Struggling veterans build stage for Henry IV performance starring Tom Hanks

Medical emergency during break marks Hanks' highlight
July 5, 2018 9:46 am Last Updated: July 5, 2018 9:51 am

“The show must go on” is something those in the entertainment business always say. And no one knows that better than beloved actor Tom Hanks, who recently proved he can keep audiences enraptured even when he’s off-script.

Hanks is one of the biggest movie stars in the world—the two-time Oscar winner has starred in countless popular films from Forrest Gump to Toy Story to Saving Private Ryan.

(Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for BFI)

But way before that (even before Bosom Buddies) he got his start doing Shakespeare productions in Cleveland.

Now, Hanks is back on stage, returning to his roots in a production of Henry IV with the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, taking on one of the Bard’s most famous characters, Falstaff.

However, there’s something extra special about this particular show:

The production was put together by U.S. veterans transitioning to civilian life.

(HAMMR Productions/Screenshot)

The stage was built from scratch in the Japanese Gardens on the West Los Angeles Veterans Association campus, constructed by struggling and homeless veterans. Other vets do things like costumes for the show.

It’s all an effort to impart creative, productive new skills to help them in the world.

“I was like in a little cocoon, I was closed off from the world,” one of the vets said in a video. “This experience has helped me to interact with people in a positive way, it’s been very therapeutic.”

An A-list star like Hanks lends some exposure to the production—and the actor hopes the experience makes a permanent impact on some of the vets.

“Guys and women who’ve served our country and are now transitioning into whatever that next phase of their lives are,” Hanks said. “Wouldn’t it be great if some of them went into this very line of work, the same one I am in?”

The play has been a huge success, with plenty of Hollywood stars coming out to support the production.

But in theater, not everything always goes according to plan.

During a June 13 performance, an audience member had a medical emergency, bringing the show to a halt for 15 minutes—enough time for the audience to become unengaged with the play.

Some audience members apparently got up from their seats during the wait—but sat down once they heard a voice emerging from the stage:

“GET BACK HERE!”

It was Hanks, in character (and costume) as Falstaff, ready to entertain the crowd during the break.

(Southern California News Group/Screenshot)

Hanks ad-libbed some hilarious Shakespearean crowd work, jokingly chastising the audience for getting out of their seats.

“No intermission brew for you!” he yelled, calling them “scurvy rogues” and bringing an audience member named Frances up on stage for some ribbing.

The audience ate it up, and Hanks vamped for a full five minutes before announcing “Ladies and gentlemen, on with the play!”

According to Entertainment Weekly, the collapsed audience member was brought to the hospital, regained consciousness and was cleared for release.

Hanks has a reputation as being one of Hollywood’s nicest celebrities, and here he’s proving it, not just by supporting a great veterans program but by ensuring they have the best show possible night after night.