Dragons and Princesses

A quote Mark shared with us from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

So you mustn’t be frightened…if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.”

In Iceland: Day Nine (Post Two)–A Day in the Life of the Shakes360 Group

This place is breathtaking—it’s almost worthless to write that, it’s so inadequate to describe the awe-inspiring landscape we’ve been exploring all week.

Hellnar 1 Orton
At Hellnar, on the southern end of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Hellnar 6
At Hellnar
Hellnar 3
The astonishing rock formations at Hellnar
Hellnar 5

Right now, there’s a severe storm all over the country—wild winds (almost hurricane force), intermittent sleet and freezing rain yesterday, and today just loads of rain.

Since Friday, we’ve been tucked up at The Freezer, a (fantastic) hostel and theater/performance space on the tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, in Western Iceland. Imagine us at one of the tips of the western edge of the island, sticking out into the North Atlantic Ocean as a storm rages.

Iceland iPhone Dump 2 017
That’s the town of Rif, right by my finger, where The Freezer is located. Just hanging out in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, like you do.

Conditions couldn’t be more appropriate for King Lear. The sound of the wind around the building (an old , concrete fish processing plant that’s been made terrifically cozy in its new life) is ferocious—loud enough at times to make us feel that our Lear really is wandering in the wildness and wind, even when we’re inside.

At one point, several of us—Catharine, Katie, and Roz (King Lear, Kent, and the Fool), Maya (our assistant director) and I—ventured out to rehearse the storm scene in the storm, to see what that was like.

Rehearsing the storm in the storm 2
Rehearsing the storm scene in the actual storm.

The wind was brutal, but also gorgeous and invigorating—so strong we could lean back or forward into it and be held up by it for more seconds at a time than would have seemed possible if we weren’t actually experiencing it. It was breathtaking in the most literal sense—Maya said to me that it was a strange feeling not to need to inhale, because if you were facing into the wind and opened your mouth, the air found its way into your lungs with no assistance.

We walked out to the sea wall in this tiny old fishing village, and we climbed it to watch the dark sea whipping wildly up to the edge of the rocks. We found our way up a grassy hill to a place where the lava rock formed tide pools, and we could see the giant boulder-pebbles of the “beach” below us.*  We ran the storm scene there, Act 3 Scene 2: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!”

Rif in the storm, fish processing plants, sea wall
A view of the fish processing plants of Rif. The harbor is out of the frame to the right, and the stone wall on the left is the sea wall.

The first time we ran the scene (actually, that was back in front of the hostel, when we first got outside), something about the intensity of the storm and the work of the actors combined was powerful enough to make me almost cry. (Admittedly, this is not a difficult state to induce in me, especially out in nature.)

Still: The way that Lear alternates between rageful bluster and the deflated, exhausted demeanor of an old man, drenched and winded by the storm and realizing that he’s losing his wits; the Fool’s tenderness and concern for Lear; Kent’s care for both Lear and the Fool, even after Lear’s betrayal of him. The sense that the wind might actually knock you down or set you aloft at any moment; the feeling of sleet blowing so hard and fast into your face that it feels like tiny needles being shot at your skin. All of it together = me, all choked up.

Walking back, we were heading into the wind, far more exhausting and disorienting than on the way out. And then, as we labored to cover the very short distance back to the hostel, we spent a moment leaning into the wind again, when I noticed that it was actually holding us up for too long, somehow, and it started to feel more dangerous than it had in the first twenty minutes or so that we were out. The wind picked up so quickly—there was no time to notice it happening, it was just suddenly that much stronger.

We made it back without a problem, of course, just really tired. Maya remarked to me that she could see why Lear was so exhausted out in the storm.

While we’ve been here, we’ve been taking turns making dinner for the whole group of us. That’s been fun, and delicious, if challenging in a wee hostel kitchen with minimal cooking equipment.

