116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Every now and then, an actor might get to play a favorite role twice. Seldom does an actor get to play a character progressing in age or stature in separate shows.
Katy Hahn, 34, of Atkins, gets to do just that — with one big twist in 2019 followed by another big twist this week. She played the roguish Princess Hal in Riverside Theatre’s pre-pandemic production of “Henry IV, Part 1,” and is furthering her journey with the title role of King Henry V, performing as a man.
One of Shakespeare’s history plays, “Henry V” opens Friday, June 17, 2022, and continues through July 3 on the outdoor Festival Stage in Iowa City’s Lower City Park. Admission is free for everyone.
What: Riverside Theatre presents “Henry V”
Where: Outdoor Festival Stage, Lower City Park, 200 Park Rd., Iowa City
When: June 17 to July 3, 2022; 7:30 p.m. except for 6:30 p.m. July 2 and 3 so audience members can see area holiday fireworks displays
Extras: Audiences invited to bring picnics or buy street food, snacks and beverages at the theater’s concessions stand; and see the Green Show at 7 p.m., featuring Elijah Jones
In 2019, director Adam Knight said: “I was interested in a world in which Hal is a change agent, and having Hal not only played by a woman but represented as one is important to me.
“Especially in this day when we’re trying to think about who the next generations of leaders are going to be, it just started to seem very exciting to me to have Hal be someone who in that time, was an unexpected king or an unexpected leader,” he said, adding that with the script’s feminine language and references, the time seemed right to make the shift. And so Prince Hal became Princess Hal.
This time around, Hahn is tasked with playing Henry V as the king, not the queen.
“That’s intentional,” said Knight, who also is directing this summer’s show. “In the prologue, the chorus gives us permission to be flexible with casting. The chorus admits we don’t have the actual Henry here, but we can still tell his story.”
It’s the story of Henry’s decision to invade France as the rightful heir to that throne, as well as England’s, waging the 1415 Battle of Agincourt.
The prologue asks audiences to use their imagination with other roles, too, since nearly everyone in the cast of 16 is tasked with playing multiple characters and enacting this portion of the Hundred Years’ War in which thousands of French and English soldiers fought each other during the late Middle Ages.
“The chorus gives us permission to use our imagination, to embrace the limitations of theater. ... To me, exciting things can happen when the theater does non-traditional casting or thinks outside the box, because some of these lines pop in a new way,” Knight said. “It provides distance when we’re talking about warfare, which was a traditionally male-dominated field.
“And Katy’s just a fantastic actor,” he said. “I love what she found with Prince Hal, which we did play as a woman. It’s so rare for an actor to have the ability to return to a role and to complete that character’s journey. In some ways, Katy’s been working on this for over four years.”
Continuing Hal/Henry’s journey is “different, for a few reasons,” Hahn said. “It also brings back a lot of memories.
“One of the key differences this time around is that Adam and I talked before we really got into the process, about whether King Henry would be a man or woman, and with the given circumstances of this particular play, we agreed it was really important that Henry be played as a man. Otherwise, there's a lot of plot stuff that just doesn't work,” she said.
“And so that was kind of an interesting shift from time, because in 2019 ... we changed pronouns in the script and everything.
“But something that I've noticed is that the way that I'm playing Henry as a man is not that different from how I played Hal as a woman. I think the differences are more in the circumstances that the character is in, in terms of having more power, more responsibility, more danger, things like that.
“But gender hasn't overtly factored into it that much for me, and that was kind of a surprise. It's interesting, because when we are walking some of the scenes, I'm noticing that there are moments in this play where we might be in a similar spot on the stage ... and so there are ripples from the 2019 production that resonate now in an interesting way. ... For some of us who were in that production, I think we're kind of feeling those Ghosts of Theater Past coming back, so it's been kind of a neat experience.”
Another neat experience is again sharing the stage with her 12-year-old son, Jack.
“I’m so happy that he wanted to do it,” Hahn said. In “Henry IV, Part 1,” he played her little brother, Lord John of Lancaster. This time around, he plays the unnamed Boy.
“I was really glad that the first time was a positive experience for him,” Hahn said, adding that Jack also appeared in “Waiting for Godot” at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, so “Henry V” will be his third show.
“And so far, he seems to really be enjoying not just the work itself, but the culture. He likes being around theater people. It's interesting, because as someone who is not just Jack's mom, but as a theater instructor who's worked with a lot of kids his age, and as a fellow actor in the play, sometimes I have to figure out what hat to put on.
“I've tried to not do a lot of micromanaging of his performance, but let him and Adam kind of find that on their own. I help him run lines, but I really want him to have his own process and not feel like it's being dictated by me. And so there's been kind of a letting go there.”
Even though Jack’s character doesn’t have a name, Hahn said he has “some significant moments, and even gets to give his first soliloquy.” She’s surprised by how well he’s picked up the Shakespearean dialogue, which can seem like a foreign language even to seasoned actors.
“I wonder if it's just having been around it, having seen Shakespeare (shows), having been in a Shakespeare play before, and just being immersed in it, he seems to understand it a lot better than you'd expect a 12-year-old to do,” she said. “And so it reminds me that we need to give kids some credit. I suppose in some ways, it's like kids who grow up with multiple languages being spoken in the home. When you're immersed in it, you pick it up and you understand it.”
Jack Hahn isn’t the only one growing onstage. Morphing from Hal to Henry also brings growth to his mom’s role.
“This is a character who is constantly studying other people, and very consciously hiding or revealing certain things at certain times. I thought it was true then with Prince Hal, and it's true now with Henry,” Hahn said.
In his desire to be close to people, now that he’s king, Henry is trying to figure out who he can trust. While Hahn felt glimmers of that with Hal, the stakes are higher now for Henry, since letting himself be trusting and vulnerable could put him in danger.
In the first scene after the prologue, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely talk about how much Hal has changed, Hahn noted.
“Everyone is marveling at how this madcap Prince of Wales, this wayward youth who is just kind of gallivanting around, hanging out with the poor folk (in central London) is suddenly very serious, very devout in his faith. It’s just like a 180-degree pivot that he’s made,” she said.
She wonders if Hal purposefully “set the bar low, so that when he does become king, he can blow everybody away.
“Throughout the play, we see him trying to prove to his subjects, trying to prove to his enemies, trying to prove to himself, and trying to prove to God that he has what it takes to be king.”
Shakespeare also weaves into this story the effects of war not just for the nobility for whom crowns are at stake, but the toll it takes on the commoners, as well, Knight said. That’s one of the places where young Jack Hahn comes into play.
“For me, the presence of youth in the battle is accurate, but also adds a layer of danger and fragility to this world,” Knight said. “These kinds of orders affected families, affected the fabric of their society. And so it's important to show as much of that fabric as we can.”
In addition to the battle scenes, the script also has elements of humor and romance, which Knight said will keep all ages engaged.
“Shakespeare was aiming to tell the whole fabric of the human story, and that is comedic, it's romantic, it involves combat, and it involves beauty. The histories, in particular, are this wonderful tapestry of all of those things,” he said.
Last summer’s two free Shakespeare shows averaged about 1,000 viewers per weekend. By staging just one play instead of two this year, Knight is hoping to broaden Henry’s audience by giving people who might be out of town or busy one of the weekends more chances to see the show.
“We’re building on that,” he said, “and making sure everyone knows that Shakespeare is for them.”
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