CSF concludes 2016 season with ‘Henry VI, Part 2’
Festival’s “original practices” production sells out for third year in a row
(Above: Benjamin Bonenfant as the title character in “Henry VI,” 2015. Photo by Jennifer M Koskinen.)
On Sunday, July 31, one week before the sun sets on the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 season, CSF’s entire acting ensemble will come together for a special sold-out, one-night-only performance of “Henry VI, Part 2.”
As part of a new and widely hailed tradition at CSF, the historical play will be performed with original practices in mind. That means the entire production will be rehearsed and performed as it was in the Bard’s time, with no amplification, no synthetic lighting and no full scripts for the actors.
Instead of the usual three weeks of rehearsal time, “We’ll rehearse it for only 20 hours, which we believe Shakespeare’s actors did,” says Director Geoffrey Kent. “The actors choreograph the show as they go. Our first run-through is our performance. Basically, it’s like driving down a curvy road blindfolded and hoping you turn in the right direction.”
In “Henry VI, Part 2,” Shakespeare writes with razor-sharp wit about the Wars of the Roses, the bloody, dramatic era that inspired the hit cable series “Game of Thrones.” It’s the second in a series of three plays exploring the long reign of England’s 15th-century king; CSF staged an original practices performance of “Part 1” last year.
“What’s so interesting about this play is that it’s not really about a handful of protagonists,” Kent says. “The audience gets to see two bickering sides at the beginning of a civil war without a clear view of who’s right or wrong. We’re really starting to see the wheels come off the cart as the English turn against each other.”
The plot is all the more compelling given its parallels to recent British politics. More than 600 years before the Brexit vote deeply divided the United Kingdom’s regions, towns and households, a decades-long battle for the throne completely upended English society, touching the lives of peasants, merchants and nobles alike.
Audience members may not know which team to root for, but at least they’ll know who’s on which team, Kent says.
“It’s a pretty dense play, and some of the actors are playing seven, eight or nine different characters,” he explains. “For the audience’s sake and for the actors’ sakes, we’re dressing characters in either red or white to show what side they’re on in the War of the Roses.”
Kent has also made the play more digestible by shrinking the cast and cutting its runtime by an hour—but almost everything else is historically accurate to a fault. Just like at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, CSF’s actors will be asked to memorize their lines with little advance notice and almost no context. Then, they’ll step into just five days of rehearsal before performing on the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre stage in front of 1,000 patrons.
Kent, who has acted in CSF’s original practices productions but hasn’t yet directed one, says he’s excited to step out of his comfort zone once again.
“In original practices, the director doesn’t play as active a role,” he says. “It’s really up to the actors to put this play together, and they have no time to second guess anything. I’m excited to see what they’ll do with it.”
He might be a little scared, too, given it’s almost guaranteed that a few actors will miss an entrance, yell “LINE!” to an onstage prompter or forget their own characters’ motives in Act 2. He remembers a poignant moment last year when, in the middle of the performance, he realized for the first time that his character was talking to his dying son.
“There’s no more real acting than that,” he says. “The audience is on a roller coaster ride right along with us, seeing a play the actors have just gotten their hands on.”
Kent says audience members shouldn’t be afraid to react loudly and vocally to what they see on stage, as patrons did on the ground floor of the Globe 400 years ago. He wants the crowd to feel as uninhibited by the thrill of the unknown as the actors do.
“It should feel a little bit like being a car mechanic and being told, ‘Now we’re going to build an engine inside out, and it’s going to be made of chocolate, and it’s going on the roof.’”
Tickets to “Henry VI, Part 2” are sold out. To join the waiting list, call the Box Office at (303) 492-8008.