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Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside Richard the Third’s Doom Rock Inspired Soundtrack

Shakespeare and doom rock are not two things one would associate. But in the world of Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Richard the Third the two are intrinsically linked, thanks to composer Lindsay Jones. A lifelong lover of music, Jones has been playing since he was a teen and is entirely self taught. While working as an actor in Chicago, he began scoring plays as a side gig. Combined with his passion for music, it quickly became a legitimate career that’s seen him score a host of successful productions throughout the country. Now,  25 years into his career crafting innovative compositions for theatre, Jones lent his talent – and love for doom rock, punk and metal – to the score of STC’s dark performance.

OT: How did you come to work with Shakespeare Theatre Company on this play?
Lindsay Jones: When I first sat down with [artistic director] David Muse, he told me he wanted [the score] to be punk rock. I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of punk rock, but I never get asked to make punk rock. There just aren’t a lot of theatres in America looking for punk rock soundtracks. As he described it to me, he said he wanted it to start out very punk and full of energy, but as the play went on, to get distorted and ugly and dirty.

OT: How did you or the others involved in the play decide to approach the score using doom rock?
LJ: I started thinking of using doom rock, which is slow, and dirge-y but still super distorted – the soundtrack of your nightmares, basically. I wanted to start with punk rock [that became] doom rock as it went along. But it occurred to me that in the structure of Richard the Third, in the beginning of the play Richard says, “I’m planning this takeover, I’m going to slowly methodically knock out all of my enemies til’ I get to be king.” There’s not a lot of fast stuff in there. Once Richard is king, everything starts falling apart and becoming more frantic and crazy. Halfway through I realized I was doing this in reverse – it should start slower and speed up as it goes, so that’s what we did.

OT: What other elements played into the score’s composition?|
LJ: As I was walking out of David’s office after our initial meeting, he told me he had this other idea for the actors to be playing body percussion along with the music. I didn’t know how that was going to play itself out. They hired an amazing movement choreographer named Stephanie Paul, who in rehearsal worked with the actors to create complex sequences where they’re playing on their bodies with knives and sticks – all sorts of things. They’re pounding out complicated rhythms while sequences are happening. So I would watch videos of the actors doing these movement sequences, figure out what the BPM was and then create music that fit.

OT: That’s an incredibly unique element – and incredibly challenging to work with, I can imagine!
LJ: Rock music doesn’t usually have a lot of space for additional percussion. The whole idea is it’s super loud and regressive. The first challenge was just fitting everything in. We ended up [putting microphones on] the stage and performers, so I could pick up [the percussion] and amplify it to the same volume level as the recorded music.

The other challenge, which probably took us the longest time to sort out, is that these actors worked for several weeks creating percussion sequences and got pretty good at it, but they weren’t initially trying to perform these sequences along to anything else [like music].  As soon as I show up with recorded music at a certain tempo every time no matter what – it was a lot of telling them to start at a certain beat, keep up with a certain rhythm, listen to parts of the score – so they could hear the rhythm they have to keep up with.

So we’re telling them “okay actors, you’re going to speak, you’re going to play rhythm on your body and you’re going to attempt to stay completely in time with this recorded piece of music that’s playing along.” I have to give the cast a tremendous amount of credit. It was tricky but they hung in there, and wanted to make it work. When you see the performance now, it all seems like second nature. But at the time of putting it together, we definitely had moments of thinking “oh my god, what have we done?”

OT: How have your audiences received the score?
LJ: People who are casual theatre fans are really excited by it. The reviews have either said “wow, this is a totally crazy interpretation of this play and I really enjoyed it” or “oh my god, what did they do, I don’t know how I feel about it!”

One of the reviews called the score “post-Wayne’s World,” so if your relationship to hard rock music is Wayne’s World, I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help you.

OT: Scoring any play, but especially a Shakespeare classic like Richard the Third, is no small task. Why do you think this job is so important, and what keeps you in this industry?
LJ: I’ve started teaching how to write theatre compositions recently and one of the things I like to tell my students is that music is really the emotional context by which you’re going to receive drama. This speech I’m giving right now about how music affects – you could imagine that while I’m giving it there’s a slow building underscore that’s really inspirational and exciting. That’s going to totally frame the context by which you’re getting this information. If I gave the same speech with dark scar music, it completely changes the context by which you see it because now you’re imagining something terrible is going to happen.

Music is incredibly powerful and influential. When you’re given the responsibility of creating music that’s going to match live drama, you really have a great responsibility to try to make the music as close to what the action is as possible, so that the audience is receiving the clearest and most expressive form of the story.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third runs through Sunday, March 10 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Tickets $44-$102. For more on composer Lindsay Jones, visit www.linsdayjones.com. You can find the punk, metal and doom rock songs that inspired Jones’ compositions below.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Richard the Third – tracks and influences

Track: Richard III 

Influence – Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath 

Track: This Is War

Influence – Boilermaker by The Jesus Lizard

Track: To The Sanctuary 

Influence: Bliss In Concrete by Pelican 

Track: Full Speed Ahead 

Influence: Otsegolectric by Static-X 

Track: Zadok The Priest 

Influence: The Prophet’s Song by Queen 

Track: A Needless Coward 

Influence: This Isn’t The Place by Nine Inch Nails 

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The opening line of Richard the Third would have you believe that all hardships are over and only good days are to come. But as theatergoers attending Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) upcoming production of Richard the Third will soon realize, anything but peace lies ahead.

