‘Henry V’: A memorable performance released in the COVID-19 era

The Cal Poly Pomona Theatre and New Dance Department made an innovative return for the start of the fall semester with a virtual production of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” delivering an unforgettable performance.

The original play, written by Shakespeare around 1599, tells the story of young King Henry V of England who plots to claim France. The play depicts Henry’s efforts to claim victory against great odds and the series of conflicts leading to the establishment of modern Europe.

Unlike previous years, the department’s Southern California Shakespeare Festival (SCSF) premiered the production on Saturday, Aug. 15 remotely for audiences to enjoy through its YouTube channel. The decision to transition the performance to virtual format came in response to the campus’ shift to remote instruction due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of its unusual nature, the department’s interpretation of “Henry V” during the COVID-19 era added an interesting twist to the classic on-stage performance — with many parts of the virtual production filmed in the actors’ homes. The production did an excellent job of embracing the changes by including shots of actors performing in their kitchens and bedrooms, not only portraying awareness of current events, but also lending the performance more charm.

The true challenge, however, was the fact that all actors were working remotely from various cities, said Linda Bisesti, a professor in the theatre department and SCSF’s artistic director. The 11 actors worked from nine different locations — including Los Angeles, Northern California, Boston, New York and even Ireland.

Although working remotely, the cast showed exceptional chemistry that successfully drew in the audience. The production also subverted traditional expectations by casting actress Jennifer McClinton to play the titular Henry.

Alumnus Larry Mayorquin (‘18, theatre arts), an actor who also worked on compiling scenery clips for the production, explained that Director Josh Machamer communicated with performers by hosting weekly Zoom meetings to discuss the mood, energy and message that each scene should portray.

All actors were responsible for filming their own parts with the equipment they have at home. “The message was to make actors work together instead of focusing on the quality,” Mayorquin said. Mayorquin used his phone camera, tripod and a microphone to put together parts of the videos, he added.

Actors also had to submit three to four videos to Machamer every Friday in July. Machamer, then, worked on assembling the final layout of the performance in time for its summer debut.

“At times, I had no vision on what to expect (until) the final product came out,” Mayorquin said. “There were times when I was told to film next to a waterfall and wondered how that would play out in the story. But now that I have seen the final product, I can say that you really do need to trust the director.”

Renee Turner, a fourth-year theatre student, said the way the “Henry V” production played out was a “magnificent way to tell the story.” The performance was captivating and had a clever way of including aspects of current events, she added.

To watch the free virtual performance, visit the SCSF YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JuyCTt5MKc.