29th March 2019
‘Porridge before you set off?’ Joseph asks us on Monday morning. I look out at the snowy landscape, sensing the chill morning air.
‘I studied at St Andrews University, Scotland, ‘ he says, ‘and was taught how to make it this way by my landlady.’
I would like to meet that landlady. It was delicious.
A five hour drive south – towards the end of which Bill wants to show me a typical New Jersey diner, Mastori’s. It’s now lunchtime. We order ‘eggs from heaven’ – baked in the oven with tomato, bacon and grits.
‘What are grits exactly?’
‘Made from corn, then boiled.’
I’m not crazy about the grits but the eggs live up to their name.
Bill then gives me a whistle-stop tour of downtown Philadelphia – the statue of Quaker William Penn, after whom Pennsylvania is named, clearly visible atop his column above City Hall.
We arrive at Overbook Presbyterian Church – our venue for today. I had assumed I would be performing in the church itself (and am becoming quite experienced at doing that with this play) – but no. Bruce Gillette, the co-pastor and our host, shows me the large community theatre space within the premises which has a high stage, curtains, theatre lighting, you name it.
Okay. Great. And there are two people to help me technically. Teresa will run sound and Bob Iodice will do the lights.
Wedon’t have a heap of time but Bob is up for getting a good number of lighting states programmed. The play works perfectly well without any specific lighting, but if available, it does add some extra atmosphere – especially if we can conjure up a solitary shaft of light shining down on James Brightmore, the young CO confined in a ten feet deep pit. Which we ARE able to achieve here.
Bob and I work at the lighting right up until 20 minutes before we’re due to start, while I munch on a cheese and tomato sandwich Bruce has kindly rustled up for me.
With no time for any kind of rest, I dash to set up my crates and realise I now have just 5 minutes to put my costume on, take a few deep breaths and then stride out, onto the stage, to begin.
Bruce is very disappointed at the small turnout – he has worked hard to rouse interest in the event – and Philadelphia is, after all, the heart of Quakerism in the US. But those who do come are clearly very engaged with the piece…and I relish performing it in a more traditional theatre space and enjoy Bob’s ‘moody’ lighting states.
He later tells me he is very familiar with the UK, many moons ago having spent months with the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool under the aegis of the late Ken Campbell, the creative theatre maverick.
Small world. I was lucky enough to work with Ken in his esoteric improvisation group, ‘The School of Night’ for a period before his death 10 years ago. Bob and I immediately launch into impersonations of Ken with his unmistakeable nasal twang and off-London accent.
Ken would have been amused, I suspect, at temporarily being brought back to life in a Philadelphia church.
Next morning, at Bruce and his wife Carolyn’s house, I am asked how I’d like my eggs.
‘From heaven?’ I suggest.
‘Can’t guarantee that,’ says Bruce.
‘Well, at least not from purgatory,’ I add.
(Do I seem obsessed with food? I hope not.)
Driving back to Bill’s house, the latest predicted snowfall begins, and it’s heavy. Bill has to concentrate fiercely amid the huge trucks that are thundering along way too fast in such conditions.
Back home, we learn that the next day’s trip to a school in Virginia has been cancelled due to the weather.
When I wake the next morning the snow is laying thickly in the road and on the paths outside Bill’s house. Okay – a day at home to rest, wash my smalls, blog a little and read.
Yesterday, Bruce gave me a thin tome, entitled ‘What would you do?’ – on the very subject that ‘Pitchfork Lady’ challenged me about after a performance in Yorkshire the other week.
‘If someone was about to attack your family, your loved ones…’
It’s a brilliant little book and I so wish I could talk to Pitchfork Lady right now – because I think I’d know how to answer – think I know ‘what I would do’.
The following day there’s plenty of snow still around but we’re able to set off on clearer roads, to Harrisonburg, Virginia, for the scheduled show that night.
Bill drives us through historic Harpers Ferry (of John Brown fame), and we cross the Appalachian mountains. Places I’ve heard of but never thought I’d see. Certainly not while transporting wooden crates across the country to perform a play about a Yorkshire CO. Amazing to think that Bert Brocklesby and his heroic stand 100 years ago has brought me all the way to these American mountains.
We arrive at the Mennonite Church where I will be performing – and what we see is a cleared space, with a single wooden cross suspended from the wall at the back – in front of which is a gleaming and extremely expensive-looking drum kit.
‘Erm, is it possible to move that?’
‘The drum kit? asks Julie, who is showing us around.
‘Yes. I mean, the play is set during the First World War.’
‘Oh no,’ says Julie. ‘No-one ever moves that drum kit.’
‘Harrisonburg,’ I think to myself. ‘We have a problem.’