Entries tagged with “Henry IV Part I”.

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,…

Sarah Stark as Worcester

I have to be honest. My favorite aspect of Henry IV Part 1, has been the chance to play a man. It is neither the first time, nor the last that I will do so, I am sure. It is an intriguing challenge, to take a history so swollen with testosterone and physical combat and place it in the delicate hands of an all female cast. As a female actress, the question of how you are to represent a man is a tricky one. In my character preparation, I found my mind racing through my personal history with men. It was easy for me to fall into the trap of creating a stereotypical imitation of masculinity (i.e.: a wide-legged walk, a deep voice, and a bit of a confident swagger.) However, as I explored the character of Worcester I found he could not be pinned into the “High School Quarterback” type of man. Rather, he was a deeply bitter man obsessed with political machinations and willing to manipulate others even at the cost of their lives. A type of man, thankfully, I have never encountered.

Herein lies the beauty of Shakespeare. Every nuance of your role is provided in the text. You simply have to look hard enough. I typically begin my character work by slowly reciting my lines until I begin to apprehend the rhythmic exchange between every single consonant and vowel. Consonants convey energy and force as they halt or explode the breath, while vowels stream and poof air, giving them a more emotional quality.

The first thing I noticed about Worcester was how poetic his language is. A bit unusual for a man, I thought. The second thing was how many vowels he utilized. Initially, I imagined his powers of manipulation would reside in force, which would merit a more consonant-heavy speech pattern. He chose vowels, however, and shaped them to frame his purposes with a nice, emotional gilt.

Touching on acting centers of the body, I began to realize that he was head-lead, occasionally dipping into the gut and groin when glimpses of his terrible rage surfaced. His thoughts were too cohesive and slick to not be planned. As rehearsals progressed more evidence unfolded for me. For example, in a crucial scene of political negotiation, Worcester – the highest-ranking rebel present – allows Hotspur to address Blunt, the Kings’ noble messenger. Another signal appeared to me in the fact that he was not portrayed in combat at the end, rather we, the audience, witness his capture. Initially, I envisioned him as a man of brute force but the text lead me to see a slicker, stealthier rebel; a mad, mastermind unflinching in the pursuit of his retribution, allowing the thoughts and actions of others to be his tools. The image of a rattlesnake arose in my mind.

As vicious and animalistic as Worcester seemed, the fact of the matter was that his anger and abuse of others stemmed from pain. The desire to avoid pain is a universal human motivation, transcending the matter of gender. On a pure level, Worcester had a wounded spirit, believing that love and acceptance have been denied and refused to him. In his mind, love was worth fighting for, even if it involved all of England with a bit of help from the Scots. Cueing into this very human and familiar desire does a world’s worth more then any analytical conception of masculinity. Perhaps, that is the most powerful aspect of an all-female cast for Henry IV, Part 1; the discovery that gender is merely a term, which seems to separate human beings. In reality, the natural desire of our hearts proves that we are all ultimately connected.

Katherine Mayberry as Hotspur

Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 is one of his most brilliantly structured plays. Like many of his comedies, this history follows parallel plots which move towards each other, finally coming together in act 5 and climaxing in the battlefield face-off between Hal and Hotspur. One plot is the story of Hal’s personal rebellion against his father, his friendship with Fallstaff, and his ultimate reformation. The other plot is what I like to call The Tragedy of Hotspur.

Of course, every actor wants to think the play is all about her own character, but I also say this because Hotspur functions in many ways like Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. He has multiple chances to avert his tragic ending, and makes choices which bring about his own destruction. He doesn’t turn over his prisoners to the king, he plots rebellion, he refuses to back down when his father doesn’t show up to the fight, he insists on beginning the fight against the advice of the other rebel leaders, and he rejects the king’s offer of clemency carried by Sir Walter Blunt (although Worcester does manipulate this response a little bit). He is determined to run headlong towards the clash with Hal.

The trap of playing Hotspur is that it would be easy to just play “angry” for 2 1/2 hours, and I have no desire to scream my head off for the entire play, nor do I want audiences to have to sit through that, so in rehearsals, I have focused on finding the variety in the character.

Shakespeare’s text actually shows a lot of depth and variety in Hotspur. He isn’t a villain, but a foil to Hal, who even calls him “my factor.” Whenever I read the play, I have to confess, I’m a little bit in love with Hotspur. I think it’s the sarcastic sense of humor. I greatly enjoy playing the comedy in act 3, scene 1, in which Hotspur encounters Owen Glendower, the Welsh warlord who claims that he “can call spirits from the vasty deep.” Hotspur’s response, “Why so can I, or so can any man,/But will they come when you do call for them?” is a perfect example of the wry and sardonic humor that he uses throughout the play.

Shakespeare also does the actor playing Hotspur a great favor by putting a scene of his domestic life on stage. The scene with Lady Percy doesn’t advance the play’s plot at all. It offers a glimpse into the characters’ personal relationship, and Amy McFadden and I have tried to create an image of a passionate marriage. The scene involves a confrontation in which Lady Percy demands to know what has been preoccupying her husband, and he refuses to tell her. This scene has been one of the hardest for me to play in terms of being a female actor playing a male character, because there are some ways in which Hotspur is being a real jerk. He ignores his wife’s pleas for information and calls in a servant to get out of the conversation. When Lady Percy persists in her questions, he explodes and tells her “I love thee not.” What he is trying to do, in a clumsy way, is to protect her. He has been plotting a rebellion against the king, which is treason. His plot would put Lady Percy’s brother, Edmund Mortimer, on the throne. If Lady Percy knows anything about the plot, she too is guilty of treason. She is safer if she doesn’t have any information. The scene presents Hotspur handling this situation badly, a nice flawed, human moment.

