The Villain Protagonist, in Richard III and Beyond

Richard III is one of the most classic examples of a fictional work that features a villain as its main character.  In this guest blog entry, Smith Street Stage assistant Jeremy Harris explains the impact Shakespeare’s writing has had on modern villain protagonists like those in “House of Cards” or “Breaking Bad,” and takes a look at how artistic ideas change and grow over time.

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Artist Q&A: Finding Drama in the Quiet Moments with Joe Jung and Jessi Blue Gormezano.

With performances just DAYS away for The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes to talk to the collaborators about their process.

Today we hear from Joe Jung and Jessi Blue Gormezano about their piece, “It Worked!”, which Jessi wrote and Joe is directing with actor Michael Irish.

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Michael Irish* rehearses “It Worked!”, written by Jessi Blue Gormezano and directed by Joe Jung.

Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point?

Jessi Gormezano: The moment after Dr. Frankenstein achieves success and brings life into his creature.

SSS: Do you have a favorite line or image from that section?

JG: I love the moment when the creature’s eye opens for the first time.

Joe Jung: One eye opens and the whole world changes.

SSS: What about that particular line/chapter/scene inspired you?

JG: In the film that moment is HUGE!

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Jessi Blue Gormezano

Lighting and thunder and Dr. Frankenstein howling, “It’s alive!”  I was really surprised by how small and intimate the arrival of the creature’s animation is in the book.  In fact, I think that’s one of the moments that Beth Ann [Smith Street Stage Artistic Director, Beth Ann Hopkins] talked about when she first shared her idea for The Frankenstein Project. I guess it stuck with me!

JJ: Me too. The unexpected simplicity and fragility of Frankenstein’s mental state in this moment is extraordinarily human. Who hasn’t been filled with doubt at a moment of great achievement?

 

SSS: How did you approach the task of “re-imagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

JG: Joe and I took that very small, yet pivotal moment of the Doctor witnessing life appear in the creature and imagined what might have been running through his head.  It was also really striking to us that once life emerges in the creature, the Doctor doesn’t celebrate – he immediately runs in a closet and hides! That completely unexpected response – directly following a possibly grotesque or beautiful moment – was fun for us to explore.

JJ: I’m fascinated by Frankenstein’s internal world at this moment, the moment when he realizes that for months he had all the answers.

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Joe Jung

He knew how to give life, it was just a matter of time and effort. He struggles putting the body together but knows exactly what to do to succeed. Then the creature awakens and Frankenstein is flooded with self-doubt and questions. What does that do to a scientist? Where does his mind go?

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

JG: What you set out to write may end up being dramatically different then what you end up creating – I love that.

JJ: The notion that we as artists, along with the audience, get to experience this journey for the very first time.

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Jessi Gormezano is a writer, producer, and casting director. She is the writer of an original commissioned work called Remarkably Normal, and has been the producer of OUR BAR since 2009, a monthly site-specific show created with Project: Theater. As a casting director she has worked recently with The Gallery Players and The Pearl Theater. She is the Associate Artistic Director of Project:Theater.

Joe Jung is an actor, director, and musician. He performed in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (The Public Theater/Broadway) and Unity:1918 (Gene Frankel Theatre). He has performed his music at Joe’s Pub among other venues. Joe is the Artistic Director of Project:Theater, where he directed Ken Ferrigni’s Mangella in 2011 and OCCUPATION in 2013.

Get your tickets to see “It Worked!” by Jessi Gormezano, directed by Joe Jung and featuring Michael Irish* as part of The Frankenstein Project by clicking here.

*Appearing courtesy of AEA

An Artist Q&A: Re-Discovering Mary Shelley’s Text with Noel MacDuffie

With less than a week left until performances of The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes of our artists’ time to ask them about their creative process!

Today we hear from Noel MacDuffie, a director and choreographer whose piece “Monster and Maker” will feature performers Courtney Salvage and Alexandra Slater in an exploration of text and movement.

