Thu 2 Sep 2010
Hello, I’m Steven Schwall. I play Captain Fluellyn in Pigeon Creek Shakespeare’s current production of Henry V. This is my first acting experience with Pigeon Creek, as well as my first experience in ensemble directing. I feel many that have come before me on this blog have commented about the process at length, but I will add that this cast has been very supportive and positive in their efforts to help me adapt. This is also my first foray into playing a comedic Shakespearean character, and the help of the more experienced cast in pointing up how something is playing was very helpful.
What I would really like to focus on is the nature of this production and the complexity of this play. This has to be my favorite of the histories in the Shakespeare canon, because this period in military history is very dear to my heart. So far, my exposure to this play in performance has centered on teaching the history, and the intensity of the battle of Agincourt, around which this play is centered. This production, however, has brought to light several aspects which I have not before considered.
The first is the absolute, non-stop entertainment quality of this play. Considering the serious nature of the history it enacts, it is almost a paradox that this play is rife with humor. There are perhaps more comedic characters in this play than many others I have encountered outside of the comedies. There is the comic trio of Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph, who are drunkards and rather inept thieves. Then there is another comic trio that I call the “ethnic three,” being three captains in Henry’s army, one Scots, one Irish, and one Welsh (whom I play). These three have both strange dialects and comic speech patterns, which come to think of it, the three soldiers named above also employ. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury is a source of comic ridicule in this play. But when you consider that Pigeon Creek is an original practices company, when you consider that the audiences of the day already knew the history and were probably out for an afternoon’s entertainment, the reason behind so much comedic work becomes clear. The beauty of this production is that it really plays up the entertainment factor, rather than the serious history. The history is all still there, but this production more entertains than informs.
Second is the complexity of the tasks with which these actors are saddled. Using original practices of actors doubling into multiple roles has demanded a wide range of character types be played by several actors in this troupe. Many of our actors have to play people of differing nationalities or ethnicities, as well as differing social strata. Some are even called upon to speak French as well as English. It begs the question, how did Elizabethan actors deal with this aspect of performance? Certainly, they did not have the complexity or actor training programs that are available in this 21st century. Did they change voices or physicality as well as their costumes? We will never know for sure, but it makes for interesting food for acting choices. And with ensemble directing, each actor is free to make his or her own choices. The rest of the company merely acts as a sounding board for the work.
As I am writing this, we are preparing for a one-night run at the Red Barn in Saugatuck, MI, fo0llowed by a four-show closing weekend in Spring Lake, MI. So, try to come out and see the type of Shakespeare performance perhaps your Elizabethan ancestors saw. It could open your eyes, and as one audience member put it, help you “get” Shakespeare. This production is imminently accessible.
I have had a fabulous time with this role and this production. I hope to continue my relationship with Pigeon Creek into the future. Come check us out!