Bridget Arias Cunningham to bring “King Henry V” into the 21st century

Southern Utah University’s Black Box Grant program will be presenting a fresh take on William Shakespeare’s “King Henry V,” adapted and directed by Bridget Arias Cunningham for her senior project. 

“Henry V” runs April 14–16 at 7:30 p.m. with an additional matinee performance the 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $5 at the auditorium box office starting thirty minutes before each performance.

The original story follows the titular Henry throughout his war against the French but Cunningham has adapted Shakespeare’s original script to tell a different story.

“As opposed to the traditional cast of well over 30 characters, this adaptation is a re-telling done by five soldiers gathered around a campfire from sunset to sunrise as the story illuminates the cycles of the human condition,” said Cunningham.

Each storyteller in Cunningham’s adaptation has their own storylines and they use Henry’s story as a way to cope with their life at war. Due to the unique nature of the production, actors have been incredibly involved in the process of creating the show.

“I appreciate that the actors who are not often as big a part of the process as they are here get to make contributions,” said Storyteller A actor Gideon Barfuss. “[We] get to develop our characters in the scope of [Cunningham]’s vision.”

The creation of “Henry V” has been a massive collaboration between Cunningham, the cast and the creative team. Many people involved in the project had to get special exemptions from the department in order to work on more than one project in the spring semester.

“Bridget has been bending over backwards getting things together,” said stage manager Eliza Rose Greiner. “From asking for favors and pushing the boundaries of what we’re allowed to do to making sure that she has all of the fundamental aspects of the productions that she needs.”

When assembling her creative team, Cunningham wanted to involve technicians who she respected and trusted with a piece she had been dreaming of doing for years.

“All of my team was either personally asked to consider being a part of this project or approached me with interest in it months before the proposal was even approved,” said Cunningham.

The rehearsal process was very brief, with only three and a half weeks of time approved to work on the show. Everybody from actors to technicians have felt the chaos that has come with working on the production.

“I could not be more pleasantly surprised with the growth I have seen with every single person involved in such a short time,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham implemented exercises that helped actors get out of their heads and in their physical bodies with mental health check-ins, Shakespeare technique workshops and a cool–down routine for the end of every rehearsal. 

“My biggest priority was creating a safe space for people to take risks and feel like it’s okay to experiment,” said Cunningham.

The collaborative nature of the production that Cunningham strove for made the rehearsal environment a special learning experience for cast members.

“I’ve never been in a space where we focus so much on building each other first and then building the story around each other,” said Storyteller D actor Gracie Butterfield. “It is so beneficial to the entire process.”

The cast and crew have sung Cunningham’s praises as both director and writer, attributing many of the production’s successes to her.

“Because of the passion that [Cunningham] has and because it’s a Black Box Grant and a new piece, everybody has so much passion and original stuff they want to put into the show,” said Barfuss.

Cunningham has had her concept for this adaptation brewing for many years, having first thought of it the second semester of her freshman year at SUU.

“Our team has managed to take a play that is hundreds of years old and breathe new life into it that relates to patterns that happen time and time again in life through love, laughter, loss and grief,” said Cunningham.

A sentiment reflected among the entire team behind “Henry V” is that it is Shakespeare as it has never been done before.

“[‘Henry V’ is] a classic but I think [Cunningham] has taken this old thing and made it into something new and relatable and timely,” said Butterfield. “It’ll break your heart but mend your soul.”

Article by: Tessa Cheshire
Photos courtesy of Eliza Rose Greiner