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Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point? Do you have a favorite line or image from that section that started inspiring your work?

Noel MacDuffie: I am very interested in the monster’s story of how he tried many times to show the world his good intentions but is brutally rejected based on how he looks.  Mary Shelly was inspired by her father’s idea that humans teach each other to be good.  But her life leading up to writing Frankenstein had been hard, and she postulated that we humans also teach each other to be bad. This idea is illustrated in the monster’s experience.

6376-to-emailAs I had never read the book before, I was struck by how articulate the monster was and the poignancy of his story. I realized I had to explore this.  I am actually starting with the scene when Frankenstein and his monster first speak and then progressing into the monster’s story.

One somewhat unlikely image stood to me from this scene.  Frankenstein notes that his creation moves with incredible ease and possesses great strength.  How unlike the movie versions of a awkward, clumping monster.  I explore that ease and that strength in my section.

SSS: How did you approach the task of “reimagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

NM: I started with the actual text – because while the language is heightened it is quite beautiful.  I am not a writer, but I am a good editor, and I worked hard to get down to essential material.

Once that was accomplished, I wanted to be sure that the text was really heard.  I felt that tilting the playing field was essential to help people experience the work without comparing it to what they already know (the films). So I messed with casting, I delved deep into movement, and I presented some material more then once.  The goal was always to allow this lesser known part of the story to be experienced.

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

NM: I am driven to understand and explore human relationships.  I want to know why and how we try to become better people, and why and how the definition of better can be so different for each of us.

I am interested in the balance between heart and head, emotion and intellect. I want theater to make me feel something, but also I want it to make me think.

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Noel MacDuffie is a director and choreographer. He has choreographed and directed 3 full-length theatrical dance works (The Snow Queen – with aerialist Angela Jones, Soul Descending, and 3 am,  89°, no wind) as well as over 30 shorter works.  He danced professionally with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Nancy Hauser Dance Company among others.

Get your tickets to The Frankenstein Project here to see Noel’s work!

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An Artist Q &A: Bringing Frankenstein’s Monster Into Today’s Political World with Joby Earle & Charise Castro Smith

With only a week left until performances of The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes of our artists’ time to ask them about their creative process!
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Today we hear from Joby Earle and Charise Castro Smith about their piece “The Girl Waiting for the Train” and how their piece was inspired by Chapters XIII—XV in the novel Frankenstein, several scenes in which the monster learns language and attempts to make contact with fellow humans, only to be rejected because of his monstrous appearance.
Enjoy reading about the thoughtful and very modern re-interpretation written and directed by Joby and performed by Charise, and don’t forget to get tickets to The Frankenstein Project by clicking here!
Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point? Do you have a favorite line or image from that section?

 

Joby Earle and Charise Castro Smith:

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Joby Earle

We are responding to the section of the story where the creature tells the story of how he learned how to speak. We found it interesting how it seemed the creature was inherently good to begin with and learned hate, rejection, and bitterness from people. An image that has stuck with us is the moment when the blind man’s family comes back in during the creature’s conversation with him and, after taking one look at him, scream and try to attack him. It’s heartbreaking.

SSS: What about that particular line/chapter/scene inspired you?

JE & CCS: I don’t think we take enough time to consider how we learn things like language, communication, bias, and difference. We grow up like sponges and it isn’t until later that we can consider where these things came from and how they were created. The creature is different. He is in a position to be able to learn the building blocks of interaction, while also having an awareness of their larger ramifications and lessons. On top of that, right after he learns them, he is rejected by his teachers.

 

SSS: How did you approach the task of “re-imagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

 

JE & CCS: In creating our piece, we focused on the situations that are happening in our world today that feel akin to themes in the book.

