The Prince and the Passion: in this exclusive interview, actor Matthew Amendt talks about playing Prince Hal in Washington DC with the Shakespeare Theatre Company

Matthew Amendt displays a unique passion when talking about his performance as Prince Hal in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s recent dual presentation of Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, his longstanding relationship with Prince Hal and Shakespeare being the cause. Amendt first encountered Hal when he was seven years old, and then again in 2009 when, as part of Guthrie Theatre, he performed the title role in their touring production of Henry V. Now, he takes some time to reflect on the great king’s younger persona.

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You started performing Shakespeare at a very young age…
“Well, my mom was an English teacher and needed a prop infant when she was directing shows. I think I played the changeling in A Midsummer’s Night Dream when I was just a wee tot. Ever since then it has just been really present for me and made a lot of sense. I was too young to know any better – that I wasn’t supposed to like it. It wasn’t a popular thing to like Shakespeare.”

What appealed to you about Shakespeare?
“I loved the sweeping grandness of the story and the beauty of the poetry and the power of the verse. All those things really meant a lot to me. I was very young and I just grew into it as I got older. Then I trained at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, where I was fortunate enough to be taken into the acting company there and worked for ten years on all the great Shakespeare plays.”

Why did you particularly identify with the Hal/Henry character?
“To be honest with you, I am as befuddled about it as anybody. I had some health stuff when I was young and my mom gave me these plays when I was frightened, when I was a frightened sick kid. I think every little kid loves to think that there is a story out there about them, particularly princes and princess and kings and kingdoms, monsters and dragons. I think that the journey that Prince Hal takes to become Henry V and the choices he makes as that king meant a lot to me. That you could make mistakes and come back from them, that you could change, that you weren’t out of the game.

“He just sort of felt like a big brother to me, somebody to take care of me and keep me on the straight and narrow. Of course, as I got older the ambiguity of the plays and the cruelty of all the characters – Hal certainly can be very cruel – came through, and it became more challenging for me. It’s a great story to grow up with and grow into because it’s so deep and broad, and complex. There is something for everybody at every point in their life.”

How did audiences react to this production?
“Well, you know, what’s fascinating about these plays is they exist on such different ends of the spectrum depending on the viewer. I have had people in the audience come up to me and say they have never been able to connect with Hal and how much they admire or enjoyed the work we did in this production with him sort of being a child growing into a man. And I have had audience members come up to me and say ‘That’s not the play for me, you are not my Hal, and I didn’t get any of that.’

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“It’s such a subjective thing. These two poles of honour versus the reality of political machinations – how we move through the world as political animals – anyone who comes in contact with the plays develops their own perspective on that. Maybe that is why it’s popular – not because it is one thing, but because it can be so many for people.

“I think that is really the strength of Michael’s direction in the show that he has been very specific about the acting and the tension and the characters – and been brave enough to let the plays breathe and let people feel the way they feel. I’ve been accosted on the street by people saying I’m their Hal or I am absolutely not their Hal. That’s a really fascinating experience to have lived through. It’s very interesting the way we do battle with each other about what these plays mean to a contemporary audience.”

What, for you, are these plays about?
“They are all about different things, which I think is the beautiful thing. Henry IV, Part 1 is such a coming-of-age story and it’s such a broad sort of summer blockbuster of Shakespeare plays – so much life and vitality and a real struggle for what kind of community we want to be. And Henry IV, Part 2, it’s sort of humble, forlorn. That’s one of the incredible things about these plays – they don’t really exist independently of each other in terms of the plot, but in terms of themes and character they are very different plays. One of these things that is fun to work on is I think you can really feel the playwright wrestling with these questions himself.”

Why is this specific part of history so popular right now?
“I always hate that they are called history plays because it’s not really history. Most of the character relationships are completely fictional. He was certainly inspired by what he read in the Holinshed about the history of England, but Hotspur and Hal never fought. Hotspur was a much older man and Hal was a little more than a child at the Battle of Shrewsbury. I think he was 16. There is an element of them that is a mythic play and I think that’s what audiences are drawn to today.”

What are some of your favourite moments in the plays?
“There are so many. The play-within-a-play with Falstaff in the tavern scene, the rejection and the foreshadowing of that. I love doing that with Stacy [Keach]. Stacy’s delightful to play with in that scene when everybody’s on stage together and you can really feel a live, thrilling sense of danger happening in that bar. Then rejecting Falstaff – ‘I know thee not, old man’ is one of the great scenes in Shakespeare. Two people coming to this impasse in their relationship where what they want or what they would desire if they were free is impossible. It comes to this awful conclusion and I think in our performance that that’s as difficult for Hal as it is for Falstaff. The writing in that bit is beautiful, the shifting of the pronouns from the royal pronoun to the personal pronoun. It’s a much more complicated speech than I gave it credit for.

