Expressions 2007 US Tour: Washington, Miami, Hawaii

Early departure from Brisbane on Tuesday, thanks to the extra security for the US flights; 7am at the airport to catch a 2pm out of Sydney for Los Angeles, the traveling party comprising eight dancers, one associate director, three crew and myself.
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Tuesday March 20
Early departure from Brisbane on Tuesday, thanks to the extra security for the US flights; 7am at the airport to catch a 2pm out of Sydney for Los Angeles, the traveling party comprising eight dancers, one associate director, three crew and myself.

Wednesday March 21, 7pm
We made it to Washington without a problem, with an overnight in LA. In LA our production manager, Nick Tomlin joined us from Hawaii where he spent a week building a set for the Hawaii part of the tour. There was no way to get our 10 cubic meters of set and props across from the East Coast to Hawaii in time for the first show, so we had to build it there. The funny thing is that it is a lot cheaper to have the set built there than have it transported.

Washington was very gray and very cold on our arrival. First impression: it is like an oversized Canberra, with older buildings plus the White House and the Capitol of course.

We arrived at our hotel which is situated in Gallaudet University. Very nice and comfortable. A good start for the tour.

The University is the quietest I have ever visited. A very good reason for that. It is a University for speech and hearing impaired people. Very interesting feeling to be amongst a majority of people who use a very different way to communicate than the one I am used to. I guess I had a glimpse of what people who are speech and hearing impaired might experience in the everyday world.

Thursday March 22, 9am
Set up in the Theatre. The Atlas Performing Arts Centre has been developed on the site of an old Art Deco 1000 seat movie theatre on H street. There are now 3 performing spaces and adjoining studios. We are in the newest and largest one, the Lang Theatre which opened only a few weeks ago. The H street precinct was devastated by the race riot of the 70s. A lot of effort has gone in trying to “rehabilitate” the area but it is still quite rough and it is out of question to walk around there at night. We are told to only use taxis when traveling back from the theatre at night.

In Washington we are performing our production of Virtually Richard3 as part of a six month long, Citywide Shakespeare Festival. We are here at the invitation of the prestigious Washington Performing Art Society.

Relief! Our set has been delivered in time and with only minimal damage to our crates. One is never sure if the freight will arrive on the right day or if no crate has been left behind on the way (there are six large crates). We also travel with about 100 kg of electronics and costumes as accompanied baggage.

The first day of set up goes without major problems, apart from our touring lighting desk refusing to boot up. It did not like the plane trip. The problem was fixed after an hour without impacting on our schedule. The set is in place by the end of the day and most lights are focused.

That afternoon the dancers did their first class since Monday and ran a workshop in the dance studio attached to the complex. Good turn out to the workshop and a good response. The Company’s Associate Director, Justin Rutzou, is looking after the dancers classes and workshops.

Friday March 23 – Opening Night
We finish the lighting focus, and the sound and video set up in the morning.

Then a big problem. Our lighting board refuses to communicate with the theatre lights. As the space is new, and we are the first touring company performing in it, this problem is totally new to the local crew, we wait for an engineer to arrive. Problem fixed in two minutes. We have lost nearly two hours.

The dancers are on stage at noon and we start plotting the lights on top of them. Not ideal but have to catch up. No time for lunch.

Placing. We have two new dancers – Riannon Mclean and Jennifer Mok who have not only never performed this show but never seen or used the set and props. On top of that we Lizzie Chittleborough who is performing the lead role of Queen Ann for the first time has never rehearsed with the set. We need to give them a maximum of time on stage.

We also do the sound check. As we use voice, we need to get the mikes well balanced for maximum impact over the music.

3 to 3:30pm
Tech run, which in this case is a full run without costumes. We have roughly plotted the lights just before the start.

I am the stage manager for this production. Time to concentrate to call the odd 150 cues. Difficult, like most of the crew I have averaged 3 hour sleep a night, thanks to jetlag. And there are some bureaucrats in the funding bodies who think that international touring equates junket. They have no idea, but nothing new there.

The run finishes after 5.15pm. Just enough time to polish the lighting plot and get ready for the show.

Short break from 6.45 to 7.15pm.

Show starts.

Show ends.

Good show from absolutely everyone. Dan Crestani as Richard 3 is equal to his best. Maybe he’ll get a Green Room award. The third time he has been nominated for an award for this role.

Lizzie does a fabulous job for her first time as Ann. Riannon and Jennifer also do very well for their debut with the Company.

The audience loves the work, standing ovation, great response.

We have a post show forum on stage. Very good questions and excellent comments from the audience who seems to be very much a theatre audience, some are obviously Shakespeare specialists. Quite a few academics. They certainly understand the subtext and Maggi Sietsma’s (choreographer and Artistic Director) intentions very well. Very gratifying after such a long trip and few days of very hard work. The people of the Washington Perf. Arts Society also loved the show. I am happy about that because they are the ones who invited us and took the risk.

In a taxi, back to the hotel to try to get some sleep.

Saturday March 24
Day of the second and final performance.

Finally a bit of time off. I spend 3 hours trying to get a better feel for Washington. Still very cold and rainy. No time to do very much. A quick visit to Union Station, and a quick look at the White House from the outside.

Washington has definitely a lot in common with Canberra. Particularly on the Week end. Very deserted.

I walk 7 blocks back to the theatre. Not a great idea. Definitely not the friendliest of neighborhood.

The dancers are doing classes on stage. The crew arrives to prepare the stage for the second show.

The show starts.

Again a strong response from the audience and again a standing ovation. The second forum is interesting, the audience comment on the experience of watching the piece. Fascinating. We have definitely struck a chord with the Washington public. Very rewarding.

The crew, led by our production manager Nick Tomlim starts to bump out. The local crew is very good – ours too, and the crates are locked at 11:30pm.

Sunday March 25, 10.30am
We leave the Hotel to catch our flight to Miami from Reagan National. To a warmer climate and a different production, Score!. Also choreographed by Maggi Sietsma for the Company’s 20th anniversary in 2005.

A very successful first week. Worth the long hours of travel and work and the months of preparation for this tour.

Abel Valls
About the Author
After completing a science degree in Montpellier, France, Abel studied at the University of Paris I majoring in Art History, as well as tutoring guitar, physics and mathematics and composing musical scores for short film and publicity jingles. In 1975 he joined the 'Theatre du Chene Noir' as co-musical director and was involved in creating four major works and performing throughout Europe. While working with this company he met Maggi Sietsma, and together in 1979 they co-founded 'Muance', a company of musicians and dancers which toured France. Abel arrived in Australia in 1982, and freelanced as a musician until 1984 when he was involved in the establishment of Expressions Dance Company as General Manager and Musical Director. Since then he has devised the scores of numerous works for Expressions including Alone Together, Attitude, Virtually Richard3, Behind the Wall, Rites of Spring, Flight!, The 5th Door and Score! Abel has designed the lighting for Rites of Spring, Behind the Wall, Flight! and The 5th Door. In 2003, he also designed the lighting for That Time for CCDC in Hong Kong.