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Shakespeare production educates children about war

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Trent Rowland, a fourth-year in theatre, plays Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name. OSU’s production of the play is adapted for children. Credit: Courtesy of Trenton Rowland

Trent Rowland, a fourth-year in theatre, plays Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name. OSU’s production of the play is adapted for children.
Credit: Courtesy of Trenton Rowland

After rallying his men on St. Crispin’s Day, King Henry V’s army slaughtered thousands of Frenchmen in a decisive victory in the Hundred Years’ War.

Stripped of its violence but not its themes, Ohio State is using that tale 600 years later to win over young Columbus audiences to Elizabethan theater.

Kevin McClatchy, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre, has adapted Shakespeare’s play “Henry V” for the Shakespeare School Tour, a annual tour of the bard’s play OSU around Central Ohio. The play, which is usually about three hours long, depicts both the glory and heartbreak of war.

The Shakespeare School Tour aims to make Shakespeare accessible to people of all ages. This is McClatchy’s first time directing a Shakespeare School Tour, which has previously performed plays such as “As You Like It” and “The Tempest.”

The adaptation of “Henry V” will be performed at the Lincoln Theatre at 769 E. Long St. this weekend. It will also be performed for Columbus City Schools every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of the semester.

To adapt the play to a new audience, McClatchy had to cut it down to only 70 minutes, a process he said was challenging.

“Once I decided how I wanted it, then I was able to go through and cut all the things. Once I did that, I felt pretty good about it, but then I had to cut another 20 pages. I had really cut things that I wanted to leave in the play,” McClatchy said.

The challenge of condensing a Shakespeare play was just one of a few that he had to overcome.

“There’s certain things that we had ideas about that we just tempered for the young audience. To make it more accessible, I hope,” McClatchy said. “There are certain adult themes, there’s violence, and we talk about violence and the bad things that happen in war, but we didn’t include the more graphic descriptions.”

Trenton Rowland, a fourth-year in theatre, auditioned in October and got the lead role of Henry V.

“Cutting it down works in its favor, it’s pretty fast moving. It kind of jerks you around every way, it takes you in and spits you out 70 minutes later,” Rowland said. “A lot of action and a lot of extremes on both ends of the spectrum. It’s a pretty demanding show.”

McClatchy said there are two main questions presented in Henry V that he wanted to maintain in this adaptation for the young audience.

“First, is it possible to be a great leader and still be a good person? And the second one is asking the audience to be able to decide for themselves, does the cost of war, at least in this instance, outweigh the glory of war?” McClatchy said.

At the end of the play, Henry V has successfully conquered France and his son becomes king after Henry’s premature death. Within less than 10 years, his son has lost it all and everything has gone back to the way things were before Henry conquered France.

“These (themes) may not be instantly apparent, but the teachers and the students can discuss the play,” McClatchy said. “Do you think there’s any parallels between what happened to King Henry and what happened to us when we decided to leave Iraq? Or now that we’re leaving Afghanistan, were the gains we made worth it? Or discussing about the reality of what happens when you send tons of people to war and when they come back. What’s our responsibilities as citizens and as people?”

McClatchy said he hopes the play will bring up these questions and be able to generate discussion between the older and younger members of the audience.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Rowland said. “It’s been very difficult especially with working with the cuts and continuing to cut the show down and add new elements. It’s been a fluid process.

“We hadn’t started really rehearsing till the beginning of this semester. It’s been very rewarding and has made me a better actor. It’ll be really awesome to get out there and see how the children respond.”

The play will be performed at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.  Friday and Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre and tickets are $21.85 on Ticketmaster.

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