Category Archives: Weather

Planting Saplings Among the Redwoods -

Rick and Ben on Campus at BYU

It felt like we hadn’t performed The Man Who Planted Trees for a while. Actually, it was Norwich in October, and just before that we had spent 3 fabulous weeks touring the show with Gardner and Wife Theatre Company in Malaysia.

I set out from Edinburgh alone on January 21st, bringing all our flight cases as I was meeting Rick and his son Ben (stand-in techie for Elspeth) who were flying in to Salt Lake City from Shanghai where they had been performing Rick’s adaptation of The Time Machine.

Spectacular loading dock at BYU

Spectacular loading dock at BYU

We were revisiting two of our favourite US venues, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and Arcata Playhouse in Northern California. Both places evoked the same (oft-repeated) joke post show:

“They say you play BYU/The Arcata Playhouse twice in your career – once on the way up and once on the way down… It’s good to be back.”

Once again we met with great hospitality and wonderfully responsive audiences both of school children and adults. The BYU campus is lovely, the students amazing and the staff generous in the extreme. We did a number of workshops with drama students and five performances. At the end of a week we were sorry to leave but looking forward (kind of) to three days of driving the nearly 900 miles to the California coast. The weather was kind to us, even though further to the east and north the country was struggling to cope under the Polar Vortex. The scenery between Utah and California was… vast! Ranging from huge desert-like vistas, through the mountains to the densely wooded regions nearer the coast.

A barn in Utah

Arcata was familiar territory, and once again the people gave us a wonderful reception. This time the special bonus was that the local Jonsteen Tree Nursery had donated 650 saplings to be giving to each and every audience member for free after the shows.

Saplings from Jonsteen Nurseries

Whenever this was announced it was greeted with gasps of surprise and delight from the audiences. As the children and adults left clutching their tiny trees it struck me that in a sense this was completing a circuit: the show is very interactive, what with the lavender and forest smells we waft into the audience, then the wind, the rain, birds flying overhead etc. To then have everyone go away with a tree of their own to plant in the earth, the multi-sensory performance is complete, and we will have fulfilled in some way Jean Giono’s intention in writing the story back in 1953, “to make people love trees and to love planting trees.”

A similar thing had happened last year in Kuala Lumpur, where a local environmental organisation had set up their stall and given out saplings after the family shows.
While in Arcata we were visited by a couple who drove more than 5 hours from Oregon to see the show. This was part of Bill Ritch’s response to the show:

“My wife Janis and I greatly appreciated your show. There were many things that captivated me about your creative performance. Perhaps the biggest was your presence of being so fully in the moment. While I knew you were not improvising, your performance was so alive it seemed like you were “simply” having fun and improvising everything.
I greatly appreciated how you brought the story alive. You clearly dissolved the 4th wall by including all the elements (water, fire – “candle,” etc.) and appealing to all the senses. These steps created audience participation on many levels! I also felt your creation of the character Dog with his humour further brought the story alive. Dog not only captured my attention but deepened my experience of the feelings and emotions being experienced by Jean and the Shepherd. The gestures of all the puppets really popped out for me, reinforcing my joy for physical theatre. To me, your performance was a brilliant work of art.”

Rick in the Redwoods

So now we are all back home, just about over the jet-lag which I for one am finding it very difficult to shake off as I get older. This may also be partly due to my sense of impending doom when I wake at odd hours of the night, as the spectre of Brexit looms ever closer.

But that’s another story. On the plus side, I am feeling a renewed enthusiasm for the show and in particular for doing some rural touring nearer to home. It has been several years since we have taken the show around Scotland. We are exploring ways that we can replicate the “Arcata model” and work with local and national environmental groups to connect audience members with the physical act of planting trees. Even if it sometimes feels like we are all going to hell in a handbasket, we might as well have some earth and a few saplings there in the basket, if only as a gesture of goodwill and a parting gift for this tired planet.

We are hoping to return to the Scottish Storytelling Centre this August for another Fringe run, possibly including a few performances of Leaf by Niggle, which we have also been invited to perform at the Tolkien Society’s 50th Anniversary celebration in Birmingham this summer.


Leaf by Niggle

A New York State Start to the 2011 Tour -

We’re 10 days and 11 shows into a 107 show tour of North America with The Man Who Planted Trees that takes us through till June.

