More Words From Winedale
Additional life lessons and meditations from Shakespeare at Winedale graduates
Shakespeare at Winedale, begun the same year as the Armadillo World Headquarters, was inevitably infused with that same life-rhythm of community and celebration, revelation and ritual. Look at the old black-and-white photos from Winedale in the Seventies and you see it all: long hair flying, intense-looking guys with full beards and cutoffs, energetic scenes being played out on a clay floor, someone playing a flute in the pine trees, kids walking down the county road arm in arm, young Terry Galloway with a paintbrush and a pipe and a Puckish gleam in her eye and somewhere, presiding over it all, was Doc, looking like a track coach in his knit shirt, visor, shorts, and running shoes.
I remember during my first summer seeing dog-eared copies of avant-garde classics such as The Empty Space by Peter Brook and Towards a Poor Theater by Grotowski being passed around the dining table. We never really talked much about those books, but they were in the air, helping build the feeling that we were on the trail of something epic, profound, and partially obscured, something that would require courage and stamina to uncover.
"Don't think you can re-create this experience," Doc often growled near the end of a Winedale summer. He hated the idea of Winedale serving as a springboard for an acting career. To him, the world of theatre and the special place he had carved out at Winedale were polar opposites: One celebrated the star system, the other the power of the ensemble; one indulged performers' egos, the other demanded humility in the face of a great work of art; one was about product, the other about process. Most importantly, one spoke of "shows," the other of "plays," and this was a vital difference. A show was superficial, skin-deep, something separate from real life; a play, however, through the elemental act of playing, took us to the core of human existence. "No rehearsals, only performances," was the gauntlet he laid down each June, and he was not kidding. Winedale was not an acting class; it was a crash course in being wholly human, with many great teachers: Doc, William Shakespeare, the group, a century-old hay barn, the dazzling summer heat, the baritone of a local Texas-German farmer, a sunrise, an afternoon thunderstorm, the blazing stars at midnight.
There were no curtain calls at Winedale. Having gathered in a circle behind the barn before the play, we exited at the end down the center aisle and never came back. The audience, sometimes a bit thrown by applauding to an empty stage, would then emerge to see us standing in front of the Barn, waiting for them, holding out cups of lemonade and beer. To Doc, that was symbolic of the spirit of generosity and selflessness at the heart of the whole experience.
So, having been warned sternly against the temptations of the stage lights, like children on a camp-out being warned about the dangers of fire, what did many of us do? Well, start our own companies, of course how could we resist it? Every August a crew of Winedalers would hit Austin fully juiced from the most intense experience of their young lives, revved up to the Winedale pace of 18-hour days, seven days a week, just burning to do Shakespeare, or Jacobean tragedy, or Tom Stoppard anything, just let us play!
When you dropped by Doc's office in the basement of Calhoun to hand him, a bit uneasily, a poster for your inaugural production, he would take it and squint at it a bit through his glasses, perhaps cock an eyebrow, and say, "Hmmm ...," or utter a noncommittal grunt. And that was a good response. You knew better than to expect him to come see it though, on rare occasions, he did, and true to his knack for confounding expectations, was often quite supportive and insightful in discussing what he'd seen. He always respected your work if he could tell your heart was in the right place and that you weren't doing it to show off. - Clayton Stromberger
Winedale people were involved in theatres that nobody now remembers: the Hugh Beaumont Theater, Flies By Night, True Life Radio Theater. All showed the Winedale touch. The Hugh Beaumont Theater was an offshoot of Esther's Follies. It was in an old downtown building that was destroyed by fire. It lasted about half a year in 1978. Flies By Night was a group of ex-Esther's, ex-Beaumont, and ex-Winedaleans that used to do shows at the old Buffalo Grill during that same year. Midnight Shorts, True Life Radio Theater, and the Mickee Faust Show were names of shows done by ex-Winedaleans a mix of original material with some Shakespeare. Midnight Shorts was done at Esther's and what was the TransAct Theater, as was the Mickee Faust Show. True Life Radio Theater was done at Capitol City Playhouse. They were great shows and got great reviews.
In the early Eighties several ex-Winedaleans were in New York, including me. We got together and formed a short-lived group called Bimbos From Limbo and were among the very first performances at the legendary Limbo Lounge (home to Vampire Lesbians of Sodom).
