All posts by Rachel McKendree

Elements debut in Italy

For ten days, Elements made its home-away-from-home at the villa Via Sacra in Barga, Italy. The villa, established securely on the city wall of this age-old Tuscan, mountain town, is situated only a brief (but hearty) climb up the narrow stone street to the duomo named for the town’s patron, Saint Christopher.

At the duomo—enveloped in the aura of hundreds of years of devotion, and surrounded by stone and wood carvings, traces of the Templars, and the words of local “poet laureate” Giovanni Pascoli, Elements engaged with the locals through the craft of the medieval mystery play. In Latin—the original language of these plays, but also the “nonno” (or granddaddy) of both English and Italian—we recounted the legend of Saint Christopher, including his dubious beginnings, his quest for a master worthy of his service, and his martyrdom; and we told the simple but mysterious stories that grace the stone ambo in the duomo: the Annunciation, the Visitation, and Herod and the Magi. Finally we honored Saint Francis, whose Feast the church celebrated over the weekend, with his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, in the original Umbrian dialect.

The marvelous juxtaposition of known and unknown faced us at every step of this production. We told stories that we know by heart in a language that is not our own. We played beloved characters in an unfamiliar setting. We did our best to present ourselves with full intentions and hopes for authenticity and generous sincerity, with no knowledge of how this new audience would receive/perceive us.

“Trust the text,” we always say in moments of question, when things get over-complicated and the meaning becomes unclear. So trusting the text, trusting the stories, trusting these people in this beautiful place, we made our venture. Each evening was a heart-to-heart exchange that bridged the barriers of language and culture. The open faces in the glow of candles reflected the generosity of spirit and profound connection we shared through these ancient words. It was a wonderful first experience for Elements in Barga. We look forward to next year!

I Am Cassius

“Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”
I am Cassius.
Cruel, aggravator, seductive, snake-in-the-grass, ignoble, ugly, savage.
I am Cassius.
Conspirator, assassin, soldier, swordsman, insatiable, underestimated, symbiote.
I am Cassius.
Collapsing, ardent, soulful, sympathetic, insecure, upended, submissive.
I am Cassius.
Countryman, amorous, steadfast, single-hearted, immovable, unrelenting, suicidal.

The danger in a role like Cassius is to focus on the outward – the evil, murdering villain, who whispers, bullies, and connives his way into the ear of his victims, preying on their every possible weakness in order to further his own cause.

The danger in a role like Cassius it to miss what makes him human, weak, vulnerable – blind to the signs and wonders blazing in the heavens all around him; victim to his own insatiable lust and rage against tyranny, inequality; insecure enough not to stand on the podium himself, but to place someone else there instead; uncertain enough to submit to bad judgment, when keeping his own, wiser counsel would have saved the day.

The danger in a role like Cassius is to focus on the hardened warrior, the scars, the fighter, the blood-shedding leader of battles, and miss entirely the man who so loves and believes in his friend, who so gives himself to his brothers in the field, that upon learning his mistake cost them their lives, decides to take his own.

I am Cassius. And somehow I am growing to love this epicurean, pleasure-denying, idealistic man and murderer.




Sometimes I think of it as a reflex. Sometimes a muscle, badly in need of exercise. Sometimes more of an unwelcome distraction.

Right now, it’s a treasure chest – and I got to open it twice this week.

Jpeg-St-Pauls-small3We did our first read of “Christmas Carol” on Tuesday. We’ll present the play in the form of Readers’ Theatre (described as “Theatre of the Imagination”) in December. . Dickens’ words, John Mortimer’s adaptation (stage directions included), exploded in sounds and images, tastes and textures. And the added gift of this presentation of the age-old story of redemption and rebirth will be the face-to-face experience with the listener/viewer, and the opportunity for each person in the audience to see and feel those things for themselves.

