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Shakespeare

Megan Watson

Our 2017 Season!

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Shakespeare in the Ruff is thrilled to announce our summer show: A Midsummer Night’s Dream! This is a play that we’ve had our eye on since the beginning, and we’ve finally found our “Dream” Director. We are happy to welcome Megan Watson!

Megan is the Artistic Associate at The Grand Theatre in London. She has run their High School Projects for the last two years (2016: Julius Caesar, 2017: A Shakespeare Mixtape) and is building their new play development program: Compass. In 2018, she will be directing The Glass Menagerie.

Megan on Midsummer:

“For me, both professionally and personally, 2016 rang out as a call to action. A call to be more political, more articulate and more fierce with my intention to create theatre that is part of a solution. The American presidential election has foregrounded hate and fear. As we feel the ripple effect of that in our own communities, we are required to take a closer look. Specifically for me as a theatre artist, this means taking on the systemic gender and racial inequality that our canon and traditions uphold. How do we take Shakespeare’s plays, which on one hand contain an unparalleled expression of the human experience and on the other, when not approached critically, serve as a platform for misogyny and racism? This has always been my struggle when staging Shakespeare and I am more committed than ever to take on that challenge in this volatile social and political climate.

In following Ruff for the last five years, I have seen them cultivate a clearer and sharper sense of who they are and what kind of ‘Shakespeare in the park’ company they strive to be. Reinventing and innovating the classics and specifically Shakespeare seems to be a common endeavour. However, Ruff approaches this with a fearlessness that is unmistakable in their productions. Their practice of taking Shakespeare’s plays and mining them for humanity and beauty – while blowing open and leaving behind the parts that perpetuate archaic and negative stereotypes – is why I am thrilled to join the company this season. I want to stage plays that reflect the world I want to work, live, play and love in.

And so we began the process of selecting the right play for the 2017 season. Kaitlyn and I visited the park together and she shared stories about the Withrow and Ruff community. I thought back on the magical experiences I have had there: setting up my picnic blanket, snuggling in close with loved ones and being transported. Even as we considered Shakespeare’s more overtly political plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream kept surfacing as the right choice. With the barrage of negative media coming at us, it became clear to me that our best offence against all this HATE is to fight back with LOVE. With this in mind, our production of Dream will be a wild celebration of what is possible when we set ourselves free, believe in magic and plumb the depths of our psyche to discover more about who we really are. Suddenly, in 2017 it seems radical to believe in and pursue love, magic and beauty.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs August 15th through September 3rd, 2017 in Withrow Park. All performances are Pay What You Can and more details can be found on our website soon. 

 

Kaitlin Morrow - The Porter

Now do an improvised clown routine with your ass; or Becoming The Porter

By | Macbeth, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I’ve lived in fear of improv for most of my life, certainly my adult life. All my buddies are improvisors, I’ve seen hundreds of improv shows, I’ve always secretly wanted to do it, but I’ve always been paralyzed by fear. To the point, that on a regular basis, I would have improv nightmares, where I’m called onstage incorrectly to do an improv show. But then this year, I thought, enough is enough, I will conquer my fear of improv, and have been doing improv shows with Sex-T-Rex  (a comedy group that I’m a member of) all year.

STEP 1:

When I heard that I’d be playing The Porter, in Shakespeare in the Ruff’s ‘Macbeth; Walking Shadows’,  I was excited to get the one comedic role of the show. We were in rehearsals and I was working on getting off-book, and was pretty much there, when I received a text message from Brendan (the show’s director) and Zach (the puppet creator) saying that they were thinking of not using the text at all. I was excited about it, because doing a scene and following the beats of it, is a world I’m comfortable playing in. But when I read the text a little further it said ‘we’re hoping for it to be an improvised clown routine’ and I pretty much shit my pants.