“And then of course the bedroom scenes with Ed Gero, an incredible actor who is playing an incredible King Henry. When Henry is leaving and the two of them are sort of negotiating everything, it is certainly a contemporary father-son relationship. The ideas of ‘What am I passing on?’ and ‘What have you given me?’ Those scenes are delightful in the way that fathers and sons misunderstand each other.”

Read the full feature on this production of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 in Issue 3 of Shakespeare Magazine.

A Photographic Glimpse of Cleopatras Past from Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company

If you enjoyed Tony Howard’s brilliant investigation of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra in Issue 3 of Shakespeare Magazine, here are three more actresses who have tackled this endlessly complex and fascinating role. Thank you to Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC for these archive images.

Click on the images to enlarge and enjoy.

Suzanne Bertish as Cleopatra in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2007-2008 Season production of Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Cleo 2007

Helen Carey as Cleopatra, with Starla Benford as Charmian and Opal Alladin as Iras, in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 1996-1997 Season production of Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Cleo 1996

Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Cleopatra and Gail Grate as Charmian in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 1988-1989 Season production of Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Cleo 1988

More from: Shakespeare Theatre Company

Did you see any of these productions? Which is your favourite portrayal of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra on stage or screen? Leave a comment below and let us know.

How jealous are we of these students at Shakespeare Summer School in Urbino, Italy? Answer: Very!

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As Shakespeare fans in the UK and USA experience stormy weather of King Lear-like proportions, over in sunny Urbino, Italy it’s a very different story. Starting last week and ending on 26 July, Shakespeare in Italy offers the chance for Shakespeare fans to immerse themselves in the text and culture of Shakespeare’s Italian plays.

The course will go beyond lectures and readings, containing a mix of “expert input, practical work on scenes, discussions, and evaluations of contrasting film versions of the plays.”

Fronting the course are four leading minds from the world of Shakespearean theatre. Bill Alexander, who was an Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company for 14 years, leads an exploration of The Merchant of Venice. “What I’ll be trying to do,” he says, “is take the participants through a sort of speeded-up version of the rehearsal process.”

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Leading the study of Romeo and Juliet is Michael Pennington, who was an Honorary Associate Artist with the RSC and co-founder of the English Shakespeare Company.

Josie Lawrence will use her film, television, and stage acting experience to guide the discussion of Much Ado About Nothing.

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Finally, Martin Best, who is known as an international performer and who has worked with the RSC for 30 years, will perform his lecture-recital Shakespeare’s Music Hall and lead a seminar on the Sonnets.

Co-founders of Shakespeare in Italy Mary Chater and Julian Curry will also provide input and be involved in the courses. After three days studying the text, Chater will lead alternative pursuits that will give the students a chance to explore Urbino and the Italian culture as it relates to the plays.

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Amazingly, we’ve heard there may still openings on the course. Go here for more information and to register, or e-mail Mary Chater: mary.chater@alice.it

Never mind the football, here’s the Shakespeare Guide to Brazil…

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Read the the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine here.

 

“God save King Richard!” David Hywel Baynes is a compelling, multi-layered villain in Iris Theatre’s outdoor Richard III in London’s Covent Garden


When I arrive in St Paul’s courtyard my heart sinks. The few benches are soaked through from a recent downpour, and the cut-up pallets that serve for further seating are worse. At this point it’s going to take a miracle to warm me up to this production.
As it turns out, a cup of tea and a cheerful cry of “Come sit, sit! I’ve got paper towels!” serve just as well.
Daniel Winder’s choice to ground Richard III in the tetralogy by staging the final scene of Henry VI, Part 3 works surprisingly well. It provides necessary context, but also delays the iconic “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech and thus prevents the audience from settling in to an old favourite too comfortably – Iris keeps you on your toes from the get go.

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The audience becomes a part of the company as we’re ushered from one well-designed space to the next – we are courtiers, soldiers, conspirators, witnesses. This production of Richard III, a play that always toys with an audience’s conscience, amplifies our guilty complicity by having us follow Richard from place to place like sheep. We march to Bosworth Field on our own two feet, we follow Richard and Richmond into battle, and we’re not entirely sure whose side we’re on.

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The production is polished, the company is strong, and the location is perfectly suited. Characters wave towards the church’s grand doors as they speak of the tower and we believe them entirely. A cry from the marketplace could be a rowdy solider in a neighbouring tent.
But David Hywel Baynes’s Richard overshadows it all. He is mercurial, cunning, charming, repellent – and all of these in a breath. He plays the anti-hero with such conviction that when the church rings with the cry “God save King Richard!” you’re torn between joining in and running to join the revolt.

