One really fun thing I like to see each Thanksgiving is the live previews of some of Broadway’s hottest shows. You may remember that I first became acquainted with the musical “Something Rotten,” after seeing a live performance at the Macy’s Day Parade. I am just ecstatic to see and talk about this year’s hit Broadway Musical Six. It swept the Tonys, and has opened up touring productions across the country.
This vibrant, clever retelling of Tudor her-story was created by TOBY MARLOW & LUCY MOSS in association with the Chicago Shakespeare Festival.
The show is incredibly smart, and creative, and delves into the lives of some fascinating women, re-told as a singing contest with the characters singing their lives for you to judge what it was like being the queen of England, and living with the turbulent and fickle Henry VIII. What really appeals to me in this show is that like Hamilton, the musical takes these six semi-mythical women and tells their story in a way that is fresh and exciting.
Part I: Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII:” How NOT to tell a queen’s story
Around 1613, Shakespeare wrote his final play- his 10th history play which loosely told the life of English king Henry the Eighth.
I happen to know a lot about this play since I was in it back in 2008, as you can see in the slideshow above. As you might notice, this play doesn’t tell the story of all of Henry’s wives. We only see the last few years of Catherine of Aragon’s life, and the beginning of Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Most of the drama actually centers around Henry and his scheming advisor, Cardinal Wolsey. Maybe I’m biased because I played this role, but frankly, Woolsey is treated in the play as a stereotypical Machiavellian villain, who conveniently leads the king astray so he can be the hero of the play. Woolsey does all of Henry’s dirty work; taking over his government, spearheading his divorce to Catherine, and trying to dissuade the king from listening to Anne Boleyn’s Protestant ideas, dismissing her as a “spleeny Lutheran.” Shakespeare leaves it ambiguous as to whether Henry actually told Woolsey to do any of these things so the audience will blame Woosey, instead of the king.
I’ll be blunt, aside from the courtroom scene at Blackfriars, where Katherine pleads for Henry not to dissolve their marriage, and the fun dances and costumes in the scene where Anne flirts with Henry, the play is really quite boring. though I blame Jacobean censors more than Shakespeare for this. Even after the entire Tudor dynasty was dead and buried, powerful people in the English government controlled what Shakespeare could say about them.
Part II: The women take wing
During Shakespeare’s life time, the wives of Henry VIII were bit players at best. With the exception of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn (who in most narratives have often been cast as either virgins or whores), the lives of Jane Seymore, Anne of Cleaves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr were barely told until the 20th century, where new feminist scholarship sparked renewed interest in these women and how they lived.
TV series like The Tudors, movies like The Other Boleyn Girl, and of course books and documentaries by
Well, I can’t yet give an objective view of the plot and characters of “Six,” because I haven’t seen it…(yet). But until then, let’s just say that like “Hamilton,” it is great to see history be recontextualized and shared in such an accessible way. We all know that European history is dominated by the names of white guys- king whoever, duke what’s-his name. To see important women in history be given a voice by a multi-ethnic cast is a great way to make it acessible.
Educational links related to the six wives of Henry VIII:
This 7 part class is geared towards students who have taken my class or some other combat class in the past. We will go in-depth into how to train for, rehearse, and perform a fight from a Shakespeare play. We'll cover fight safety, footwork, proper cuing, and selling the fight. I will also contextualize the fights in "Romeo and Juliet," (the play with more fights than any other in Shakespeare), to explain how the Elizabethans felt about violence, and what this play says about violence in our own time.
The class will mostly be up-on- your feet demonstrations with me in front of the camera and the students mirroring my movements, but there will also be handouts, websites, and video presentations to help supplement what I say.
Class Structure: Week of March 5th: Background on swords/ sword crafts -We will learn about the history of swords from ancient military weapons, to the instrument of private dueling. We’ll also cover the culture of duelling that permeated 17th century Europe, as well as the text of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The class will conclude with me instructing the kids how to make a practice sword themselves!
Week of March 12: Proper Footwork/ Stances For Sword Combat- We’ll cover proper stance and en guard positions We’ll practice advances and retreats We’ll show you how to do a lunge and the footwork involved. We’ll incorporate advances and retreats with simple high-low parries and cuts.
Week of March 19th : Cuts, Swipes, and Thrusts You’ll learn the lines of attack and defense You’ll learn the proper way to hold a blade and deliver realistic-looking cuts. Learn how to thrust (online and offline)
Week of March 26th: Parries and other defensive moves We’ll cover the 6 basic parries to stop an attacker’s blade. We’ll also cover ducking, avoidances, and
Week April 2nd: Fight Rehearsal 1 We’ll assign roles for the fight between Mercutio, Tybalt and Romeo in Act III I of "Romeo and Juliet." The students will then get a fight script, and you can practice the fight at ½ speed. We will also explain the concept of Cue-Reaction-Action: A basic stage combat principle/process used to achieve a safe and dramatically effective sequence of events. We will discuss the importance of eye contact and cuing to ensure that the combatants know what to expect at all times.
Week of April 9th: Fight practice 2 - We'll go through a warm-up fight drill - We'll rehearse the fight at 3/4 speed to make sure you understand all the moves. - We'll Incorporate acting into the fight- selling pain, anger, and fear. Use distance to show character relationships.
Week of April 16th: Final Fight performance - We'll go through a warm-up fight drill again - We'll rehearse the fight at 3/4 speed again to make sure you understand all the moves. -We’ll pretend we’re doing this fight for an audience at ¾ speed. If need be, I’ll play one of the aggressors and you can do the fight pretending I’m in the room with you. At the end of class, I’ll show you a similar fight from my production of Romeo and Juliet and we’ll discuss the differences between our fight and the one I showed the students. Finally, we will discuss the way Shakespeare portrays violence in the play and its relevance in our world.
I’m teaching a series of online summer classes and I am very excited about this one in particular. I will teach a short class for kids ages 10-18, about duelling and swords. I will then explain basic stage combat moves, and finally choreograph a short fight for the students to do at home!
Registration starts now! Space is limited so go to Outschool.com, ASAP. Cost is $5 per child.