Hello again from Louis Butelli, currently rehearsing to play Bardolph (and others) in Henry V at Folger Theatre. Performances begin January 22, 2013, and you should most definitely click to buy your tickets now.
I have previously written the Folger Production Diary for last season’s Othello (click here and here for free samples) and for some interviews throughout the fall. I hope it will go without saying that I am thrilled to have been asked to contribute to the Diary again, both for Henry V, and for Twelfth Night later this season.
Also thrilling is the addition of Katie DeBuys (Katherine of France in Henry V) to the blog. Check out her first post right here. Apart from being an excellent actor, Katie’s also a smart and savvy writer, and it will be fantastic to have a woman’s perspective on a play which is, to understate, pretty heavily “male.”
Which sort of brings me around to what I’d like to talk about in this entry: the idea of an Ensemble. It is a concept with which we are all familiar in music (I myself spent an ill-fated stint as a French Horn player in my high school’s Wind Ensemble, for instance) and in dance. More pertinent, though, is how frequently the idea of the Ensemble turns up in the theater.
But what, actually, is “Ensemble?”
I turn first to Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary:
Ensemble: noun. A group producing a single effect, as: a. concerted music of two or more parts; b. a complete costume of harmonizing or complementary clothing and accessories; c. (1) the musicians engaged in the performance of a musical ensemble, (2) a group of supporting players, singers, or dancers.
And again as an adjective…
Ensemble: adj. Emphasizing the roles of all performers as a whole rather than a star performance.
The M-WD goes on to tell us that the word itself is French in origin, as from the Old French “ensemble,” meaning “together,” and from the Latin “insimul,” meaning “at the same time.”
All of which is sort of useful, but doesn’t totally address the point.
I turn, then, to personal anecdote.
I met H5’s director Robert Richmond in 1998 when I was cast as both Dromio twins in a touring production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors for a little theater company in New York. Back then, the company specialized in “ensemble theater,” and Robert was the driving force. I was a young and impressionable fellow, and was amazed at how Robert was able to turn a handful of crazy actors into a complex and multilayered family that could present dozens of characters – all in one evening – with heart, warmth, and generosity.
Little did I know at the time that we would spend the next decade creating some pretty cool theater, which would play Off-Broadway, on tour to every state (but Hawaii), and across Europe. It was the time of our lives, and we met and worked with some extraordinary actors, including Andrew Schwartz, Mark Cameron Pow, and Richard Willis, all three of whom are appearing at the Folger in Henry V.
What I learned through the course of that decade was the inestimable value of teamwork, of togetherness…of Ensemble, both artistically and logistically. Through snowy drives across the Great Plains, to layovers at dozens of airports, to playing our shows in every conceivable type of venue, to strip searches by Polish customs officials (well, that one was just me on my own), we were unified by our pursuit of excellence. We were unified by our desire to communicate, to tell a story, to share.
Theater artists in our time face many challenges. What I take from my time with Robert and Andrew and Cameron and Richard, and again now with the cast of Henry V, is that we are stronger together than we are apart.
We are in week two of our rehearsal process. We are creating an Ensemble. And this ensemble is comprised not just of the actors, but of Che Wernsman and her amazing Stage Management team. It is comprised of Technical Director Charles Flye and his team. It is comprised of Tony Cisek, Michele Osherow, Mariah Hale, Andrew Griffin, Michael Rasbury, Jessi Witchger, and the entire creative team. It is comprised of every single staff member at the Folger Shakespeare Library from Public Events, to Marketing, to Curatorial, to the Security Guards who greet us with a smile every day.
Theater is collaboration. Theater is teamwork. Theater is Ensemble.
Or, as King Henry might say, “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” And sisters.
In any event, please stay tuned for more from me and from Katie. And get your tickets to Henry V now.
Until next time!