“All things are ready, if our mind be so.” Henry 5 Act 4, Scene 3

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

January 27th through February 2nd was final dress rehearsal week for Brigham Young University’s production of Henry 5. Last Tuesday was what is called a designers’ rehearsal, when the designers come to watch the play and make notes for their final tweaks and preparations for opening night. The costume, sound, and prop designers were in attendance and will make sure in the next few days that their work is ready to accompany the cast into performances, which begin February 5th on tour and February 6th in the Nelke Theatre. Lighting will be added when the production moves from its rehearsal space to the Nelke.

John Valdez in BYU's Young Company production of HENRY 5.

John Valdez in BYU’s Young Company production of HENRY 5.

Unique to this particular designers’ rehearsal was that a class of sixth grade students from Wasatch Elementary also joined in as an audience for the play. This allowed the cast to rehearse their interactions and engagement with students, just as they will be doing in actual performances. Following the rehearsal/performance, director Megan Sanborn Jones asked the students to give the cast and crew some feedback about their experience with the play. From their comments it was clear that some of the favorite elements of this play for them were the rock music, the dancing, and the “serious Ninja skills”.

Thursday was a full dress rehearsal, with costumes and makeup added. The inclusion of these elements added a new dimension to the performances the actors were able to create, informing and enhancing their choices, and giving greater definition to the multiple characters each actor portrays.

Saturday was a complete run-through with a workshop rehearsal as well as another full dress. A few of BYU’s theatre students were invited to attend, as well as faculty members, who brought their children to the rehearsal to once again give the cast members an opportunity to practice interacting with students. The cast practiced leading children in playing the games and guiding the discussions which constitute the workshops that will precede the school tour performances.

BYU’s Young Company production of Henry 5 begins touring elementary schools on February 5th. The play opens in the Nelke Theatre at BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center on February 6th and runs through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

“Nice customs curtsy to great kings.” Henry 5 Act 5, Scene 2

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Brigham Young University’s Young Company production of Henry 5 will bring with it a different, but perhaps not wholly unusual cast. The title role of King Henry V is being played by Mackenzie Larsen, a pre-acting major. In fact, there are four women in the cast of seven, and only one female role in the script. All the women are playing male roles.

The cast of BYU's Henry 5.

The cast of BYU’s Young Company Production of HENRY 5.

Making a cross-gender casting choice in the title role of Henry 5 may come as a surprise to some theatre goers, but it is not without precedent. From the beginnings of professional English theatre in the 1560s to the closure of the theatres in 1642, boys were the performers of female roles in an age when it was considered unacceptable for women to act. Cross-gender casting (boys playing women) was therefore a familiar and acceptable practice, even an expectation, in Elizabethan theatre. However, women did not begin to appear on the stage in England until 1661, and when they did, they played women.

A lot has changed in the last 350 years. Casting women in male roles while reading the character’s gender as female is becoming a bit of a trend in theatre and film today. Fiona Shaw played the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard II in London in1996. While the production received initial mixed reviews (mostly because of casting Ms. Shaw as Richard), it did open up the idea that a woman could play a woman in a man’s role, rather than attempting to portray a male in the way boys portrayed females in Elizabethan theatre. For example, this idea was carried further when in 2010 Helen Mirren played Prospera in The Tempest, a decidedly female portrayal of the exiled sorcerer.

Mackenzie Larsen plays King Henry V in BYU's HENRY 5.

Mackenzie Larsen plays King Henry V in BYU’s HENRY 5.

The director of BYU’s production of Henry 5, Megan Sanborn Jones, stated that part of her decision to cast a female in the title role lay in the fact that “there are simply not enough great roles for women, particularly in Shakespeare.” She also found that she gained new insights into the role through this casting choice. It prompted a very particular way of adapting Shakespeare’s script into a 50-minute play.

When Mackenzie Larsen learned that the title role would be played by a female, she was excited. “I loved the idea of having a female put in such a position of power.” As she became more familiar with the script she found that some of the lines are about “manning up and being like a King.” Larsen states, “The way these lines read with a woman as Henry gives them new meaning and gives the audience new perspective. The factor of being a woman and trying to prove yourself to a bunch of men makes Henry’s story that much more inspiring.”

