Touring the CHORALE Roadshow round Britain provided actor John Chancer with his first opportunity to visit Cornwall. Here he writes of his experiences and of his thoughts of back home.
Being born and bred in Western America I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t visited the western part of my adopted country till I played Falmouth and Penzance with CHORALE. I honestly didn’t know what to expect but after heading west out of Exeter it was very clear I wasn’t in South Dakota any more. The train journey was spectacular, red cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. One of the major differences between Cornwall and Western USA is the color (or colour if you insist!). At this time of year there is nothing west of the Mississippi that is so green unless it is irrigated or in the Rockies. There is a marked similarity in the friendliness of the people. The audiences and crews in both theatres seemed to be as pleased with us being there as we were. My regret is that I didn’t have more time to explore this remarkable country and people.
Having played Òran Mór in Glasgow, the Traverse in Edinburgh and Eden Court in Inverness we asked CHORALE company member Valerie Gogan for her thoughts on returning to her home country of Scotland with the Sam Shepard Roadshow.
It’s not returning to Scotland for the first time, but it is very special to me - having left in the 80ʼs to go to drama school (LAMDA) - I surprised myself by missing my homeland hugely, the people, the humour, the sensibility and really all that is unable to be put into words - “the soul of Scotland”.
I love that I am a Scot, even if I have now lived south of the border longer than I have up north.
I “met” Sam Shepard in my recollection when I watched an afternoon viewing of the film The Right Stuff and he had me from the get-go. And was introduced to his writing later, mainly working with our director Simon Usher - who it turned out had worked with Joe Chaikin in his (Simonʼs) early days at the Riverside Studios in London.
A few years ago he presented the duologue The Hunger to a group I was working with and asked if any of us would be interested in working on this piece for a one-off performance at the Globe (I believe it may have been meant for two men - but I loved it - it spoke my language and I volunteered) not knowing that this wonderful piece was written by Sam Shepherd and Joe Chaikin. On starting our production, CHORALE, I have now seen it performed magically by Joe Chaikin himself as a solo performance, with music, in Shirley Clarkeʼs innovative video Tongues, which we are showing with our workshop. Absolutely wonderful.
To come home to Scotland and to be working in general on this wonderful trio of theatre pieces (plus the film, Savage/Love) is quite special. All these pieces of theatre make me feel inspired and energised, full of guts, challenge and beauty.
Happy to come home, hope you enjoy it too.
We're receiving great notices and mentions in the press and on social media about our Sam Shepard Roadshow. Here's what people have been saying about CHORALE so far...
"There are a lot of bits to this ‘roadshow’ of works by Sam Shepard. As well as two of his plays, there’s a rare 1981 film of his work performed by Joseph Chaikin and a mash up of his poetry and prose with musical accompaniment. Oh, and there’s a gig too.
In fact, I didn’t even make it to the gig, which is really an added extra to two ‘main’ programmes (which you can watch over two nights, or – in one instance – a whole day).
It’s worth catching all of it. The works by the American screenwriter, playwright, actor, buddy of Bob Dylan and one-time lover of Patti Smith are so intriguing and varied they more than warrant Presence Theatre’s holistic approach. Seeing all the pieces demonstrates how diversely Shepard deals with recurring themes. Father-and-son issues crop up again and again, as does the fallacy of the Great American Dream and the ghosts that haunt the US’s vast deserts.
The ensemble, made up of three actors and one musician (Ben Kritikos of band ‘Herons!’) are versatile, and in their competent hands Shepard’s often obscure dialogue achieves real depth.
John Chancer is great as a desperate, mad father in the best of the two plays, ‘The Holy Ghostly’. Its narrative completely confounds our expectations, beginning as a father-and-son trip into the desert, and becoming a riff on death, trauma and those we leave behind, following the appearance of fire, guns, a bazooka and a mad shaman spirit.
It runs alongside the other programme’s ‘The War in Heaven’, co-written by Shepard and his mentor and collaborator Chaikin, which is too static, hard to grasp and ultimately the most disappointing of the pieces.
