To paraphrase Tom Lehrer: Be prepared. That’s the understudy’s solemn creed.
Our colleague, the astute theatre observer John Glass, noted that a recent performance of Henry V necessitated a sudden replacement of a cast member. Correctly sensing a good story in the waiting, he interviewed one of the actors affected, Pomme Koch.
With his permission, we share portions of it here, and encourage you go to his blog Drama Urge to read it in its entirety.
John Glass writes:
DC-area audiences who have seen Pomme Koch as the fiery “John C. Calhoun” in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Studio Theatre) and as the demonic “Uday Hussein” in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Round House Theatre) will be surprised to find him relatively subdued as the loyal but zipped-up “Constable of France” and repentant traitor Lord Scroop in Henry V now playing at The Folger Theatre (to 3/10).
We caught up with the actor after the show had opened to uniformly enthusiastic reviews and in the midst of a temporary cast change: An illness prompted Mr. Koch’s theatrical elevation to the role of “The Dauphin,” normally played by Andrew Schwartz who briefly replaced Zach Appelman as “King Henry.”
Pomme Koch: I understudied The Taming of the Shrew at Folger last season but never went on, and for Henry V there were no plans for me to go on for Andrew (playing “The Dauphin”) at any point during the run. About an hour before curtain last Saturday we got notice from Che, our stage manager, that Zach might not be going out, in which case Andrew would go on for Zach, I would go on for Andrew, and Dylan Meyers would go on for my role. Even so, once we started the play I was sure the adrenaline would carry Zach through whatever throat irritation he might be feeling … but about 10 minutes in we were called offstage and told we were switching roles.
When that kind of thing happens there’s no time to think about whether or not you’re nervous – the only thing you can do is review the lines and blocking in your head as quickly as possible and work out a game plan. Fortunately every single one of my scenes takes place with Andrew, so even if I didn’t know whether I’d nail the lines perfectly, I had enough of a sense of what was going on that I knew it wouldn’t be a total disaster. My focus was more on seeing how Andrew stepped up into such a huge role, and how Dylan (who had never done a performance with us) would manage being thrust into the cast.
– Further into their conversation, John Glass wondered about the Folger backstage atmosphere .
John Glass: Your character enters a bit late and leaves early. What’s it like backstage waiting for your cue, in the wings or in the green room? Are you in a zone or interacting? Any rituals?
Pomme Koch: Well, even though” The Constable” is wedged in the middle section of the play, we do have, what, 13 actors playing 48 roles? This means that I am rarely inactive. If I’m not playing Scroop or The Constable, I’m operating one of our 18 moving pieces, playing an English soldier in the background, or making a quick change (I have 7 quick changes in the first act alone). There’s really very little time to go too far into my own head backstage. The show usually begins and ends before I know it.
It’s an enlightening and entertaining read. Mr. Koch finds similiarities between his portrayal of Uday Hussein and Henry V‘s Constable, the effect of set and costume on characterization, and answers this intriguing question:
Audience members and critics see a performance at a point in time, a snapshot of a show. How does it feel from your end? [read more here]