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Charise Castro Smith

As the book progressed, I found myself thinking about the migrant crisis our world is facing (or not facing). By many metrics, it can be said that actions our country took over the last 20 years led to the creation of this problem, and now it seems like we can’t face it, in many respects don’t even want to admit that it is happening, especially in the size and scope in which it continues. We are spurning something we had a hand in creating. So we took that idea and began to imagine a woman waiting at a train station being shipped off somewhere out of sight.

 

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

JE & CCS: Creating new work forces you to look at what’s come before, what’s going on right now, and respond to it. It makes you figure out what your stance is, and then try to articulate that into what you hope to be an engaging piece of theater.

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Joby Earle is an actor whose work has been seen on Broadway in War Horse, as well as in Familiar (Playwright’s Horizons), The Tempest (ART/South Coast Rep), and multiple productions at Yale Repertory Theater. He is also a member of the Artistic Board of Smith Street Stage.

Charise Castro Smith is a playwright, television writer and actor. As an actress she appeared in Antony and Cleopatra (RSC/The Public Theater) and on The Good Wife (CBS). Her plays have appeared at the Goodman Theater, Soho Rep, Ars Nova, The Actor’s Theater of Louisville, and Trinity Rep among others.

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From Sketch Comedy to Shakespeare – An interview with cast member Jonathan Minton

Jonathan Minton

With rehearsals underway, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Our next interview is with Jonathan Minton, an actor and sketch comedian from Alaska who is making his Smith Street Stage debut in the roles of Worcester and Chief Justice.

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How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

I really don’t know when I started getting into acting. My mom tells stories about when we moved to Alaska and I threw a big fit about how I wasn’t going to be a famous actor if I wasn’t anywhere near New York… And I was six years old at the time. My dad used to take me to Shakespeare plays when I would visit him in the summer, and my mom would enroll me in theatre classes growing up. So certainly as I got older I started to see that acting was a viable career option.

And not only did you see lots of Shakespeare as a kid, but performing in Shakespeare’s plays has been a big part of your career.

Yeah, that sort of happened by accident. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. I got into A Comedy of Errors with Hudson Warehouse and then I ended up working with them for their entire summer season. And it just sort of escalated, one Shakespeare production after another. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done maybe two contemporary plays, and all the others have been Shakespeare, which is awesome, but a total accident.

Do you have any favorite Shakespeare plays or roles that you’ve worked on?

I got to play Oberon [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream] last spring with Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, which was a lot of fun. Especially Titania and I, we were on stilts for the performance, and it was an educational tour, so we were doing these stilt performances on a whole bunch of varying-degrees-of-quality stages. And it’s an awesome character. And also York in Henry VI, actually, who is just a total badass.

And this is your first show with Smith Street Stage, right? It is, yeah. So how did you get connected to the company?

Backstage [Magazine]. I was perusing, looking for auditions that I could submit for, and I recognized the name. I’d seen the company name all over the place and I know people who have worked with them. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he was like, “Oh my god, it’s fantastic!” So it seemed like a good play to throw my hat in the ring for.

Is there anything you find especially challenging or exciting about working on Shakespeare?

I think the challenge and the excitement of it sort of go hand in hand. It’s not contemporary speech by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t want to say it’s difficult, but it is a task, getting used to the language and the rhythm. And getting used to the fact that sometimes the rhythm of the language will change from scene to scene or even from character to character. But once you latch onto that poetry and once you latch onto that same rhythm again, it’s this transportive, almost transcendent thing, when you actually do connect with the language and with the characters and the thoughts. It’s very operatic, the way he writes some of his speeches and some of his characters. Or I guess the opera is very Shakespearean in that way. There’s no façade, there’s no putting on airs, it’s all genuinely what the character is thinking and what they’re feeling. It’s the only way they know how to express what they’re thinking or feeling at the moment. It’s incredibly beautiful.

You’ve also done some sketch comedy. Has that affected your Shakespearean acting in any way?