Larsen says she has found that one of the challenges in taking on this role has been actually playing Henry as a girl. But she has found that once she stopped worrying so much about making the part fit the way people expect it to be, and just allows herself to be in the moment, she overcomes those concerns. She says, “Being present is powerful enough.”

BYU’s Henry 5 opens February 6th and runs through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

“Let us…on your imaginary forces work.” Henry 5 Prologue, Act I

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The second week of rehearsals for BYU’s Henry 5 is completed, and the show is taking shape with an exciting look and sound that is unlike most Shakespeare plays.

The cast, directed by Megan Sanborn Jones, worked this week on incorporating movement from last semester’s Contemporary Performance Studies class into the play. The opening scene was developed on Thursday using viewpointing for blocking the cast’s interactions with each other and the audience as they present the prologue of the first act.  It will be a highly theatrical opening Shakespeare scene!

Henry 5 Movement rehearsal led by Dr. Jones

Henry 5 Movement rehearsal led by Dr. Jones

Another major element of the play is the sparseness of the set and props. This play will be a touring show, and from February through April the cast will travel to elementary schools twice a week across the Wasatch Front. The play is designed to be easily portable and able to be accommodated by a variety of school settings. Dr. Jones led the cast in exploring ways of using simple prop pieces of various sizes to represent all kinds of war implements and courtly decor. Four large square blocks serve as the only set pieces, and are being moved, stacked, and restacked by the cast in a variety of ways to create the many settings in which the play takes place.

The underscoring of the play is being designed by Michelle Ohumukini, who is bringing the sounds of rock bands, string quartets, indie-pop singers, and symphony orchestras to the play’s soundscape. The music of the play is an integral ingredient to the energy of the plot and its audience appeal. This is Shakespeare like you haven’t heard it before.

The on-BYU-campus performance of Henry 5 runs from February 6th through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

 

“I am Boy to them all.” Henry 5, Act III, Scene 2

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Live theatre is always an adventure. And this new year has provided a big one.

Rehearsals for Henry 5 began on the 8th of January, and began with quite a surprise. Due to some special circumstances, we had a cast member who had to relinquish her spot. Which means we were faced with the challenge of finding a replacement.

The difficulty in filling a newly opened role for this production lies in the fact that the play’s rehearsals are held from 8am to 2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays during January. Most students, of course, have classes during these times. With only about ten rehearsals on the schedule to prepare the play, a replacement needed to be found quickly. After some brainstorming and phone calls, a new cast member was located from among the list of last spring’s auditioners. Her talents are considerable, and her schedule was flexible enough to allow her to step right in during that first rehearsal!

We are happy to announce that Sarah Flinders will be taking the roles of the Bishop of Canterbury, the King of France, and the Boy. We wish her, and the entire cast, great luck as they prepare to present BYU’s Young Company Production of Henry 5!

“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.” Henry 5, 3.1

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

For more than 30,000 students at Brigham Young University, the last class lectures of the semester have been given, the last papers handed in, and the final exams completed. Everyone is settling in for a restful Christmas break. Everyone, that is, but seven young men and women who make up the cast of BYU’s Young Company production of Henry 5.

During finals week, rather than take a test for TMA 401, the cast from that class and some of the staff of Henry 5 met with director Megan Sanborn Jones to read through the script. During the reading such things were discussed as characterizations; meanings of particular words, lines, or segments; historical setting and implications; and music selections.

The cast was given the exciting but daunting task of being completely memorized when they return to classes next January. The requirement assigned by the director is that the cast be “book out of hand”, meaning the members of the cast will not have their scripts available to them when they begin rehearsals next month. Since there will be only four weeks of two to three rehearsals a week, this is a necessary requirement.

During the second half of this meeting, the cast put their scripts aside and got on their feet. Dr. Jones directed them in creating a movement piece that will be used in the play to depict King Henry and his army crossing the English Channel to the war with France. The cast left the rehearsal anxious to put their lines to memory, and excited to return in January to the rehearsal process.