Behind the Scenes of “Shakespeare on the Grass”

By Andrew Polino SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Syracuse’s Shakespeare Festival is getting ready to bring one of the Bard’s classic plays off the stage and onto the lawn of the Thornden Park Amphitheater. Its production of Henry V opens Friday, June 19 at 5:30 p.m.

Festival co-founder Ronnie Bell said audiences can expect a fun and “intimate” kind of a show.

“It’s a picnic in the park where you get to see a show,” Bell said. “We keep it fun. We have music and dancing from the Syracuse City Ballet, we have ice cream from Gannon’s; We just have so much to offer the audience for free.”

This week, rehearsals are still in progress at the Warehouse in downtown Syracuse as a cast of 17 local actors — many of whom play more than one role throughout the play — scramble to perfect their scenes and memorize their lines.

Cast member Keith Arlington said that’s a lot harder to do in a Shakespeare play.

“First you have to understand what you’re saying,” Arlington said. “Sometimes it’s not always clear. Then you have to figure out why you’re saying it.”

Director Sharee Pierce said she meets that challenge by collaborating with her actors.

“I let them do their job, I ask them questions, and I help guide them to where they need to be,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s direction also guided lead actor Trevor Hill to a much more restrained portrayal of King Henry than he originally envisioned.

“I came in playing him sort of like John Wayne…a tough guy,” Hill said. “But she wanted me to dig deeper, and that really helped me as an artist.”

Hill says there are two elements to King Henry’s character that are even more vital than a powerful voice and talent on the battlefield.

“He’s a man of deep religious faith, and he never makes a promise he can’t keep. I think those two things fill him with the confidence, peace and sincerity that I hope surprises and delights our audiences.”

Henry V will be presented at 5:30 p.m. on June 19, 20, 26 and 27 and at a 2 p.m. matinee on June 21 and 29.