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Spotlight on Rich Ferraioli, Director of The Secret Theatre’s Upcoming Henry V

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The Queens Players, who work out of the Secret Theatre of Long Island City, on the heels of their critically acclaimed production of As You Like It (which received not one, but two rave reviews from BlogCritics) hope to keep their hot streak alive with their upcoming revival of William Shakespeare’s much loved historical drama Henry V, which opens this Wednesday.

From the press release:

When the French reject [Henry's] claim, Henry sets off to invade France and win the crown. But he faces daunting odds—an army unprepared for war, a people skeptical of his abilities, and the well-trained and large French forces… In The Queens Players production of Henry V, director Rich Ferraioli uses Shakespeare's acknowledgment [by the Chorus in the Prologue] of the inescapable artificiality of theater to examine the idea [that] people are all actors playing roles—none more so than Henry, who must convince the world that he is a king worthy of his throne.

Mr. Ferraioli, who lives in Long Island City, is a graduate of Hofstra University, where he helped mold and create the university's Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in directing. In 2008, he became a graduate of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab.

For over three years now, he has been working with The Queens Players and has directed such diverse works as The Spanish Tragedie, Lysistrata, and Hamlet. Most recently, Mr. Ferraioli helmed Jay Prasad's original work Daily Sounds for the NYC Fringe Festival, which had its debut at the Cherry Pit Theatre.

Although very busy in bringing Henry V to life, Mr. Ferraioli was gracious enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions for Blogcritics.

Could you give us a short synopsis of the play and what you hope audiences will get from it?

Shakespeare's Henry V is one of his most well known "history plays." It focuses on the reign of Henry V who we have seen grow up and mature in Henry IV Part I & II.  

The play opens at a time where Henry stakes claim to France based on his belief in an ancient Salic law. It chronicles the battles of Harfleur and eventually the winning battle of Agincourt. We see through the eyes of Shakespeare's great narrator, Chorus, how Henry struggles through the decisions that must be made during these times and the many different "faces" of war.

What do I hope the audiences get from it? Well, that is a great question. Today we find ourselves in a world led by a great orator; a leader who uses the power of words to motivate change. One who is both young and energetic. One who many believe is not right for our country and is making decisions from the heart. Can you see the parallels between Obama and Hal? I believe that this play is very relevant in today's world; Shakespeare shows us a world of war filled with love, death, and recovery. And how even the winners have a tough time – just ask Pistol.

I also believe the audience will see that this is a great example of a play that addresses minimalistic theatre. I am a firm believer that a play is about text and characters and not about the spectacle that drags down so many current productions. We use a few rehearsal blocks and items that can be found on the loading dock of our space. Costumes are minimal and so are props. Shakespeare is begging the audience and the actors to use their imagination. Hopefully, the audience goes with us on our journey!

What was your impetus for wanting to direct Henry V?

I worked on Henry V in college and always found that it was such a powerful play. The famous orations by Henry have stuck with me. I think this play might be the most accessible of Shakespeare’s works, especially at this time. I believe that this is a good first attempt for our company, as we have done Shakespeare’s comedies and his tragedies but this is our first history!

Aside from your duties as the director of Henry V, you also serve as the Managing Director of The Queens Players, which is the resident acting company of The Secret Theatre. How did you become involved with the company? What are your duties as Managing Director? 

I had heard about the Queens Players through a friend from college shortly after the creation of the company. The company was looking for directors for their first One-Act Festival. So, I met with Richard Mazda (Artistic Director) at the downstairs bar of the Creek/Cave, our first performance space. We hit it off right away and we started to work together.

I directed The Spanish Tragedie for the company back in February of 2007 at the Jackson Steakhouse, our second performance space, and have stuck with the company from that point on. Richard and I have grown together as colleagues and have learned to appreciate our [respective] styles. We have developed a working relationship over time that works well.

As the Queens Players moved into a new space of our own, The Secret Theatre, in July of 2007, he realized that we needed more leadership in place.  Richard asked me to be the Managing Director of the Queens Players shortly thereafter. My role is to work directly with the actors of the company and to help Richard make decisions based on this. I focus on developing them to the best of their ability and to help develop productions that best caters to their strengths.

I am also constantly in the loop with all decision-making processes that affect our company. Basically, I handle a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities [of] the company itself. Obviously, with Richard and I working very close together, responsibilities are difficult to define. I think the best way to put it is I serve in a leadership/advisory role, or rather I am his right-hand man in regards to the company.  

The Queens Players / The Secret Theatre is quickly becoming a household name in the Long Island City, Queens area. What would you say has been the company's recipe for success?

We have worked hard to define ourselves as the premier company doing work in our area. We have strived to continue to churn out quality and daring works of predominantly classic pieces. This is key! We made a decision this year to refocus on the classics and this has benefitted us both financially and artistically. When you stop focusing on the faults of a play (there are very few in Shakespeare) and focus on the text, your production quality goes through the roof.

We have also developed our company with talented and dedicated actors. I believe this is the strongest talent-based group we have ever had and that means a lot. As your actors get better, the reputation goes up. As your reputation goes up, you attract even more actors and more audience members. It’s most certainly a process that we have worked hard to develop.

We also focus on shows that we think our community wants to see. We try to work on classics that are well known but [taking] a new, fresh look at them. We include as many actors as possible and that helps when it comes to working together for a common goal. Overall, we have been on a steady incline for awhile now because we have a lot of people who are willing to put in the extra time, who are dedicated, and who are artistically talented. We are all working hard to create much needed art for Long Island City!  

What are your plans for the near future?

Well, me personally, I am getting married a week after Henry V closes so I am taking a break from directing for a month or so. I produced our White Box Festival in July, went straight into directing a show in the Fringe and then right into this play, so my future wife deserves a break!

The company is moving forward with a great production of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by new Queens Players member, Katherine Carter.  We are going to continue down the path that we have set up. Slowly things are moving forward and there are a lot of exciting new things planned for 2010 that hopefully we will be able to announce shortly.

Henry V runs until October 3rd.

For information on tickets, please visit The Queens Players website.

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About Hannah Marie Ellison