Archive for September, 2011

Janna Rosenkranz as Westmoreland, Northumberland, Bardolph and Glendower.

I play four, very different men in Henry IV, Part 1: the solider Westmoreland, the politician Northumberland, the clown Bardolph and the Welsh, wizard-warrior Glendower. As an actor I approach my roles from the outside-in. I use everything from physical descriptions, historical renderings (in this case three of the four characters are based on real people), clothing and footwear, how the world sees the character from the outside to the image the character wishes to show the world when working on the essence of characters.

In this case I began by choosing an archetypical figure-type for my men, hence the title of this essay. I choose these archetypes to work as cores for all four characters. I’ll tell you about them in order of appearance.

Westmoreland, based on Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland (ca. 1364 – 21, October 1425) who, among other things, had 23 children and was survived by most of them. (wikipedia) The historical information I read mostly speaks about his responsibilities as a solider. In our play he is portrayed as simply this and, more importantly, a method of communicating exposition in the first scene. He only truly expresses emotions once; in the first scene when he describes the ‘beastly and shameless transformation” done to the bodies of Mortimer’s men by the Welsh women after a military loss to Glendower. In order to turn this character into someone three dimensional, I have concentrated on his loyalty to the King and his sons, Hal and John. My job as an actor is to make two speeches of exposition in the first scene interesting and compelling. Therefore, I worked on making him truly love the royal family and hate the Percy family as much as possible. This is nicely bookended by the final scene in which, without lines, I try to communicate my love for the Lancasters and pleasure that they have been victorious over the rebels.

Now to Westmoreland’s enemy, Northumberland. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, 4th Baron Percy (10, November 1341 – 20, February 1408). (wikipedia) He is only in one scene, but like Glendower, his name comes up a lot in other scenes. For an actor how much the character is talked about and what is said about them is very important. Northumberland has his hands full with a family that doesn’t quite live up to his standards. His brother, Worchester crosses the line with the King and his son Hotspur is impossible to control. I love my one full line in the first part of the one scene in which I play this character, when I manipulate the truth regarding Hotspur’s prisoners like a master (think former VP Cheney’s recent press tour). Sadly, the idiot Hotspur opens his mouth and messes my plan up. I spend the entire rest of that first half of the scene trying not to boil over with anger at him as he goes on (and on and on) and continues to dig his own grave. In the second half of the scene with only Hotspur and Worchester on stage, my favorite line is the bitingly sarcastic “Brother, the King hath made your nephew mad.” (Henry IV, Part 1: I, iii) Sadly, neither brother nor son are sophisticated enough to understand sarcasm. My Northumberland is full of anger towards his family, and I secretly believe that the illness that keeps him out of the Battle of Shrewsbury is an abandonment of his son and brother. He knows they will lose. Historically, Northumberland would go on to launch another rebellion in 1408 and end up with his head on a spike.

My third character , poor drunk Bardolph is one of the tavern clowns who ‘assist’ Falstaff and drink with him and Prince Hal. Again, my information came from what other characters say about him. His major characteristic is that “his face is all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames o’ fire: and his lips blows at his nose, and it is like a coal of fire, sometimes blue and sometimes red; but his nose is executed and his fire’s out. “ (Fluellen: Henry V: III, iv) In a pivotal exchange for Bardolph, Prince Hal comments that the redness of his face “portends…if rightly taken, halter” (Henry IV, Part 1: II, iv). Here Hal sees the future (as he does in this scene with Falstaff) and hints that one day, Bardolph will be punished for his thieving and drunkenness. Indeed this occurs when, as King Henry V, Hal will watch Bardolph hung. I love giving poor Bardolph a bit of a ’somebody just walked over my grave’ feeling here. Poor Bardolph is easily offended and tries very hard to believe that he’s a tough guy.

Finally I was extremely lucky to be cast as the wizard warrior Owen Glendower. Glendower, like his ally Northumberland, is often spoken about in the play although he only appears in one scene. The historical Glendower — or Owain Glynd?r or Owain Glyn D?r (c.1349 or 1359 – c.1416) — is seen as the Welsh King Arthur and was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales. In the late 19th century the Welsh nationalistic movement Cymru Fydd recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism. In 2000, celebrations were held all over Wales to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Glynd?r uprising (our rebellion). He has since been voted in at 23rd in a poll of 100 Greatest Britons (a BBC produced program) in 2002. (wikipedia) As an actor, I felt playing Glendower was a huge responsibility. Along with the challenge of speaking Welsh (something director Scott Lange and fellow actor Lindsey Hansen and I continue to attempt to do – especially me, I’m sad to report) playing such a mythical creature is a huge deal. But, despite the hugeness of Glendower I have to make him human as well, so to do this I make him believe that he is a wizard and that he ‘thrice…sent him (Henry IV) Bootless home and weather-beaten back.” (Henry IV, Part 1: III,i). He can control the weather, the “earth did tremble” at his birth, he is a great magician. It’s this very Confidence (with a large C) that drives him to believe that the rebels won’t need him and his troops for two weeks. Of course, this lack of troops (Glendower’s and Northumberland’s) is the nail in the rebel’s coffin.

The above is a very general summary of how I approached each character, and many further specifications have to be made to make the moments they are on stage spontaneous and real. These come from Shakespeare’s words, my true inspiration.