It has a little bit. When you’re going into an audition like the Smith Street Stage audition, which is one of my favorite auditions I’ve ever had, there was that encouraging atmosphere to just throw yourself entirely into the piece that you’re doing and have fun with it. And when you do sketch comedy, you have no choice but to throw yourself a hundred, a hundred and ten percent into it and make yourself look like a jackass. If you don’t look like a jackass, you’re doing something wrong. And especially with a Shakespeare audition, having that willingness to just say, all right, I’m going to make this funny face when I say this, and for this reason. Acting is just one giant machine that has different parts that need to be oiled – an upgrade on one part of the software will really branch out and assist with another part of the software.

Are there any actors or directors who have been an influence on your work?

John Cameron Mitchell and John Lithgow. I’ve admired Lithgow’s comedic work since I was a kid (I used to be able to quote any given episode of “3rd Rock From The Sun”), and Mitchell changed my life with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this larger than life myth of a character that he willed into existence, and has taken on its own life. And they both seem like they’d be a lot of fun to just sit and talk with. And I had a high school acting and drama teacher, Susan Wingrove – she had the patience of a saint, teaching acting for a high school. She was pretty inspiring.

Learning by Watching Others – An interview with cast member Hannah Sloat

With rehearsals underway, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Next in our series is Hannah Sloat, who is taking on the role of Prince Hal in her Smith Street Stage debut. Hannah is a classical actress from Durham, NH and an original cast member of Broadway’s War Horse.

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Can you tell me about how you got into theatre and acting?

There’s a story that my mother tells, from when I was five. I was at an outdoor theatre performance of Peter and the Wolf and I was looking up at the stage and I said, “I want to be there; I want to do that.” I was somewhat performative as a kid – I guess many of us are – but I was an only child, and I did a lot of imagination play by myself and I really enjoyed that. I ended up doing the school plays in the third and fourth grade and I joined this children’s theatre group when I was in the sixth grade, and then I really didn’t look back. I was in that group through the end of high school and I did a lot of plays with them. I had brief instances where I thought I might be a teacher or a gymnast, but neither of those happened.

This is your first show with Smith Street Stage, right?

It is, yeah. I had the good fortune of seeing Much Ado About Nothing last year. I had a couple of friends in the show, and I loved the show, I loved the atmosphere, I loved the mix of people who come with their blankets and have clearly planned to be there and have ordered a pizza or brought a picnic, and that combined with people that stop by and are just sucked into the world of the show for maybe fifteen minutes or maybe they stay for the whole thing. I loved that combination.

What sort of experience do you have doing Shakespeare?

A lot of what I’ve done in the city has been Shakespeare with small, independent companies. It’s been a while since I’ve done one – my last one was before I did War Horse, which was in 2010. So it’s been several years since I’ve done one.

So what are you doing to get back into doing Shakespeare, and the role of Prince Hal in particular?

I actually just started getting help from my boyfriend. He’s helping me to work out, lifting weights, which is not something that I often do. It’s sort of a twofold, cardio and weightlifting for the lungs and the overall capacity to be in such a big space and be open and free and have the core and the base to do that. I’m really excited to be fighting in this show. It’s been a while since I’ve been fighting with swords regularly and so I want to have the muscles to do it and be not nervous, but excited about doing it night after night.

And of course you’ve been cast as a man for this production. Are you doing anything special to prepare for that?

I talked with Joby somewhat recently about where we both were at in terms of our thinking about the role and the show. For me – and I think we’re on the same page here – the idea of Prince Hal as this human being, and one of his characteristics is that he’s a man. There are many things that I connect with Hal about, besides the gender part, like the idea of wanting something and really not wanting it at the same time. He has these big questions about what it means to have something like the kingship given to you but also needing to earn it, and earn the respect to be the king and have people want to follow you. Especially at this time, with his father having risen up and taken the crown, his footing isn’t that sure. In some ways it seems like it’s inevitable and at the same time a lot of what the plays are about is the rockiness and unevenness of it. And so I feel like, in a certain way the gender doesn’t scare me too much. I also think that it’s about relationship. And so I have to be with Falstaff as man to man, and what that relationship means – as long as it’s clear and it doesn’t feel like Falstaff hanging out with one of the bar wenches, which would be so different obviously. For me, it has more to do with understanding the relationship, and gender obviously plays a big part in the way that different people behave toward one another. Coming at it from that angle makes it the most concrete without making it about having to put on a whole bunch of false physicality. I’m not so worried about that right now, I think that those things will hopefully be able to come through the exploration of these relationships.

