By Carly Banks
There’s a first for everything, even if Shakespeare himself didn’t see it coming.
To what is sure to surprise the great playwright, Henry, of Shakespeare’s famous Henry V play, will be portrayed by a female. After all, since the play was written in 1599, women have gained property rights, the right to vote, reproductive rights and the right to work for equal pay. So why shouldn’t they get to portray kings?
“Shakespeare’s plays are notoriously male-dominated, and nowhere is that truer than in his medieval history plays,” said director Christina Dennehy. “We’re about to change all of that.”
Recent alumna Grace Novak will portray the famous king in Northern Arizona University’s rendition. The Department of Theatre’s new summer production company, Crooked Figure Theatre, will debut the play mid-August in Sedona.
“Novak’s Henry is a powerful woman looking to justify to herself, to her soldiers and to the world that she is a leader who will risk everything to claim what she knows to be hers,” says Dennehy, who is writing a book on Shakespeare and will research his work in London this summer at various libraries and at The National Archives.
The play tells the story of King Henry V of England and focuses on events before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War.
“Being able to play King Henry V as a woman highlights changes that have been prevalent in society,” Novak said. “As a woman, it has been a true gift to inhabit a character with complex emotion and insurmountable strength. As an actor, I connect with the words of Henry, and I connect with her struggle, despite the fact that the character is traditionally male.”
Novak, who fell in love with theatre as a child and hasn’t gotten off the stage since, has performed in community theaters and a handful of NAU mainstage productions including Of Mice and Men, Quilters and Summer and Smoke. Earlier this year she was nominated for an Emerging Artist Viola Award.
“For me, choosing to do theatre is studying what it means to be human,” she said. “Now more than ever we are called on as artists to produce works that make us think, make us hurt and make us ask questions—giving those who see us perform the gift of truth.”
Kathleen McGeever, chair for NAU’s Department of Theatre, says students are getting the chance to experience working in a semi-professional production and are putting their skills to the test in an intense fashion.
“With the re-gendering of the play, we are providing students the opportunity to play roles they wouldn’t have the opportunity to play in a traditional production,” McGeever said.
Novak said she is honored to be cast in this role and is looking forward to see the story evolve with a female lead.
“I hope that this play can open people’s minds to what is possible when it comes to theatre, and I can only hope it sets the stage for theatre practitioners and artists alike that our world’s history is and can be relevant to the experiences and the struggles we have now.”
Henry V will be performed at 6 p.m. on Aug. 11, 12, 18 and 19 at El Portal Hotel, 95 Portal Lane in Sedona. The production is free and open to the public. No reservations are needed; seating is first come, first serve. Parking is available at El Portal and in nearby lots.
The production will debut in Flagstaff on Aug. 27 at a to-be-determined location.