No Longer Looking for Richard?
“Looking for Richard?… not anymore…”
Last September a story came out of England… The long lost remains of King Richard III “may” have been discovered, buried under a parking lot in Leicester, UK.
Today, the world learned that those bones have been confirmed to be those of the famous monarch who died 530 some odd years ago…
This story fascinates me because 12 years ago a friend and colleague (Brad Lepp) took a gamble and cast me as Richard III in a production of Shakespeare’s play about his villainous rise to power.
The experience of playing Richard III changed me as an actor forever…
Up until then, acting had always been about having fun. Getting some attention… playing around and singing and dancing. I felt I had a gift for it, but I had never considered myself an “artist”. I didn’t really know what it meant for an actor to be an artist. I was an immature 21-year-old; what can I say?
Now the show was cast in March. But rehearsals didn’t start until September so we had a lot of time to prepare for our roles. At the time I was just finishing my second year at Queens and I was going to spend my summer performing at the Weston Playhouse. I was in 3 main-stage shows and 5 cabarets that summer, so my R3 prep and research time was limited. Luckily some splendid actors and directors were at the playhouse that summer and when they heard that I was going to be playing Richard III they offered to help me prepare. Everything from running lines, to monologue workshops, to tutorials in “playing verse”… I had a lot of help.
I am grateful to all those gifted artists who helped me prepare and I don’t think I would have been able to pull off the role had it not been for their guidance… but what I enjoyed the most in those months between auditioning and rehearsing was my own personal research. I must have read the play five times a month. And each scene was dissected, investigated, pondered and puzzled over a thousand times. I had NEVER combed through a play like that in my life… I loved it.
I read a wonderful book, that I’d recommend to ANY actor, called Year of the King by Antony Sher. Sher played Richard in an infamous production at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984. The book is a publication of the journal he kept for the year before he played the part. His research/ preparation/rehearsal diary if you will…
I also watched Al Pacino’s documentary “Looking For Richard” in which he rehearses and performs several scenes of the play with a who’s who of Hollywood and Theatre elite, and he goes in search of the truth behind the mystery of Richard III, whom Shakespeare cast as a villain but may well have been misrepresented by the Bard.
I watched every actor interpretation I could find. I read and researched the War of the Roses and all Shakespeare’s histories from Richard II to Richard III.
The play consumed me.
When it came time to show up for day 1 of rehearsal, I was prepared. I had all but one speech memorized (Richard III is Shakespeare’s second largest role, but ours was an edited version of the play).
The production was a joy, and the final bow was bitter sweet.
I won’t write much about the rehearsals (those details are for the director and his actors and should be, in most cases, kept within that inner circle).
The performances were a great deal of fun. The show was set in various locations around the campus of Queen’s University. A guide walked the audience from location to location and they met the actors who were ready and waiting to begin the scene. The final battle took place on a Rugby pitch at dusk. Every evening the sun would set on our play as it did on Richard’s life at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
For many in the cast, the closing of the show meant another one was in the can and rehearsals or auditions for the next show would be starting soon.
For me, it was the end of the most rewarding acting experience I had ever had… and the beginning of my life as an artist.
My Kingdom to do that show again…