“Spirits From the Vasty Deep” is semi-finalist at American Shakespeare Center

Curtain call for the invitation-only staged reading.

The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia has launched what it bills as a 20-year project to find “companion pieces” to each of Shakespeare’s 38 plays. Every six months or so, the center will announce four plays for which it is seeking companions. The first round was announced last year — with the eligible plays being COMEDY OF ERRORS, MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, THE WINTER’S TALE and HENRY IV, PART 1.

I chose to compete in the HENRY IV, PART 1 category. Out of that challenge, I decided to tell the story of one of Shakespeare’s minor characters — the Welsh nationalist leader Owen Glendower. Glendower appears in just one scene, where Shakespeare portrays him as a wild barbarian with mystical leanings — he talks of summoning “spirits from the vasty deep.” In fact, Glendower was a cultured man for his age. One notable fact: He taught his daughters to read, which was not common for that era. Another: He was a patron of the arts, who kept a retinue of poets and musicians at his Welsh estate. He was also briefly king of Wales — Prince of Wales was the title he preferred — in a nationalist uprising that succeeded for time, until finally being crushed by Henry IV.

To prepare my script SPIRITS FROM THE VASTY DEEP — but adhere to the ASC rules forbidding prior productions — I held an invitation-only staged reading in September 2017. Mill Mountain Theatre graciously provided the free space, and Linsee Lewis signed on as director.

The good news: SPIRITS FROM THE VAST DEEP was a semi-finalist. The not-so-good news: It did not win. However, the world now has a new play about Owen Glendower. Here are photos from that secret staged reading.

SPIRITS FROM THE VASTY DEEP
In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, one scene depicts Owen Glendower, a Welsh nationalist leader who led a rebellion against the English crown. In Shakespeare’s play, Glendower was depicted as a mystical barbarian who claimed he could call “spirits from the vasty deep.” In fact, Glendower was a cultured man – a lawyer who had served the English king and was known for keeping a retinue of poets and musicians at his estate in Wales. This play looks at some of the events of Henry IV, Part 1 from Glendower’s perspective. The story as told here follows actual historic events but, for dramatic purposes, conflates many of them and omits others, just as Shakespeare himself did. For instance, Glendower had many children. For dramatic purposes, this script just shows three. Glendower was eventually defeated, but never captured. Welsh legend holds that his shade still walks the hills, waiting to return. That’s the premise that animates “Spirits From The Vasty Deep,” as the ghost of a poet and musician who had been in his service take a modern-day newsboy back in time to introduce him to Glendower.
Cast: 12 — 5 male, 3 female, 4 gender-flexible.

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