War may be hell, but in theater it can be pretty fun.
“We made a lot of sounds. We looked really angry and physical,” said Bonnie Paul, of Huntingdon Valley, who tried out to be an extra in a Shakespeare battle scene to be performed in West Philadelphia this summer.
“My mom got to pretend to kill me,” said Paul’s 12 year-old daughter, Ilena, who also tried out.
This summer, Shakespeare in Clark Park will be staging Henry IV (taking liberties with both Part I and Part II) inside the giant crater of the West Philly park (a.k.a. the Dog Bowl). With funds from the Knight Foundation, the production company hired the ensemble troupe Team Sunshine Performance Corporation to stage the Battle of Shrewsbury on an epic scale.
Although the battle is the climax of the play, for obvious reasons Shakespeare implied it off-stage.
“In the play, the major characters pop out of a battle, talk to each other, fight each other, maybe stab somebody, and pop back into a battle,” said Benjamin Camp, artistic director of Team Sunshine. “We’re taking that imagined bit and bringing it to life with 100 people.”
To muster two opposing armies, Camp is hosting a series of theater boot camps to recruit extras and teach them fight choreography. About a dozen people gathered at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Philadelphia’s Old City over the weekend to learn how to kill and be killed.
“We’re doing this cartoon-style,” said Camp, instructing his soldiers on the safest way to die by battle-axe. “Make a sound like you’ve been hit by an axe. A cartoon axe.”
The stylized battle movements are a mixture of rugby and yoga, with a choreographed scrum followed by a synchronized, pantomime sword fight.There are plenty of opportunities to yell and leap.
“To see live, organized chaos with that big group, it’s something I can’t imagine. I’ve never experienced it,” said Hannah Hammel, a Philadelphia actress recently graduated from Haverford College who works as “a barista, obviously.”
These tryouts are in name only, admitted Camp. Everyone who has the wherewithal to show up at 10:30 on a Saturday morning to play war is more or less in. He is looking for enthusiasm more than chops when the armies charge each other in Clark Park.
“There’s flags, there’s things flying through the air, there’s formations, screaming and charging each other. And they are community members,” said Camp. “They are having fun, and you can tell. I really want it to feel like a community coming together to do something amazing.”
“Henry IV: Your Prince and Mine” will be performed July 30 through August 3. The next tryouts for the volunteer army will be May 19 at the Rotunda in West Philadelphia.