Then, when I showed up on that day of rehearsal, and they told me they were thinking of making it the ass puppet, and I was even more terrified. Ingrid Hansen had developed this puppet during Ruff’s Macbeth workshop last December, and I had seen it on a video and thought it was really cute. She put a mask on her butt and put a cloth over the rest of her body, bent over, put her head between her knees, and used her hands sticking out in front as the puppet’s hands. Very contorted, with her feet backwards. It was fine, in theory, but the little I remembered from clown is that you’re supposed to constantly check-in with your audience, and in order to do that with my ass, it was going to be very difficult. So then, for what felt like two hours, though I’m assured is was more like one hour, I was improvising for the cast; it became an exercise in not panicking. 

So whenever we came to The Porter scene in rehearsals, I was filled with dread. Not only was I contorted, but to be contorted for that length of time, and it was hot, and I literally felt like an ass. No one was laughing, I didn’t know what it looked like, I was stumbling around thinking ‘this isn’t funny and I literally have to make up what I’m doing on the spot’. Then they gave me these arms, which were really heavy, and then the keys, which were ever heavier. There was one day, when I went off with Zach to work on The Porter, but all we did was talk about my anxiety and didn’t actually do any work. When we came back, I felt so unprepared and I just tried to smile through it, because what else am I going to do? I was expecting to conquer my fear of improv, but come on! As a clown, with my ass, that IS my nightmare (laughs). 

STEP 2:

But then one day, really close to the end of the process, Brendan sent everyone off with their Young Ruffians (the teenagers in Ruff’s apprenticeship program), except for mine: Amie & Cheyenne, which he told to stay and watch me do The Porter. ‘Oh great’, I thought, ‘any respect that have/may have had for me will immediately be gone, so that’s great’. But it went alright, and they giggled throughout as Brendan and Zach yelled instructions of things to do with him. It was sort of the first time I had had an audience and was starting to get a sense of what was funny and what wasn’t. 

And then, my big ‘aha moment’ was when they asked to put the puppet on. My first reaction was, why on earth would you want to? But they were so into it and both really wanting to do it and then the wonderful thing that happened was, that it was the first time I saw what it looked like. I was able to ask it to do the things that I had been asked to do, and I finally saw what worked and what didn’t and the words that Zach and Brendan said to me finally made sense. ‘It looks really funny when the arms are in the air’, or ‘the faster the feet move the better’. Just all of these things that were theoretical, I was finally watching happen, and realized that The Porter is actually quite delightful. And so it was a complete 180; I was inspired but their keenness, they didn’t have the hang ups that I had and I thought ‘oh my gosh, this is just a silly puppet’ and now when I go to do it, I have a better picture in my mind of what it looks like. And for me, being a puppeteer first, the picture is really important and you can’t do that with The Porter, even with a mirror, you’re looking at it upside-down and backwards. 

STEP 3:Kaitlin Morrow-Puppet

Now that the show is running, it’s less improvised, there are beats, but it’s still loose. Getting to this point was all improv. Because this was so terrifying for me, but I’m doing it and it’s going well, it’s been huge, it’s been such a huge step. If it wasn’t going well, it would still be huge, but it would be a different journey.

And, I’ve heard from lots of people saying it’s funny. There was a tweet recently saying ‘I finally laughed at The Porter’ and I thought YES! That was my whole goal, but I didn’t think I’d achieve it this way. I’m really really happy that people like it, that they’re laughing and responding, I mean doing comedy, that’s all that matters, silence is death. Especially doing comedy with your ass. I’ve seen and done bad improv and I’m just glad that this isn’t one of those experiences.

-Kaitlin Morrow 

 

Puppets + Shakespeare = The Canadian Way?