Are there any actors or directors who have been a particular influence on your work?

Joby and I were talking about influences on the characters and maybe taking a look at other films and other people playing this role. And he said, “Don’t do it if it’s going to mess you up,” but I had this experience in the children’s theatre company where at each show you would have a different person playing the lead role because there were so many kids. My director didn’t want twenty-five kids to sit around while four of them got to do the fun stuff. So when we did The Wizard of Oz, there were four Dorothys, there were four Wicked Witches, there were four Good Witches and so you didn’t get to rehearse the scenes all the time. You spent seventy-five percent of the time watching other people do it, which was really an amazing way to learn, because you’re able to do that thing that actors talk about a lot – we beg, borrow, and steal from wherever we can. And it gave me such a sense of how much perspective and how much talent there is, even in little Durham, New Hampshire there is so much that you can see.

“It’s about time for gender-blind casting.” – An interview with cast member and Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins.

With rehearsals underway, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Our next interview is with Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins, who will be playing the roles of Bardolph, Douglas, and Warwick.

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Can you tell me about how you got involved in theatre and acting?

It’s kind of a funny story. My parents are both teachers and part-time magicians, so when I was a little kid they’d put me in their shows. When I got a little older, a little bigger, I was too old to do that kind of thing, so I started to seek out theatre on my own. I always loved singing and being on stage. And then when I graduated high school, I just knew it was what I wanted to pursue. So I went to the University of Connecticut to study there, and came right to New York after that.

You’ve done lots of Shakespeare, but a lot of other plays as well. What is particularly challenging or exciting about working on a Shakespeare play?

It’s poetry; it’s not just two people having a discussion. There’s so much to each conversation. There’s never been a Shakespearean play or a part where I’ve just been like, nah, I guess I’m done with that, I’ve nailed that, now on to the next thing. There’s always more that you can learn about these characters.

You’re one of the founders of Smith Street Stage. Can you tell us about how the company came together?

We started with a four-person production of Romeo and Juliet that we had done out in New Jersey. At the time, I had just moved into an apartment in Carroll Gardens and really fell in love with the neighborhood. I wasn’t done with Romeo and Juliet and I really wanted a place to do it, and I just felt so grateful to this new neighborhood that had just welcomed me with open arms that I wanted to give something back to the community. I wasn’t really sure if we were going to stay; I wasn’t sure if we had the right place or if they were even going to want us. But it was just kind of a little gift, a little thank you for welcoming me to the community. And they did, people came. It was fantastic. It’s funny, we started the company with the idea that it was going to be one show and then we’d see if we wanted to do more. But then Jonathan and I never had to question if we wanted to do one more or not – we just started planning for the next year. We never had the “should we not or should we” conversation; it was obvious that we should. It felt like the right time and the right place.

And one of the things the company is doing this year is the gender-blind casting.

I love it. I’m so excited. I was just like, it’s about time, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. We’ve kind of played around with it here and there in other productions. Even in our first production I played a man and Jonathan played a woman, so there was that kind of back-and-forth. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Shakespeare, he will always be one of my favorites, but man, he wrote a lot of guy parts. And it’s really frustrating to have all these amazing women come in that I can’t use. I want people to come in with an open mind that there is a possibility that women can play these parts just as well. Look at what Sarah [Dacey Charles] did with Julius Caesar [at Smith Street Stage in 2013]. We were taking a big risk, and now I can’t imagine it any other way. And this year both the king and the king’s son will be played by women. I’d say that’s a really exciting idea that will open other people’s minds to the fact that, why don’t more people cast their shows like this.

