Wes Phinney can usually be found directing award-winning Dalton High School students, but for the next two weeks he's taking on a different role as the Duke of Exeter in the William Shakespeare play "Henry V."
The play focuses on King Henry V of England and includes events before and after the Battle of Agincourt (1415). After becoming king, Henry V ponders whether to make a claim to rule France as well.
The play, presented by the Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition and the Creative Arts Guild as part of Shakespeare in Burr Park, opens Thursday night at 8 at the Burr Performing Arts Park at 101 S. Hamilton St. in downtown Dalton. Other shows are on Saturday and on Thursday, June 20, and Saturday, June 22, all at 8 p.m. All are free and open to the public.
The play is the the inaugural production of the Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition, "a not-for-profit performing arts organization dedicated primarily to the collected works of William Shakespeare." The coalition was founded in 2018 by Phinney, the drama teacher at Dalton High School; Jeff Burr, a filmmaker; Lane Davies, a Dalton native and actor and director who has had a long career in television and movies; and Chase Parker, who has been involved in the local theater scene. The goal is to present annual productions at the Burr Performing Arts Park, partnering with the Artistic Civic Theatre, the Creative Arts Guild and the Dalton Little Theatre.
"I got the idea to combine all the groups into a unit that will produce Shakespeare plays in the park because Jeanne Burr (who provided a gift to the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia of $1 million to construct and maintain the park) wanted more than music," said Davies, who is directing the play.
Davies said he'd heard Phinney was interested in bringing the play to life.
"I’ve played Henry before and even directed the production," Davies said. "I love the play and knew there was a good part for my son Nathan."
Nathan Davies plays Henry. He has performed in several plays with the Prague Shakespeare Company in the Czech Republic.
The play will also feature professional actors Bob Boudreaux, Brian Webb Russell and Sam Whited and local actors, including William Brooks, Kirt Johnson, Joey Parrott and Jennifer Phinney. A total of 35 people will participate in the play, including local students as soldiers.
Lane Davies said so far he's gotten great feedback from community members about the play. He admits he may "irritate some Shakespeare fans" with how much he's deleted from the play.
"If I read a line three times to understand it, I cut it because I know the audience won't get it," Davies said.
He said even though he cut the play down to 90 minutes with a 30-minute intermission, sword fights and classic Shakespeare speeches remain.
Phinney said he believes the audience will still see a great show.
"The things we’re focusing on like battles, sword fighting and comedy will enlighten people as to what you can do with Shakespeare," he said.
Phinney said one of the things he loves about Shakespeare plays is how timeless they are.
"You can do just about anything with it," he said. "It's a story that can be presented in many creative ways."
Davies said he hopes the community supports the play and the cast's hard work. Rehearsals began on May 13, and the cast members rehearsed six days a week. Some days were dedicated entirely to fight scenes.
Davies said he appreciates the Creative Arts Guild staff and their help.
"They have done a great job with publicity and helping us coordinate all the licenses necessary for this production," he said.
With 35 people involved, Davies said it hasn't been easy finding an outdoor space to rehearse with weapons.
"We've been practicing with carbon steel swords and although we have trained actors, safety is our first concern," he said.
Davies said if all goes well he'd like for Shakespeare in Burr Park to be an annual festival.
"That's the goal we're hoping for, but for now we're looking forward to 'Henry V,"' he said. "Pack a picnic, bring your lawn chairs and enjoy a great production."