By | NAC, Shakespeare | No Comments

People keep asking what possessed us to combine Shakespeare and puppetry; as we head into the final week of rehearsals for ‘Macbeth: Walking Shadows’ (Aug 13th-30th), we thought we’d pass the buck, and ask someone else that very question. When we heard about Jillian Keiley’s decision to bring puppets to the world of ‘Twelfth Night’, next season at the NAC, we were very excited (and relieved), that we weren’t the only ones who thought puppets and Shakespeare would make a great combination. We’ll get around to answering this question ourselves, but for now, back to rehearsal. -SitR

Programming Shakespeare at Canada’s National Theatre – by Jillian Keiley

Even though I was raised on and have directed, acted in or assistant directed eight different Shakespearian productions, I have always felt kind of politicized about the sheer amount of Shakespeare that Canadians produce. Don’t get me wrong – I love Shakespeare. But I’m also a nationalist. And it strikes me odd that the primary storyteller in our theatres is a man from another continent who had never dreamed of knowing Canada.

I believe in that good kind of nationhood: shared ideals, pride of place, together we are better. And so I believe that when a Hannah Moscovitch play slays a new audience or when Robert Lepage makes the world believe that Canada (or at least a part of Canada) is at the cutting edge of the craft – I think that’s good for us, not just as an arts loving community but as a country: our stories, well told. So I do believe that Canadians and Canadian artistry should have priority in our National Arts Centre space.

However, when I took over the reins at the NAC I didn’t want to restrict the programming to only Canadian writers. I am from the school that believes that the writer is a very important key creator in identifying the ‘nationality’ of a play, but I also believe that the director or ensemble of artists can interpret a play in such a way that is so unique to that artist or to that community that the play becomes a Canadian expression, if not an entirely Canadian play. I think Raoul Bhaneja’s Hamlet is uniquely his version. I believe The Electric Company’s No Exit was as much about the art of that company as it was about Sartre. I saw Modern Times’ Macbeth several years ago and it was as unique a piece as I could imagine, using Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the primary of many layers.  Chris Abraham’s gay wedding Midsummer Night’s Dream belonged more to the backyards of Toronto than anywhere else.

At the NAC, we have two ways of programming. We select six or seven shows a year to present from the multitude that we see live or on video. For our in-house productions, we bring together a group of actors from across the country to build that year’s Ensemble. The Ensemble inspires the choice of plays for the season.   Often times, even though the Associate Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley and I pride ourselves on knowing as much as we can about the Canadian canon, we hit on a combination of people that seem to call for a classic which happens to be from somewhere else.

This coming season, for example, we happen to have the perfect alchemy of artists to do Twelfth Night. (Incidentally the other five shows for the Ensemble this year are Canadian.) I was very interested in how they would tell that story and hear that music. But also I wanted to see it envisioned by uniquely Canadian dreamers.   So I went to a team of the most unique Canadian dreamers I know – The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. This group visiting-trout_lof guys, who started out in a shed south of Calgary performing for Hutterites, had the kind of vision that could engage visually with all of the textual delights in Twelfth Night. So we moved forward with the plan to do a Shakespeare as imagined by The Old Trouts. It won’t be with marionettes or hand puppets so much as it will be visually animated using the Old Trouts’ signature style.   The Old Trouts for years have done interpretive works that have blended quite animate inanimate objects with quite animated humans to great effect.

The last Shakespeare the NAC produced (outside of presenting the visiting Raoul Bhaneja’s Hamlet) was Peter Hinton’s all Indigenous King Lear. It too was a very Canadian interpretation. I believe this Twelfth Night in the hands of the great artists in our Ensemble and the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, will offer audiences an entirely new theatrical experience; and a uniquely Canadian one at that.

Twelfth Night runs January 20th-February 6th, 2016, in Ottawa at The National Arts Centre.

2015 Season Announcement

By | Macbeth, Uncategorized

Macbeth + Puppets = MacWhat??????  

Ruff’s Artistic Director, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, explains our most adventurous production yet.

