BWW Interviews: John P. Keller in Capturing HENRY V at Orlando Shakes
In Orlando Shakespeare's final Classic Repertory Series, we meet the young ruler HENRY V in his quest for respect and ownership of France. Orlando Shakes veteran, John P. Keller, plays Henry and he took a moment out of his busy schedule to discuss his involvement in the show and other projects.
BWW: Last year we saw you in your solo show, DRACULA, welcome back! What have you been up to since then?
John Keller: I live and work in the NYC area. I did a show in the Fall off Broadway with a great company I am a member of call Theater167. I also teach a creativity curriculum at the Rutgers School of Social work. All of that is also in addition to working as one of the Artistic Producers and Director of Education for coLAB Arts in NJ.
BWW: How did you prepare for HENRY V and how long do [your preparations] generally take?
JK: Honestly one of the most fun things to compare this play to is Game of Thrones. While this play is about actual historical events much of that history is not exactly playable as an actor. However watching really great fantasy and medieval adventure epics was a fun way to get into the action of the play.
This process in the rehearsal space was a very concentrated 3.5 weeks. However the entire company showed up on day one with so many ideas and creative ground work done that we had a very fun process refining the details.
BWW: HENRY V is a very dense Shakespeare play, what was your biggest challenge for this role?
JK: Dense, yes. But also one of the most poetic. Most of what Henry speaks is in verse and uses some of the most clear and intellectually and emotionally grounded rhetoric. It was so much fun learning these speeches and continually being happily surprised how well Shakespeare shaped this play.
BWW: Do you have a favorite quote from this show?
JK: "There is witchcraft in your lips...here comes your father."
BWW: Did you like portraying the Dauphin? Henry is a serious fellow, while The Dauphin is such a fop.
JK: Yes. Yes. Yes. Mostly because as an actor it is always fun to play multiple roles in an ensemble show. But also because of the challenge of playing two characters that are on the opposite sides with completely dissimilar personalities.
BWW: Do you think Henry is a good king or is he bound too much by his duty to be anything less than good?
JK: I think Henry is completely sincere. Whether he is good or bad is for History to decide and I think he would say the same. He strives to do right, while at the same time he knows his own weakness. He continually asks more of himself, and it is hard not to appreciate that kind of leader.
BWW: This version of HENRY V does an interesting interpretation of the big battle scene. How did that come about?
JK: I have to give full credit to the cast, our director Jim Helsinger, and our fight director Geoffrey Kent. I am not a master fighter and during most of the fights I have the simplest bit to do. Everyone else makes Henry look good.
BWW: Doubling parts in Shakespearean plays isn't uncommon, but with a cast of only eight covering over 40 roles what kinds of challenges did that present?
JK: Honestly the characterization is challenging but nothing but fun. The most challenging part is the logistics of traffic patterns and costume changes.
BWW: What is your next project and where will that be?
JW: I will be back in NJ working on a long list of projects with my organization coLAB Arts. I love variety and I love using different parts of your brain and creativity. I get to do some really great collaborative things with coLAB. www.colab-arts.org
BWW: This is your 3rd season with Orlando Shakespeare. Do you think you'll be back to Orlando Shakespeare next season? What it is about Orlando Shakes that keeps you coming back for a variety of different roles?
JW: I have had nothing but fun working with Orlando Shakespeare. Great plays and great people make for fun work.
I suspect that this is not the we'll see of John Keller. It's your last chance to catch John Keller in Orlando Shakespeare's HENRY V, which ends on March 22nd. For tickets and more information visit www.orlandoshakes.org.
Photo credit: Landon St. Gordon