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In conversation after the show Baynes cites Mark Rylance as an influence. Lauding Rylance’s ‘Globe technique’, he humbly hopes he’s adopted some of the elder actor’s techniques for engaging an outdoor theatre audience. An even greater influence though is Dan, the director. “He’s always pushing me further,” Baynes says, smiling fondly, “Making me the best I can be.”

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The genuine camaraderie in the company shows in their refined production, so I believe it when everyone I talk to, Baynes and Joel Mellinger (Hastings) in particular, tells me the company’s creativity is aided by its closeness.
“This is my first time with Iris,” says Joel, “but they’re like a family.” Entirely separately David, an old hand with Iris, says “I never met Joel before this production, but he’s like a brother.”

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Yes, there was drizzle, yes, the sound effects sometimes jarringly miss their cue, and yes, your fellow audience member’s “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry!” as they step on your foot yanks you from your happy courtier fantasy. But despite all that, this is immersive Shakespeare at its very best – and the freshest Richard I’ve seen in years.

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Iris Theatre’s Richard III runs until 25 July. Book your tickets here.

Visionary director Julie Taymor to release film of her acclaimed stage production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Back in January, Julie Taymor’s stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ended its run at Brooklyn’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center. But the maverick director has now finished a film version of Dream.

Taymor earned respect from Broadway with her Tony Award-winning production of The Lion King (itself partly inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and from Shakespeare fans with her visionary film versions of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest. Now Taymor’s Dream looks to combine the best of her stage and film work.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times says of  the Dream stage production that it “doesn’t so much reach for the heavens as roll around in them, with joyous but calculated abandon.”

But those familiar with Taymor’s work on the ill-fated Spider-Man stage show need not fear any repeats of airborne mishaps. “Spider-Man, it seems, was just a dry run for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Brantley continues, “This time, Ms. Taymor holds on to her wings, and keeps her production and ambitions aloft.”

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Rather than adapting the play as a film or presenting it as a live screening, Taymor has created “a real hybrid of live theater and film” by filming multiple productions and then going in with handheld cameras during the day for close-up footage. While the end result is “very cinematic,” Taymor stresses that “there are no visual effects - they’re all live.”

Taymor reportedly hopes to premiere the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival this September.

Go here for more on Taymor’s stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 

Tourists take tea with Shakespeare and wife in the sunshine at Stratford-upon-Avon

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The light hearted afternoon took place last weekend in the sunny, quintessentially English tea garden of Hathaway tearooms, previously a 17th century coach inn, in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Tudor World’s Master William Shakespeare and his wife Anne (formerly Hathaway) entertained the guests with sonnets, snippets from plays, music – and insults.

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Guests enjoyed a high tea that consisted of finger sandwiches, scones and handcrafted cakes, along with lashings of English breakfast tea!

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Go here for more on Tudor World
Email: info@falstaffexperience.co.uk
Tel: 01789 298 070

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Cool Shakespeare art you can wear, carry or stick on your wall – and there’s loads more on the way!

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A new collaboration between Misfit Inc. and Litographs will result in dozens of “wearable, totable and displayable” works using Shakespeare’s words.

For the past three years Litographs has been transforming classic texts into works of art that can be found on T-shirts, bags and posters. Now, they have announced a partnership with philanthropic creative group Misfit Inc. to create designs for all of Shakespeare’s works.

Over the next two years, they will be hosting a number of design competitions to help create the merchandise. The goal is to complete the project in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 2016.

In the strain of already existing designs, the products will use the text of the plays to “create images in the negative space that depict the crucial moment or theme of the story”. The print may be tiny, but it is there, and legible for those with good eyesight.

Litographs currently has designs available for Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest available for order here.

We love these amazing images of last month’s Shakespeare Parade in Stratford-upon-Avon

Missed out on last month’s Shakespeare Parade celebrations in Stratford? Luckily for us, Shakespeare fanatic Emma Wheatley was there with camera in hand. Here’s her street-level report of the day’s highlights…

Saturday 26 April saw the annual Shakespeare Parade in Stratford-upon-Avon. And with the world celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth, this year’s event was bigger and more significant than ever. Taking my place on the parade route, I eagerly waited for the festivities to begin…

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The day began with the awakening of Lady Godiva outside Shakespeare’s birthplace. Lady Godiva featured in the 2012 Olympics and played a prominent role in the parade. The 20-foot-tall mechanical puppet was quite magnificent to witness, and took pride of place leading the People’s Parade.

 

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The big birthday cake was pulled by two parade horses – the cake itself was decorated by local school children and community groups. It was great to see such community spirit coming to the fore.