I love Macbeth. It’s one of my favourite plays to read, to speak, or to perform in (I played Malcolm under the direction of Nick Hutchinson in theatre school). The visceral imagery that Shakespeare uses in his writing is unparalleled anywhere else – it’s incredible. And now, this coming summer, I couldn’t be more excited to be directing it with Shakespeare in the Ruff. But ironically, as an audience member, I’ve often had a hard time watching it. The play asks us to watch the fall of a tyrannical, blood-thirsty, Evil-with-a-capital-E madman. I’m often unsure if I’m meant to enjoy the blood bath as I would in a horror flick or be disgusted by the tyrant’s inhumanity. In either case the result is that I disassociate with Macbeth’s character, and lose the point of the play. So what are we going to do differently? ENTER THE PUPPETS!

My first introduction to puppetry was 8 years ago, by a great man named Zach Fraser who directed me in a show about WWII called “…and stockings for the ladies” by the ever inventive RustWerk Company. One component of the show featured three puppets speaking to their survival of the concentration camps. Yes, I was thinking the same thing: puppets + concentration camp = this is not going to go well. But their moving monologues were what the audience connected with most. Something about the simplicity, fragility, and naivety inherent in those puppets made them immediately sympathetic. A puppet, unlike a human actor, is clinging to life every moment they are on stage. The audience is directly responsible for that puppet’s existence – it’s their imagination that allows the puppet to live, and a unique bond is formed between them. Kind of like watching your child take its first steps. 

It’s this aspect of puppetry that I want to explore with the story of Macbeth. I’m interested in a figuratively and literally fragile Macbeth built of wood and paper. A man, filled with naivety, exposing his doubts and fears to an audience who is responsible for giving him life. I would be more willing to go on a journey with Macbeth if I could see both his emotional and corporal fragility through everything he does. That’s exactly what we get with puppets. 

And I haven’t even mentioned all of the supernatural stuff in the play that’s way more fun in the world of puppetry. Puppets aren’t bound by the laws of physics, and so can do all sorts of inhuman things. Witch puppets?! Are you kidding me?!

The real challenge is going to be bringing together the worlds of puppetry and Shakespearean text. Luckily we got to spend a week developing ideas thanks to funding from the Ontario Arts Council. We already have some exciting things up our puppet sleeves and we’ve embarked on a rather drastic adapting process, letting the aesthetic choice of working with puppetry guide our approach to the text. 

And the secret weapon that I’m most excited about: I’ve brought on Zach Fraser, the man who taught me everything I know about puppetry, to build our puppets and work with us as a puppet choreographer throughout rehearsals. 

And now, a word from the man himself:

Ok. Confession.  I don’t always understand Shakespeare!

His words can be poetic & powerful, but at times, I get over-whelmed by the language. Through the years, I’ve seen many Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions. In Toronto… In Montreal… In Halifax… Each has its own charm. But I often leave the performance feeling like I don’t understand the story as well as I should.

This summer, with Shakespeare in the Ruff, we intend to create a truly accessible, visceral production that touches the soul and transports the spirit…

…using puppets.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a production of Shakespeare as unique in its vision as that which we are venturing to create this summer in Withrow Park. Shakespeare’s language can be exquisite. The plight of puppets can be absurd, splendid, and heart-wrenching. Puppets are the masters of high comedy & deepest drama, so partnering them up with Shakespeare makes perfect sense to us.

There’s a reason why most theatre companies avoid puppetry: they add a LOT of extra work to a production. But there’s also a reason why some of us keep getting drawn back to puppets; because they are spellbinding, seductive, magical, and they have the power to win our hearts instantaneously! They appear to be naïve, but their power is great.

Ruff is an ambitious, motivated, slick young company of talented & bold artists. I applaud the company for their willingness to respect, revere, and yet reinvent Shakespeare’s plays. It’s an honour to join forces with these Ruffians this summer.

Zach Fraser

Cymbeline Series-Part III

By | Cymbeline, Shakespeare, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cymbeline doesn’t land on most people’s lists of Top 10 Shakespeare plays, maybe not even Top 20. For this reason, we spoke to three people who have directed this play to get their take on a few questions that we’ve tackled since deciding to produce it. 