OurTownGraveyardThe second lucky dip was our weekly homeschool theatre class, which focuses at the moment on character-work and thinking on your feet. We wrapped up Madeleine L’Engle’s “Journey with Jonah” last week – and looking through our library for what to do next, came across “Our Town.” What was meant to be a quick, reminder read dissolved me. Maybe I’m just loosely hinged this week, but every word got to me. So we read acts one and two in class today – and I think Thornton Wilder’s words started to get to that group of seven teenagers too.

So in gratitude for the shot-in-the-arm I received this week, I’m committing to a regular exercise regime for my beginning-to-atrophy imagination muscle. When I read, or get an idea, or hear something that sparks me, I’m going to follow that movie in my mind, or write down that line, and see what happens next and where it takes me. London, England, Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Orleans, Massachusetts…

The Safety of Being Known……

As a resident company, the members of Elements have the distinct privilege of knowing each other really well. I mean REALLY well – like, probably knowing more than you want to know or be known about at times.
This has its pluses and minuses. I confess that I have wondered recently about what it would be like to put on a show with total strangers – no baggage, no worries, no relationships to protect…
But then I was thinking about Dream, and specifically about the Mechanicals. Now, without giving too much away, we Mechanicals have decided that we are all members of a certain group that meet regularly to share our common struggles, to confront each other, and to support each other. We know each other really well, and we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst. We want good things for each other. And a fascinating thing I’ve noticed in our process so far is that the time spent off-stage, developing these relationships and really getting to know Snout, Snug, Flute, Quince, and Bottom, has been way more important than the time spent acting on-stage. And the things that come out in our interaction through Shakespeare’s dialog present a Technicolor experience of total honesty, trust, earnest-ness, and joyful abandon.
So I return to my original wonderment, about the potential benefits of anonymity. Maybe I’ll get to try it someday, but for now I wouldn’t trade that safety of knowing and being known. For us Mechanicals anyway, it’s a very good thing.


“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was…”
Bottom, Dream IV.i.

After rehearsal last Friday night, I had a dream.

I dream a lot. Nightmares, constantly. Life-like scenarios when you wake up thinking “that actually happened,” all the time. Naked dreams, flying dreams, speaking-in-a-foreign language dreams — yup, all of the above, frequently.

No wonder then that since we’ve embarked on Dream my sleeping hours have been as hyperactive as ever.

Here was last Friday night’s scenario:

Myself (female, married, with children), a co-worker (also female, married, with children), and a fellow actor (male, and actually a monk) were moving in together, into a very small but lovely suite — 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a closet. It was a glorious day, and the sun was streaming through the windows — white walls, light wood floors. The center of the biggest bedroom, which happened to be the adjoining room, also featured a large indoor plot of grass. This grass was picture-perfect blue grass — the kind you want to lay down in and fall asleep. We immediately set to work figuring out the best sleeping arrangements. She and I would share the smaller room, since we all know he gets up earlier than us and goes to bed later — so there would be no awkwardness of crossing paths, or conflict with use of the bathroom. Then we got to work on our perfect little indoor garden.

I don’t remember much else about the dream, except that all of this seemed 100% rational. No one at any time said, “This is insane,” or “What the hell is going on here,” or anything like that. We weren’t in the least bit upset about it.

Analyze this however you want — it’s probably more revealing than I’d like it to be. But the next day, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends about this dream, for the sheer joy and smile it brought to my face when I woke up in the morning. Suddenly, I felt a lot like Bottom.

In that barely-awake moment at the end of IV.i. when Bottom relives the “rare vision” he has just experienced, I get choked up. I always feel like that dream is the thing that gives Bottom the oomph to go on, and when he returns to his fellow Mechanicals, his zeal is infectious and spurs them all on to their moment of greatness.

Sometimes dreamers scare me. Their ideas are so big, and usually require a lot of work, major risk, and 100% dedication, and the outcome is never certain. 

But what if I was more like Bottom? An ass with a dream, who’s not afraid to share it, or to take others along for the glorious ride. Something about that seems oddly appealing.