By Tom Quaintance
Twenty-some years ago I met Joe Haj working on the Guthrie Theatre’s History Cycle: Richard II, Henry IV part 1 and 2, Henry V all together in rep. I was a directing intern just out of college, and Joe was in the acting company shortly after finishing the Professional Actor Training Program at UNC.
It was an extraordinary experience. I have more vivid memories from that show, both in rehearsal and performance, than most plays I have directed myself.
Henry V was the also the first Shakespeare I directed, with a $40 budget in a black box, with actors who were in other shows, so we’d rehearse from 11:00pm-2:00am. I was in grad school in San Diego, and Joe came down and watched me work through the tennis ball scene early in the process. The note he gave me was perhaps the most important in my entire time at UCSD. We were struggling through the scene – aside from Henry (Scott Ripley) no one was really prepared. Here I was, directing in front of the best actor I knew, trying to show what an “actors’ director” I was. We took a break and Joe took me aside and said something along the lines of: “It’s great to give the actors a chance to make a choice, but if you’ve got a better idea, say so. Especially if they have no idea at all.” I think of that moment as the beginning of our work together as collaborators.
After grad school I directed Henry V twice more, once with Joe in the title role. When Joe asked me to co-direct “The Henrys” as we were calling it a few years ago, I jumped at the opportunity. To tackle those plays again! In the context of a country in a constant state of war! With Joe! Thrilling.
I stopped by a rehearsal a few weeks ago. I was in town after a meeting with the North Carolina Arts Council for my new job. The last seven months has seen the birth of my beautiful baby girl Mireille, a move across the country from Los Angeles to NC with my wife Wallis, and a new title: Artistic Director of Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville. Like so much else in my career I owe this opportunity in large part to the support of Joe, McKay Coble and all the good folks at PRC. We go into rehearsal next week for our production of Othello, and I’m having the time of my life, but to take this amazing job I had to give up The Making of a King. For that brief visit to that rehearsal it was almost physically painful to be in that room watching all my friends bring Henry V to life. From what I saw “’Tis wonderful.” I’ll be there opening day and night, and I imagine a few tears will be shed…
The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V runs January 28 to March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.