The final instalment of the series comes via Antoni Cimolino, who directed a widely acclaimed production at The Stratford Festival in 2012.

1. For a title character, King Cymbeline has very little time on stage and no time alone with the audience. How did you ensure that audiences would connect with him? Do you think the play would be better served by a different title?

“The King is Britain – literally and figuratively. At the beginning of the play he is sick – poisoned, we find out later, by his second wife, who longs to rule and install her son Cloten as King. Cymbeline has lost his two sons, abducted as infants, and with them he has lost himself. Like the two princes imprisoned in the Tower of London during Richard III’s reign, Cymbeline’s sons represent legitimacy and good government. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, a patriotic and romantic dream surrounded the princes in the Tower: that perhaps they had not been killed but had heirs living among the people. Shakespeare echoes that legend in Cymbeline, bringing about a reunion of children with their father that still touches us today.

Yanna McIntosh (The Queen), Geraint Wyn Davies (Cymbeline) & Mike Shara (Cloten)

Yanna McIntosh (The Queen), Geraint Wyn Davies (Cymbeline) & Mike Shara (Cloten)

As Cymbeline defeats the Roman army, he finds himself re-energized. He is made victorious by Posthumus, the poor soldier, and by his imagined enemy Belarius and his sons. The very people that he has banished give him back his kingdom. In the final moments, King Cymbeline decides to pay tribute to Rome despite his victory. He not only signals Britain’s voluntary participation in the Pax Romana, the new and long era of peace, he also renders unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. While Caesar may have his coins in tribute, Cymbeline once more has the love of his children and Britain.”

2. Most deus ex machina (god from the machine) moments are vital to the story. Jupiter’s descent on the back of an eagle in Cymbeline is often cut and feels less integrated than many similar interventions by the Gods in other plays. What was your take on this moment and how important a role did the unseen whims of the deities play?

“This moment is normally cut or changed, but I thought, ‘How often do you get to bring a giant eagle on stage?’ Our eagle had a head about 2 feet wide and 5 feet long with red eyes that lit up as it came out of the dark. It had wings that spread about 20 feet and flapped by way of a pulley. These body parts were fixed on a rolling step ladder of the kind found in larger libraries. On its back Jupiter was mounted lit from below. With a giant bird shriek, smoke and the sound of enormous wings beating the audiences was surprised and transfixed. And with a flash of lighting and a crack of thunder it was gone. I’m pretty sure our eagle was very like that Shakespeare used. Except we added electricity.

Posthumus’ dream is vital because it reunites the orphan child with his parents, at least in spirit. These family members strongly petition Jupiter on Posthumus’ behalf and find that the god is testing their son. Their anger at this ancient god and his cruelty seems to call out for a God of Love. King Cymbeline, of course, ruled during the time of Christ’s birth. The love of his family brings Posthumus a sense of wholeness, love and courage that is vital to the story.”

3. Cymbeline isn’t produced very often, especially in Canada; is it just the ebb and flow of fashion, or are people are afraid to do it? And if so, why? 

“The bad experiences I’ve had in seeing Cymbeline performed have been ones where the director and cast didn’t have faith in Shakespeare’s play. Consequently they try to “fix” it by cutting it, toning it down or ironically sending it up. What might be gained by such treatment is a speck compared to the beautiful mountain Shakespeare has created. Cymbeline is a great and powerful play that brings audiences understanding, laughter and tears. Tennyson, at his own insistence, was buried with a copy of it. Cymbeline merits our study and our creative powers – what it gives us in return is enormous.”

