Reflecting on a Season of Seeing
Actor John Ahlin with the Festival statue of the character he has been playing all season.
By John Ahlin
This is the fourth and final in a series of blog posts written by the actor playing Sir John Falstaff in this season’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
My most vivid summer memory was at Camp Idlewild, on an island in Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. A young me and 299 other campers marched in twilight to outside the rec hall where the camp director had propped a little black and white television on the porch railing; and we all watched, or rather heard, as the fuzzy reception was barely a picture, the live sounds of man landing on the Moon. I was enthralled as we trooped back to our cabins, but within moments the other boys were back horsing around, throwing mattresses, and other assorted adolescent antics. After lights out, I snuck down to the pitch dark lakeside to watch the moonrise. It was a perfect time and place to contemplate what humans had achieved.
All these years later I find Utah another perfect place. I sense all my summers here: the smell of a thunderstorm lingering in the pine thicket, the sound of crickets underscoring nighttime imaginings, a moon close enough to touch. Looking up at the wide vessel of the Universe, all the senses reach out dreamily. But in this place, summer was made for seeing.
Beholding wonder and connection in every direction, the scope of what can be seen is limitless. For starters, Utah has indescribable vistas—near mountains, no two alike; far mountains, vague and enticing; canyons, boldly hinting at wonders within; and wide welcoming valleys saying “come explore.”
Peeking out at the audience before a show, I marvel that so many people come to the Utah Shakespeare Festival. In my vast experience, these are the best audiences in the country. I see them waiting for the Shakespeare play to start, sitting at the edge of humankind’s potential. Shakespeare lets us peer back at the humans of his day, and, similarly, he showed the people back then the future—he showed them people for all time. We’re still us.
Looking into a car full of fun-loving senior Arizona ladies on their annual summer jaunt, who pulled over upon seeing me walking home after The Merry Wives of Windsor, only to gush how thankful they are this theatre exists, I tried to gush back my gratitude for them. But even Falstaff couldn’t out gush five fanatical Flagstaffians.
Gazing upon the wide universe of Falstaff is something I’ll never tire of. He’s the most hopeful Shakespeare character, I believe. His massive intelligence surely tells him the world can be a wintry dark place, but in all three of his plays his hope springs eternal, right up to his fall. But it is summer he seeks—warm, relaxed, full of gentleness and rest.
Seeing long-gone events is impossible, but if I could look through time, I’d search for that moment when John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s actors, thought to posthumously collect all of his plays into the famous First Folio. In their introduction to the book, they said they did it “only to keep the memory of so worthy a Friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare.” I wish I could see that insightful moment when they brilliantly saw to it to preserve “our Shakespeare.” I’ll bet it was summer.