The additional section starts with intense, poignant film ‘Savage/Love’ performed by Chaikin. Prose-poetry mix ‘The Animal (You)’ follows, which is beautifully compiled by actor Jack Tarlton and director Simon Usher. Shepard’s fragmented rhythms are transporting; listening to it, and to this roadshow as a whole, you’re faced with a surreal yet romantic vision of a troubled America." Daisy Bowie-Sell
"WE WERE given warning of gunshots, swearing and smoke. In the event however, the gunshots were few, and the swearing no more than that heard today in most films or TV dramas, but the smoke was superb.
All credit to designer Carmen Mueck for giving us a column of smoke which lasted throughout the first play, The Holy Ghostly, and was all but the star of the show, and that's not forgetting either the corpse or the ghost of a Navajo demon.
Directed by Simon Usher, and presented by Presence Theatre and the Actors Touring Company in association with the Belgrade Theatre, in entirety this Sam Shepard Roadshow is made up of three plays, two films and one gig, but we were treated to the shortened version of two plays, one film.
Think of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and of any road movie you have ever seen, of deserted Amercan badlands, of motels and lonely, freewheeling men, and you will come close to knowing what the works of playwright, poet and actor Sam Shepard are all about.
In The Holy Ghostly a father and son, while doing nothing more innocent than toasting marshmallows around a camp fire deep in the Mojave Desert, ripped one another apart using a mix of love and hate.
In the film Savage/Love, made in the 1980s by Academy Award-winning director Shirley Clarke, actor Joseph Chaikin came up with an absorbing solo performance, while in The Animal (You), the most powerful piece of the evening, we hit the road with Shepard's prose and poetry as passengers, accompanied by the rock'n'roll music made by American guitarist and songwriter Ben Kritikos of the band Herons!
All praise to the cast – John Chancer, Valerie Gogan and Jack Tarlton plus Ben Kritikos – for making this challenging and exhausting drive through the mythic and mysterious, tough and testing, world of Sam Shepard, so believable and bewitching." Frank Ruhrmund
"Wonderful evocative imagery & deftly acted." Kernow Arts Spy
"It looks like someone's been stranded at the drive-in at the start of the first night of this bite-size tour through some of American playwright Sam Shepard's little-seen works by Presence Theatre and Actors Touring Company in association with the Belgrade, Coventry.
There's bump n' grind bar-room blues playing, and, in front of a back-lit big-screen, some drifter in a sleeping bag remains comatose throughout the screening of Shirley Clarke's 1981 video of Savage/Love, Shepard's dramatic collaboration with actor/director Joseph Chaikin.
As the title suggests, Shepard and Chaikin's 25 minute masterpiece, performed to the camera by Chaikin himself with jazz duo accompaniment, is a relentless incantation on the highs and lows of obsessive amour. On video, it becomes both an impressionistic interpretation by Clarke and an essential document of Shepard and Chaikin's fertile collaboration, which also sired Tongues and The War in Heaven, both seen as part of the second day of Chorale alongside Shepard's 1970 play, The Holy Ghostly.
There's a distinct whiff of patchouli oil for The Animal (You), a compendium of Shepard's prose fragments knitted together by director Simon Usher and actor Jack Tarlton, who performs alongside John Chancer, Valerie Gogan and musician Ben Kritikos like some pan-generational art-rock poetry troupe. From behind microphones, the three men declaim Shepard's retrospective meditations on fathers, sons and barefoot girls on trains who look like Tuesday Weld. Inbetween, explosive litanies on the visceral power of rock music leap out with abandon. All this converges as a rolling interior monologue with the irresistible pull of the road at its heart in a piece of beguilingly poetic rock and roll theatre." Neil Cooper
“Memorably intense performances … a fine, sustained reflection on the forces that drive Shepard’s male characters onto the road.” Joyce McMillan
“Completely and utterly fascinating … what a treat it’s going to be for people.” Janice Forsyth
THE BEST OF EDINBURGH
“An interesting two-day event dedicated to the work of American playwright Sam Shepard kicks off on Friday evening with a double bill featuring a screening of the film Savage/Love and a new play The Animal (You), which is based on Shepard’s short stories.”
“A tour de force … unmissable.”
Jane Howard, Behind the Arras
“Evocatively conjures up all those endless highways, motels and empty badlands that dominate Sam Shepard’s work.” Jonathan Lovett