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Author: Jill Kimball

‘Henry VI’ trilogy concludes CSF’s 2017 season

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival recounts England’s bloody history in a pair of ‘original practices’ performances.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 60th season concludes with two highly-anticipated original practices performances of “Henry VI, Part 3,” part of a history series that cemented William Shakespeare’s fame in the late 16th century.

This year marks CSF’s fourth season doing Shakespeare the way Shakespeare did Shakespeare. Imitating the Bard’s Globe Theatre troupe, festival actors rehearse for just 20 hours with scripts that only contain their characters’ lines and cues, pull together costumes and props from plays past, and perform in broad daylight. The tradition started in 2014 with a sold-out presentation of “Henry IV, Part 2;” this year, audiences can choose from two evening performances on Aug. 6 and 8.

Actor and director Kelsey Didion, who played Queen Margaret in the original practices production of “Henry VI, Part 2” last year, is thrilled and intimidated to make such an unusual CSF directing debut.

“It’s so rare and exciting to share something underrehearsed,” Didion says. “We’re accustomed to making shows that are polished and ready for the audience, so to act in something that’s inherently messy and alive is a joy. To direct something like that … it’s gonna take a lot of deep breathing.”

If you’re familiar with the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones,” which drew inspiration from both history and Shakespeare, you already know this plot. Two opposing family houses, the Yorks and the Lancastrians, are in an all-out war for the ultimate prize: the English throne. It’s a bloody tale of revenge, betrayal and heartbreak—and it’s based on real events that transpired 600 years ago.

“Shakespeare humanizes all these people we’ve read about in textbooks and gives them such shape and depth,” Didion says. “In this play, there’s no clear villain, no clear protagonist. Each character has a separate journey.”

That’s quite an accomplishment, given there are more than 40 characters in the play. Some CSF cast members will juggle up to six different roles to pull off the performances—a challenge Shakespeare’s troupe of actors at the Globe Theatre met time and time again.

“They were busy producing dozens of plays,” Didion says. “Their seasons were packed. When new material came in, they didn’t always have a ton of time together—they just got on the train and rolled with it.”

Back in Shakespeare’s time, there was no appointed director. The acting troupe was a democracy, deciding together what tone to strike (usually fast-paced and interactive, to appeal to a wide variety of audiences), which costumes to wear (most clothes were cast-offs from wealthy patrons) and how much rehearsal time they needed (usually very little and sometimes absolutely none).

Much of that applies to CSF’s original practices productions. Actors pick out their costumes from the festival’s existing wardrobe; they work collaboratively with Didion to make staging decisions; they speak directly to the audience, encouraging cheers and jeers; and they go into rehearsal with little knowledge of the play’s plot, only having seen their own lines.

“The actors get full creative control, so it’s their baby,” Didion says. “The scenes live or die based on their impulses and how much they’re willing to give, which is a really neat experiment.”

Another neat experiment? Sharing a set with CSF’s minimal “Julius Caesar.”

“Ancient Rome meets ‘Game of Thrones?’” Didion says, laughing. “We’ll make it work.”

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