Henry IV at St. Ann's Warehouse
On Saturday afternoon, November 21 we went to see an All-Female cast of William Shakespeare's Henry IV at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. It was staggeringly raw and gutsy. This was the show that spoke to me most illuminatingly so far.
When I was completing my undergrad back in the Philippines I did a thesis about "cross-gender casting" using monologues from Shakespeare's plays. Back when I was a college senior, one of the sources of my "angst" was the observation that men got all the meaty parts in Shakespeare's plays while the women were confined to the tortured love interest roles. I wanted to upend the tradition by compiling a set of monologues from Hamlet, King Lear, Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello and As You Like It which were originally written for male actors and framed them in a structure for my "one-woman thesis show." The experience left me with a ton of questions which I had left alone since then.
Watching the All-Female cast of Henry IV reawakened those questions. During the talk back with director Phyllida Lloyd and the cast after the show, I asked about how they approached the male characters since it is very easy to fall into a trap of "aping" masculinity. Their responses were very much akin to my sentiments almost 6 years ago: that they've felt that the women of Shakespeare had been very much confined to the "love-interest" or the sphere of the domestic. This confinement had implications towards the scope of how actresses and female audiences perceived themselves. They wanted to instill in their sisters, daughters and nieces that women have it in them to lead or be in a larger political space and not just a domestic one. They wanted to show that women can take their space, occupy it and own it. The process of the rehearsals included a physical exploration on how it was like to inhabit a large space using their bodies and the effects it had on how they felt internally. When they delved deep into the characters' desires - they discovered the large human desires that are universal. Here is a quote from director Phyllida Lloyd about playing men in her production of Julius Caesar (also with an all-female cast) which was produced just right before Henry IV:
“The older actors [in the cast of JULIUS CAESAR] came to realise that for decades they’d only been using a portion of their abilities – physically, emotionally, intellectually. They might have been playing Cleopatra or Lady Macbeth, but they still didn’t want to take up too much space in the room. As rehearsals progressed, the realisation dawned on the women that they were the whole thing.”
Re-contextualizing Shakespeare was not foreign to me either. In 2013, an acting company I used to be a part of produced a Filipino adaptation of "The Merchant of Venice" (Ang Negosyante ng Venesya) and it was set during the Holocaust in a concentration camp. On the other hand, this all-female production of Henry IV was set in a prison with all-female inmates.
THE SPACE - ST. ANN'S WAREHOUSE
It was not only the play that reinvigorated something from within. There was something raw and unfinished in the space of St. Ann's Warehouse that appealed to me. It was as if it was a space that had room for nuance, for mistakes, and for something yet to come to fruition. Since it was originally a warehouse the ceilings were extremely high and the walls were made of bricks. There were risers surrounding the stage with plastic blue chairs and no microphones.
If there is one thing that I want to see more of back "home" are new stories crafted and fleshed out fully with largeness and nuance by local playwrights. I do want more Filipino voices heard and Filipino stories crafted with complex, nuanced and dynamic Filipino characters. And I want to create a space and a platform purely for those voices especially if no one wants to fund them. It would be a space where only original Filipino writing can occupy. It would be a space where artists are allowed to fail. It would be a space where artists and audiences can interact. It would be a space where new things can develop.
"And at that moment I realized that those changes, with all their agony, awkwardness, and confusion, were the defining fact of my life, and for the first time I knew not only that I really was alive, that I really was studying and observing, but that I had long been alive - even back in Baltimore. I had always been alive. I was always translating.
It's been a while! Week 8 and 9 were challenging in terms of self-discovery more than in workload. Quite a number of things have happened that uncovered certain aspects of myself that I thought were "done away" with. Human beings are large and we carry bits and pieces of our past selves even as we move forward. Those past selves do not disappear it seems, they just sleep. They can be brought back to life once triggered. I've been spending a good amount of time investigating the core sources of those feelings and images that creep up when the triggers come. I've been writing in my journal a good deal for the past few days.
Some highlights from the past two weeks:
1. Third-Year Political Speeches
Every year during "Community Meeting," Third Year Drama Students get to give a speech from a political figure in front of the whole Drama Division.
