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Date: Mar 01, 2011
Hofstra University's 62 Annual Shakespeare Festival Presents "The War of the Roses, A One-Evening Version of the Henry VI Trilogy"
March 10-20, 2011, John Cranford Adams Playhouse
Also Featured: Hofstra Collegium Musicum's "These Mortals Be"
And a One-Hour Version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, March 12 and 19
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY ... The War of the Roses, A One-Evening Version of Shakespeare’s Henry VI Trilogy, is the featured production of Hofstra University's 62nd Annual Shakespeare Festival, March 10 to 20 at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse.
Director Royston Coppenger, a professor of drama and dance at Hofstra, is the creative force behind this new adaptation of the Henry VI plays. He writes that the trilogy “contains some of [Shakespeare’s] greatest speeches and his most compelling characters, including Queen Margaret, Richard Duke of York, a hilariously slanted English take on Joan of Arc, and the young nobleman who will emerge at the end as the future Richard III. And then, of course, there’s the character of Henry VI himself: hapless, devoutly religious, and horrified by the carnage that ensues as England implodes under his weak reign.”
Professor Coppenger, who also successfully adapted a new version of Hedda Gabler for off-Broadway in the summer of 2010, notes that when the Henry VI plays were first performed, audiences were immediately engaged because the characters and events were part of their recent history. The biggest challenge in adapting the trilogy for a 21st century audience was to figure out which parts of the story to tell and which characters were instrumental in moving the story along. He was helped by actual historical records and other adaptation of the Henry VI plays, especially those by Colley Cibber, Theophilus Cibber and John Crowne.
(Scroll down to read “Why I chose to adapt Henry VI parts 1-3 into The War of the Roses” by Royton Coppenger.)
Show times for The War of the Roses are 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 10; Friday, March 11 and 18; and Saturday, March 12 and 19; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 13 and 20. Tickets are $12, $10 for senior citizens (over 65) or matriculated non-Hofstra students with ID. Members of the Hofstra community may receive two free tickets upon presentation of a current HofstraCard.
The tradition of the Hofstra Shakespeare Festival began with noted Shakepeare scholar John Cranford Adams, president of Hofstra from 1944 to 1964. The first Hofstra Shakespeare Festival, featuring Julius Caesar, opened on March 22, 1950. Professional actors were used in many of Hofstra's early Festivals, but the outstanding, available student talent soon made this not necessary. Notable casts over the years have included Phil Rosenthal, the creator and executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond; Tony-nominees Tom McGowan and Peter Friedman; film and stage actor Joe Morton; film and television actresses Susan Sullivan, Margaret Colin and the late Madeline Kahn; and Tony-nominated Broadway director Susan Schulman, among many others. Steve Buscemi, Kyra Sedgewick and Brian Dennehy, who are not Hofstra alumni, performed in the Shakespeare Festival High School Competition as teenagers. Dennehy has said his brief experience in the Festival helped ignite his love for acting.
The main Shakespeare Festival play is always accompanied by a Festival Musicale and a companion play. This year the Hofstra Shakespeare Festival Musicale is "These Mortals Be," performed by the Hofstra Collegium Musicum, a student ensemble that presents concerts of early music, directed by Professor of Music William E. Hettrick. The companion play is a new one-hour A Midsummer Night’s Dream titled What Fools!, adapted by Hofstra Professor Maureen Connolly McFeely.
This is the fourth year the Festival has featured a one-hour adaptation of a Shakespeare play, designed to introduce young theatergoers to the works of the Bard. In addition to the performances at the festival, What Fools! will tour selected area high schools. “These Mortals Be" and What Fools! will be performed together at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse on March 12 and 19 at 2 p.m., plus there will be a special performance of What Fools! on March 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $11, $8 for senior citizens (over 65) or matriculated non-Hofstra students with ID. Tickets for the Thursday, March 17, performance of What Fools! are $6. Members of the Hofstra community may receive two free tickets upon presentation of a current HofstraCard.
For tickets and more information about any of the performances associated with the 62nd Annual Shakespeare Festival, please call the Hofstra Box Office at (516) 463-6644 or visit www.hofstra.edu/drama-dance .
