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Saturday June 3rd

PlayMakers artists to stage new version of ‘Henry V’ at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

After spending more than a year with Prince Hal and the “Henry” plays, neither Joseph Haj nor Jan Chambers is tired of them.

“It has been all Henry all year long,” said Chambers. “But I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Haj, producing artistic director for PlayMakers Repertory Company, and Chambers, a PlayMakers scenic designer, will work with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer to produce a whole new “Henry V.”

While at PlayMakers, “The Making of a King” production reached about 96 percent of projected ticket sales, with 12,503 tickets sold or provided, according to Hannah Grannemann, managing director at PlayMakers. The plays continue through March 4.

For the past two summers, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — which has a staff of 600 and an operating budget of $30 million — has put on both parts of “Henry IV” and is set to debut the final part of Hal’s trilogy.

“We have known Joe for a number of years and we believe that he has the right passion and vision for the play,” said Paul Nicholson, executive director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Early last year, Haj received the offer to direct “Henry V” for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this season.

“It was entirely coincidental and quite serendipitous that he would ask me to direct a play that I happened to be working on for PlayMakers,” Haj said.

“Henry V” will begin its nearly four-month run in Ashland, Ore., on June 5 at the outdoor Elizabethan Stage, which seats about 1,200 people.

“Because Joe and Jan work so closely together at PlayMakers, we believed it would be a great match,” Nicholson said. “They understand each other’s aesthetic.”

Bill Rauch, artistic director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said he thinks of this crossover as an opportunity to open the door to future collaborations with PlayMakers.

“I hope that we will have strengthened a relationship that will be ongoing between our organizations, perhaps including the exchange of productions and cocommissions,” Rauch said in an email.

Haj and Chambers aren’t simply taking the “Henry V” that was a part of “The Making of a King” — they are starting from scratch.

Chambers, for one, will design the costumes for the Oregon productions. She handled set design for “The Making of a King.”

“It is challenging to hold two different productions in one’s head, always,” Chambers said.

“When they are the same play and you have two vastly different concepts for them, it can get you a little mixed up at times.”

Haj and Chambers said they will have to acclimate themselves to dealing with “Henry V” as independent from the “Henry IV” plays.

“I think there is a different responsibility one owes ‘Henry V’ if you are doing it as a stand-alone play,” said Haj.

PlayMakers decided to take a different approach to “Henry V” because it had to seamlessly blend with the “Henry IV” plays.

“We were melding them all together and looking at the arc of Hal as he progressed from a slacker to a king,” Chambers said.

While the focus on the play has shifted, so has the artistic vision.

Chambers’ vision for the Oregon production’s costumes distinguishes the English from the French and shows the cost of war.

“The English are totally disheveled, distressed, muddy, sick and injured, which contrasts to the French, who look very beautiful,” she said.

The opportunity to explore another side of Hal’s journey could have been exhausting for Haj and Chambers, but they said they see it as an opportunity to look at the play from a new angle.

“Continuing with the ‘Henry’ plays in Oregon allows me to dig a little deeper in terms of research because I have more time,” Chambers said.

“It is so spread out that I’m not getting tired of it. It is only when everything is so crunched for time and you have to knock it out that you get tired of something.”

Haj said he is more excited to collaborate with a company as highly regarded as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“The opportunity to get in with that cast and start from zero, the great challenge will be to remind myself how much I don’t know about this play and allow my collaborators to influence the process meaningfully,” he said.

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