As one of the actors who has been cast as the opposite gender, do you feel like there’s anything special you need to do to prepare for this particular role?

I’ve done this a couple times before, but never anything like this play. It’s always a challenge, it’s always something completely new, but that’s part of what’s exciting about it. It’s not like I can go back and refer to all the women who have played Bardolph and Douglas before. I get to make it my own. It turns me on, and it scares me too, in a good way. But Joby I think is going to be a great leader with that.

Even though you don’t have previous female Bardolphs or Douglases to refer to, are there other actors or directors who have particularly influenced you?

I just saw a production of The Iceman Cometh and it just kind of, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane and that whole entire cast just reawakened my joy for theatre in such a great way. I love when that happens. And Mark Rylance is definitely an influence. I’ve seen him a couple of times on stage, including Jerusalem a few years back. He was just so brave, and so ready to fail. And I think that’s something I want to do. I want to be ready to fail, because if you’re not ready to fail, then I don’t think you’re going to be able to really explore deep enough to come up with something that fresh and new. Otherwise, for me, it’s just going to feel like I’m copying someone else’s work. But this comes from me, and that’s what’s going to make it original and beautiful.

Shakespeare? I Bardly Recognized You!

by Carolyn Becker

IMG_5885The man may have written these plays hundreds of years ago but somehow he still manages to pop up in our lives everywhere, and sometimes in ways that are not as obvious as a nose on a man’s face. From stolen plot lines, to characters, to themes, to quotes Shakespeare’s plays constantly influence our favorite cultural staples without us even realizing it. But, truth will out!

I won’t leave you with bated breath, so without much ado here are my favorite films that referenced Henry IV without me realizing it!

1)   Monty Python and The Holy Grail- The ultimate edition

In true Monty Python form, in their ultimate edition they have an option where you can watch the film “With Subtitles for people who don’t like the film”. Instead of actual lines from the movie being written, the subtitles are exclusively text from Henry IV Part 2.Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. The Shakespeare quotes chosen may appear random, but they are chosen specifically to try to tell the story.

http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/2008/11/shakespearean-subtitles.html

2)   The Queen

Helen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth II quoting Henry IV? This is such stuff as dreams are made on!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIvESE9A_gc

3)   The Departed

In Martin Scorsese’s film, he has Jack Nicholson’s character actually misquote the line, but that’s neither here nor there because the meaning and sentiment behind it are the same. Even though the character did not know it, Shakespeare influenced his life!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8xT_afGr-c

4) My Own Private Idaho

This film is a modern reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V plays. And, for goodness sake, it’s starring Keanu Reaves and River Phoenix!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQbq2kl-P-4

Now, as good luck would have it, I have two more little treats for you. Neither one fell under the category of “surprising reference to Shakespeare” but they are both delightful and Henry IV themed and in my heart of hearts I couldn’t resist.

 Orson Welles Film “Chimes at Midnight”

This movie was completely based off of Henry IV and it’s quite a treat. It is such a well-made film that very few people have seen. But, I won’t go on a rant about it, just check it out. Fun Fact: when Orson Welles played Falstaff, he had to go on a diet to play the notoriously portly man!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eii4_wbuPJY

30 Rock

In an episode of Tina Fey’s brilliant show, it was revealed that Tracy Jordan once played Prince Hal in Shakespeare in the Park.

Based on this little clip we see of him, it was pretty unsuccessful. This clip will leave youin stitches!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JtNUgcdA6U

Now I’ve shared my favorites, what are yours? This list certainly isn’t the be all and the end all! Let us know! And remember; to thine own self be true!

