Brave Spirits Theatre which is located in Alexandria, Virginia at the Lab at Convergence is known for its “visceral and intimate” Shakespearean era productions with a focus on female artists and feminist viewpoints. BST productions “Contrast the elegance of poetry with the basest elements of humanity, work to tear down the perceptions of these plays as proper and intellectual and instead use them to explore the boundaries of acceptable human behavior.”
This Season they will be presenting a group of Shakespearean histories which they collectively call “The King’s Shadow.” The group includes “Richard the Second,” “Henry the Fourth, Part 1 and Part 2” and “Henry the Fifth.” “The King’s Shadow” is directed by BST Artistic Director Charlene V. Smith.
The ensemble cast includes Michael Bannigan Jr., Justin J. Bell, Zach Brewster-Geisz, Dean Carlson, Jaqueline Chenault, Gary DuBreuil, Brianna Goode, Lisa Hill-Corley, Tom Howley, Caroline Johnson, Brendan Edward Kennedy, Annette Mooney, Duane Richards, Jillian Riti, Ian Blackwell Rogers, Nicole Ruthmarie, John Stange, Molly E. Thomas, and Joshua Williams. The production and design team includes Kristen P. Ahern (costume designer), Jason Aufdem-Brinke (lighting designer), Megan Behm (intimacy choreographer), Jenna Berk (dialect coach), Caolan Eder (props designer), Hannah Fogler (makeup designer), Amanda Forstrom (movement director), Jordan Friend (associate director, composer, music director), Marshall B Garrett (dramaturg), Megan Holden (set designer), Casey Kaleba (fight director), Jen Katz (production stage manager), Claire Kimball (project dramaturg), and Emily MacLeod (dramaturg).
“The King’s Shadow” follows the transfer of the crown from Richard II to Henry IV and then to his son Prince Hal (Henry V). (“Henry IV, Part 1” introduces audiences to Falstaff.)
The next season will be “The Queen’s Storm” and will include “Henry the Sixth, Part 1, 2 and 3” and “Richard the Third.”
I had a chance to interview one of their ensemble actresses, Lisa Hill-Corley.
Bio: Lisa is an actor and writer. BST: “The Trojan Women Project” (Betty/Hecuba), “Doctor Faustus” (Ensemble), The Incest Rep: “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (Donata), “A King and No King” (Ensemble), “Henri IV” (Westmoreland/Worcester) Nest StopTheatre: “Much Ado About Nothing” (Antonia); Theatre Prometheus: “Macbeth” (Witch); Landless Theatre Company: “Psycho Beach Party” (Berdine), “A Christmas Story” (Miss Shields), Capital Fringe Festival: “Antigone Reflected” (Antigone); Prince George’s Shakespeare Festival: “Romeo and Juliet” (Lady Capulet. ).
- Can you tell us about yourself and your connection with Brave Spirits Theatre?
So, I’m a rarity in this area, I was actually born here in DC. I’ve lived in DC and Maryland and am currently in Fairfax, about 10 minutes from the house I lived in from ages 9 – 18. My kids go to my old high school. It’s all weirdly small town. I played orchestra in high school and did a writing degree in college – so I really started in theater as an adult. I did volunteer theater. Then, I went through the program at Studio Theatre Conservatory, where I decided I wanted to pursue professional work. My first Brave Spirits’ project, funnily enough, was Kevin Finkelstein’s all-female rep of the Henry IV plays back in 2015! Since then, I’ve appeared in another rep with the best name ever, The Incest Rep, (“’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” and “A King and No King”), and two other shows, “Faustus” and “The Trojan Women Project.”
- What will be your roles in the upcoming season, and do you have a favorite and why?
The roles that people may recognize are the Gardener and Duchess of York in “Richard II,” Worcester in “Henry IV, Part 1” and Mistress Quickly in the “Henry IV” plays and “Henry V,” and the Queen of France in “Henry V.”
Some of lesser known hidden gems are Lady Ross, who is knee deep in the Bollingbroke rebellion in “Richard II,” Silence, a justice of peace who sings drunkenly in an orchard in “Henry IV, Part 2,” and Gower, where I’ll get to the be straight man to the awesome Ian Blackwell Rogers’ Fluellen, in “Henry V.”
Worcester remains a favorite of mine; I played the role back in my first rep. It’s the kind of role you don’t really see in canon for women in the way she is involved in the main plot of the play and leads the action in some scenes. That said, it’s a two-way tie for second with my girls Quickly and Duchess of York, because who doesn’t love bringing the funny after the audience has been through a couple of serious scenes?
- As a person who has trouble memorizing a sonnet, I wondered how are you able to memorize all the plays for each season and keep them straight and fresh for several months? Is there something special your actors do to help each other?
I’ll have to you let know you how it goes keeping all of the plays in my head. I’ve only got nearly three memorized so far! Believe it or not, though, I find Shakespeare’s verse much easier to memorize than modern text. It has rhymes or patterns that you can use as mental tricks to help you remember. For example, Worcester has a passage that has words ending in the “tion” sound:
And think how such an apprehension
May turn the tide of fearful faction
And breed a kind of question in our cause;
We hang onto little things like this to remember lines, and plus, our boy Will loves his lists. Many of the longer speeches can be broken down into lists. I record each scene and leave space to say my lines, and I’ve found I need to run that for myself before each performance. I think the Histories performances will stay fresh for me because it’s the same company, and it’s always interesting to watch people in their different pairings and how they approach and develop each character. Plus, some things are just great to watch every night, but you know it’s live theater. Something always happens that’s a little different from other nights, and it’s fascinating to watch people take that in and use it in their performances.
- Which role in the past was your favorite and is there a role you would like to do in the future?
I would have to say playing Betty, The Hecuba figure in Rachel Hynes’ “Trojan Women Project.” That play is close to my heart, built from the ground up by women and gender fluid actors that included scenes between characters we just don’t see on DC stages still. There’s a little bit of Betty in the “Richard II” Gardener.
Charlene Smith, our Henriad director and BST’s artistic director introduced me to a fabulous play called “Emilia” by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. It’s this amazing piece in verse about women of color. I’m dying to be in that.
As far as Shakespeare, oh, all the normal biggies for women, Lady M, Cleopatra, Beatrice. But I feel like Gertrude in “Hamlet” is most likely in my future. I think it’s the law that you have to play her once you become a woman “of a certain age…”
- The BST focuses on female artists and perspective. How do you think the group does this since many of the main characters in Shakespeare are males, especially in the History plays?
The Histories project is probably the most traditionally cast of any of the BST shows I’ve been since what we’re going for is to remark on white male patriarchy. To work within that, the women and people of color have been cast where they are with great thought, and sometimes to undermine the traditional readings of these plays, like in the case of my female gardener. She approaches Richard’s queen with bad news about his being usurped as one woman in the realm to another, versus the often-traditional version, where it’s an older guy “man-splaining” current events to the young Queen. Next year’s plays will build even more on that, as we’ll see women as crucial kingmakers and in other featured roles, as we deal with the nonsense of male kings!
Brave Spirits Theatre presents their plays in repertory. So, there are various dates for each play. Check their website for information and to buy tickets online.