Earlier this week, actor Katie deBuys (currently playing Princess Katherine in Henry V at the Folger) took us behind the scenes of a Sunday evening performance. The Sunday evening performance is the 8th of the week for the cast and second of the day. Playing two completely separate roles in Henry V (really, you can’t get much different than playing a young Boy and the refined and beautiful Princess Katherine, can you?), Katie has more than a handful of challenging costume changes backstage. Here is Part II of her 2-part backstage column, where she takes us through a bit of intermission…and then it is Acts IV and V to get through before a well-deserved day off on Monday. Enjoy!
Intermission is convivial downstairs in the dressing rooms: most of the men have armor to put on, and Adalia [Tonneyck] and Sylvia [Fuhrken] gallantly assist them. There are jokes told, particularly exciting or funny moments from the first half are relived, and I put on more dirt makeup. Che [stage manager] announces “Places to the stage” over the intercom…and to Agincourt we head.
I only have one costume change after intermission, so the second part of our show (Acts IV and V of the play, for those of you who are interested) has a different feel for me. I’m solidly in character as the Boy through all the preparation for battle and then the big battle itself, in which I die: shot in the back with a bolt from a crossbow. For the death scene, our costume designer, Mariah Hale, devised a nifty effect, one that Adalia helps me with. About halfway through the Agincourt battle sequence, I exit and meet Adalia backstage. She has about 30 seconds to Velcro the bolt rig into my vest, and then I’m onstage again. The rig is kind of like a reverse mousetrap: the bolt is held against my chest with a pin, which is attached to a trigger that, when I pull it, releases the pin and makes the bolt pop up horizontal to my chest, so it looks as if an arrow hit me in the back and passed through my body. The moment of the shot is timed down to the nanosecond between myself, Pomme Koch (as the Constable doing the killing), and Che up in the booth. There are multiple sound and lighting cues that hinge upon the moment of the shot, and the real crossbow makes a real, chilling sound, and then I act the death. I’m very sad about it. Also, pretty shocked, as I hope the audience is.
Once I’ve died, Pistol (James Keegan) carries me offstage. When I’m back on my feet, I always whisper a thank you to him, and he always says, “You’re welcome, darlin’,” or some such. It’s a moment I look forward to in every performance. And then I’m running downstairs to the dressing room, for my final quick change of the night.
Back to Kate, for the big wooing scene with Henry (Zach Appelman). Sylvia and Adalia are both waiting for me, and the three of us execute the change with time to spare. They both have other actors to change, for goodness sakes, so let’s get this done. My favorite look of the night comes during this change, when we’ve got Katherine’s gown on, but I’ve not yet wiped the Boy’s dirt from my face. So excellent are these two wardrobe ladies that, after cleaning up, I even have time to put on some mascara and blush.
And then the final scene with Henry, one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure to perform in my life, with such a superlative scene partner in Zach. He does all the heavy lifting, I just get to react to his great choices. Henry woos Katherine right into a marriage, we kiss and that’s that. Richard Sheridan Willis brings the show home with the last heartbreaking Chorus speech and before I know it we’ve bowed and I’m back in the dressing room changing my clothes. Again, Sylvia helps me out of my dress and unpins my wig. Adalia is busy assisting other actors at the end of the show, and both she and Sylvia will stay at the theatre far longer than any other member of the cast or crew making sure that all costume pieces are ready for our next adventure.
Offstage time is almost always as important and crucial to the performance and production as the moments onstage. My experience in this production is evidence of that. Of course, my dearest hope is that all of the offstage effort makes each moment the audience experiences that much more magical. So, from one quick change to the next, I am ever in your service.
Until next time!