Friday, October 17, 2008

Back from the Festival

The trip to Ontario, so long planned (and paid) for, is over already for another two years!

Everyone seemed to have a very good time, and thankfully, my organizational abilities managed to hold out until I got home, at which time I promptly lost my toothbrush and have had to go around with bad breath ever since. Stratford is a beautiful little city and the experience of Shakespeare performed live is something beyond amazing.

Our motel, although humble and shabby on the outside, proved to be comfortable on the inside, with large, clean rooms and showers with an enormous supply of hot water and pressure strong enough to rinse all the shampoo out of your hair before your skin turns pruney. Except for the fact that the only cable news I could find was CNN -- a network which I hold in such low esteem, one might say that my liking for them is nonexistent -- Meelyn, Aisling and I were very comfortable and had a good night's sleep.

We saw, as I mentioned, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet, both in the same theater in the very same seats. The theater was the Festival Theater, the largest and most elaborate of the theaters in Stratford (the others are the Avon and the Tom Patterson). It overlooks the riverwalk, which was resplendent with gracious homes built of stone and brick peeping through the autumn-hued trees on the opposite bank, and swans charming us all with their grace and regal bearing. I deeply wanted to get out of the van and hug one, but Gary refused to stop.

Everyone was of the opinion that they'd like to go to Stratford again, so here is a list of things I don't want to forget that I think would make the trip better:

1. We need to go for two nights. Not because this schedule was un-doable, but more because I think it would be better to leave on a Friday morning, arrive on Friday afternoon, see a play on Friday evening, then stay all day Saturday shopping and relaxing around Stratford, topping off the day with another evening performance on Saturday night, then getting up on Sunday morning to drive home.

The first reason why this is important to me is because we saw Hamlet as a student matinee and I just can't tell you how awful it was. And that's not because of the play (although we had hours of happy discussion on the way back home talking about the things we did and didn't like about it); it's because of the students with whom we were sharing the theater. And if you don't want to read critical stuff about the average public or private high school group, then stop reading right here because you won't like what I'm getting ready to say.

The majority of high school groups that are taken on big yellow buses to go see plays have only the most minor level of civilization. Yes, I know, they're not ALL bad kids, but the bad kids outnumber the good ones by such an enormous margin that it's really just no use to try to convince me that there's one angel for every juvenile deliquent that slouches into the theater.

Frankly, the high school kids there ruined Hamlet for me. They were too immature to pay anything but the slightest amount of attention to the play: the school group sitting across the aisle from my seat threw paper wads and airplanes made out of pages of their playbills over the edge of the balcony every time the house lights went down. There were titters and guffaws at the most inappropriate times, such as when Hamlet was speaking his "to be or not to be" soliloquy, during Ophelia's mad scene, and at the death of Gertrude. Was there something funny happening at those times? Uhhh, no. It's just that the student audience is so pathetically shallow and insipid, they can't wrap their minds around any sort of drama that takes place outside the school cafeteria.

Although the ushers had asked everyone to turn off all electronic devices, the subtle blue glow from a couple hundred cell phone dimly lit the balcony as the little idiots texted their friends.

It was maddening. I sat there fuming through the entire show, thinking that we had driven too far, paid too much and waited too long to see this play to have it spoiled by a bunch of rude, obnoxious teenagers. From now on, I only want to schedule plays during the times when adults will be there so that we can be guaranteed an appreciative audience around us that won't detract and distract from the performance. The dynamic in the theater was entirely different the evening before during The Taming of the Shrew.

The second reason why we need to be able to stay for two nights is so that we can get up on Sunday morning, have a nice leisurely breakfast, and then be able to leave by check out time without everyone feeling frantic about getting everything packed and stowed away; also without leaving a kid behind who was taking one of each of the ten thousand brochures featuring info about local attractions that were displayed in the office.

A little more sleep for adults and kids wouldn't have gone amiss, either. Adults, because we bore the responsibility of looking after our children. Children, because as it turns out, when you put a group of adolescents aged 10-15 on a van for fourteen hours, they tend to get tired and disagreeable both with their parents and each other and right now Aisling and her friend Rachel aren't speaking to one another. *sigh*

2. We need to have different seats to be able to appreciate the different perspective one can get. I chose A seats for the group, mostly because the A+ seats (seats at the Festival Theater are rated from A+ to D) were very expensive. But what I didn't consider before is that it would have been very nice to have the A seats in the first balcony for the first performance and then have A+ seats in the orchestra for the second night to look forward to. In my opinion, if we're driving seven hours and crossing an international border, we shouldn't do that for anything but A or A+ seats.

There is so much energy in a live performance, both from actor to actor and actor to audience. Our seats in the balcony were good, but we were above the action and I think it would have been a great pleasure to be down close enough to see things at stage level.

3. We need to eat something besides fast food. I'm thinking that the trip could only benefit by a group meal at The Church, which is a five-star restaurant located right there in Stratford. I went years ago on my first trip to the Festival, and the fact that I still remember the delicious meal and the gorgeous surroundings is a testament to what an amazing experience it was.

On this trip, we survived on a meal at Tim Horton's, a meal at a combined KFC/Taco Bell, a continental breakfast at the motel, and the ham and turkey sandwiches, apples, raisins and chips that the thoughtful and generous Virginia blessed us all with. In truth, Virginia's food was the only healthy stuff that crossed our paths, it seemed, during the entire forty-eight hours. We were able to make two meals out of the huge crate of groceries she brought on board the van, and I was so grateful, I was nearly in tears. It turns out there's a limit to how much junk food kids and adults can consume without feeling wretched and bilious, even in a relatively short amount of time.

I think a visit to The Church would not have only provided kids and adults with a memorable cultural experience (as well as a couple of glasses of wine for the grown ups), but also with a hot meal made out of real food. And presumably the service would be about a million times better than the service we received at the Tim Horton's and KFC/Taco Bell we visited in Ontario, where the teenage staff apparently had all recently received lobotomies.

There's a huge difference between restaurant that's rated with five stars and a restaurant that's rated with a star-sucking black hole, drawing the entire universe into a grease-coated vortex.

Those are just a few thoughts to look back to as I complete my notes about the trip in my little notebook and tuck it away for future reference.

1 comment:

Kayte said...

Okay...I am definitely signing up for the second round...all those improvements sound really wonderful. I would have gone this year except for circumstances beyond my control here on the first day you were leaving. Next year the circumstance will either be in control or out of here. Just kidding. I am way way jealous of all you got to do and see. And, I agree, high school kids en masse are NOT interested in seeing Shakespeare seriously...they are only interested in entertaining each other with inane antics, etc. I am sorry you had to be subjected to that...but A or A+ seats are definitely something that would be worth the splurge going so far and having it be such a treat, etc. Oh, this was fun to read.