The hostel has provided us with food for breakfast (at an extra cost), and we’ve been starting each morning in communal  kitchen chaos before rehearsal begins around 10:00am. I’ve been spreading the food out on the kitchen table, and everyone crowds in, pouring bowls of cereal, or making toast, or gathering salami and cheese and eggs and vegetables on plates. There’s coffee and juice and a too-large crowd, and it’s a cheerful way to start the morning all together.

Yesterday I tried to make a banana cake that I’ve made many times now, because we had a number of bananas that were past their prime. Between using an unfamiliar gluten-free baking mix, approximating measurements (no measuring utensils at the hostel), converting some of the measurements from tablespoons to grams (the butter!), and using a European oven with temperatures marked in Celsius and a mysterious knob that seems to control the portions of the oven where the heat is centered (maybe? I still don’t really know)…let’s just say the cake was very tasty, and very…not what I was aiming for. Happily, college students are remarkably forgiving when you’re making them snacks.

After dinner last evening, we had a brief rehearsal, after decking out the theater space with every candle we could find. We ran through a large chunk of Act 3, all in candlelight, with the chair and fishing net hovel several of the actors built out of whatever they could find around the space.

Blurry rehearsal by candlelight
Blurry photo of rehearsal by candlelight, complete with the “hovel” the actors built from chairs and old fishing nets.

Once rehearsal was through for the day, Kate found a beaten-up old guitar, and we gathered together and sang for a while. By candlelight again, of course.

Hanging out after rehearsal
Hanging out after rehearsal, singing together.

Mark noticed that the sky seemed clear, and the wind had died down a lot, so he and Catharine bundled up and went out to scout for Northern Lights. They called us out after them when they saw some, but it took us too long to get all of our gear on and get down to the sea wall, and the lights had ended by the time we got there.

No matter though—the sea was beautiful and wild in the dark and the wind, and some sort of birds were gathered on the water and wheeling through the night sky, and the Big Dipper was bright and clear above us to the right. I have this memory of standing on a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway in California, overlooking the beautiful, wild, dark ocean and freezing in the coastal wind, while the Big Dipper hung over a mountain to my right, and a cluster of lights from San Francisco were visible far down the coast to my left.  And standing on the sea wall in a tiny fishing village in the west of Iceland, windblown, cold, staring up at the same Big Dipper, I thought about how enormous and strange and incredibly beautiful the world is.

* These boulder-pebbles—I don’t know how else to describe them exactly—are an apparently standard feature of the coast here in Iceland. We first saw them a few days back, along the Reykjanes Peninusula. They’re rounded and smooth the way pebbles are, but enormous, all piled along the beach, thousands of them. They are, on average, a foot to a foot and a half in diameter? Enormous, and I can’t imagine how much they must weigh. When you walk over them, you have to be cautious, because you could easily lose your footing and twist an ankle in the space between them, but also because a rock will occasionally move, not as tightly packed into its fellow rocks as it appeared, and it would be easy to fall entirely.

In Iceland: Day Nine–Rehearsing at the Freezer, During an Actual Storm

(This post is by Kristin Kury, BMC class of 2016.)

What do you do when trapped in a West Iceland hostel in the middle of nowhere during a windstorm? Rehearse, of course! After a groggy morning, we got to work on Act Three, during which the characters of Lear face a storm of their very own.

Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer 1
Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer
Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer 2
Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer.

Taking advantage of the various spaces in our hostel, we broke into small groups to tackle the individual scenes. We got a lot of discussion done, and then started to put the scenes on their feet. Some brave few even ventured outside–talk about method acting!

Rehearsing the storm in the storm
Kent, Lear, and the Fool (Katie, Catharine, and Roz) rehearsing the storm…in an actual storm. This photo gives no real sense of the brutality of the wind they were dealing with!

After a full day of rehearsal and a hearty pasta dinner, we moved into the hostel’s black box theater, turned off the lights, lit some candles, and ran the storm scenes.

Rehearsing by candlelight 2
Rehearsing by candlelight at The Freezer, while a storm raged outside.

