Saturday, July 7, 2012

Blue Ridge Pig, Kathy's, and the Brew Ridge Trail

Blue Mountain Brewery
While on a recent trip to Staunton, I tried a few restaurants that I had never been to. I had long heard of Kathy's in Staunton, but had never been there. I think the memory of a bad experience at Mrs. Rowe's still lingered, but I'd heard nothing but good things. So, one morning I had the pleasure of dining with American Shakespeare Center actor Benjamin Curns and he suggested we go to Kathy's.

Kathy's is a classic American family restaurant. It is located in the area that used to be the "main drag" in Staunton, but has become secondary since the downtown revitalization. The decor is a mix of family restaurant and diner.

I ordered the "Big Mike's Country Breakfast," not because I was famished but because it was the most Paleo compliant item on the menu. "Big Mike's" includes a slice of country ham, a sausage patty, three slices of bacon, grits, brown (but creamy) sausage gravy, two eggs, two biscuits, and home fries. I donated the biscuits to my wife and Ben and went to work on the rest. It was a fantastic platter. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Kathy's for a hearty breakfast. My wife and I returned a few weeks later and I again ordered "Big Mike's." We have heard nothing but raves for the pancakes, so my wife ordered the bacon pancakes. This features bacon mixed into the batter and topped with one slice of bacon. I had a bite and it was wonderful. We have yet to try lunch, but we'll give it a shot one of these days.

I am from the Triad of North Carolina, the home of Lexington style barbecue, so whenever I hear people praising pork barbecue I'm somewhat skeptical. Let me also say, I am not hog wild over Lexington style barbecue either. I prefer a very smoky, meaty flavor with very little of that vinegar taste. So, when ASC actor Rick Blunt suggested we try a place in Nellysford called the Blue Ridge Pig I was a bit blase about it. Boy, was I in for a surprise! We went with Rick over the Mountain to Nellysford to give this place a shot. It appears to be a condemned shed glommed on to the side of a convenience store/gas station. It is the true definition of a dive. The wonderful smell of smoked meat smacks you in the face as soon as you step out of the car. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, with nothing but meat. It comes on a toasted Kaiser roll. The meat is the best barbecued pork I've ever had. It really tastes as good as it smells. The thing I've noticed over the years is the taste of the meat never lives up to the smell. Well, not here! It's amazing. And while I was skeptical of the Kaiser roll, it works great as a complement to the meat. My wife, who doesn't particularly care for pork barbecue, even raved about it. We can't wait to head back even though it's a bit of a drive. Be advised, Blue Ridge Pig is a cash-only establishment.

While you're out that way you may want to check out Blue Mountain Brewery, Wild Wolf Brewing Company, and Devil's Backbone Brewing Company. They are all located on this same road, Rockfish Valley Highway (151), aka the Brew Ridge Trail. I've been to Blue Mountain and Devil's Backbone. The food I've had at both is average (bratwurst and burger at Blue Mountain and the Bonesmoker platter at DBB), but the beer at both is great. I suggest doing a sampler/flight. You can find most of Blue Mountain & DBB's beer throughout Virginia, while Wild Wolf is still mostly in the Shenandoah Valley and Central VA.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

No Kidding Shakespeare Camp

Katrien, Adrian, and Barry rehearsing Julius Caesar. Photo courtesy of Sara Lewis Holmes.
For the last couple of years I have wanted to attend the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults. Thanks to the great ASC Education staff (and some creative scheduling from my employer) I was able to do it this year. The camp was a great experience, and I got to meet and work with several wonderful people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.

We kicked off the week with a brunch at the Blackfriars Playhouse and then a short orientation session. We followed this with introductions and an excellent presentation on Shakespeare as an international phenomenon by ASC Co-Founder and Director of Mission Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen. Following a break we reconvened into two tracks (we had an advanced track and a basic track, but could choose which sessions we wanted to attend). I chose to attend a session led by ASC Education Director Sarah Enloe focusing on scansion and paraphrase. This session was very beneficial for me as it taught me several things about iambic pentameter and scansion that I did not realize. Following this session, I attended a sit-down conversation with Almost Blasphemy Touring Troupe members Daniel Abraham Stevens and Ronald Peet, and ASC Group Sales and Academic Resources Manager Ben Ratkowski who has also toured performing Shakespeare plays for children in the mid-west. They all discussed life on the road with us and the differences in venues and how that affects performance. Following this session I attended a session on clowning by ASC veteran actor Daniel Kennedy. This was a fun session, as you might expect, and we got to do a lot of clowning. I want to especially thank my fellow camp member, Richard, who partnered up with me in some less than dignified activities. We closed out the day with a BBQ at the beautiful home of Ralph and Judy Cohen. Most of the campers and the ASC Education staff attended as well as ASC actors Tracy Hostmyer, Tracie Thomason, and Abbi Hawk all of whom were a welcome addition to our group. I finished out the day back in Staunton watching pro wrestling with Allison Glenzer, Ben Curns, and Lia Razak.

