've come a long way: the events barn, Union College black box stage, rehearsals in the Hub with some new faces, and now the Fringe Festival in Scotland. This is truly an experience of a lifetime. It's one thing to know in March that you are scheduled to perform in August of that same year overseas, but realizing's exhilarating and humbling.
This proves true especially when I consider that, personally, (and even for the rest of the cast, I feel) this play has not lost it's ability to move us. After several months, I continue to find myself and my cast-mates: moved by Toledo's metaphorical "stew" speech, stunned to silence by Levee's traumatic childhood story, laughing at the Band's jokes, disgusted at Sturdyvant's manners, and shocked by August Wilson's poignant ending. Before we've even ventured across the pond, this is already proving to be an incredible experience. If that's the case, I can't begin to even imagine how wonderful the second half will be.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Yesterday was our first double-run-through day, and we worked out most of the technical issues of having a smaller set. The cast started to work more with testing what they will and won't be able to do in the new space. The first run felt really dialed back (perhaps because it was early morning), but the second was very energetic. A mix of the two energies, and an spirit of exploration, fueled today's rehearsals. As we get closer to the show date, the cast seems to be discovering a greater understanding of each individual moment onstage. Yet, the scariest and most invigorating part of all of this is that there are more epiphanies to come: some big and some small. No matter how hard we try to cure problems that we think may occur when we finally get to Scotland, we won't truly know all of what we need to do until we get there. Luckily, we won't stop learning and growing the until after our final performance.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I wanted to entitle this blog post "Runs," but then I worried that it might give the wrong impression as to the topic of the post. As it is, none of our home-made group meals have made anyone sick so far, and we have just started intensively running the show.

We wake up in the morning. Show up to rehearsal. Eat snacks. Run the show.

Get notes. Eat lunch. Come back to rehearsal. Run the show.

Go home. Cook/eat group dinner. Prepare for tomorrow when we'll.... Run the show.

It may seem tedious to someone who isn't involved in the process, but doing a bunch of full run-throughs of the show really gives us an opportunity to work in a way that you just can't when you're stopping all the time to make adjustments and change blocking.

People are becoming more confident with their lines and blocking, and we're beginning to see the full picture emerge from this show. Characters are becoming more solid and (forgive me, every acting teacher I ever had) real. We're working on actually listening to one another and engaging ourselves in scenes. Soon we'll be running the show for an audience, and I know that if we keep improving at the rate that we have since returning only four days ago, that audience will be completely blown away.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Mark got us sweet awesome Walkie Talkies to use when we're in Scotland so that we can communicate between the two flats. (We also have a designated person in each flat who has a European phone plan that we can contact in case of emergency, but in non-emergency cases, we'll save a few quid by using these).

Don't forget, however, that we are actors--and that as such, we may be a bit over-dramatic. In celebration of such over-dramatism, we decided to create codenames for ourselves. And the names are...(drumroll)

Gabe- Raging Bull

Sarah- Perspicacity

Kathryn- Purple Osprey

Ryan- Brass Tenner

Adam- Wizard Overlord

Mark- Special Dark Chocolate

Laura- Yellow Dolphin

Christian- Rev.

KB- Flying Witchdoctor

Higgy- Zombie Forgemaster

Isidro- Superman

Anthony- Mack Daddy Son

Ileana- Zelda Gnome Wrangler

Someone suggested character names, but I had to remind them that we aren't in Chicago 1927--We're in Edinburgh, Scotland 2010!!! Or at least we will be, and personally, I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The 3rd of the 8th

How can we protect Ma and the crew from running into one another? Blocking, and boy that was fun!! We redid most of our blocking yesterday, and today we did a run through of the entire play.

To cut or not to cut was the name of this third day. An hour and 30 minutes is all that we have to touch some hearts and express the power of this play. We finished the deal at 1 hr and 26 minutes.
It is tough to get the show back in shape in just over a week, but we've been working hard since August the 1st. Believe me, its looking good and it is coming FAST.

The clock may be ticking but we ain't f-f-f-flipping!
We are going to S-s-s-stick it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ileana's Blog for the day! food and fun!

Today was quite the busy day. On the top of the list would be that today was my first 'stage' rehearsal with the rest on the cast. The play was re-blocked entirely... not that it would have affected me since I'm one of the new cast members. Another big thing that happened would be that we finally get to eat at one of our college's dinning halls! YAY for food!! ... but... it is only open for lunch... Booooo! So several of our cast members went grocery shopping and now all that food is sitting in my fridge... and no, I'm not gonna eat it... its safe. (tears*)
So, somehow during the day, it was decided that now we should all have a code name for when speaking on the walkie talkies. So far I've heard some interesting names and it seems that mine is now one that's somewhat inappropriate... which I totally don't mind.
After rehearsal, most of the group went over to Gabe's place. There we ate dinner, played games, some swam, and enjoyed each others' company while occasionally being serenaded. It seems that we may go back to his place for a small, coordinated house party this Thursday; and this time I'll remember to bring my swimsuit. [Thanks Gabe for being so hospitable!] After that, a group of us went back to campus, making a pit stop at Walmart. And now, I am in my room... tired... sleepy... and typing this blog entry.
I really enjoyed the great bonding we all did today and I can't wait to be in Edinburgh with everyone. The cast is such an amazing group of people; I know I will never forget these next couple of weeks that I get to share with them.

-Ileana Becerra

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rehearsals started today!!!!

Today all of the cast and crew came back to campus to start rehearsing before departing for Scotland on the 9th. To get back into the swing of things, we did a successful line-through. The timing was under 90 minutes, so it looks like we won't have to do any cutting! As the date draws nearer, things are getting more official. We even got a set of walkie talkies so we can communicate between the two flats!