 

Cimolino_AntoniAntoni Cimolino is the Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, where this season he directed King Lear and The Beaux’ Stratagem. Stratford: Directing credits include Mary Stuart; The Merchant of Venice; Cymbeline; The Grapes of Wrath; Bartholomew Fair; Coriolanus, with Colm Feore and Martha Henry; As You Like It, featuring original music by Barenaked Ladies; King John; Love’s Labour’s Lost, with Brian Bedford; Twelfth Night, with William Hutt; The Night of the Iguana; and Filumena, with Richard Monette. Among his other accomplishments, Mr. Cimolino was instrumental in establishing the Festival’s Endowment Foundation, which has raised more than $50 million to date, as well as in the renovation of its Avon Theatre and the creation of its Studio Theatre. Elsewhere: The Canadian première of ENRON (Theatre Calgary); Twelfth Night (Attic Theatre, Detroit); A Woman of No Importance (Hilberry Theater, Detroit). A champion of the arts and culture, Mr. Cimolino serves as the National Chair of Culture Days, a nation-wide celebration of arts and culture in Canada. He has initiated collaborations with several prestigious theatre companies, including Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, New York’s Lincoln Center and City Center, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He also spearheaded the Festival’s involvement in a joint project with CUSO International, Canada’s international volunteer co-operation agency, to establish a performing arts and educational centre in the city of Suchitoto, El Salvador.

As a bonus to The Cymbeline Series, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, director of our upcoming production, will weigh in with his perspective on (to borrow a phrase from Antoni) “the beautiful mountain that Shakespeare has created”. Stay tuned to our blog for Brendan’s take on the play.
Shakespeare in the Ruff’s, Cymbeline’s Reign, runs August 12th-31st in Withrow Park.

A Thing or Two About Shakespeare

By | Acting, Shakespeare | No Comments

We, here at Shakespeare in the Ruff, come across a myriad of Shakespeare-related material. Every month we choose some of our favourites to share with you.

March 2014:

THING ONE (& only)

It’s General Audition Season in Canada! This means that all the actors you know are dusting off their monologues, Classical and Contemporary, and getting back to basics. With that in mind, an excerpt from John Barton’s marvellous ‘Playing Shakespeare’, we watch Judi Dench (Oscar nominee last night) do the most over-done soloiloquy Shakespeare wrote for women. But watch this and you’ll see why.

[youtube_video] QxftRZ_Uzq0 [/youtube_video]

A Thing or Two About Shakespeare

By | Shakespeare | No Comments

We, here at Shakespeare in the Ruff, come across a myriad of Shakespeare-related material. Every month we choose some of our favourites to share with you.

February 2014:

THING ONE

From the same people who brought you The (new) Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank, we now have another destination; the recreation of an indoor Jacobian theatre called The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The King’s Men (the final incarnation of Shakespeare’s company) performed at The Blackfriars, starting in 1608, and it required hundreds of dripping candles to keep the actors visible. We’re pleased to share that the new one is up and running and the first performance took place in mid-January. For more details, check out this article from The Guardian.

Oh, and they still light the place with candles…here’s how:

[youtube_video] nU92wfyW31o [/youtube_video]

THING TWO

Dave Matthews puts his own spin on one of Shakespeare’s tunes from Twelfth Night. A haunting take on ‘Come Away Death’ and a reminder of how versatile this language can be:

[youtube_video] fdPsXZNqKA8#t=11 [/youtube_video]

Know of any contemporary versions of Shakespeare’s songs we should hear?

 

 

A Thing or Two About Shakespeare

By | Uncategorized

We, here at Shakespeare in the Ruff, come across a myriad of Shakespeare-related material. Every month we choose some of our favourites to share with you.

January 2014:

THING ONE

In celebration of the return of Sherlock this month (a favourite amongst us Ruffians), check out this audio clip of Benedict Cumberbatch performing ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ from As You Like It.

[youtube_video] YM8LAbuateI [/youtube_video]

 

THING TWO

Shakespeare to stay put here in Canada. The Sanders portrait of Shakespeare is likely being sold to a Canadian family with plans to exhibit it at one of our major art institutes.

