For anyone wondering what the true form and function of theater looks like, consider “Booth’s Richard III” at Austin Scottish Rite Theatre, playing for one more weekend on June 29 and 30. This performance of Colley Cibber’s “Richard III,” taken from the original script notes by American thespian turned villain, John Wilkes Booth, is unlike anything you’ll see this year.
Let me frame it for you. Beth Burns, Artistic Director of Hidden Room Theatre and the Master of Play, announces the show and briefly explains what you are about to see: lots of stage violence, melodrama, gesture acting, and hundreds of lines of Shakespeare. In short, maybe everything you hate about theater. And yet, she begs, there is one thing fundamental to bringing Shakespeare’s plays to life: you, the audience.
Thank you to Hidden Room Theatre for hosting me at a recent performance. All opinions are my own.
Boo, Hiss, Chat, Cheer
The whole “quiet while viewing” phenomenon is relatively new. Theaters used to be raucous. So in an effort to transport us back to that time period, Burns urges us to boo, hiss, and cheer at the characters. The audience is encouraged to chat during interludes, and we don’t have to be afraid to get up to use bathroom.
Burns even tells us that back when this version of “Richard III” was performed in the 19th century, if an actor did something you particularly liked, if you clapped loud and long enough, he might just do it again!
She finishes her spiel, the lights remain dimly lit, and the stage-side, five-player orchestra begins a trumpet-led overture as the back drop is slowly pulled up and the play begins.
While the total runtime of the play is over two hours, it doesn’t feel like it. Nor is it difficult to stay focused, what with it being almost a conversation between audience and actors. One particularly good interchange occurred for me when a loud hiss and boo from the audience inspired the deformed and murderous Richard to pause, listen to the audience, then wrap himself gleefully in blood-soaked robes.
This moment was one of many in an outstanding performance by Judd Farris, who knocks the titular Richard out of the park, with an anguished and hilarious presentation.
While I’d heard of the Shakespearean style of theater-going, I’d never experience it until “Booth’s Richard III.” I felt its power no more strongly than in the final scene (no spoiler), when the man sitting next to me–who had been quiet throughout the entire performance–suddenly shouted, “HIT HIM AGAIN!” which ignited the crowd in laughter and applause.
One More Weekend of “Richard III”
The Hidden Room, the group putting on this show in conjunction with Scottish Rite Theatre and Harry Ransom Center, is committed to unearthing and performing unique historical pieces. This particular night, haunted as it was by the specter of John Wilkes Booth, was a fantastic tribute to a timeless classic, and an airtight argument for the value and purpose of going to an actual theater.
Get your tickets quickly, before the final weekend sells out!
207 West 18th St. – Tickets
@theAustinot wants to know:
When was the last time you went to a theater to see a play?