Our first shows in Albany, NY were our last chance to say “our last gig before this was at the Sydney Opera House”. You might not believe this, having not read anything about it here but look – here’s reliable evidence:

Dog at Sydney Opera House

Dog at Sydney Opera House

So, Albany also has a distinctive performance space with iconic architectural features – Steamer Number 10 Theatre. Check out the quaint drawbridge … and the weather!

Steamer Number 10 Theatre

Steamer Number 10 Theatre

Because of the snow, many people who had booked tickets were unable to come which was a shame. But we were delighted to see folk who braved the knee-deep for a dose of warm French storytelling and evocations of the plains of Provence.

At Flushing Town Hall, as well as several performances, we took part in two workshops. One pre-show workshop for adults and children involved sock puppet making while the other was a masterclass with professional puppeteers from New York City. In a short time we saw some brilliant work and look forward to keeping in touch with people so we can see more from them in the future.

Masterclass with Professional Puppeteers at Flushing Town Hall

Masterclass with Professional Puppeteers at Flushing Town Hall (Photo: Steven McIntosh)

While not far from Manhattan, we only had the briefest chance to get a hit of the big city. However, we made it to the last night of Lily of the Conservative Ladies by Glass Beads Theatre Ensemble starring our actor, writer, puppeteer friend Danna Call.

And as a bonus, in the subway at Times Square, our favourite Beatles tribute band The Meetles were performing to a crowd of smiling, twisting, shouting passengers happy to press pause on their busy journeys.

Occasionally after our shows we meet young folk who are particularly keen on theatre and puppetry and at The Tilles Center at Long Island University we were honoured to meet Madeline. Here she is with a fabulous puppet she made of herself. She and a friend are currently working on their own adaptation of The Man Who Planted Trees and we are hoping later to see a video of their piece.

Madeline and Madeline

Madeline and Madeline

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center was a little gem of a venue, and one that attracts big names to perform in its beautiful intimate auditorium. We were sorry to near-miss Robert Cray, Garrison Keillor and Patti LuPone, among others.

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center

We left Long Island by ferry and now we’re in Massachusets where our next shows are at the New Bedford Whaling Museum under the auspicious umbrella of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. We delighted to be hosted by Puppet State extended family, Scott and Chrissy, brother and sister-in-law of Ailie Cohen who designed and built most of the puppets and set. Their friend Don wrote this lovely preview for our Sunday show.

Dog and Jean

Our next stop is Winnipeg at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. You can see a list of all our tour dates here.

Meanwhile, you might like to visit The Man Who Planted Trees group on Facebook or go ahead and click ‘like’ on the Puppet State page.

Another Catch-Up. About Bloggy Time Too! -

Two main things are different about this tour than I (Elspeth) thought they’d be when we set out in February: 1) enjoyment outweighs the sense of slog (it’s pretty good fun, I must confess!) and 2) it’s harder to keep up this blog than I expected. I did expect that in order to blog, I would need to set time aside to write and make consequent choices not to go and do/see/have the alternative thing/spectacle/nap in various locations. But I didn’t reckon on how unfeasible that would be in practice. In the future, I aim to tilt the balance of probabilities in the favour of more frequent postings by generally being that bit more organized. And by remembering that blog writing is a fun kind of a slog too.

Today, as it’s a rainy day in Pittsburgh at the end of a festival run, without any shows or travel and when we have insufficient inclination to become temporary tourists, it seems like a good time to whizz back in time to capture and share some of the last few weeks’ goodies – and soggies.

Nashville – Before the Deluge

Talk about rain! We were in Nashville for just over a week in late April and experienced some of the heaviest rain we’ve ever seen. Rain in which there was no chance of stepping out without getting drenched, whatever kind of clothes you had on (I had on a fabulous cow-patterned poncho from one of the ‘western wear’ shops). The rain came and it went. And then we went. And a few days later it rained again in Nashville and didn’t stop for two whole days. Tennessee has not been so badly flooded since anyone can remember. Thirteen inches in two days – that’s double the previous rainfall record.