Another moment that I feel is crucial to the character’s depth is the moment when Hotspur receives the letter from his father Northumberland which says that Northumberland is not bringing his army to fight against the king because he is “sick.” I try to imagine the punch in the gut Hotspur must feel when reading this letter. Essentially, Northumberland is willing to abandon his son to a traitor’s death rather than bring his army to fight against the king. From Hotspur’s point of view, Northumberland is pretending to be sick so that he can see which way the initial battle goes before deciding which side he will be on. At this point in the play, Hotspur has committed his treasonous plots to paper and raised an army. There are only three possibilities for him: kill both the king and Hal in battle, die on the battlefield, or be executed for treason. I have tried to have these realizations within the scene. This scene is Hotspur’s one moment of hesitation and fear. He initially reacts to Northumberland’s absence as “A perilous gash, a very limb lopped off,” but then insists to Douglas and Worcester that their forces are enough to take on the king. He responds to his own fear and feelings of betrayal with bravado, using his habitual cockiness to convince not only the other rebel leaders, but also himself.

From this point on, Hotspur is moving inexorably towards his confrontation with Hal, rejecting any possible means of avoiding it, because he has something to prove. He is no longer sensible to reason, but driven by his anger at the king, and his disgust for the “sword and buckler Prince of Wales” who holds an exalted position in spite of his “libertine” life and lack of accomplishment. Our fight choreographer, Michael Empson, has created a combat sequence that makes an excellent contribution to the story as well, with Hotspur so blinded by rage that he tries to kill Hal with his bare hands. I hope audiences will enjoy seeing this production as much as we enjoy performing it.

Amy McFadden as Douglas, Lady Percy, Lancaster et al.

What is the difference between men and women? I mean other than the usual bath towel inventory, matching sets of lingerie vs. boxers or briefs and how excited we get when a baby who does not share our DNA is born. I am generalizing, maybe even sex-role stereotyping, but when you have a group of females telling a male-dominated history riddled with political alliances and vicious battles, differences must be considered. And overcome.

Physicalization is one of the primary jobs of actors playing any role. Many of us have been taught to “strip” ourselves of all habit, stance, stride and facial expressions that are “ours”-our “real life” physicalization. That is NOT an easy job, as these things are subconscious and deeply embedded. One leg up women have over men in this process is that we have to learn to walk in different heights of shoes and lengths of skirts, so we tend to have some experience in consciously changing our posture, gait and strategy for sitting with decorum.

When the casting for Henry IV, Part I was announced, I was relieved to be playing Lady Percy and four male roles including the Scot, Archibald Douglas. I figured I’d be wearing a skirt for at least two of my five characters! As for the rest of the work, I got some fundamental advice from one of our well-trained actresses : “Just figure out right now how big each of your male character’s penis is and everything else will fall into place.” Sound advice. Especially when I discovered in my research that The Douglas lost a testicle in battle against the English. His stance now shifts lighter on the left.

Fast forward six weeks. Opening night I was standing backstage, ready to enter as Lady Percy (the only female character I play) and realized that after a month and a half of preparing to play mostly male characters, I actually felt uncomfortable in my skirt. Ha! I shot a quick “thank you” to the theatre gods that The Douglas ended up in pants instead of a kilt, opened the curtain and entered, hoping I didn’t have visible panty-lines.

Kat Hermes as Falstaff

I was having drinks with some of my fellow PCSC actors recently, and we confessed that we all imagine that the play we are working on is mostly about the character we are playing (however large or small our part in any given production.) Sometimes, this requires considerable effort and mental re-writing. When I played the lead in The Magical History of Thaisa (otherwise known as Pericles), I spent most of my stage time unconscious and most of the play offstage. And in our spring production of The Frat Boys of Venice, the real story was continually interrupted by all that nonsense about the pound of flesh.

This time, playing Falstaff, I am for once not alone in my opinion that the play is entirely about me. I have a great deal of scholarship and stage history on my side. In Shakespeare; The Invention of the Human, critic Harold Bloom devotes the entirety of his 43-page-long chapter on the Henry IV plays to Falstaff. Conflations of the two parts of Henry IV, such as Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, often focus on Falstaff as the central character. He has been the subject of an opera by Verdi and a novel by Robert Nye. He was so beloved by Shakespeare’s audience, and anecdotaly by Queen Elizabeth I herself, that he earned his own spin-off play, The Merry Wives of Windsor (which ended Pigeon Creek’s 2010 season).

An actor tackling one of Shakespeare’s great roles always gets asked what it is like to feel the weight of all that scholarly opinion (not to mention all of the great actors who’ve famously played the role before) on his or her shoulders. How do you prepare to inhabit one of the most beloved characters in Western literature? For me, the answer is, exactly the way I prepare for any other role. The difference being that this time it is likely that there will be people in the audience who care about the character as much as I do.

There is also the fact that this particular role is one that I’ve dreamed of playing almost as long as I’ve been acting and reading Shakespeare. Because I’ve been thinking about Falstaff for years, I came into rehearsal knowing a lot more about the character than I usually do. I’m sure seasoned theater-goers like our blog readers will not be surprised to learn that many important discoveries about character and story are made in the bar, and before the rehearsal processes even started, I’d had many long, drink-fueled conversations with the director and other actors about what my Falstaff would be.

So for me, this process as has been less about finding the character in rehearsal (though of course, there are many, many exciting discoveries still to be made there) and more about finding ways to translate the Falstaff that lives in my head onto the stage. I’ve written before, in previous actor blogs, about the challenges of playing male characters and of playing characters who are much older than I am, and I’m sure other actors in our production will have their own insights to share with you about those things. With all those physical and technical challenges in the background, my focus is on living up to all of the nuance and grandiosity of Falstaff’s language, on sharing all of the things about the character that I love in a way that helps the audience to love them, too.