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Monday, June 17, 2024
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Comedy, chaos and creative takes on Shakespeare

UB’s CFA takes on an unconventional mode of performance in their interpretation of “King Henry VI: Part 2”

“King Henry VI: Part 2” ran this past week in the Center for the Arts rehearsal stage. The 110-minute show encompassed comedy, romance and tragedy in the bloody War of Roses | Courtesy of Ken Smith
“King Henry VI: Part 2” ran this past week in the Center for the Arts rehearsal stage. The 110-minute show encompassed comedy, romance and tragedy in the bloody War of Roses | Courtesy of Ken Smith

Without lighting design, a set or much prior preparation as to what characters they’d be playing, the cast of “King Henry VI: Part 2” took to the Center for the Arts (CFA) Rehearsal Workshop. They had 110 minutes of showtime with no intermission to encompass comedy, romance and tragedy in the bloody War of Roses. With the show running for only two nights, April 5 and 6, the cast set out to make the most of it. 

“We used a method called, ‘Original Practice,’” Crissy Iglesias-Baires, a freshman in theater performance and cast member, said, “which is a historical method used by Shakespeare’s traveling troupes, where they were given little to no rehearsal time. Often they didn’t know who they’d be playing and it was all done with scripts in hand.”

The cast of “King Henry VI: Part 2” made scrolls containing their script in a rehearsal workshop.

“We printed [the script] onto bright colored printer paper,” said Dax Bartlett, a sophomore in anthropology and cast member. “Literally the only free scrap paper we could get from CFA. All we could get was pink and orange…we trimmed off the edges to make it neat and taped the pieces together. Before it got rolled up, some of us had eight pages trailing down [from our hands].”

Each of the actors had made two separate scrolls to accommodate the fact that they were individually placed on two separate tracks. The tracks represented the warring houses of York and Lancaster, whose historical crests were white and red roses respectively. Cast members rehearsed one red and one white track. 

A coin toss on opening night determined which track cast members would perform that night. During the second night, the cast members swapped tracks, giving them the unique opportunity to experience characters through both sides of the war.

But character swaps presented a challenge. They didn’t allow for complete pre-written blocking in many scenes. A highlight of their creativity was the battle scenes, which included rushing into combat with rubber ducks to the tune of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtrack for a battle with pirates and a kazoo chorus of the iconic “Rocky” music for another fight.

The audience was delighted.

“I was left surprised, bewildered, speechless,” freshman math major Matias Santiago-Buschfrers said, “but I liked it. My favorite part was the fight scene with the boxing gloves that were just big inflatable beach balls.”

The battles were not the only element that enraptured the audience. A prompter periodically paused the show to ask characters questions meant to assist the audience in understanding the difficult language. These unscripted bits relied on the spontaneity of improv performance to drive the show. The responses were often given flippantly, which added humor that appealed to the audience.

Actors were in and out of the audience, fully incorporating the audience into the story. They pushed audience members out of their seats and selected one at random to read a line from an actor’s script. The actors even directly sought sympathy during moments of their characters’ sorrows.

“I can’t believe Henry just hugged me,” Santiago-Buschfrers said. “That was kind of crazy.”

With no set, costumes played a massive role in driving the story and visually assisting the world building. Ruffled collars and layered skirts were paired with cropped shirts and faux-fur jackets. Royal crowns were paired with holographic suit coats.

“There was a lot of focus on costumes, especially during tech week,” Bartlett said. “We had 11 actors and 65 different costume pieces.”

“It was like Shakespeare met Coachella,” Iglesias-Baires said. “All you need for theater is actors and an audience, and we accomplished that.” 

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