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.