For months, senior Ian Tully studied the literary and theatrical elements of “Richard III,” and felt strongly about accurately representing the world of the show through its design. He also wanted to gain as much familiarity with the characters as possible in order to prepare for an acting role.
Tully, who plays the titular role of Richard and is also involved in the scenic design, has been studying the show since the summer. After it was announced that “Richard III” would be the mainstage production, Tully approached Craig Choma, who is in charge of Theatrical Design, about assisting him and director Liz Carlin-Metz with the scenic design.
“The odd part about theatre is your have to be prepared for whatever character you’re given, but because I didn’t know until the very end of last term that I was given this specific character, I kind of just wanted to be as familiar with the play as possible, Tully said. “It doesn’t really do anyone any favors to make assumptions about your casting.”
In studying the show independently, he formed his own interpretations and perceptions about what certain aspects of the show look like. Transitioning from merely reading and analyzing the play to trying to embody the characters proved to be a challenging aspect of Tully’s performing process.
He said that, since Shakespeare refrains from using stage direction, a large portion of the actions on stage are based upon inferences made from the language of the play. He noted that he and others involved in the show often had different interpretations of particular aspects of the play, and had to negotiate on how to go about the scenes.
“You can form your own opinions when studying independently, and you can think whatever you want. Whereas theatre is a collaborative art, so there are a lot of compromises that you have to make,” Tully said. “There are some scenes where the direction for the character is different from my interpretation, but you have to find a way to make that work and reconcile your best intentions for the character with the overall direction of the show.”
The cast and crew of “Richard III” tell the tale of a corrupt man who comes into power through manipulation and cruelty. Spending several months examining the intricate aspects of the play, members of the cast and crew have carefully constructed an elaborate set and design to portray the themes and motifs of the play as effectively as possible.
Since junior Joel Schleicher had taken a Shakespeare course with Visiting Assistant Professor of English Valerie Billing during Fall term, he had already been studying “Richard III” for several months prior to the beginning of the production. Schleicher works as the sound designer for the production, but also assists in the scene shop and the construction of the set.
In addition to studying the play itself, Schleicher prepared for the production by listening to different music whenever he found time to. He began the process by listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Beethoven’s Cello Suites, but has since then evolved a different sound.
“The design evolved pretty quickly in the last week or two of the term from that into more tonal sounds, less melodic and more atmospheric,” Schleicher said. “I try to figure out what that character sounds like, what instrument they are. For Richard, I’ve started with cello and I’ve since moved away from that.”
Through his involvement in the production and through studying the play, his interpretation of Richard has developed into a more critical view of the character.
“I see him less as a person,” Schleicher said. “A lot of Shakespeare’s characters are very well rounded people, but I see him less as a person as more of an entity. He’s a monster.”
He feels that this production has posed several questions regarding what it means to be a good person and a good leader. Although Richard effectively obtains power and authority, he does so in a way that results in manipulation and several deaths. Schleicher sees Richard’s thirst for power resembling that of Donald Trump’s election campaign.
Junior Miranda Curtis, who plays Queen Margaret in the production, also thinks that the show has remained relevant throughout several time periods, but is especially pertinent to the current political issues since the election.
“It’s important because it discusses how people let corrupt rulers get into power and how they stay complacent until they feel like they have to do something. And by that time they’re powerless and trapped,” Curtis said.
She said that the show parallels much of what has happened recently with politics, and that is also demonstrates how history tends to repeat itself.
“Shakespeare isn’t known for his accuracy. Especially in this play, not a lot is known about Richard III in terms of what he actually did. It’s a lot of speculation and finger pointing about the crimes he committed,” Curtis said.
She said that, despite not being strictly accurate with the historical context, the themes portrayed in the production are applicable to the current political climate.
“Human beings really haven’t changed that much over time. They still have the same emotions, have the same tactics,” Curtis said.
Freshman Aidan Croft, who acts as the Duke of Buckingham, highlighted that the parallels in the show emphasize how a corrupt leader comes to power due to a multitude of factors, and not merely out of evil and cruelty.
“We see somebody who, through mastery of their voice and oratory and diction is able to manipulate all of those around him into gaining more and more power, which is very pertinent to the current situation in America,” Croft said. “Regardless of your political opinion, I think you have to recognize that our current president is a master of speech, and is very unique in that way.”
While Croft performed in a mainstage production during the first term of his freshman year, he was intimidated by the idea of acting in his first full length Shakespeare production. He noted that the first piece of theatre he performed was also “Richard III,” but he had a different role and only performed a small scene.
“You’re all just trying to put forth your best, so there’s a larger focus on the group as opposed to high school,” Croft said. “It really is about the show as a whole, and that’s something that Knox is really good at. The professors here really try to perpetuate that.”
Croft has experienced significant growth as an actor throughout the production process. He feels that each day provides a unique learning experience, and he learns more about the complexities and intricacies of the show even in the few days preceding the show.
In addition to adapting to the different styles and interpretations of each director, senior Dakota Stipp has been challenged with the task of thinking about the show in a visual manner. Usually involved in sound design, this is Stipp’s first production as a lighting designer. He mentioned that thinking about the show in terms of different colors proved to be a challenge.
“The color was hard. I saw red for a long time, and that didn’t end up making it into the show. There could be a number of reasons for that, but ultimately we’ve worked a lot more blue into it, a lot of cool colors,” Stipp said.
Stipp noted that important aspect of designing the light for the show has been trying to understand the relationship between the text and the themes, then translating that to visuals. He emphasized the characterization as one of the most significant strengths of Shakespeare’s plays, and wanted to make sure the lighting did the characters justice.
“The characters are so fleshed out, every word is very heavy and each line is very important to exposing things about the character,” Stipp said. “So we learn a lot about the title character, Richard, and then also the supporting roles.”
Stipp wants to provide the actors with a lighting design that will effectively complement their acting, and feels that the actors have put an immense amount of time and effort into the show. He feels that the actors have enough talent to put on a show without any of the technical elements, but that they serve to enhance the already strong talent.
Since Carlin-Metz had to take time away from the production to handle personal conflicts, the cast and crew had to find ways to adapt to not always having a director who was physically present. Tully considers this to be both a positive and negative aspect of the production process, as several others assisted and shared the role of director throughout the process.
“In total we’ve had four different directors, which you could look at as detrimental because they all have different visions,” Tully said. “But at that same flip side of the coin, it gives us more options and, as an actor, more choices.”