As Mark said, this was a unique opportunity, since we’d probably never get an opportunity to rehearse King Lear by candlelight in the middle of a genuine Icelandic storm again. Without being too on the nose, I think we saw the scene in a new light. In the dark, stakes were heightened, faces were creepier, and everything was just a little uneasy.

In Iceland: Day Eight–Snæfellsjökull and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

(This post is by Marisa Arellano, BMC class of 2016.)

Snæfellsjökull is basically a volcano with a glacier around it. You can actually see it from Reykjavík on a clear day. It is the center point of a very large national park that extends into the sea. This area (the village of Rif, where we’ve been staying; Snæfellsjökull; and a few of the surrounding villages along the Snaefellsnes peninsula) is often referred to as “mini Iceland” because most of Iceland’s most characteristic geological traits are present in the area.

Snæfellsjökull is where they find the entrance to the center of the Earth in the aptly named Journey to the Center of the Earth. Kári Viðarsson, our host at The Freezer, developed a one-man show based on a saga local to the Snaefellsnes area, Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, which also takes place partly on Snæfellsjökull.

What is most interesting to me is the fact that in August of 2012 Snæfellsjökull was without ice for the first time in recorded history. I’m beginning to read (and put through google translate) a blog run by an Icelandic geologist who made this discovery; I’ll likely be updating this post as I comb through his blog.

In Iceland: Day Seven–Traveling to The Freezer Hostel and Theater

(This post is by Miciah Foster, BMC class of 2017.)

There is nothing more capable of encouraging ensemble building than a six hour bus ride along the western coast of Iceland. The landscape was awe-inspiring–with water so blue it implied magic, and with mountains so close I could see the cold, and with waterfalls so simple and so majestic, and with everything so close to melting but not quite. How could Icelanders believe in anything other than fantasy?

On our way, we stopped at a grocery store in order to stock up for our Thoreau-like isolation at The Freezer. (It even sounds like a gothic horror film.) Each student would be responsible for a single meal during our stay (Duhn Duhn Duhhnn). Mark let us loose in the most challenging landscape yet… Bonus, The Icelandic Grocery Store. We assembled our teams and fought our way through language barriers and foreign set ups to the cash register. Mission Accomplished.

Bonus grocery store
In Bonus, a chain of grocery stores in Iceland.
Bonus grocery store 2
In Bonus, a chain of grocery stores in Iceland.
Bonus grocery store 3
In Bonus, a chain of grocery stores in Iceland.

Later, we finally arrived at The Freezer (Duhn Duhn Duhhnn), which, despite all my ominous foreshadowing, is cozy and kind of warm.

Kari introducing us to the space at The Freezer
Kári Viðarsson, owner and manager of The Freezer (and an actor and musician in his own right), shows us around The Freezer.
Panoramic shot of the group rehearsing at The Freezer
Panoramic view of the gang, talking and rehearsing in the lounge at The Freezer.

There was plenty of space for us to work and play as well as cook and eat. All of which we did much of. We pieced our way through a thinned Act Three then sat down to a lovely family meal of lentils and salad. We shall see what magic West Iceland and The Freezer have in store for the next four days.

What We Do and How We Do it

(This post is by Marisa Arellano, BMC class of 2016.)

Most people are surprised to learn that Mark cast Lear about a month into rehearsals. For the first month of the process nobody knew who would be playing who. I wanted to take a moment to explain some of the more unconventional things you’ll see popping up on this blog.

The work we do in the Bi-College Theater Program is often based firmly in ensemble. Ensemble, in simplest terms, is a group of artist who come together to make something. Before we could jump into the world of Lear as characters, we needed to learn how to be together as people and as artists. It sounds like a simple thing to do–most of us spend a lot of time in groups of people. But truly being present and connecting with a group is a challenging thing to do. Everything we’re doing in this production is based on the premise of coming together.