Alice Gordon was one of the people along with John Rando and Robert Faires who were part of that ex-Winedalean, ex-Follies group who continued to create original theatre in Austin in the Seventies and early Eighties all those years when no one was looking.
Incidentally, if you've ever seen Urinetown: The Musical, the Broadway hit directed by John Rando, you'll see "Winedale" written all over the direction especially the entrance of the pianist. In Urinetown, a man is led at gunpoint across a ramp that extends out into the audience. He looks like a prisoner being taken that last mile. They walk him over to the other side of the stage and plunk him down in front of a piano. At gunpoint they make him play thus begins the overture of Urinetown.
Winedale-ish, don't you think? - Terry Galloway
The first post-Winedale show I did was The Importance of Being Earnest with Alan Fear, Jeannie MacCarthy, Robin Mize, John Rando, Jeff Hart, Barbara Wig, Robert Michna, Tamsen Donner. I was out of my mind with the excitement of finding all these people who wanted to do plays and knew that you could do a show with nothing but the desire. We did Earnest in a room at the Texas Union, and it was perfect. The set was just the fancy old furniture that was already in the room. It may not have been much to watch, but doing it was amazingly fun. If I recall, Doc actually cast it and arranged for the space then we didn't see him again until we performed. (I said, "Thanks for coming," and he got offended I'd forgotten that the thing was his idea.) - Bill Friedman
I vividly remember nights in the garage behind the house in Clarksville that Robert Michna and I rented between my summers of '82 and '83. We had a regular group that met at least weekly almost if not all Winedalers and did all sorts of stuff: play readings, poems, scenes, songs, performance pieces. It was really loose and an awful lot of fun. Alan Fear always brought his guitar I remember him singing W.H. Auden poems he'd set to music, bluesy-like. We actually performed the whole of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound in that dingy, tiny garage. We had to open the garage doors so the "overflow" audience could watch the thing from the outside. I remember players constantly tripping over an extension cord from a scoop light we'd hung on the post in the middle of the garage.
One night (in the living room for some reason), John Rando and Tamsen Donner did an uproarious skit in which they kept trying to perform very seriously one of the Macbeth/Lady Macbeth scenes. But each attempt would spin out of control and lapse into comedy then, frustrated, they'd stop and start over, only to keep veering off into comedy each time. Don't know if I've ever laughed harder at anything in my life. Thinking of that piece, it makes a lot of sense now that Rando eventually worked closely on several projects with playwright David Ives (All in the Timing).
'Tis Pity She's a Whore (the Tank Players, fall of '83, the Utopia Theater at UT) was a wild romp, quite a lot of fun. As the stage manager/props mistress, Jeanne Frontain had arranged with a local butcher to have a fresh, quite-real pig's heart on hand every night so Giovanni (played by me) could enter in the Fifth Act with it impaled on his dagger. (It was supposed to be his sister's his way of resolving the dilemma posed by their incestuous love affair.) There were a ton of Winedalers in that cast: Jeff Larsen, Shari Gray, Brian Foster, Bill Friedman, James Loehlin, Melanie Goodson Middleton, Robert Michna, Patti Mack. The late Gareth Morgan, marvelous actor and professor of Classics, was the Cardinal and got to toss off the final, title line of the play, and he did so deliciously. Kathy Catmull (who was not a Winedaler) was great as Annabella, Giovanni's sister.
Then there was Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling, which marked Loehlin's directorial debut. Stripped of its unnecessary comic subplot, it played kind of like Macbeth dark and fast (and nice and claustrophobic in the tiny Hyde Park Showplace space). Winedalers: Bill Friedman, David Sharpe, the late Alan Fear, Shari Gray, myself. Non-Winedalers: the wonderful Cambron Henderson, Gareth Morgan.
Final one by the Tank Players: All's Well That Ends Well, directed by Loehlin, at the Dougherty Arts Center, produced by the Tank Players, Austin Shakespeare Festival, and the Performing Players of Austin (Ken Webster's first theatre company). Winedalers in the cast/crew: Shari Gray, Willie Wilson, Brian Foster, Jeff Ellinger, myself, Barry Miller (at that time a future Winedaler). K. Catmull marvelous again as Helena. Other theatre regulars: Sharon Elmore, Jason Tirado, Bil Pfuderer, Margaret Hoard. Original incidental cello music composed by John Hagen (longtime cellist for Lyle Lovett).