Tuesday started with an informal session with Sarah Enloe and then our first movement session with ASC veteran Bob Jones. Throughout the week, Bob showed us how to incorporate movement into our performances and how to best use the space and the architecture of the Playhouse. These were fun sessions, particularly when we got to do read-throughs and a bit of acting. I was not a big of a fan of the movement game "Zip, Zap, Boing," and looked forward to the final elimination round to self-immolate. During the "acting" sessions I was able to be killed a Caesar and Banquo (with a pretty impressive fall and death, if I do say so myself) and Richard III's "Winter of our discontent" speech.

The next session on Tuesday was stage combat with ASC veteran Jeremy West. This session was very informative and a lot of fun. I teamed up with Barry, a guy I've seen at the Blackfriars about every time I'm there. We got to learn how to do various punches and slaps and hair pulls and drags. I really enjoyed this session, but wish we had learned how to take falls as well. Following lunch, our next session was with University of Akron professor William Proctor Williams on texts, editing, editions, and printing of early texts. This was a highly informative and entertaining session. We then broke into groups and I went to Patrick Midgley's session on Sonnets. We had an extensive homework assignment with this session, dealing with Sonnet 29. The session was pretty eye opening on how the use of images and ideas can help you with memorization. After the session, Patrick and I went for coffee and caught up on old times and conversed about our adherence (or sometimes lack thereof) to the Paleo diet. That night I attended a performance of The Old Wive's Tale by George Peele, performed by Mary Baldwin students. After catching up a bit with ASC Costume Shop Manager & Designer Erin West, I headed up to Harrisonburg to finish off the night.

Wednesday started with another informal discussion with Sarah, followed by another movement session with Bob (and my Caesar scene). We then had a session with ASC actor Greg Phelps on sound and music at the Blackfriars. This was a lot of fun and it was interesting hearing Greg speak about his experiences on the road and at the Blackfriars and about music choices. We then had a catered lunch and watched rehearsals for The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The scenes we watched involved Allison Glenzer, Greg Phelps, Grant Davis, Tracie Thomason, James Keegan, and Tracy Hostmyer. We then reconvened at the Masonic building to discuss our impressions of the rehearsal. Following the discussion we had another lecture by William Proctor Williams on texts indoors and out. Once again we split into separate tracks and I attended a session with ASC Education staff on audience contact. After leaving I spent a little time with Ben Curns and Erin West, then had dinner before heading to the theatre to see The Merchant of Venice followed by a Talk Back. I ran into Tracie Thomason after the show and we chatted a bit about the show and Staunton.

The next morning we had our first "Critic's Circle" discussion about the previous night's performance. We then had another movement session (my Richard III intimidation of fellow campers session) and a great discussion by Erin West about costume design at the ASC. Allison Glenzer then dropped in to teach us about the use of voice and sound and how our emotions, breathing, and fears can affect our vocals. This was a great session and Alli is a great teacher. Following lunch with several of my campers at Darjeeling Cafe, I attended a session Elizabethan Dance with Jeremy West. This was pretty fun despite my lack of experience with dance. Special thanks to my fellow campers Caitlin, Sara, and Katrien for having to dance with my hulking carcass and being so gracious about it. I'm sure it's kind of like dancing with a sweaty grizzly. We then reconvened for a session on history plays of the early Plantagenet period to Richard II led by Sarah and Anne Armentrout. Following dinner at Mill Street I attended The Lion in Winter. I had a terrible seat for the first half, so I managed to move down to one of my regular seats that was unoccupied during the interval. Following the performance and Talk Back we had a wonderful cast party. Following that I hung out with Ben Curns for a couple of hours before heading up to Harrisonburg, getting in at around 2 am (if you're gonna fake being an actor, live like one).

Our last day was pretty light. I had coffee with Patrick Midgley then a few of us couldn't get into the Playhouse for the Critic's Circle. That's probably my biggest complaint about the camp- we had door issues for a couple of days. We finally were able to get some folks to let us in. We had our last movement session (with my Banquo slaughter) and then a lecture by Mary Baldwin professor Janna Segal on international productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. We followed this up with scenes from King John and The Lion in Winter. I got to close it out with Lion Act 1, scene 5 as the Lionheart with Martha as Eleanor and Peggy as John. Following our scenes we said our farewells and some of us headed over to Blue Mountain Brewery. I rode over with Sarah, Cass, and Ben Ratkowski. We all had a great time at Blue Mountain and then we went on our various ways.

This was an awesome experience. There are so many people to thank at the ASC, including a shout-out to all the interns; you guys made things go very smoothly and were quite patient with all of us, and of course all of my fellow campers. They were a great group of people, very willing and generous and easy to work with. I hope I get to see them again. Next year, Ralph is hoping to put together a trip to England and Scotland and hopefully I will get to make it for that.

This camp gave me more of an appreciation for all the hard work that goes into these productions. If you have a desire to learn more about the actual work behind putting up these plays I highly recommend attending future camps.