Traveling for Phèdre

posted by Seana McKenna, cast member of Phèdre

Seana McKenna—a company member of Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where she played the title role in Carey Perloff’s production of Phèdre—recently arrived in San Francisco, where she will reprise her performance in the A.C.T. production of Racine’s 17th-century classic. McKenna writes about her struggles in trying to get to San Francisco from Toronto for the first day of rehearsal.

This is my first blog. For a relative Luddite, this is a major step into the 21st century. A decade late, I know. But I have an 11-year-old son, so the last ten years are a bit of a blur.

As are the last few days. I have just finished my first week of rehearsal for Racine’s Phèdre at A.C.T. I left, or rather, tried to leave Toronto on December 26th. Yes, December 26th. My fellow cast member Tom McCamus and I were in the center of the maelstrom at Pearson International, when increased security measures resulted in delays of more than six hours, more than 100 cancelled flights, and lineups of hundreds and hundreds of people. We stood in one line for two hours to get luggage tags, then in another line for customs for three hours, for a flight that was to leave at 5:30 p.m., but was rescheduled for 8 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., we were told our flight was cancelled and we should all go home and reschedule our flight. Flights were booked for us the next day, by A.C.T.’s wonderful interim company manager, Tim Cole. We arrived four hours early for our noon flight to Charlotte, and then for a flight from Charlotte to Newark, and then from Newark to San Francisco. If you check a map, connecting those dots does not make for a pretty picture. We would arrive in Newark six hours after we left Toronto. And we were not driving. We would arrive in San Francisco at midnight our time.

We had various holdups in customs: we stood in line three times, being told to sign forms by one agent that were not required by the next agent (the wrong form was ripped in half before my eyes with what might be construed as relish). For reasons unknown to me, I was sent to secondary inspection. Perhaps it was my paperwork; perhaps it was my profession (did I detect disdain when I said “actor”?); or perhaps it was my confession of a box of chocolates in my suitcase. Tom’s agent let him through. Same paperwork, same profession, but no chocolates. That had to be it.

So, I sat in a room where no cell phones are to be used, for an hour, while three agents fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated the 12 to 15 people in the room. My agent was very kind—a man with a Spanish accent who was intrigued by the play I was going to do. He asked me many questions about the plot, why Phèdre wanted to kill herself, why they thought my husband was dead, who was the stepson. He asked if he could see the play in Toronto. I said no, it had finished its run in Stratford, and we were recreating it in San Francisco. He seemed genuinely disappointed, wished me luck, and stamped my passport.

I was relieved and shaken. I met Tom and we made the flight. A good thing we had come four hours early.

The flight from Charlotte to Newark was delayed by an hour, and we were sure we would miss the connection to San Francisco. We booked a backup flight for 6 a.m. the next morning and imagined a nice dinner in Newark and a hunt for a hotel. Our flight arrived in Newark at 6 p.m., the connecting flight leaving at 6:15 p.m. We ran. We went through security again, as the gate was at the other end of the airport. When we arrived at the gate, no attendant was at the desk. We looked through the locked door, and banged on it. Two air attendants came to the door and took our tickets! Out of breath, we had barely sat down when the plane started moving. We arrived in San Francisco at 12:30 a.m., and, miraculously, our luggage had also made it onto the plane.

We were met by A.C.T. Company Manager Dianne Prichard, and arrived at our lodging by 1:30 a.m. Landed. I had sacrificed my cell phone to the gods, though. Must have slipped out of my vest’s half-zipped pocket when I was trying to spaghetti myself into some sleeping configuration in the middle seat of a three-seat row. But it was found, and was overnighted to the theater. From Philadelphia. Don’t ask. I didn’t.

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