Much later, I was a founding company member of San Antonio Public Theatre, the city's first resident professional company in many years (1995-1998, RIP). SAPT didn't do any Shakespeare (outside of a few scenes for fundraisers/workshops), but we did three seasons of O'Neill, Pinter, Coward, Shepard, and the Frank Galati/Steppenwolf version of The Grapes of Wrath, among others. We paid everybody we hired, brought in Equity talent for nearly every show, and did uniformly excellent work. - Steve Price
The Summer of My Discontent, or Hey, Kids, Let's Put on a Show! And Another Show!! And Another Show!!!
It is both metaphorically beautiful and meaningful that my first tryst with Austin theatre in 1986 was with one of Shakespeare's problem plays, All's Well That Ends Well, directed by wunderkind James Loehlin and featuring a prodigious group of Windedalers, including Clayton Stromberger, Monica Regan, Steve Price, Willie Wilson, Jeff Ellinger, and Brian Foster. Why the hell were these guys so happy to be with each other? How did they work so well with each other? Why were they so unafraid of Shakespeare? Winedale. Over the course of that production, I became so enamored and envious and sick of the stories that I enlisted in Doc's program myself. I came. I saw. And boy, did I get smacked around. I also became a founding member of the Weetzah Players. The Austin theatrical cognoscenti know that before there were Rude Mechs, there were Weetzahs. Clayton and Monica and our many friends delighted in quirky, eccentric, decidedly not precious theatre. I have been doing theatre continuously since that most fortuitous meeting in 1986. I joined Actors Equity about 10 years ago and have been a company member with Live Oak, the State, and now Austin Playhouse, and you know what? I miss those early days. I miss the people. I miss the surprises. I miss the fun. Sometimes I even miss Doc. I may have played Richard III, but Doc was Richard. And Malvolio. And Lear. It was always Doc's barn, but I like to think that my favorite Winedale ritual, the circle, and the spirit engendered by it persists. - Barry Miller
The Barefoot Players formed in 1987. In the beginning the Barefoots were the result of one man's vision: John White, who was driven to direct Macbeth and asked me, Don Brode, John Stokes, Shawn Sides, Jon Watson, and Horatio Alger to be involved. I think the name was generated so we could advertise the production (in a very low-budget way, mind you). The success of this production (it made enough money at the box office to cover costs) led to the next play, Lear, then Tempest and Twelfth Night. The group sort of disbanded in the early Nineties when John White moved to Poland, where he is still living and working with an experimental theatre company.
The Boxtree Players formed in 1995 for a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and included many but not all the Barefoots: Don, Jon, me, Shawn, Kirsten "Stan" Kern, Lana Lesley, Sarah Richardson, Madge Darlington. Problems in the collaborative process, huge dissension over the choice of the name for this production, and some pretty drastic artistic differences led to the demise of Boxtree and the genesis of Rude Mechanicals. (The original Rudes were the girls from the previous group: Shawn, Sarah, Lana, Madge, Stan, and me, with the addition of Kirk Lynn and Gavin Mundy.)
I believe generally, and certainly for my own part, the desire to perform theatre in Austin post-Winedale was driven by a newly acquired love of Shakespeare and a desire to perform again after the experience of Winedale. But primarily it was an attempt to recapture that level of creative stimulation, particularly in the collaboration with others creatively as a group, which seems to be the essence of the Winedale experience. It was something all of us were striving to tap into but was essentially impossible to achieve.