There are a lot of different ways we attack this common goal of togetherness. Sometimes it’s a game (The Chair Game is a personal favorite), sometimes it’s a check-in, and sometimes it’s making prolonged eye contact with someone. It can be difficult to grasp initially why we spend so much time playing games and making eyes at each other instead of constantly digging at the text.

It makes sense when you think about it. The language of a play is lost if you’re not actually connecting with the people you’re sharing a stage with (or, in our case, a table). Even the most damning of curses and banishments wouldn’t really matter if we weren’t really seeing each other. Especially with Shakespeare, a strong ensemble is key to giving the words life instead of treating them like delicate pieces of poetry we can’t touch.

This is how ensemble is coming up in Lear. Every play is different. In the past we’ve done plays where no one has a defined character, plays where multiple people play the same role, and plays that exclusively featured hermits. Our work can be a little unconventional but ultimately our concerns are pretty simple–we want to come together.

In Iceland: Day Three (Post Two)–Viðey Island

(This post is by Bridget Rose McJohn, BMC class of 2017.)

As Kristin mentioned earlier, our Sunday began with the morning free to wander through Reykjavik, try local treats, or to get some more necessary rest.

That afternoon we made our first trip on public transportation to Viðey Island for a day of exploration and God Spy character development.

Videy Island
Photo credit to Amy Radbill.

As we sipped our hot chocolate and ate our waffles in the cafe, many of us talked about the bizarre juxtaposition of the view of Reykjavik as we stood on the island. How can something that feels so serene only be a short ferry ride away from the busy capital? This may be because the island has been uninhabited for so long. While there were villages as early as the 10th century, the last residents moved off of the island in the 1950s.

Skúli Magnússon, known as the “father of Reykjavik,” built his home–the first stone building in Iceland–in 1755. Magnússon’s bouse is now used as the coffee shop.

Skulli Magnusson's House now the cafe
Skúli Magnússon’s house, Viðeyjarstofa, now the site of a lovely cafe. Photo credit to Amy Radbill.

Various statues and a horse barn have been added to the island, leaving Viðey mostly untouched by modern development. Nature flourishes there with over thirty species of birds and 156 different types of plants (this is about a third of Iceland’s flora on one island). The remoteness of this island attracts not only tourists, but also offers so many ways for us to play with the landscape and observe daily life from afar.

In Iceland: Day Three, Viðey Island

 (This post is by Kristin Kury, BMC class of 2016. All photos in this post are Kristin’s as well.)

Today we had a free morning, so a few of us ventured to the Kolaportið Flea Market, which is only open on weekends. Like many flea markets, it was an eclectic mix of things–vintage books, postcards, clothing, jewelry, and of course, touristy crap.

Icelandic Kolaportid Flea Market from KristinMy personal favorite find was the Icelandic romance novels–I guess some things are universal!

Icelandic romance novels from KristinOn our way back to the hostel, we stumbled upon the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand. Amelia and I each had one with everything. They were quite tasty, and for less than four US dollars, you could certainly find a worse lunch.

Icelandic Kristin and Amelia with hotdogs in Reykjavik
Kristin and Amelia sample the local, very famous, hotdogs.

At 12:30, we met up with the rest of our compatriots and as a group headed toward Reykjavik’s main bus station–our first experience on public transportation! With City Passes firmly in hand, we rode the bus to a ferry, which took us to our final destination–Viðey Island.

Icelandic on the way to Videy Island
Boarding the ferry, looking toward Viðey Island.
Icelandic on Videy Island
Snow and desolation, just across the water from Reykjavik

Viðey is the largest island in Reykjavik bay, and is a lovely little place featuring sculptures, hiking trails, and a coffee shop that serves excellent waffles. We used our time on the island to spend time alone with our God Spy characters. For those of us playing characters who get caught in the storm, we were encouraged to spend time in that character’s shoes as well.

Icelandic Waffled on Videy Island
But, in true Icelandic fashion, nothing is ever so desolate that they can’t serve outstanding coffee and snacks there.