Lindsey Hansen as Poins

In April, I auditioned for Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet at Aquinas College. We had a new director as well; Katherine Mayberry from GVSU. Having a guest director always gets people on their A-game and I’m no different. I prepared my monologue, performed it and hoped for a call. I was fortunate enough to get a callback (which was a great sign for me because I must have made an impression, whether bad or good). And, lucky me, I ended up getting cast!

About a week later, I received an e-mail from Katherine. She told me that Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company was doing an all female cast of Henry IV Part 1 and had an open spot that she told the director I would be really good for. Needless to say, I was ecstatic! I went out that day and bought Henry IV Part 1 and 2, did every Google search I could on the play, Shakespeare and Pigeon Creek. I went to my audition, shaking. I didn’t want to mess up my monologue and definitely didn’t want to make Katherine regret suggesting me to Scott Lange, the director. I made it through the audition in one piece and was offered a part. I kept my composure until I got to my car. I sat in my car for a good five minutes smiling and screaming and doing a little happy dance.

This whole experience has been incredible for me. This is the first time in about three years that I have done something other than an Aquinas show. It is the first time I’ve worked with a professional theatre group. It is the first time I have worked with Shakespeare outside of the classroom. It was my first time ever experiencing stage combat. It is the first time I have had to play my violin in a show. And I was also introduced to the wild and crazy world of Welsh.

I was the newbie in the group and also the youngest, which would intimidate most people. Now. I would love to sit here and say “but I’m not like most people.” That would be a lie. I was terrified. Here I am with all of these incredibly experienced people, hoping and praying I don’t mispronounce the word ‘zounds’ or ‘capon.’
After a few weeks of rehearsal, I opened up a lot more. Not only to everyone around me, but also to my characters. Poins is (how should I put this) energetic. I like to think that Poins doesn’t ever sleep. If he does, it is for about five minutes then he is out and about trolling the town and drinking lots and lots of Red Bull. He so badly wants to impress Hal and everyone around him. I can see how Falstaff might get annoyed with him and think that Poins made him drink medicines in order to love ‘the rogues company.’

Now from Poins to Lady Mortimer; what a transformation. Lady Mortimer has been actually a lot of fun. Without fail, someone always comes up to me after a performance and asks if what I’m saying is actually Welsh or if I make up the song. Yes, the Welsh is real. No, I do not make up the song. When I first got the Welsh, I went into a mini panic. How was I going to memorize this in three weeks, let alone a song? Scott helped me so much and I definitely credit him when it comes to the Welsh. Claire Mahave has also been a great help. She has made me so comfortable and we have really developed a nice love for Lord and Lady Mortimer outside of the sexual love they share.

Of course we can’t forget Vernon. It was fun to have three totally different characters to play around with. Vernon is still younger, like Poins, but he carries himself differently. He is learning all of these new things and tactics, yet still is a man. He has opinions and even though he is new to the rebel camp, he is still going to speak his mind. Even though he still believes in the rebel army, he can’t help but be in awe over Prince Hal, which has definitely been fun to play around with, and also equally as difficult.

I don’t think I can say thank you enough to the Pigeon Creek family. They really have welcomed me with open arms and totally accepted me. I am excited that this journey won’t be over once we close the show next weekend because working with this fantastic group of women has been an incredible experience. I feel as if a whole new world has opened up to me and it is all because of the people I’ve worked with on this production.

And if I haven’t said it enough…THANK YOU!

Kathleen Bode as King Henry IV

I have the first lines in this play.

That was a terrifying thought for me.

It is not the first time that I have said the opening lines of a show for Pigeon Creek, but this time it seemed so much more challenging. My physical presence, voice, and stage presence for this moment needed to be larger than life. It has to set the tone for the entire play and everything that follows (not to mention sum up Richard II). Yikes.

I began with my physical presence. As I have said before, this is my biggest challenge. I did a lot of work with making myself more grounded (i.e.: having a slightly wider stance, balancing myself more evenly on my feet, and moving like a guy.

I spent several weeks prior to rehearsals observing the physical movements of many of the guys I know, and taking note of how these movements were different from my own. Men and women move in different ways based on some basic, biological factors such as center of gravity, a difference in hip and shoulder widths, and of course…

But what really struck me as I observed the movements of men, were the many subtle differences in posture, gesture and facial reactions. Have you ever noticed how men fold their arms? Have you ever noticed how women do? I knew that, while I may not be able to change my stride, gait, or center of gravity to that of a man, I could make some changes to the more subtle movements that I had observed.

Next came the voice. With the past voice work I had done with Heather Folkvord, I was feeling good about where to start. I worked on focusing the energy of my voice to the lower registers and resonators. This is more than just talking in a lower voice. I had to allow my breathing and vocal chords to support my voice from deep within. It was wonderful to be able to explore the use of these full and robust sounds.

As for stage presence, that was a bit more difficult. I tried several different tactics for these opening moments, but none of them seemed to be working. The intentions I was trying to convey (i.e.: hope, civil peace, and a focused mission), were not ones that were reading well or fitting in with the tone of the rest of the play. It was when Scott Lange, our director, came to me and said, ‘You are commanding. Try demanding instead.’ that things really began to click for me.

With presence and voice all coming together, the moment finally came through with the strength, support and vigor that it so desperately needed.

So, shaken as we are,…