Ramble With Me.

Midsummer’s Not Over Yet.

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s annual Shakespeare In The Park play this year is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The set looks very impressive and detailed. It’s more than a little surprising to me that palatial doors form such a large part of the set and there’s only a little greenery on the left and right. This is strange because if you know the play you know that most of it takes place in the woods with events in Theseus’s palace only happening at the beginning and end. In the past the NSF’s productions have used more open, minimalist sets, so it’ll be interesting to see if the background changes as the play progresses.

I love the view from the stage.

If there’s a downside it’s that they’ve done A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And done it. And done it. This will be the fourth production in its thirty year history, although I get it. They’ve done some of the darker plays—like a brilliant and haunting production of the Scottish play—but when you’re hanging out in the park, maybe with your kids, you want to watch something light as the sun goes down. And actress Denise Hicks, who’s now the NSF’s director, played Puck in the troupe’s first production back in 1994. It was her idea that the spirits use tai chi moves and at dramatic moments would stomp on the stage, making the unearthly characters menacing, but in a good way. So if I happen to have offended think but this and all is mended: there’s always new life in an old play.

Time To Leave.

The Vanderbilt University campus is a national arboretum. When my mother was a student at what was then Peabody College—it’s since been incorporated into Vanderbilt—she took a botany class and had to collect the leaves of one hundred different trees. The professor directed the class to Vanderbilt and said, “Trust me. You won’t have any trouble.” And just a few years ago a friend of mine was visiting Nashville and I gave him a tour of the campus, which I really enjoy doing. He kept looking at all the trees and green spaces and saying, “This is what a college campus should look like!” He works for another university that shall remain nameless, but that’s another story.

Among Vanderbilt’s many trees are several gingko trees, including at least one that’s over a hundred years old, so here’s my final entry in the Black & White Photo Challenge, which I call, Gingko? Why Don’t You Go?

Thanks to Tom Being Tom for nominating me and now it’s time to go out on a song.

There’s A Way Out.

My Scout troop once went spelunking in a wild cave. I’d been to Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Caverns and thought caves were really cool–although after seeing the movie The Descent I may not ever go in a cave ever again, but that’s another story—but those hadn’t prepared me for the darkness and strangeness of a cave that could only be entered through a narrow crevice that swallowed the beams of our flashlights. We had a guide leading us, by the way—the cave was wild but had been thoroughly explored by professionals. Amateur spelunking is a bad idea which we were reminded of when we came into a large room. At its center was a stalagmite that had been built to about four feet high by the slow drip of mineral-rich water from the ceiling. Then, at some point, the water’s composition changed and began to wear away the stone so the top of the stalagmite was now a shallow basin.

“We call this Injun Joe’s Altar,” the guide told us. I had just read The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer so this was very eerie.

Anyway here’s today’s entry in the Black & White Photo Challenge, a little number I call Overarching Concerns.

Christmas Surprise.

Nowawadays travel is easy, or at least easier than it used to be. You can use the web to look up schedules, maps, points of interest, and even estimate times–you can plan out a whole itinerary without leaving your chair. This doesn’t prevent accidents from happening or things going badly–the best laid plans of mice and travelers, you know–which is something I thought about while listening to “The Holiday Coping Mechanism Spectacular” episode of The Hilarious World Of Depression podcast. Host John Moe shares a story about the year he and his wife decided to skip seeing their families for the holidays and take their young children to Sequim, Washington, which, as soon as he mentioned it, I added to my list of places I want to go, which, admittedly, covers pretty much the entire planet, but that’s another story. The trip wasn’t exactly disastrous, but it wasn’t as happy as they hoped either. No spoilers–go listen. You won’t regret it.

And it took me back to a place I’ve visited several times–metaphorically, since I haven’t been able to go really go back since I last passed through in 1991. While I’ve mentioned the little Welsh town of Carmarthen in previous yarns about my pilgrimage to the home of Dylan Thomas I’ve never given it the space it deserves. It was purely an accident that I found myself there, and even though I was just passing through I kind of fell in love with the place.

The first time I even heard of Carmarthen it was just a dot on the map, the end of the train line but close to my intended destination. And also I’m very much a freewheeling traveler. The best thing on any trip, for me, is to be surprised, which is why I set off on so many journeys without a clear idea where I’m going. The best part of any journey is the journey itself when you don’t have a destination. So I left Swansea on a rickety train that I’m pretty sure dated back to, and may have even been built by, George Stephenson. It was dark and cloudy most of the trip and then pouring rain by the time we pulled into the Carmarthen station. It was late on Saturday night and without realizing it I’d taken the last train. It was in the train station that I found the information I’d need for my second, and more successful, trip to the home of Dylan Thomas. Still I was stuck spending that night in Carmarthen and, because everything in Wales shuts down on Sundays, I wouldn’t be able to take the train back until late the next afternoon.

On that second trip I was, of course, better prepared: I made it to Dylan Thomas’s home and then took the last bus back to Carmarthen. I struck up a conversation with a guy on the bus who informed me he’d never met an American before. We made plans to meet up later at the pub, although we didn’t specify which pub and Carmarthen, small town that it is, has about fifty pubs. And anyway when I got off the bus I stepped right into an enormous crowd. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire town was there because it was the lighting of the town Christmas tree. The mayor of Carmarthen was there with the city council and he made a nice speech wishing everyone a happy holiday season then turned on the lights. Everyone cheered and started milling around and going to pubs. I went in to one too and spent the rest of the evening talking to several nice people who informed me I was the first American they’d ever met. Before that I shook hands with the mayor, although I didn’t get to talk to him, unfortunately, because I might have been the first American he ever met.

It was a month before Christmas but being there for the lighting of the Carmarthen tree, to be able to spend an evening with the people who lived there, to share in their holiday spirit and their pride in the little Welsh town at the end of the train line, was a fantastic gift. And the best part is I hadn’t even planned it.

Behind The Scenes.

I’ll draw the curtain:

My lord’s almost so far transported that

He’ll think anon it lives.

The Winter’s Tale, Act V, sc.3

Every summer the Nashville Shakespeare Festival puts on at least one play in Centennial Park. This summer they’re being especially ambitious with two plays: Antony & Cleopatra and The Winter’s Tale. Really they’re being extremely ambitious by putting on The Winter’s Tale in Nashville in the summer, although part of the play does take place in the summer, but that’s another—no, wait, it is the story. Never mind.

The funny thing to me is I read both of these plays in a college Shakespeare class under the tutelage of a professor who pointed out that they’re two of The Bard’s least-produced plays. Productions of Romeo & Juliet or Twelfth Night are like episodes of M*A*S*H—always on somewhere, and obviously the NSF, which put on its first play in the park in 1988, has decided there are only so many times they can do The Comedy of Errors (3), Much Ado About Nothing (3), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (3), The Taming Of The Shrew (2), or The Merry Wives of Windsor (2).

And they’ve done The Winter’s Tale before, in 2005, which makes me think the the rerun is a little early since the play itself covers a span of sixteen years.

While the plays themselves are always great I also like to go and look behind the scenes. I didn’t interrupt but I did catch some of the cast at work.

Here’s the stage still under construction. Notice that they’re using one stage for both plays, which is one of the interesting things about Shakespeare. The original productions were in a grassy area behind the Centennial Sportsplex with no sets, only a very few props, and almost no costuming. Well, the actors did wear clothes, and for that we should be grateful—Falstaff couldn’t get the wrinkles out of his birthday suit—but originally the dress code for cast and audience alike was come as you are.

And since all the world’s a stage who could resist a look behind the scenes?

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