 

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The annual handing over of the quill from ‘Shakespeare’ to the head boy of King Edward VI’s school (which Shakespeare himself attended as a boy). The head boy then took the quill and led the parade to Holy Trinity Church where it was placed with the bust of Shakespeare that overlooks his grave.

 

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After unfurling flags from around the world, this special flag was revealed to the crowd, accompanied by a rousing round of ‘Happy Birthday’.

 

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The parade featured numerous re-enactors, with many coming from Mary Arden’s farm. This photo I think highlighted how much effort the participants went to. The man was hailing a group of small children who were calling out Tudor greetings to the parade.

 

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The Shakespeare Morris Men taking part in the parade.

 

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A paper mache creation of Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Created by the RSC and community groups. It was great to see such imaginative interpretations of Shakespeare’s well-loved characters.
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Banners outside the RSC to represent the plays in rep this season, unveiled by actors of the current company.

 

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Lady Godiva reaches Waterside and the waiting crowds. Taken from the first floor of the RSC, it shows the sheer height and grace of Godiva.

 

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The closed doors of Holy Trinity Church, shortly before they opened to the crowds. People were leaving flowers and attaching them to the gates – a way of paying their respects to Shakespeare.

 

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Inside Holy Trinity Church, reopened to the public after the parade participants had laid their flowers down. This colourful and overwhelming display of flowers filled the chancel in which Shakespeare and his family are buried.

 

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Shakespeare’s grave and memorial statue, which was commissioned shortly after his death in 1616. In Shakespeare’s right hand is the same quill that was key to the parade.

With the rain holding off, the whole day was fantastic and it was great to celebrate Shakespeare’s life with like-minded people. Now, 450 years after his birth in 1564, it’s clear that Shakespeare’s legacy is alive and stronger than ever.

Exclusive interview with Lili Fuller, producer and co-star of Shakespeare-themed US comedy Complete Works

Lili Fuller as Pauline in Complete Works.

Lili Fuller as Pauline in Complete Works.

SHAKESPEARE MAGAZINE: Hi Lili, as you’re probably aware, we’re unable to access the Hulu videos for Complete Works  here in the UK. Will our UK readers be able to see the show soon?
LILI FULLER: “The good news is that we just released the trailer and two 30-sec teasers (here and here) on YouTube.
“The bad news is that, for the time being, the show is only available on Hulu. That being said, we are considering putting the show on Netflix or iTunes in the near future. So not all hope is lost!”

You play the character Pauline, depicted as Lady Macbeth on the show’s poster. As executive producer, what appealed to you about this particular role? Does Pauline share any of your own personality traits?

“Yes, I do play Pauline. She’s a straight-shooting, very smart, sarcastic New Yorker who is highly competitive and very talented. And when you first meet her, she’s kind of, for lack of better words, a stone cold bitch, haha.

“You know, it’s interesting, when I started to work on playing Pauline, I thought she was very different from me. Her tone is dry and cold, which is the opposite of mine, so it was a struggle to land that tonality. Her strength and sassiness, though, are qualities I possess.

“Our make-up designer, Emily, told me one day on set when I was prepping for a scene: ‘Lili. Do you see the way you walk around set when you are producing? You know exactly what needs to be done and you are on a mission to do it. That’s Pauline. Be that side of you.’ I took that to heart and from thence forth, I really started to find the character. She was a blast to play. I miss her!”

In the dressing room (Lili Fuller and Joe Sofranco, far right).

In the dressing room (Lili Fuller and Joe Sofranco, far right).

Is the world of US collegiate theatre really as cutthroat  as you suggest in the show?
“No. Haha. Even when we write in the byline that it’s about ‘cutthroat’ Shakespeare competitions, we’re kind of poking fun at the idea itself. A Shakespeare competition, no matter how big, could never possibly be as cutthroat as many of the other competitions in our world. What’s more cutthroat than the competition itself, and what we’re kind of playing at, are the neuroses in young actors’ minds when they go to these competitions, the idea in their minds that THIS IS EVERYTHING.

“When you see the show you’ll learn that, much of the ‘cutthroat’ mentality is brewed from these individual insecurities, the pressure that young actors feel to be ‘the best’, and the hilarity that ensues when you put a pressure cooker on these insecurities. The truth is, US collegiate theatre is as friendly and non-cutthroat as the people who are in it. In our collegiate experience, we had a very collaborative, open, ensemble environment, and I imagine that’s how it is in most college theater programs in the US.”

So who is the most scheming and ambitious character in the show?
“That’s gotta be James, the proctor of the American Shakespeare Competition. I won’t ruin anything, but let’s just say that he has a past history with the competition himself.”

To see Pauline in full effect, check out Lili’s clips from Complete Works here.