READ GLOBE & MAIL ARTICLE HERE

 

AND ANOTHER THING

In honour of Peter O’Toole’s passing last month, we wanted to share a fascinating conversation he had with Orson Welles about Hamlet, as seen on the BBC’s Monitor in 1963. At the time, he was playing the title role in The National Theatre’s inaugural production, directed by Laurence Olivier. O’Toole and Welles, along with a couple of the hosts, discuss the various approaches that people have taken in playing The Dane, as well as some of the big questions that every director has to grapple with when approaching the play. Intelligent and funny, this clip serves as a reminder of what captivating men both O’Toole & Welles were.

[youtube_video] smMa38CZCSU [/youtube_video]

Anything you think we’d like, please let us know in the comments.

 

The Richard Series Part 3: Tom McCamus

By | Acting, Richard III

In the final instalment of our Richard Series, we speak to Tom McCamus, who played Richard at The Stratford Festival in 2002 and is currently spending his 13th season at the Festival, playing Friar Laurence in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and Antonio in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.  In our series, Tom arguably brings the most traditional approach to the role of Richard III, but as anyone who has seen Tom act can attest to, his invention and perspective are anything but conventional.  

1-What was your relationship with the audience while playing Richard and did it change throughout the play?

Particularly at the beginning of the play, I spoke to the audience. Someone told me once that the best way to do that kind of thing, if you’re playing Richard III, is to imagine that the whole audience is made up of Richards, the assumption being that they all agree with you, so that you’re not trying to convince anyone. And that’s what I thought about and it made me laugh and it worked out well, because he’s such a fabulous, theatrical character. The connection with the audience diminishes as the play goes on, but I did this one thing throughout with a list – as I talked about all the people who were dead, I’d cross them off the list. Towards the end, I crossed the wife off and that was pretty direct to the audience, but by that point, Richard actually wasn’t looking for anything from them. I feel like he cuts them out partly because he’s becoming more and more concerned about everything falling apart around him to be too much aware of the audience.

2-How did you develop the physicality of the part and what informed your choice?

I kept talking to people when I first got the part and they’d ask, ‘Are you gonna have a hump?’ and I’d think, ‘Of course I’m gonna have a hump; if you’re playing Richard III, you’re gonna have a hump.’ But I used to say to them, ‘Oh no, no, no – we’re gonna start the play sitting at a desk and he’s gonna look totally normal, talking to the audience, and then halfway through the scene he’s gonna get up from the desk and he’s gonna have the biggest bum you’ve seen in your whole life and then he’ll spend the entire play having to turn sideways to get through doors.’ That made me laugh a lot, but then somebody said, ‘Careful – if you tell Martha (Martha Henry, the director), she might actually suggest you do that.’

Ultimately, for the physicality, I had a hump, but it wasn’t huge – it was more of a small deformity – and I also played with various degrees of Cerebral Palsy. I did the play ‘Creeps’ a long time ago, so I had explored that type of physicality and that kind of fit with Richard. My basic premise was that it came and went, depending on what he wanted from people. So, if he wanted more, the hump would be bigger, because it would elicit a certain amount of pity and then nobody would think he was a threat. He was like a dog that everybody kicked out of the way and before they knew it, boom, he was there.

3-Did anything surprise you about playing the role?

Everything. I didn’t know a lot about it when I went to play it, so I was surprised by how funny he was, how theatrical, how different he was from everybody else in the play, just in the writing of it and in the character of it. I was surprised that he really had no feeling for anything or anybody, other than himself. It’s a pretty early play and there’s a lot of verse and structure to it, but Richard’s kind of outside of that structure.

Another surprise is the way people reacted to things I did. They often said, ‘Why does he fall (out of a tree at the beginning and during the coronation)?’ or ‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ about all kinds of things I thought were great. Part of it, especially with Shakespeare, is that people have such a strong idea of what it should be and if what you do doesn’t fit, they don’t always embrace it, and that surprised me. Most of the Shakespeare I’ve done, I’ve discovered, they haven’t been roles I’ve always wanted to play and so I just do whatever comes to me.