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Uneasy Made Easy: A Historical Prequel to Shakespeare’s HENRY IV

Matthew S. Sciarappa

Matthew deep in study

by Matthew S. Sciarappa

It’s no wonder why we hear King Henry conclude, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” in Act III, scene 1 of Henry IV part 2. Handling the monumental pressures of both running a nation and ensuring a lineage doesn’t exactly sound like pie. In Smith Street Stage’s upcoming production of Henry IV we will see King Henry grappling with his uneasiness and sporting that very heavy crown.

However, he was not the first man taxed with such a tremendous task. England has a rich and intricate history leading up to Henry IV that (let’s face it) can make us feel “uneasy” ourselves in figuring it out.

But let’s say that you’re auditioning for Henry IV sometime soon; or you’re at an intellectual cocktail party with friends; or you’re an impressive Shakespeare buff, but you don’t quite know what happens before the time of this play, when suddenly you’re asked, “How did Henry IV get to be Henry IV?”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, to help you answer this question I’ve compiled a brief history highlighting the key players and events that you should know.

1308-1378

  • Edward II

Edward II began his rule in 1308. No one in England at the time really seemed to like him, as he played favorites with particular nobles in court and continuously failed in war against Scotland.

Eventually, Edward II’s wife, Isabella of France, teamed up with her lover, Roger Mortimer, and launched a revolt against her husband. In said revolt, Edward II’s own forces abandoned him. Really, he was not a popular guy.

Edward II relinquished his crown to his fourteen-year-old son, Edward III, in 1327 and later was probably murdered—we don’t know that for a fact, but the dude rather quickly wound up dead.

  • Edward III

Edward III was only a bit more popular than his dad, but he was pretty stoked to be the new king. So much so, that at age seventeen he decided to throw a coup against Roger Mortimer (previously mentioned) who was ruling de facto at the time.

Edward III continued the fight against Scotland, which was a major struggle, but he managed to gain a decent victory in the Battle of Halidon Hill.

Edward III soon had the brilliant idea that since his mommy Isabella was French, he could be the king of both France and England. France obviously said “heck no” (I may be paraphrasing) and this whole ordeal led to a little quarrel between the nations known as The Hundred Years’ War…smooth move Eddie…

Edward III had four sons, and we only really care about three of them because the last one was eventually beheaded for treason. The three sons we care about are as follows: Edward the Black Prince, Lionel Duke of Clarence, and John of Gaunt the Duke of Lancaster.

FUN FACT: the middle son, Lionel, will eventually produce a lineage leading to Richard III, but that’s a whole other story/Shakespeare play we can save for another time. We’re going to ignore Lionel right now. Nothing personal.

  • Edward the Black Prince

Edward III’s eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, did not get to be king. After living a life of impressive military success, he took ill. His stubborn father, our Edward III, outlived him. When Edward III eventually died (illness as well in 1377) the crown was passed to his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II. Remember Richard II. We’ll come back to him in a moment.

  • John of Gaunt

Edward III’s other son, John of Gaunt, had some unpopularity problems just like his dad (are we noticing a theme here?). John of Gaunt’s unpopularity stemmed from his lack of familial grounding. England wasn’t sold on his parentage; there were rumors at the time that he was a mere butcher’s son. This was in part because Edward III was not actually present for his birth.

However, John of Gaunt was a decently successful military commander, and for a while was essentially running England’s government. This was due to Edward III’s/Edward the Black Prince’s illnesses and deaths. John of Gaunt travelled to different countries, crusaded against enemies, and even buddied up with famous writer Geoffrey Chaucer.

John of Gaunt had two wives in his lifetime, Blanche of Lancaster and Catherine Swynford.

FUN FACT: Catherine Swynford came later, and also had something to do with the lineage leading up to Richard III, but we’ll again forgo traveling down that path.