The results were of mixed success. The media characterized the groups and performances as "student productions" and lacking quality, seriousness, and professionalism. Given the extreme low-budget nature of the productions (we performed in basements, gymnasiums, and classrooms, and shopped for costumes at Goodwill), I cannot blame them, but it was hugely disappointing. I think artistically all of the performances were compelling, but I am biased. Anyway, this popular attitude led directly to the creation of the Rudes and the adoption of a real structure and organization, with a real budget, new plays, and subsequent local (and somewhat national) acclaim. - Kathy Blackbird
The Boxtree Players started in the summer of
'95. They did Two Gents that first performance, and Sarah Richardson, Jon Watson, Kathy Blackbird, and Gavin Mundy were the core cast. When the lot of us from summer '95 were through, we hadn't had enough, so we go together and usurped the Boxtree name to do The Taming of the Shrew in October, directed by Gavin, with Jon as Petruchio, yours truly as Kate, Carrie Stradera, Patrick Aziz, Sangeeta Shah, Shanna Smith, K Marie Black, and Andy Bond. We had a blast, regardless of audience size or critics' opinions (though it was pretty darn good to get reviewed by both the Statesman and the Chron). Performing was the reason we were there in the first place.
Colonial Shakespeare Company was formed after that, birthed mostly by Greyson Hawe and K Marie Black, but Gavin and I put in our fair share of two cents, welcome or no. Our first performance was spring of '96. We did Midsummer Night's Dream in the VooDoo Lounge in downtown Austin. While our MND was atypical we had a three-headed Puck (played by three actresses) along with a Brazilian composed soundtrack our next production, Richard III (directed by Gavin at Laguna Gloria), was more true to the text. CSC also put together some "portfolio performances" consisting of Shakespeare scenes, performed and directed by different groups within the company. It was a great vehicle for raising awareness of Shakespeare in some cool Austin venues, including Club de Ville. Aside from performances, we had some "retreat" meetings designed for people to come and work monologues, to get more familiar with the text. No coincidence that while we were definitely interested in performing, we also wanted to gather in a group just to bring the text to life. - Anne Engelking
I don't think that Winedalers share an approach to work necessarily. In fact, most of the people I went to Winedale with were not at all interested in creating theatre. They were there to study Shakespeare through performance. Many were academics or just curious (that was me) or interested in spending their summer out of town, or they craved a group experience. It's a liberating environment for study because you are not expected to deliver fantastic performances; you are there to learn. I think it's actually a rare thing that a group of people who share an approach to making work might find each other out there and create something lasting. I think strong evidence of how rare it is, is that most of the groups that form are generational, immediate, and short-lived. They come from a desire to delay postpartum belonging to a group, working so hard on something for so long, staying connected to new friends. The common element is that you just spent so many weeks in the blazing hot sun making costumes, learning lines, eating terrible food, drinking your weight in Gatorade every day, rehearsing, and working your ass off to make sure everyone around you is working their asses off. Not to sound like a Hallmark card, but I think Winedale really produces lasting friendships. The people in Rude Mechs share personal friendships that arose from meeting at Winedale one way or another in class, as audience, through mutual friends. - Lana Lesley
When the Winedale spring class of '97 completed its course work, there was an immediate and collective realization that what we'd just experienced was not a Shakespeare workshop so much as a crash course in fearlessness and the power of words to will the world into existence. We had transcended our roles as students and become player-scholars. Many of that class would go on to participate in the summer program, but before we had that opportunity we would immediately gather to form the Austin Free Shakespeare Society. The productions of that group were characterized by a very clear grasp of the language, a strong musical component to each play, exuberant joy, and precious little acting technique. Our goal explicitly was not to excel at acting but to excel at playfulness. And in that effort we were successful.
Though not without negative elements, the Winedale experience was positively life-changing. It was a crucible which burned away unneeded excesses. Under Ayres and Madge Darlington's demanding tutelage, we used Shakespeare's words to learn about ourselves, our boundaries, and our fears. And to reconfigure them all through play. It was, in fact, a Shakespearean comedy wherein we entered constrained by the self-imposed rules of society, escaped to the Green World of a barn and meadow, engaged in foolery, folly, and role-playing, and left able to make the world into an image more comprehensive, rich, and livable. And for that I will always be thankful. - Rob Matney
Important elements in the Winedale experience when I was there:
The ensemble. Living for a summer with a small set of people, in the same building, eating together, working together all day, drinking together at night, breeds a kind of intimacy that one usually finds only in families. You know each other so well that you can predict each other's reaction to anything. These people, and your connection to them, become the most important things in your life. It's hard to leave that kind of bonding behind when the summer is over. You want to spend more time with these people, and doing a play with them is a great way to do it. Or you can create a situation that will encourage such bonding and friendship and ensemble with new people. Hence, companies like the Austin Free Shakespeare Society and the Bedlam Faction.