Tom McCamus' RIII

Ruff’s ‘Richard III’ is playing from Aug 13th-Sept 1st in Toronto’s Withrow Park. All the information can be found at www.shakespeareintheruff.com. 

The Richard Series Part 2: Tim Welham

By | Uncategorized

In the second installment of our Richard Series, we confer with Tim Welham, who is currently reviving his one-man adaptation of Richard III, ‘Crookback’. Originally wowing Toronto audiences in 2010, ‘Crookback’ plays this month at The Etcetera Theatre in London, England where Tim recently completed his Masters at The Central School of Speech & Drama. Playing not only Richard, but every part in the play, Tim brings a unique and multifaceted perspective to our Richard Series.

1-What was your relationship with the audience while playing Richard and did it change throughout the play? 

We (director Megan Watson & myself) used Richard’s unique soliloquies, and his incredibly intimate relationship with the audience, as a springboard for the concept of our adaptation. So right from “Now is the winter”, we invite the audience into Richard’s mind, and the soliloquies act as a kind of confessional with the audience members. For me, the beginning monologue is always the hardest. Since each audience is different, each performance requires many subtle shifts in intention, focus, and address. I tend to speak directly to audience members when I play Richard, and some people find this quite disconcerting at the beginning of the show! So it takes a while to warm the audience to the concept and for them to feel comfortable inside Richard’s head. However, as the play progresses and the action grows, I’ve noticed most people end up encouraging Richard, and willing him to victory. It’s an interesting change – and one that Shakespeare deals with very well in his writing. By the time we get to the final soliloquy, after the famous nightmare on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth, Richard asks many more questions of the audience and is, essentially, begging them for a response – he is desperate for answers. Shakespeare’s use of short (sometimes incomplete) sentences and questions forces Richard into a kind of self-reflective state, and in turn jarrs the audience into reconsidering their own views of this very troubled and lonely man.

2-How did you develop the physicality of the part and what informed your choice?

The physicality! Well, for me to first begin creating a unique body, I needed to research what other actors had done before. The most memorable are probably Laurence Olivier’s 1955 hopping crow (mainly because it was one of the first to be preserved on film), and Antony Sher’s 1984 spider for the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). Olivier’s is a difficult shadow to dodge, since his portrayal is so prevalent in our cultural consciousness, and Sher’s version is probably the pinnacle of physical dexterity. So, I went down the middle. Taking clues from Shakespeare’s text (not historical references), I ended up with my left arm in a sling, walking with a slight limp of the left leg, and curving my head and spine slightly to the left as well. The idea was to portray a slight compression & twist in Richard’s spine – perhaps the result of scoliosis? – that slowly amplified throughout the play. All of my clues came from the text, and mainly from names and descriptions of Richard by other characters.

3-Did anything surprise you about playing the role? 

At the beginning of the process, I had an image of Richard as a gleeful, mischievous murderer without much of a moral compass. I thought he would spend most of his time in a state of high adventure – like Commander of a frigate on the high seas chasing a pirate ship. In the end, I discovered that much of Richard’s drive to life comes from a place of incredible loneliness and sadness. He has been, essentially, disowned by his mother and shunned by the rest of his family. He has never really known love. I found this to be the core of Richard’s character: his desperate need for love, comfort and understanding. And this came to a head during his final soliloquy on the eve of Bosworth where he says “I shall despair, there is no creature loves me, / And if I die, no soul will pity me.” He is human, and like all of us, wants to love and be loved in return. His tragedy is perhaps that it took him too long to realize that.

Tim Whelam's RIII

Next in our Richard Series, Tom McCamus recounts discovering the role of Richard III at The Stratford Festival in 2002. Ruff’s production of ‘Richard III’ is playing Aug 13th-Sept 1st in Toronto’s Withrow Park, all info at www.shakespeareintheruff.com