In lieu of a question-and-answer type blog post that the PSCS company usually writes, I’ve decided to write about what one seemingly insignificant directorial decision can do to one’s performance. The original script doesn’t bring John of Lancaster on stage until halfway through part 1 of Henry IV. However, in an attempt to fill out the stage a little more during the court scenes, Dennis made the comment “Bradley, why don’t you go onstage in the beginning?” At first it seemed like an innocuous statement, I was just going to be standing on stage for a couple extra scenes. So what. But as I stood on stage during rehearsal listening to those speaking (mainly, the King), I began to realize that the extra information would change my entire characterization.
Originally, my interpretation of John was one of a son who dutifully fulfilled his responsibilities as a son of the king. He stood in for his brother at court. He attended the small council meetings (I may have spent part of rehearsals imagining this play taking place in Westeros [Editor's Note: You're not the only one!]). He spent half his time making excuses for why it wasn’t Hal doing all the things the heir to the crown should be doing. It was just something he did. He was a good son and he was content with that.
However, in Part 1, Act 1, Scene 1, King Henry makes a comment about why his son can’t be the valiant war hero Hotspur is. From that point on, John’s journey becomes one of trying to earn his father’s respect. In the next court scene, he listens to Hotspur talk about the clean, freshly-shaven man he encountered on the battlefield and desperately wants to prove that he could be better than that. To that end, he jumps at the opportunity to go into battle when Hotspur rebels against the crown. He beams with pride when he hears his brother (and in the presence of their father) says he has earned his respect for his accomplishments on the battlefield. And it is that bolstering that gives him the courage and self-assurance to plot his — I won’t spoil it for you, we’ll just say his main scene in part 2.
All of this to say, none of that would have happened if Dennis hadn’t felt like the stage was just too empty. It truly is amazing what one small idea can do. And I’ll end my post with that lovely idea for a Successories motivational poster.