After a well earned hot chocolate and waffle break, we got into pairs and made some work together, playing with texts and our new environment. During this time, we were treated to hail, winds, and, delightfully, a rainbow. You know what they say about Icelandic weather–if you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes and it’s sure to change.

Icelandic Rainbow on Videy Island

In Iceland: Day Two

(This post is by Cathy Campo, BMC class of 2019. Photo credit to Amy Radbill)

We woke up this morning to a beautiful buffet breakfast at the KEX Hostel. Some favorite dishes included: hard boiled eggs, porridge, salami, fresh cheese, fresh yogurt, fresh baked bread with Icelandic butter and jams. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a picture because my hands were busy stuffing my face.

At 9:00am, we met our dope bus driver, Thor, (it takes a very cool person to pull off the name “Thor,” and let’s just say he definitely pulls it off) for a Golden Circle bus tour. We started out by stopping at Þingvellir National Park (that ‘þ’ is called a ‘thorn’ and makes a ‘th’ sound. It is one of the 10 letters Icelandic has that English does not) where the Vikings would gather in the summer.

Thingvellir National Park Continental Divide 1
This path runs along the continental divide between North America and Europe–the sides are marked by the rock walls you see here. (Which side is which? Honestly, we’re not entirely sure.)
Thingvellir National Park the Settlement
The Settlement at Thingvellir National Park.
Thingvellir National Park water and the Settlement
Another view of the Settlement.

We took a leisurely one-hour walk down the snowy trail, taking in white-blanketed volcanic rocks. Sights included a little stream and icy mountains. Notable occurrences: Catharine made snow angels, Alexandra discovered the mountain from which Gloucester attempts to commit suicide, and the cast tried out method acting by practicing an exercise of Mark’s, ice walking, on actual ice. (But don’t worry, parents–the ice was a solid few feet thick and no one fell in!)

Ice walking Bridget
Bridget, ice walking.
Ice walking
Mark joins the fun!

As we made our way to the geothermal secret-mineral-spring-that-actually-isn’t-so-secret (more commonly known as “Gamla Laugin” or The Secret Lagoon, Iceland’s first swimming pool) we passed the largest lake in Iceland as well as some horses (which they actually eat here).

Speaking of Icelandic food, a classic Icelandic treat, chocolate covered licorice, was passed around while we traveled. I’ll be honest, the taste was not for me, but this could just be because I don’t like licorice. I interviewed a few members of the cast on the subject:

Miciah: “Well, I liked the chocolate part of it. Whatever you do, don’t separate the chocolate from the licorice because then you’re just stuck with licorice and it’s disgusting.”

Amelia: “I don’t like licorice usually, but it tastes good in chocolate. I thought it was really good!”

Caroline: “The first time I had it, it was great. And the second time? Yeah, not so great.”

Maybe Goneril poisons Regan with chocolate licorice? Further research to be conducted in the future.

Now back to the topic at hand: the Secret Lagoon was beautiful! You could see the inviting steam rising from the water. The swimming culture is different and very big in Iceland. You are first asked to shower before entering the water, to keep it as pure as possible. Many people swam with foam noodles, which some of our cast members creatively used to write out “BMC.” (we are artists, after all).

BMC pool noodles Secret Lagoon
(Photo credit to Amelia Couderc)

The water was denser and felt mineral-y (according to Amelia; I did not actually go in). Marisa notes the huge, algae-encased boulders on the ground that you can sit on (she also advises you not to fall in, because of those boulders). It felt amazing to have half your body warm and the other half cold, according to Miciah. Just outside the pool, there was a geyser, or geysir in Icelandic (“a vent in Earth’s surface that periodically ejects a column of hot water and steam,” according to Google) that was hot enough to burn your hands on.

Secret Lagoon 2

Secret Lagoon 3Some of our hearty students were able to last in the warmth of the pool for the full two hours! “I feel like my insides were boiled,” said Amelia.

