Friday, February 13, 2015

A Labour of Love, or There and Back Again

I have triumphantly returned from Lyon after illustrating how approaching the text of Love’s Labour’s Lost as one of Shakespeare’s actors would have done, through a cue script, reveals directions from the playwright that affect the performance of a role. At the outset of the journey, it was unclear if my presence at La Société Fraçaise Shakespeare’s 2015 conference would be a possibility. Luckily, everything worked out well.

For this trek to Europe, I was fortunate to fly on Turkish Airlines, a decision that had two immediate consequences. First of all, this particular international company does not fly out of Pittsburgh, compelling an extra leg of my trip from the Steel City to The Big Apple, adding a day of travel on both ends. Secondly, being Turkish Airlines, in order to get to Lyon, France, I would need to take a layover just down the road a piece in Istanbul. Rather than spend 13 hours in the airport between flights home, I was able to extend my layover, and have a day in a city that I had long longed to visit. The paper and the trip were shaping up nicely.

Mother Nature, however, did not want to cooperate. The day before I was to leave Pittsburgh, my bus to New York City was cancelled as New Jersey was placed under a travel ban in anticipation of the record-breaking snow that was to bury Manhattan. After a bit of very stressful scampering, I booked a seat on the only train, and in fact the only mode of transportation between Pittsburgh and New York, that would get me to JFK International Airport in time for my flight – if that flight should even take off the following afternoon.

Upon arriving in New York City, the snowstorm was painfully evident by the lack of debilitating snow. There was more snowfall in Pittsburgh that morning, the major part of the weather deciding to head north to Boston. Still, the question of delays hung in the air. The flight I had booked was the only flight I could take that would get me to Lyon in time for the conference.

That evening was spent with friends and watching a rehearsal for a staged reading of one of USP’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Ruelas’ plays. Arising from the couch early the next morning, I made my way to the airport where everything went off without a hitch. I was in the air for more than nine hours to Istanbul for a three-hour layover before a three-hour flight to Lyon. Thirty minutes on a train and ten minutes on the thoroughly efficient metro later, I was checking into my hotel.

Not succumbing to jet lag, I decided to take in Lyon’s spectacular Roman ruins. There are two theatres on the hill of Vieux Lyon, one being the oldest Roman theatre in Gaul. The excellent museum on sight was free that day, so I was able to take in quite a bit before heading back to the hotel to nervously rehearse my presentation. Presentations we rehearse, but Shakespeare, no. As the last speaker of the day and the only performer on the agenda, a persistent question nagged me: am I going last because they think I’ll be entertaining, or because nobody sits through the entire conference? My stomach was in knots, filled with butterflies or kittens, whichever metaphor you prefer.

The following morning, I arrived early giving myself plenty of time to get lost. The conference was held on the Déscartes campus of the École Normale Superieur, and when I reached the room, it was locked. The receptionist informed me that the room was reserved from 9:30, which was curious because all the materials for the conference listed 9:00 as the start time. I had difficulty using my computer while traveling. Had I missed an important email while I was in transit?  I began seeing students moving in the right direction, and heard mention of a conference and speakers, so I followed. I must have arrived just a bit too early. It’s still better than the alternative.

More topics were addressed than I thought would have been in a conference devoted to reading Love’s Labour’s Lost. Speakers came from the UK, Scotland (a transplant from Pittsburgh), Norway, France and of course the USA (me). I was the only one not connected to some institution. Would I be taken seriously? Would I be understood? Would anybody care? These were the questions that occupied my mind while the other speakers took their turns, causing me to miss a good amount of their presentations.

It turns out that the answer to all of my questions and worries was ‘yes.’ The program was running 20 minutes behind schedule when I took the stage. While preparing it struck me that I was not reading a paper, but giving a presentation. During my time, I mixed things up by presenting from in front of the large desk at the front of the room and not reading directly from my paper, but using it more as an outline. As difficult as it was due to nerves and adrenaline, I tried to speak slowly. Most of the attendees were students, and English was their second language. A majority of the presentations were in English, so I hope that we were understood.

I was able to explain how Shakespeare was able to direct his actors through cue scripts, how shifts between verse and prose alert the actors to a change on stage, how pronouns direct blocking and how a couple of important rules of staging Shakespeare without rehearsals effect the performance and the interpretations of roles. My paper was greeted with some very welcomed comments and questions when I was finished although the conference went over time. I also know for a fact that some of the students who had been checking out fishing videos on Facebook throughout the conference ended the day by checking out USP’s page - a very encouraging sign.

The entire experience left me wanting to do more conferences. They are a great way to keep in touch with what is going on in the world of Shakespeare, and to spread USP’s name and methods. I am grateful to La Société Française Shakespeare for the opportunity and all of their help and support. A big thank you goes out to the presenters for their time, talent and knowledge. To read ‘An Unrehearsed Cue Script Perspective on Love’s Labour’s Lost,’ and the other papers presented at Lyon and at the second part of the conference taking place on February 13 and 14 in Paris, visit La Société Française Shakespeare’s website in March (

After leaving my hotel the next morning, I wandered around in search of a post office only to find that it was closed on Saturdays. Then I got off at the wrong stop on the metro before waiting for half an hour at the wrong stop for the train to the airport. Thankfully, I made it on time.

That evening and the next day were spent in Istanbul, and while having absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare I still enjoyed an amazing time there.

The ten-hour sleepless flight back to the USA the next day was punctuated with three crying infants going off every 20 minutes. We arrived in JFK on time, however, the city and airport were in the grips of another snowstorm fear. Upon landing, I was notified that my bus, scheduled to leave 5 hours later, was again cancelled. Between sitting on the tarmac for two hours and a slow A Train to the Port Authority, I missed the last bus to Pittsburgh for the evening. Instead, the night was spent on a very generous friend’s futon before getting the only train from New York City to Pittsburgh the next day.

I spent 9 hours of my birthday on the train catching some much needed rest, before arriving home at 8pm, only 14 hours later than originally intended. Thankfully I was greeted by my much-relieved wife for a lovely birthday dinner.

This entire trip amounted to over 45 hours in transit, 2 trains, 4 planes, 3 cities, 3 languages (4 if you count the people in Turkey who thought I was German) and one great experience sharing USP with a completely new audience and sparking interest in the process.

Ah - the distances we go for Shakespeare, and the experiences he gives in return.

-Andy Kirtland
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

My traveling companion Balzac is ready to go!

Signage for the seminar

The view of Lyon from Vieux Lyon

Feels like you're there, doesn't it?

I've waited a long time for this picture, so have those people on the bench.