Some of places we went to are now barely recognizable. The Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville was surrounded by water but the legendary country performance venue The Grand Ole Opry is submerged and will be out of action indefinitely. People we were working with at TPAC, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, including Karen Palin, Associate Technical Director, were involved in re-staging the Opry at their War Memorial Auditorium, its home from ’39-’43. If you are on facebook, you can see a very touching album of behind-the-scenes photographs of this historic moment. And if you’re not on facebook, you can read about it here on the Grand Ole Opry’s website.

Back row L-R: Letty, Larry, Richard, Front: Karen and Sherri. Sporting the medals we awarded them for being variously brilliant and fabulous behind the scenes.

Rick was blessed with a veritable stream of visitors as Nashville is the closest we get on this particular tour to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Both big sisters came, Richelle with Greg, and Robin – with her husband Lou and their four great kids, Robbie, Katy, Nicky and Michael. David Scott from Rick’s early years as a drummer in Edinburgh and Jimmy Burns from his Georgia high school days enjoyed nights out in downtown Nashville as did Felicia and Wren, who were also our daytime puddle-hopping, flip-flopping partners that soggy Saturday.

And as a treat for touring puppeteers, Nashville’s Public Library is something else. They employ several full-time puppeteers and have a long history of presenting book-inspired puppet shows. We not only had the pleasure of seeing the latest production of Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calveras Counry” but we were honoured with a tour of their incredible collection of puppets.

Kitted out at Katy K's (She's kitted out Dolly Parton in the past, dontcha know)

I prepared to celebrate my 40th birthday in Nashville with a trip to Katy K’s western wear to buy a dress – and a crazy wig. Wearing the dress but not the wig, I was accompanied to the Country Music Hall of Fame by my favourite sight-seeing accomplices, my dear husband Richard Medrington and the ever-witty Rick Conte.  There’s a set of photos from the Country Music Hall of Fame here.

Finally, the Nashville week was distinguished and made especially memorable with the recording of an interview with Dog himself. Dog the celebrated thespian who reflects here upon his major influences and his illustrious career to date.


Later, dear readers, you will be hearing about our puppetry, theatrical perambulations through the rustyish belt of Philadelphia, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Thanks for stopping by!

Who Knows Where the Time Goes? -

A whole month has mysteriously slipped away into the silent realm known as “shows done”. How did that happen? We were in New York, now we’re in Nashville and in between times we’ve been in a lot of other places. For any patient person out there who hasn’t given up checking this space for updates, here is a bird’s eye view of our recent peregrinations (click on the photos to see the full gallery from each part of the tour):

We left New York in mid March and the pouring rain. Very hard to un-velcro ourselves from the Lincoln Center which had begun to feel like home. Good news is the shows went down so well they want us back. We spent a week in New Jersey, which was experiencing really bad flooding. Our shows in New Brunswick were nearly cancelled due to power cuts, but the energy company, who happened to be sponsoring the shows, managed to get things going just in time.

Techies at New Brunswick State Theate being giants

From there we drove to Woodstock, Vermont (no, not that Woodstock, another one) where we stayed in the nicest hotel you can imagine and had some great shows in the Town Hall Theater. Woodstock is a picturesque little town with covered wooden bridges and quirky shops. It was Rick’s birthday while we were there – celebrated in style with oysters and a tennis lesson. The weather was unseasonably wonderful – there was still some snow on the ground but the sun shone all the time we were there.

Covered bridge in Woodstock, Vermont

On to Burlington, Vermont where Rick met up with two cousins he hadn’t seen for many years and their lovely families. Thence to the town of Roxbury, New York in the Catskills. Sleepy village but a lovely venue with staff to match and very appreciative audiences including some real life Elzeard Bouffiers, deeply involved in reforestation projects in the area.

Roxbury - click here for more pics

Clued-up question and answer session in Roxbury, NY (note pretty leaf lighting on the white proscenium arch)

Back in the car and heading for Hudson, New York, where we stayed at the beautiful Country Squire Bed and Breakfast.  We had a great time at Stageworks, a theatre that reminded us of the Netherbow in Edinburgh, as it used to be back in the old days, to standing ovations.  This was organised by Gary Schiro of the Hudson Opera House. According to the guide books, Hudson had been an important centre for shipping and trade, but early last century it had gone into a decline and become a “mob-run den of mayhem”. It is now what is known as shabby chic, with lots of antique shops and good restaurants. One of the cool towns.