Director Royston Coppenger: Why I chose to adapt Henry VI parts 1-3 into The War of the Roses
I’ve always liked these plays a great deal. Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy contains some of his greatest speeches and his most compelling characters, including Queen Margaret, Richard Duke of York, a hilariously slanted English take on Joan of Arc, and the young nobleman who will emerge at the end as the future Richard III. And then, of course, there’s the character of Henry VI himself: hapless, devoutly religious, and horrified by the carnage that ensues as England implodes under his weak reign. The Henry VI plays are filled with romance, passion, blood and thunder. They were enormously popular in Shakespeare’s time, quoted, parodied, copied and continuously revived throughout the author’s lifetime.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem for modern audiences. The War of the Roses was fairly recent history for Shakespeare’s audience, and his contemporaries were as familiar with the characters and events of the story as we are with the central figures of America’s major wars, men like Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, George S. Patton, and events like Gettysburg, D-Day and the Tet Offensive. Elizabethans read popular histories of the period, they wrote poems and ballads about the characters. To dramatize The War of the Roses all Shakespeare had to do was refer to the stories and characters his audience already knew. It means that, in many instances, the action of the Henry VI trilogy is difficult if not impossible for an average modern audience member to follow.
My first job was to figure out which parts of the story to tell, in order to draw together all the disparate people, places and events spread over thirty-odd years of history that Shakespeare condenses into his plays. As I worked on the script, it seemed to me that some major characters and plots didn’t contribute to the goal of helping a modern audience get a sense of the overall sweep of this drama. For instance, a great deal of Henry VI part 1 is taken up by the story of Talbot, one of the great English generals of the wars in France. Talbot was a great favorite subject of popular stories and poems, and his lament over his eldest son, killed on the battlefield, was a well-known episode in the history. Unfortunately, Talbot doesn’t mean much to the average 21st-century American. He died before the War of the Roses really got underway, and he was not connected to the processes that brought the contending families, York and Lancaster, into conflict.
I was helped in writing this adaptation by the fact that a number of playwrights in the 18th century, a hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, decided to adapt the plays themselves, for very different reasons, and faced some of the same challenges. Many of these playwrights decided to write new scenes and speeches to introduce and explain characters and actions that Shakespeare had alluded to and which were becoming confusing to 18th-century audiences. I am particularly indebted to adaptations of the Henry VI plays by Colley Cibber, Theophilus Cibber, and John Crowne.
In addition, this adaptation uses actual historical records to help tell the story. For example, since Joan of Arc was tried for witchcraft, many records that might otherwise have been lost were preserved and entered into the court record. I was able to create a scene out of a letter Joan sent to the Duke of Bedford on the battlefield. In another instance I found a petition sent by the followers of Jack Cade, a peasant revolutionary, to King Henry VI, and turned that into a scene as well.
The Henry VI plays were published several times during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and in their final form in the Folio after his death. In many cases I’ve chosen to use the earliest printed versions of the plays, particularly the “Quarto” and “Octavo” versions of Henry VI parts 2 & 3 (the terms “Quarto” and “Octavo” refer to the size of the pages used in Elizabethan bookbinding). These early versions tend to be shorter, simpler, and more direct than the later “revised” or “corrected” versions in the Folio.
In addition, as a playwright and translator whose work has been performed nationally and abroad, in some cases I took the liberty of writing speeches to link scenes and clarify action in the adaptation. These additions were designed to be seamless and unobtrusive; I’m no Shakespeare, but it’s my hope that my own “Elizabethan” writing will be close enough to Shakespeare’s that nobody will be able to tell.
This version of The War of the Roses, then, is more than a simple cutting of the Henry VI plays. It’s a new, hybrid adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays, drawn from many sources, that sets out to tell the story of The War of the Roses as fund in Shakespeare’s plays, in a clear, accessible and exciting way. It’s an entirely unique take on the trilogy, unlike any other version of these plays that has ever been done.
Related Link: The Hofstra Shakespeare Festival - Photos and History