On the other hand, Alexandra cheerfully says she felt “grounded and earthed” and “no longer depleted of negative ions.”

Roz said: “Did not cure my cough: 2/10. But would spring again.”

On our way out, a miracle happened: It started snowing! On our spring break! Wooo!

Next up was the Friðheimar Tomato Farm. Who knew they had tomato farms in Iceland? Not me! It was this amazing, warm little greenhouse with artificial light for sunlight. A worker told us all about their production of tomatoes. Their pure Icelandic water, which is pumped in through pipes, makes for fine tomatoes. As does the fact that because Iceland is an isolated island, they don’t really have pests and thus don’t use pesticides. She told us about how sometimes they do get “bad flies,” but they simply let loose “good flies” to fight them off. They also import bumble bees from the Netherlands–a queen bee and about 60 female workers in each box–to help with production.

Fridheimar Tomato Farm 1
The dining room in the greenhouse at Friðheimar Tomato Farm.
Fridheimar Tomato Farm 2
The dining room in the greenhouse at Friðheimar Tomato Farm.

We were provided an amazing lunch rivaling our breakfast–the freshest, best tomato soup I’ve ever had along with yummy sour cream. We also tried tortellini with tomato sauce and a flatbread with tomato and cheese. In addition, we had an assortment of fresh breads with a special cucumber spread and Icelandic butter. Dessert appropriately arrived in little terra cotta pots. Tomato ice cream, cheesecake with a tomato jelly, and apple tomato pie. Yum!

After lunch, we stopped at the wee horse farm next door. Despite not being able to pronounce the horses’ Icelandic names, we bonded with them anyway.

Then we bussed to Gullfoss, a breathtaking waterfall that the bottom of the earth swallows.

Gulfoss 2
Gullfoss, or the Golden Waterfall (not looking all that golden at dusk on a March evening, but still utterly breathtaking).

Lastly, we made it to our last stop on the tour, Geysir, at around 6:15pm. Exhausted but still excited, we overlooked the geysers, like the one we saw earlier today at the spring. We watched as they sprang up, up, up every five or so minutes to perform magical shows.

TLDR: All in all, Iceland is an amazing country that teems with gorgeous natural sights, ridiculously fresh food, and horses that are sometimes pets and sometimes served with gravy.

In Iceland: Day One (Post Two)–At the Theater to See Njála

(This post is by Miciah Foster, BMC class of 2019.)

Today we saw Njála, an interpretation of Njál’s Saga. The saga deals with curses, grudges, feuds, families, friends, and many, many enemies.

Shots of the creative process. Featured here is Unn's husband Hrut's failure to consumate his marriage due to his golden and useless phallus.
A glimpse of the creative process. Featured here is Unn’s husband Hrut’s failure to consumate his marriage due to his golden and useless phallus.
More from the creation process
More glimpses of the creative process.

The story is told in three main chunks, the first of which immediately allows the audience to identify with the separate plights of two women in what can be interpreted as a criticism of marriage. The second tells the tale of the burning of one of the tragic heroes; and the last is an account of the avenging of that same hero.

The aftermath of the feud between Gunnar and Njal's wives Hallgerd and Bergthora, respectively.
The aftermath of the feud between Gunnar and Njál’s wives, Hallgerd and Bergthora, respectively.
Njal as Jabba the Hutt
Njál as Jabba the Hutt.

The show premiered at the City Theatre in Reykjavik, one of two prominent theaters in Iceland. The shows here, as one of our Icelandic friends from RG (the arts college we visited) explained to us, are more fluid and abstract. This was very clear in the show we watched, which had striking auditory and visual elements. Rather than depict a betrayal or a fire or a battle, the actors portrayed the feelings of a betrayal or fire or battle and so on. They achieved this transference of emotions through music, costuming, and lighting. It was a truly awe inspiring performance that connected me to the history of the people of Iceland for the duration of those three hours.

The character map for Njal's saga.
The character map for Njál’s saga.