"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers -- for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother --"
In the final production of "Henry V" at Shakespeare & Company this summer, Kori Alston of Housatonic, in the role of Henry, spoke to his men before the battle of Agincourt. Some 8,500 battered campaigners, mostly longbowmen, waited on an October morning to face 50,000 French troops.
"In the final show, doing that speech, some of my soldiers were in tears, and it was genuine," Alston said. "I felt my heart breaking. I realized they weren't crying just for their own lives but for my life -- it hit me for the first time that I was going to die as well."
He had struggled with Henry's character in rehearsal, he said, and with this famous speech.
"The biggest challenge was understanding why he would go on -- with one tenth the men the French had. And all his men were sick," Alston said. "I wanted to find the Henry in me. I believed him to be a good guy at heart. How could he push on with these men who were dying, because some document written 200 years ago said he should be the king of France?"
Then he began to look closely at Henry's conversations. And he began to find the boy and the man behind the soldier.
"I was working through the feeling that you're worthless -- and you're supposed to represent everyone. People treat you like you're a child, and you're supposed to be the king of England," he said, not just a king, but powerful among kings.
This past summer, Alston was one of 12 students in Shake speare & Company's Shake speare & Young Com pany, in an intense nine-week program -- learning the subtleties of text and characters, combat, voicework and movement.
He spoke about his love of acting and of writing while he was home on Thanksgiving break from the Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts in Natick, where he is now in his second year. He had just closed a production of John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation."
He fell in love with theater, he said, as a young student at the Rudolph Steiner School. There, everyone had to act, and in first grade he had his first part. He was a shy and nervous kid, he said, but when he walked onto the stage, his shyness fell away. After that, he tried out for any play he could, for leading roles.
In his Freshman year at Mon ument Mountain Regional High School, he took an acting and directing class with Jolyn Unruh.
"I realized I not only loved theater -- I could succeed in it," he said.
Her class, and his family's encouragement, led him to audition at Walnut Hill, where he continues to compete rigorously for roles.
Walnut Hill tries to treat the theater department as the real world, he said, and never guarantees that every student will have a part in each semester's plays. The school wants to prepare students for the rigors of making a living in theater.
Alston has practice in competing. In his Freshman year, he took part in "Poetry Out Loud" in his English class, with a Jonathan Swift poem. It carried him up to the state competition, where he won second.
"I fell in love with the way poetry felt on the tongue," he said.
He has written poetry for as long as he has acted, but writing poetry meant to be spoken has changed his writing style. Speaking each line as he writes it, he listens for the connection and flow and sound of the words, for internal rhyme and repetition. He has become more aware of the relationship of each word to each other, he said.
"I began writing in the second person," he explained. "When you're sharing something about yourself, it's important that the people listening can experience it as well."
Performing and writing let him connect with himself and with the people around him.
"When I write a poem, it needs to be real and raw enough that I would be a little afraid to say it in front of people," he said.
And he thinks about what else he can be doing with his art.
"I want to create programs for people to be able to share themselves with the world," he said. Spoken word can do that. "What else is this world but all of our stories? The more I write, the more I understand about people."
He is an older brother, and he has worked with children who don't have one.
"Everyone needs a big brother," he said, "someone to protect them and teach them, and to be brutally honest with them.
"Who am I in essence? I'm an actor, I'm a poet, and I'm a brother."This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages. For more information, visit www.berkshireeagleblogs.com/onthebridge.
Holiday arts and crafts festivals across the Berkshires
What: Alchemy Initiative's Handmade Holiday Festival -- 30 or more artisans and crafters
When: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Masonic Temple 116 South St., Pittsfield
Admission: $13 adult, $6 child (under 18), and children 3 and under get in free
Berkshire Museum members get $1 discount on admission to the Handmade Holiday Festival. Attendees of the Festival get $1 off entry to the Festival of Trees.
What: Crispina ffrench's Shire City Sanctuary Holiday Shopping Shindy -- 40 or more artisans and crafters
When: Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8 and 9, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: 40 Melville St., Pittsfield
More holiday festivals this weekend ...
What: Monterey Makers Studio Tour
Where: More than a dozen artists in Monterey open their studios for a daylong tour and celebration of locally made art, crafts and food -- from oil paintings to audio books, knitwear, ceramics, black ash baskets, llama wool and more.
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Information: Artist info, maps and guides at Monterey Library, the Roadside Cafe and www.MontereyMaCC.org
What: Festival for the Holidays
An ongoing marketplace of Berkshire artisans -- hand-blown glass jewelry, pottery, leather goods, basketry, carved items, felted woolens, and wooden items, note cards and books -- also hand-crafted items by Society members and friends: jams, jellies, preserves.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 24.
Where: Shef field Historical Society,
Old Stone Store, Route 7 Sheffield
Information: (413) 229-2694.