Storytelling is the most ancient of arts. From the first time people could speak, they told stories. And I imagine even before they had words, they grunted and motioned in such a way to convey information and to caution or amuse.
Telling the story is the essence of making a play. And with Henry V, we are telling a story thrice removed. We are telling Shakespeare’s version of Henry’s story through the Chorus he has created. Dr. Susan Willis, the wonderful and brilliant dramaturge and teacher at Alabama Shakespeare Festival used to make us raise our right hands and take a pledge every time we read or saw a Shakespeare history play–that pledge was: “I will not learn history from Shakespeare.” The reason being, he was a story teller, not a historian. And as such, he never let history get in the way of a good story. In this play, Shakespeare pulls back the curtain completely and has The Chorus (me in this production) let everybody know that this is a play. It’s been roughly constructed and truncated. But the important thing is: King Harry was the biggest star this country has ever known!
I love interacting with the audience. On and offstage. Ducking in and out of the action as Chorus/Exeter gives me the chance to really connect with the crowd. I let them know that everything will be ok. I fill in the gaps with storytelling. I let them know that Harry is a Rockstar. Offstage I had several interesting conversations with audience members this week. One man came up to me and said: “So, this is pretty much just propaganda for Henry, right?” Another fella came up and was really impressed with how Shakespeare had written this play–that it starts with the sun and then the second half starts with the darkness. Partly this is my storytelling as the Chorus. On tour, I found that when I begin the play, the sun is usually right in my eyes. So, I use that to motivate my first line: “O, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.” Bemoaning that the muse I have to tell this story is far too small. But it is certainly possible that Shakespeare wrote it that way. In England there is only so much daylight in which to perform. And perhaps only those of us lucky enough to play this play outside have uncovered this secret code? Or maybe it’s just poetic and I’m reading into it. Either way, it was an astute acknowledgement by that fella. I also had a friend talk to me about the fight scenes. We had a very long conversation about it.
Here are my thoughts about fights: They are physical ways to tell story. I’m not super interested in tricks and speed in fights. I’ve seen lots of fights that are fast and have spectacle. And I can appreciate them for their vigor, but if they don’t tell story, I quickly lose interest. My whole goal as a fight choreographer is to tell story. The fights I make will always tell story and assist the super-objective of the play. I feel like I’ve been mostly successful in this production of telling story with the fights. At Harfleur, we have the slo-motion fight to assist Henry’s “Once more into the breach” speech. My hope is that the action is cool enough to catch the eye, but not so frantic as to distract from the speech. I certainly can watch it and let Henry’s words wash over me and see how by the end of the speech, the English overwhelm the French. But, so many people talking to me about the slo-mo fight makes me wonder if it is too interesting and takes focus. I hope not, because Jonathan is killing it in that speech. The battle of Agincourt starts off with me (as Chorus) saying “O for shame, we should much disgrace with four or five most vile and ragged foils..” And we see me and three other dudes firing arrows above Henry engaged in 1 on 3 combat. This was my chance to show what a badass he was with a sword, as he easily dispatches them. This leads to the latter part of the war when the boy (Olivia) is guarding the tents alone when the French come upon him and try to slaughter him. I have one of them easily knock him to the ground, but another come up to give the killing blow. But then the Duke of York runs in alone to save him. This continues the story of York being “framed to the firm truth of valor” as has been stated. They both fight valiantly, but die. And these deaths are the ones that we care about, as an audience. A boy, and a young Duke who is brave fighting off an army. When approaching all of these (and the silly leek fight) I don’t think about the attacks and parries really. I build them with the idea of continuing the story. And I’m really happy with them. Especially since other than Olivia and Aaron, I didn’t have any actors who would have claimed to be good fighters before we began this process. Now they all can say that they are.
Aaaaaaa! This blog is stretching on again, and I’m out of cookies to hand out for finishing. So I will bullet point some other things that happened this week:
-There was one more really interesting conversation I had with an audience member who either was off his meds, or on way too many about St. Crispin’s Day speech. He really wanted to hear it, but didn’t want to wait and kept begging me to do it. (Not my speech, dude).
-My heart went out to Jonathan in Whittier when at the beginning of St. Crispin’s Day an ice-cream truck decided to circle the park playing children’s songs very loudly. He soldiered on. And I think that kind of thing affects us more than the audience. They sort of tune it out, but we want to tell this story as best as we can, and sometimes the environment gets in the way.
-This was the hottest week of tour. Encino, South Pasadena, and Whittier are all located on the surface of the sun. The lovely people that brought us to Encino gave us cooling towels and fans and popsicles. It was very nice!
-Saturday morning I went to Little Fish to stage the fights for “The Lonesome West.” They are awesome and the show will be too!
-I had a lot of friends show up this week. It made me very happy! The best thing you can do for your friends is show up. Especially with the world like it is now. We all need our friends to show up and support us. I felt loved and taken care of. And I understand how life works. I can’t always show up either. But I try. And I really appreciate those who try.
Three more chances for you to show up!