At the first rehearsal for Richard the Third, Director David Muse and some of the design team spoke to the cast of D.C. favorites and newcomers about their ideas for this highly-anticipated production. Currently the Artistic Director at Studio Theatre, STC Affiliated Artist David Muse is very familiar to STC audiences as Associate Artistic Director from 2005–2010 and most recently the director of King Charles III.
While there are some issues with Shakespeare’s early play – like the length, some of the poetry and the necessary knowledge of English history in order to understand much of the plot – David outlined the things he likes about the play that he wants to highlight in this production. He described Richard as Shakespeare’s “first great character, first giant role…Richard is appealing. He’s witty. It’s fun to spend time with him—at first. There’s a reason why audiences are so hungry to see Richards and to return to see Richards. It’s like Shakespeare learning to play delight in the audience and moral revulsion off one another and to let them coexist.”
While Richard is the play’s central character, David is also giving special attention to the members of the ensemble, who will help highlight the role of complicity in a society with a ruler like Richard. David says, “We get to watch how people negotiate with themselves, how they choose to fall in line, how they align themselves with power, how they normalize what isn’t normal…I think there’s a kind of corresponding way in which the audience is maybe complicit, in that you find yourself oddly, especially as the play begins, kind of getting on board, almost rooting for Richard, delighting in what he’s doing.”
Costume Designer Murell Horton, who has been nominated for several Helen Hayes Awards for his work at STC including The School for Lies and The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound, is looking to different periods of history to give the characters a contemporary feel with their costumes. Many of the costumes are inspired by the 1930s, and some men will wear – and die in – a simple, art deco-style grey suit with a white shirt, so that the audience can see blood stains, concocted by STC’s Prop Shop. He looked to a much earlier time period for some of Richard’s costume inspirations, though. Murell says, “I started with the idea that Louis XIV had everyone wear wigs because he was going bald. And Elizabeth did it – she feminized woman with narrow waists and broad hips, meant to look more feminine. So I thought that Richard probably influences his court, too.” By the time of his coronation, Richard’s men and Anne will have similar corsets and neck braces to the one that Richard wears. “It kind of grows from this idea of normalizing his perception of these things,” he explains.
Lindsay Jones, back at STC after his Helen Hayes-nominated Sound Design for Twelfth Night, is composing original music for this contemporary world inspired by doom rock. He’s layering music on top of sounds that are made by manipulating items on the set. “It’s sort of hyper-real, super intense, hardcore punk rock in the beginning, modeled off of this Swedish band called Refused,” he explains. “Then as the play goes on, we’re going to move more into the sort of doom rock area, which would be like Earth and Pelican and Boris and Sunn O))). Which I know are your favorite bands,” he added with a laugh. The set, designed by Debra Booth (The Lover and The Collection) is similarly full of doom. Inspired by abandoned morgues, the set will feature a working sink and hose to clean blood and medical devices. Bodies will pile up and blood will spill – and be ignored – highlighting the theme of complacency.
The biggest challenge faced by David and many of the designers is reckoning Richard’s disability. David explains, “Our approach to Richard’s disability or disfigurement has been to make it not super severe or at least not super visible. Both Matthew Rauch and I were compelled by the idea that Richard’s image of himself is worse than what he presents to the world. We also like the idea that he’s sort of figured out a way to support himself and get through the world and hide much of what’s going on. It’s vulnerable in private, but pretty strong and put together in public.” Murell has been thinking about this in regards to Costume Design as well. He says, “Our approach to the play hinges on this idea of who is Richard? And this idea, in a contemporary world, of how you represent these things without blaming his perception of disability.”
As the production takes shape, the actors and design team are focusing on creating a production that is accessible and understandable to everyone. David says, “My aim has been to try to put together a production that is fleet and engaging and clear and shocking in its parallels to now.”
Richard the Third begins February 5.