Monster Theatre artistic producer and actor Tara Travis says that after artistic director Ryan Gladstone finished writing the screenplay for Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIIIshe hated him.
Travis plays seven characters in the play — Henry VIII and his six wives.
“I never would have thought I was physically capable of doing what I do in this show,” Travis says, despite, as she points out, Monster Theatre being known for its multiple-character acting.
In Till Death, the six wives of Henry VIII arrive one after another to a waiting room in purgatory where Saint Peter has gathered them before they go on to heaven. Only one of them will be allowed to pass on with Henry VIII to a special royal heaven as his true queen. Travis plays all six wives in rapid-fire succession as they compete to be Henry’s true wife, in what Travis calls a “physical and vocal gymnastics display.”
Travis spends part of the play developing the women’s personalities, their dialect and their physicality. She says the play ultimately allows these characters the freedom to be funny, to be raw and have their own thoughts in a way that she hasn’t found in films, books or TV series about the characters.
And one of the characters to receive a voice is the disembodied head of Anne Boleyn.
“It’s the most bizarre thing I have ever done in my 25-year history in theatre,” Travis says.
Performing as Boleyn, Travis physically isolates her head by thrusting it forward from her body and then positions herself depending on which other character is interacting with the head. She places her head where Boleyn’s head is held by another character’s arms, moves around as her head is tossed between characters, grabbed by other characters, and swings as her head is dangled by her hair.
“I think the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done is deliver a dramatic monologue as a disembodied head,” Travis says, “and I’ve done stripping puppet shows.”
Travis says that at first she was convinced the audience would be confused by the performance and think it “totally idiotic.”
“I almost died when I opened the show,” Travis says, “I was so terrified.”
Monster Theatre has done historical re-imaginings before and multiple-character acting but Travis says Gladstone believed in her and wrote the play to push her further than she had gone before.
At first she hated him, but now she says she is grateful because the experience has been incredible.
“I hope I can perform this play until I die,” Travis says. “I may very well die doing it.”
Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII is playing at Alexandra Centre Society during Calgary Fringe Festival, Aug. 2–10.