SF State theater students modernize Shakespeare's "Henry VI"

Intrigue, subterfuge, political drama and a ticking bomb ready to go off at any moment. No, this isn’t an episode of “24”. This is Shakespeare.

SFSU theatre

Sam Richie, left, April Fritz, right, and Casey Worthington, center, practice their roles during a dress rehearsal of the King Henry VI play on Aug. 30, 2011. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez.

Do It Live Productions, led by Kenny Toll, Shay Wisniewski and Will Hand, has produced a modernized version of Shakespeare’s historical work “King Henry VI”. Directed by SF State alumnus Andrew Nolan, 25, this work creates a contemporary interpretation of the story of a king looking for peace in a chaotic world of power-hungry nobles.

Composed of SF State students and alumni with previous experience together, the actors work on existing chemistry in an attempt to make characters pop.

“We have a group that works really well together and has both a dynamic on and off the stage,” said Casey Worthington, 21, SF State senior and theater major.

This presentation of the work takes two of Shakespeare’s plays, King Henry VI parts one and two, and molds them together into one comprehensive story which seems to flow as one.

However, the costumes are not jeweled and elaborate, and the men do not wear tights as in a traditional Shakespearean production. Nolan has dressed his actors as modern representations of their roles, with music that would not have been found in that time period because, he says, that’s what Shakespeare would have done. Nolan said that Shakespeare would always dress his actors in clothes that were modern for the times, even if the work was set in ancient Rome.

“I find these days that we should be doing Shakespeare in contemporary clothing so the audience can understand the roles that the actors are in,” Nolan said.

Not only is the dress and music contemporary, but Nolan says that “Henry VI” is a very relevant play to the political situation of today. He said that both had a kind and intelligent leader who were brought turmoil and strife by the political ambitions and squabbling of the surrounding politicians. Nolan encourages the audience to look at the current political environment – riots in London, Libya, and even the BART protests – and asks: How are these any different than the political unrest and civil war that loomed over King Henry?

“It’s an interesting portrayal of how the political machine is larger than anybody,” Nolan said. “The world is in turmoil and I think this is the most modern and transcendental representation of that.”

Do It Live Productions, according to its biography on the play’s press release, is composed entirely of SF State performers and wants to provide a range from contemporary plays, all the way back to the classics of Shakespeare without doing them the same ways they’ve always been done.

Ben Landmesser, 23, SF State theater major, says he hopes people will come see it because theater does not get the attention it should anymore.

“I think theater needs to go back in the vocab of what we do on the weekends,” Landmesser said.

The play opens 8pm on Friday, September 2 at Boxcar Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased for $15 for general admission and $12 for students. The show will run through September 17.

Latest comment
  • FYI. The show Boxcar is doing should be listed as King Henry VI (The Sixth) as opposed to King Henry IV (The Fourth). Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Fourth) is written in 2 parts, and Henry VI (Sixth) is written in 3 parts.