The Jedi master says, "There is no try. There is only do." Dr. Ayres used to put it like this: "We don't rehearse. We always perform." - Shanna Smith
In 1997, I found a small pink poster hanging at the Spider House coffee shop. It advertised a play called As You Like It being performed on the UT campus by an organization called Austin Free Shakespeare Society.
About a year before I had vowed that I hated Shakespeare, complaining that I couldn't understand it, what was the point, yada yada yada. But now I was taking a Shakespeare class, and it was helping me to come around and see the nicer side of Shakespeare.
So I went to the play by myself, something that surprised even me. I drove my beaten old VW to campus and sat through one of the funniest plays I'd ever seen. There was so much life in their Shakespeare. They did not wear fancy outfits or have a fancy set or wow me with their fancy; they were nitty, gritty, and simple Shakespeare.
Perhaps it was the open sky, the stars above, the wind blowing through my hair whatever it was, I fell in love with Shakespeare that night. Lucky for me, I knew someone in the play, and I told her I would help out with the next production in any way I could. I ended up being in the next production. There were no auditions. The way AFSS worked was the people who decided to be in the next play chose the part they felt challenged them. Usually people did not bicker over any part in particular as there was a general consensus amongst the group that so-and-so seemed appropriate for a certain role.
That was all it took, one play with an ex-Winedalers organization, and I wanted to go to Winedale. I think it was their approach to Shakespeare that I totally agreed with. There was no director. Everyone was responsible for the play. I had been in high school productions where people were expected to get certain roles, and we did not challenge each other to find more depth in our characters. It was nice to have an opinion about how the play was forming. I liked helping create the play along with everyone else. I was also able to contribute to the production in other ways. AFSS did everything for itself. We made the flyers, constructed lighting fixtures, designed costumes, and developed our rehearsal schedule.
I did not get into Winedale in 1998. The next year I made sure to say chants at Doc's door and perform other bombastic rituals I thought might help me get in. I did finally get in and ended up going back two more summers after that.
What I found at Winedale were principles similar to those of the Austin Free Shakespeare Society. Although there was a director, I was still expected to search the bounds of my imagination to present Shakespeare in some new and creative way. I learned I was capable of much more than just the performing Shakespeare; I could run a light board, construct stage furniture, and sew costumes. - Sara Chauvin
Since my first stint as a Winedale student in '95, I have worked on around 40 productions, mostly with companies run by Windalers: the Boxtree Players, Colonial Shakespeare Company, Austin Free Shakespeare Society, Rude Mechs, and Bedlam Faction. I have fond and frustrating memories associated with each of these groups. Moving between them never felt difficult. Most everyone had a common culture, and we sure as hell all knew the same stories, the "Winedale Legends." Stop me if you've heard this one: How many Winedalers does it take to change a light bulb? All of them: one to change it and the rest to tell stories about it for years and years. Being a "Winedale veteran" feels like being part of a huge, extended, loving family with perhaps a little more than its share of dysfunction.
Bedlam Faction was formed in the summer of 2000 by a bunch of Winedalers fresh off the Austin Free Shakespeare Society who wanted to do something a little different. For better or worse, the imprint of Winedale and by extension, Doc is all over the Bedlam Faction process. We still prefer "text" over "script," "playing" over "acting," and "vigor" over "polish." It isn't that we reject scripts or acting or polish, but we have our preferences, and most of us learned ours at Winedale. We still stand in circles a lot and play the "yes" game. We don't stick to set blocking very often. Oh, and we work without a single director. We expect everyone in the cast to direct. We have found this the best way to create the equality and sense of ensemble we strive for. This is different from Winedale, where Doc was definitely the director. He always seemed more interested in teaching plays than directing them, but he was the director. Still, the way Bedlam Faction does things seems a natural extension of what Doc teaches and expects from his students at Winedale. Without the sense of play and fearlessness he tries so hard to instill in his students, I could never have had the faith or foolhardiness to do what we do. I think it safe to say that without Winedale, without Doc, there would've been no Bedlam Faction. The mistakes we make are our own, but the Winedale program gave us much of our inspiration. - Michael Mergen