When people ask me if I ever act, I always tell them that I don't because I'm not brave enough to do that well. I have so much respect for actors who can become vulnerable in front of total strangers, night after night -- it's so compelling to watch. There's lots of bravery in this Henry IV in terms of the acting, but this process has helped me see what bravery looks like in other fields.
The fights, choreographed by Michael Toomey
(who's also playing Worcester and Bardolph) are particularly brave. The Hotspur-Hal fight is just brutal, and ultimately ends as a mercy kill, where a weary Hal snaps the dying Hotspur's neck. What I really appreciate about Michael's work is that the whole battle sequence is frighteningly honest in its depiction of war. I've seen the idea of war represented on stage, but I think we often stop short of the part where it truly gets ugly. Here, Michael has shown both the physical toll combat takes on the men (there's lots of breathlessness on stage -- none of it fake) and the emotional toll. His work made me realize that fight scenes should be as intimate as a tango.
There's also a lot of bravery in the scenic design. As I mentioned last week, the trench configuration is unlike anything anyone had worked on before, and it was risky to work with the idea of so many unusually shaped levels for so long (we didn't have a mock up of the platforming in rehearsal). Same goes for the rope work -- we approximated a lot, and hoped that it would work out in our (very brief -- due to the repertory schedule) tech process. Those situations always make me nervous -- I like to know as much as I can going into tech, to deliver a show with most of its staging solved. But I also recognize that trying to problem solve too early can also be a trap, and many of the successful staging moments in this production were built by waiting to have the actual stuff, and then adjusting around it in the short bit of time left. (And trusting that it all would work out in the interim, which is usually my downfall!)
Finally, there's bravery in the sheer scope of these stories -- two epic plays, packed into a 3 hour performance. I have to confess, I'm one of those people who loves the words "90 minutes, no intermission." Those words + Shakespeare don't often go together. But I do think there are stories that take longer than 90 minutes to tell and are still very much worth telling. This process reminded me that our task is to train the 42-minute-episode, Netflix-addicted generation that they can and should engage with those stories. The success of Ed Iskandar's The Mysteries
and Sean Graney's Seven Sicknesses
are proof that there's still a market for epic storytelling and long term artist-audience engagement. I've been cautiously curious about Graney's latest undertaking: a 12 hour epic play cycle called All Our Tragic
that touches on all 32 surviving Greek tragedies. Looks like I'll have to put my money where my mouth is and grab a ticket upon my return to Chicago!
Pictured above: Tim Venable, Alex Sovronsky, Johnny Lee Davenport, and Michael Toomey in Henry IV Parts 1&2 at Shakespeare & Company.