'The Book of Will': Five things we learned at first rehearsal

'The Book of Will' in Denver
Photos from the first rehearsal for Lauren Gunderson’s world-premiere play ‘The Book of Will’ by the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Click again to download. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

Rehearsals are underway for the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere play The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson. The play tells how two obscure members of William Shakespeare’s acting company took it upon themselves to publish the “First Folio” – the first complete published collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Had they not taken on this Herculean task, we would have lost half of Shakespeare’s plays forever, including Romeo and Juliet. Here are five things we learned at first rehearsal, along with photos (above) and a cast list (below):

NUMBER 1The Book of Will Davis McCallumThe Book of Will is a new play, so people naturally want to know what it’s about. Director Davis McCallum is tempted to say, yes, it is about the publication of the First Folio in 1623. “But I don’t think that’s what the play is actually about,” he said. “That is the occasion of the play. I think the play is about a theatre company, and the people who make up that company. It’s about the relationships that animate that theatre company. And at the center of that is this relationship between these two guys, John Heminges and Henry Condell. They weren’t the greatest actors in Shakespeare’s company. They were more like the middle of the batting order, in baseball terms.” Playwright Lauren Gunderson agrees that at heart, her play is about many sets of friendships. One of her favorites is one she couldn’t have made up. “Shakespeare’s friends could not physically find a publisher in England to put all of these plays together in one document,” she said. “Nobody was able to do it – except for the one guy Shakespeare hated most. Now that’s great drama, and that’s real.” Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson calls The Book of Will “a love letter to Shakespeare, to actors and to the theatre.” 

NUMBER 2Nance Williamson and Kurt Rhoads. Photo by John Moore. Kurt Rhoads, who plays Henry Condell, and wife Nance Williamson, who plays Rebecca Heminges and Anne Hathaway, are DCPA Theatre Company veterans. Rhoads most recently played Clarence in Richard III in 2009. Williamson first worked at the DCPA in 1999 (A Hotel on Marvin Gardens) and most recently played schoolteacher Alene Johnson in 2015’s Benediction. The couple have appeared in 62 plays together – but this is their first time appearing in the same play at the Denver Center. The cast also includes two graduates from the DCPA’s former National Theatre Conservatory: Jennifer Le Blanc and Rodney Lizcano.

Video bonus: Our profile of Nance Williamson from 2015:

NUMBER 3Nationally acclaimed Scenic Designer Sandra Goldmark is personally committed in using as much recycled and reclaimed material as possible in all of her work. So many of the materials that make up the scenery for the Book of Will are being repurposed from recent productions of Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie. “Our task was to pull as much stuff as we could from (our storage), or find things that people were throwing away that we could somehow repurpose,” said DCPA Director of Design Lisa Orzolek. The planks that will make up Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, for example, were old gymnasium bleacher boards she found on craigslist. “The paint department spent a good deal of time scraping off the nastiness that you often find under old bleachers,” she said to laughs. They are being stained and treated to look as though they are the boards of a theatre stage that have been walked upon for many years. Posts and beams and railings come from raw timber found at a mill just outside of Boulder. The trees had been cut down to make room for the expansion of a local ski resort.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

NUMBER 4McCallum, also the Artistic Director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, is an admitted Shakespeare romantic, but he says no one should be intimidated by the language of the period. “Do you know how Juliet says, ‘A faint cold fear thrills through my veins?’ ” he said.Some people just see the word ‘Shakespeare’ and they feel that faint, cold fear. They have this sense they might not understand the language. But Shakespeare’s plays have a very open, warm and human center. They are about people’s hopes and dreams and fears. I see a lot of my own life in these 37 plays. I see my family, my relationships and my experience of what it fully means to be alive in these plays. And that will be our guiding principle as we work on this play.”

NUMBER 5OK, so maybe you remember that the DCPA Theatre Company commissioned the world premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale back in 2012. The play, about a 500-pound home-bound gay man who wants to reconnect with his daughter before his dies, was directed here by Hal Brooks. But when the hot property was picked up for a run in New York by Playwrights Horizons, it was none other than McCallum who directed it there. “Cleanly,” wrote the New York Times.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

A The Book of Will. Davis McCallum. Photo by John Moore.
Director Davis McCallum addresses those gathered for the first rehearsal of the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘The Book of Will.’ Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

The Book of Will: Cast list
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Davis McCallum

  • Liam Craig (DCPA Debut) as John Heminges
  • Thaddeus Fitzpatrick (Frankenstein) as Marcus/Boy Hamlet/Bernardo/Crier
  • Miriam A. Laube (DCPA Debut) as Elizabeth Condell/Emilia Bassano Lanier
  • Jennifer Le Blanc (Pride and Prejudice) as Alice Heminges/Susannah Shakespeare
  • Rodney Lizcano (Frankenstein) as Ralph Crane/Barman/Compositor/Francisco
  • Wesley Mann (DCPA Debut) as William Jaggard/Barman 2/Sir Edward Dering
  • Andy Nagraj (Colorado New Play Summit) as Ed Knight/Isaac Jaggard
  • Kurt Rhoads (Richard III) as Henry Condell
  • Triney Sandoval (DCPA Debut) as Richard Burbage/Ben Jonson/Horatio
  • Nance Williamson (Benediction) as Rebecca Heminges/Anne Hathaway

The Book of Will: Ticket information
The Book of WillWithout William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. But without two of his friends, we would have lost Shakespeare’s plays forever. A comic and heartfelt story of the characters behind the stories we know so well.

Jan. 13-Feb. 26
Ricketson Theatre
ASL and Audio-Described Matinee 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4
303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Book of Will:
‘The Year of Gunderson’ has begun in Colorado
Shakespeare in a season with no Shakespeare
First Folio: The world’s second-most important book heads to Boulder
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics
Video: Our look back at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
Summit Spotlight: Playwright Lauren Gunderson
Lauren Gunderson wins Lanford Wilson Award from Dramatists Guild of America
Just who were all the king’s men, anyway?

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