  • Blanche of Lancaster

There isn’t much recorded history about Blanche of Lancaster, but she and John of Gaunt seemed to have gotten along rather well. By all accounts, she was attractive, wealthy, and faithful to her husband. She and John of Gaunt had seven children, three of which survived infancy, and one of which was Henry of Bollingbroke (I repeat, HENRY of Bollingbroke… SPOILERS: He becomes our King HENRY IV).

OKAY! Let’s Check in

So here’s where we are now: it’s 1378, all the previously mentioned Edwards are dead, John of Gaunt is still alive/running England, ten-year-old Richard II (remember him?) is presently king, and ten-year-old Henry of Bollingbroke is his cousin.

1378-1400

  • Richard II

Richard II, though starting out at age ten, didn’t do half bad as a king. He successfully suppressed the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 with help from advisors, and in 1389 he claimed full control of his position as king, leading to a relatively peaceful eight years in England.

  • Thomas de Mowbray

One day in 1398, some gossipy duke we don’t like named Thomas de Mowbray decided that Richard II’s cousin, Henry of Bollingbroke, said something treasonous against the kingdom. Henry of Bollingbroke denied this, and suddenly their dispute became a big deal.

Neither Thomas de Mowbray nor Henry of Bollingbroke would surrender in their battle of hearsay, so Richard II decided that the two dukes should duke it out in a duel. On the day of said duel, Richard II was feeling temperamental, and instead of letting one of these men kill the other, he chose to banish Henry of Bollingbroke for a time, and exile Thomas de Mowbray for life.

  • Henry of Bollingbroke

Henry of Bollingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, passed away one year after the banishment. Richard II got a little greedy and decided that since Henry of Bollingbroke was presently banished, he was not entitled to his inheritance.

Henry of Bollingbroke was not very happy about this, so in 1399, while Richard II was away in Ireland, he chose to invade England to reclaim his inheritance. He had such a large following, however, that it soon became clear: Henry of Bollingbroke could overthrow Richard II and become king of England. So obviously he did, and in the same year he crowned himself our very own King Henry IV.

And thus, ladies and gentlemen, we begin at Shakespeare’s Henry IV part one. I hope you’ve enjoyed this whirlwind history lesson!

Matthew S. Sciarappa

Sometimes all this history can be overwhelming.

–Matthew Sciarappa, SSS Assistant

Henry IV Cast Announcement: One Grateful Director

Joby Earle announces the cast of Henry IV for Smith Street Stage

Joby

A few weeks ago we held callbacks for our upcoming production of Henry 4. It was my first time casting and I can say the view from the other side of the table is a humbling one as you get to witness artist after artist come and wrestle with this impossible task that is the audition process. It is a brave, strange, act, this. On the plane home I felt deeply grateful and confused as to how anyone makes a choice as to whom they are eventually going to go with. I had a few hunches, mostly based on what I perceived to be a shared pleasure in working together, or actors who came in and seemed not afraid to try things at risk of failure.

The rubric I finally decided upon was that of my idea of what it must be like to put a sports team together. Match people’s strengths, get a variety of training, go with those whose collaborative spirit seem to match their talent and facility.

All of this is attempted to be gauged in a total of spending no more than 30 minutes with someone over the course of auditions and callbacks. It’s a harrowing task for both those who are casting and those who are auditioning.

And yet, one by one, actors came in practicing patience, ease, grace, bravery. It was a sight to behold, and I hope more get to experience it.

To all who came in: thank you for your work. For whatever it’s worth, it was a gift to us sitting in that room.

All my best,

Joby Earle

CAST LIST

Jonathan Hopkins                    Falstaff

Hannah Sloat                           Prince Hal

Jane May                                 King Henry, Hostess Quickly

Michael Hanson                       Hotspur, Pistol

Lauren Pennline                       Poins, Westmorland

Beth Ann Hopkins                   Bardoph, Douglas, Warwick

Jonathan Minton                      Worcester, Chief Justice

Sam Reiff-Pasarew                  John, Gadshill, Shallow, Doll