"As part of their third year voice class, the actors choose a speech that they are passionate about. They may agree or disagree with its argument. It is approximately five minutes in length, uncut and unedited, so that the beginning, middle and end of the speaker's argument is captured."
This year, the selections have come from Chief Seattle, Florence Kelley, George S. Paton, William Faulkner, Mario Savo, Ossie Davis, Shirley Chisholm, Susan Sontag, Frank Zappa, Carl Sagan, Marilyn Manson, Jon Stewart, Junot Diaz, Malala Yousafzai, Yulia Tymoshenko, Avi Issacharoff and Elizabeth Warren.
It was amazing to watch. It was a treat to see which speech each actor has chosen and how that reveals who they are and what they are passionate about.
2. New Work-study
I'm already two weeks in my new job as Microwave/Refrigerator/Water Dispenser Monitor of the 1st - 4th Year Ladies' Locker rooms and the Drama Faculty office for the month of November. So I've been doing my own laundry, cleaning bathrooms, microwaves, refrigerators and water dispensers. They may seem unglamorous or mundane, but these are things I wanted to learn to do on my own as I'm building this new independent life.
3. Juilliard StarBall
The Annual Juilliard StarBall is one of the most sought-after events of the Drama Division. It's when all first year Drama Students participate in a ballroom dancing competition as a sort of culmination of the first two months of study from Ballroom Dancing class. We learned the Foxtrot, Rumba, Tango and Swing and we each had different partners in each of the dances in the competition.
Aside from rehearsing in the preparation process, I had to find something to wear for the competition. My uncle (based in NYC) accompanied me to two of the thrift stores in the East Village to go find me a sequined ballroom dress and we did! We got a red-sequined dress for $10!
This event became important to me as a "student" because it was one of those performances where I felt so free and open as a performer. It was very much a "sweet spot" for me. I clocked this one in because the "instrument" or "body" that I used in the event is the same body I use every day. As I am in this interesting and challenging "transition" phase internally (well we are always in transition!), I am investigating what conditions I have to put myself in or create to trigger more openness and freedom.
First Year Discovery Project:
3. Filipino Junk Food!
When I got back from the SS Card Application and Winter Coat purchase I checked my mailbox and discovered that I've got a package arrived from my mother's friend in California. Lo and behold, I got a box's worth of Filipino junk food: Pancit Canton, Clover Chips, Nagaraya, Oishi, Chippy, Chocnut, Tuyo, Calamansi juice, Mango juice and the controversial Skyflakes!
4. Roundabout Theatre Company's "The Humans"
I went with a couple of Group 48-ers last Saturday (October 31) to catch the evening performance of Roundabout Theatre's "The Humans" along 46th St. between 6th and 7th Avenue.
The play reminded me of Annie Baker's "John" which we saw last September 6 at the Signature Theatre. Both had the feel of "quiet" plays in which you had very "realistic" and "detailed" sets that evoked certain portions of a house or an apartment. You see characters fleeting through different sections of the house and speaking about seemingly "mundane" topics evocative of what we usually get worked out about in the routines of our day-to-day lives. There were portions of rhythmic conversations but there were also unapologetically deep silences and empty spaces.
I am finally falling in love with poetry the way I've always wanted to thanks to Kate Wilson's Voice class (we memorize and unpack a new poem every week). I've always been interested in poetry and was fascinated and partly envious of people who understood and wrote poetry because they seem to be getting something from the poems that I'm not getting. My biggest frustration with the way I had been educated with literature is how literature has been shoved down my throat in terms of "scholarly analysis." Poems had been handed out to me as one would in scientific papers and demand analysis of its symbolic, metaphorical whatnot nonsense.
Poems are not meant to be analyzed but lived in the body. They evoke those awkward spaces in life that are hard to name but truly exist. At present I retreat into poems as a kind of assuage to the emotions I go through in waves but find hard to express or name. Thank God for poets.
let her know
though that all the nights
even the useless
and the hard
I ever feared to
can now be
- Charles Bukowski
I am a Filipino actress alternating between New York and Manila. I received my acting training at The Juilliard School. Take a look around!