Hudson - for more pics click here

Stageworks' 99-seat theater in Hudson, NY

It was quite cold there. But a few hours later we were in Texas and roasting. I couldn’t believe we were in the same country. And some Texans tried to convince me that we weren’t. The Lutcher Theater in Orange Texas is a phenomenon. The gift of a wealthy local family (who, ironically, made their money from the timber trade) it is an seriously well-equipped place, and attracts the big names. It is probably the biggest space we’ve played in, though they restricted the audiences to around 200. On the first evening after the show, we took part in a community tree-planting event at a local Methodist church. We fell in love with the East Texas audiences who were really appreciative, and the hospitality of the staff was second to none. Special thanks are due to Jim and Lynae. We even got a special guided tour of Orange’s beautiful Shangri-La Botanic Gardens (endowed by the same family as the theater) including a boat trip on the bayou, with Mike, the director of the garden as our guide.

Orange, TX - for more pics click here

Community tree-planting event in Orange, Texas

On to San Antonio, where we met up with Michael and Teresa Holden, our wonderful agents, plus their staff Sarah and Stacy, (who have doen a really brilliant job of organising this tour) and some family members. We were in a big theater again, with a slightly over-ambulatory audience. We arrived at our hotel tired and a little crotchety after a long day on the road, and as a result of my (Richard’s) slight disgruntlement with a noisy ventilation system in our otherwise very acceptable room, we were upgraded to a palatial suite with jacuzzi, separate living room and a balcony overlooking the town square and river walk. San Antonio is like a cross between Amsterdam and Cambridge given a Mexican makeover.  On the second morning the sky was slightly overcast for about half an hour. Ah well, into every life a little rain must fall.

San Antonio - click here for more photos

San Antonio's Riverwalk

The tour had been fairly relentless up till now. Time for a break. Michael and Teresa took us out to their ranch in the Texas Hill Country near Austin. We now have a new definition of peace and quiet. They showed us around, cooked us a lovely meal, and then the five of us sat in the hot tub beneath the stars and talked of this and that. The next day, after a real Texan barbecue in Llano, The Holden’s took Rick into Austin for the weekend, and Elspeth and Richard headed back to the ranch for three more days of utter tranquility. We all met up again in Austin a few days later, well rested (apart from Rick) and the team set off for Madison Wisconsin for shows at the Overture Center for the Arts.

Austin - for more pics click here

The Holden and Arts crew: Sarah Saltwick, Stacy Meshbane, Michael and Theresa Holden

Madison is a beautiful city, and the Overture Center for the Arts is a splendid place. I think for the first time ever we had a standing ovation from an entire audience. In fact all the audiences were extremely appreciative. It seems like a real theatre-going town. We also got to attend a great Bluegrass concert. There was one hazy day that may have had something to do with a trip to a Karaoke bar. I really don’t remember very much. It was cold again.

Madison - for more pics click here

Richard and Rick with Tim Sauers, The Overture Center's wonderful Education guy

And then we flew to Florida and it wasn’t anymore. We stayed in the same hotel for the best part of a week and performed at three different venues. In Clearwater we were playing in the Ruth Eckerd Hall, at the same time as David Gray (remember him? Babylon etc), though not in the same space. (Obviously).  Susan Zelenka and her staff went out of their way to make our stay a joy. Rick’s parents, Dick and Bobbie, drove up from their winter quarters in Fort Myers to see us and we all had a superb time. Oh the stories…

Florida - click here for more pics

Rick with parents Dick and Roberta Conte and family friends Carol and Jim West

At our last show in Tampa a ten year old boy came up to Richard after the show and said “So how old was Elzeard Bouffier?” I said “Well, he was 89 when he died.” And the boy said, “Yes but how old was he before he died?”

I’m still thinking about that one.

Elspeth and Richard went to visit Richard’s cousin Kevan out beyond Orlando and had great fun playing games with Kevan’s son Brendan. These included various riotous shoot ’em up games and a bizarrely traditional game of hide and seek.

Florida - for more pics click here

Richard with cousin Kevan and his son Brendan

And now we’re somewhere else.
Ah yes, Nashville.
And it’s Saturday.
No shows no drives no flights.
Time to catch up with the blog.



See more photos on flickr »