Directed by David Muse for STC and running from February 5 through March 10, Shakespeare’s Richard the Third follows the titular role of Richard on his ambitious quest for the crown. A spiteful megalomaniac, Richard (Matthew Rauch) will stop at nothing until he sits on the throne, and thus invites the audience into a world of murder, villainy and even dark fun.

“Yes, Richard does horrific things in this play,” Rauch says, “but my hope and David’s [Muse] hope, I think, is that at least for the first part of the play, the audience reaction will not be ‘Oh, what a terrible person,’ but ‘Oh, isn’t he just deliciously evil’ and it’s terrible, but it’s fun to watch.”

Rauch emphasizes that just because the title of the play is Richard the Third, it doesn’t mean the story is only about him.

“It’s very easy with a face on the poster and the title of the play, for people to think there’s only one person involved,” Rauch says. “The truth is there’s about a hundred people involved and all of them are crucial.”

Some of those crucial people are the women around Richard, including his mother the Duchess of York, Margaret of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth. Rauch points out that while Richard can brilliantly manipulate people and events, these particular women don’t bend easily to his will and disprove the outdated notion that Shakespearean women are damsels in distress.

But a fourth woman equally as important to the play’s development, Lady Anne of Neville (Cara Ricketts), is the person who perhaps best understands Richard.

“Richard sees himself in [Anne] and she sees herself in him, in a way that she probably feels like she may break through to him,” Ricketts says. “He pretends it’s a possibility and she falls for it.”

Bust because Anne is ultimately manipulated by Richard, this doesn’t make her simple.

“My Anne is not a pushover,” Ricketts says. “There’s nothing soft about these women. The foundation for these characters has never been soft women.”

Ricketts adds she is ready to play Anne the way an audience 70 years ago may not have let her.

“During the 50s, you had preconceived notions about what a woman was in terms of society so that’s what you got,” Ricketts says. “Now I’ve got a chance to let loose the girdle and make it rip, so that’s what I’m doing while respecting what that character is.”

These preconceived notions of Shakespearean women are not the only ideas cast and crew hope prove outdated. Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the play is the “wooing scene” where Richard interrupts Anne’s mourning of her father-in-law.

Rauch stresses that while many feel the scene is “creepy” and Richard comes off as “sexually predatory,” this is not the way they plan to portray Richard.

“The only event that needs to happen in the scene is that Anne consents to come to Richard’s house. Nothing else is implied in that scene or on the page and my hope is that it will not come off as sexually creepy,” Rauch says. “David [Muse] and I were never interested in a Richard who was sexually predatory, not because it’s not politically correct, but because we didn’t believe there was anything in the text that supported that.”

Changes in the character’s tones will not be the only noticeable differences in STC’s Richard the Third production. About 40 percent of the original text – mostly obscure English history – has been cut for a streamlined production.

“The Shakespeare Theatre is, I would argue, literally the best classical theater in the United States,” Rauch says. “They know how to do this here and they have created such a web of support.”

Rauch adds that despite the play’s age, audience members will find a lot of similarities between the 500-year-old story and modern society.

“[This is] a story about a deeply complicated, manipulative, brilliant person who rises to power and the people who are complicit in his doing so,” Rauch says. “All you need to do is read the front page of the New York Times to find parallels to that story.”

See Richard the Third at Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 5 through March 10. Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $44. For more information, click here.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Ken Clark’s King Arthur Leads with Heart

This classic tale of one of the world’s most famous – and heartbreaking – love triangles and the noble man caught in the center of it is at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through July 8. Directed by Shakespeare’s very own Alan Paul, Camelot follows Arthur from the moment he meets his beloved bride Guenevere until the last time he sees her face.

“Love and marriage – don’t conflate the two!”

The audience laughs, but Merlyn (played by actor Ted van Griethuysen) is quite serious when talking to a young Arthur (Ken Clark), who is trying to sneak a peek at his bride-to-be Guenevere (Alexandra Silber).

Even in the first scene, as Arthur props himself between branches and pesters Merlyn with questions about Guenevere – “Is she pretty or very pretty?” – the future king exposes his sincerest qualities from the beginning: hope for his marriage and affection toward Merlyn. These inherent qualities, hope and affection, guide his principles and spur the ideals to reinvent Camelot through his reign.

“It’s a play about our basic natures, and our attempt to overcome and even alter those natures,” Clark explains in a recent interview with On Tap. “Arthur never gives up on his own convictions in order to save his realm, and that’s what makes him different – because people do bad things in the name of the greater good, but Arthur doesn’t.”

The timeline of the play, spanning years, allows for greater character development not only for King Arthur but also for Guenevere and Lancelot – a Knight of the Round Table who becomes Arthur’s dear friend and ultimately falls madly in love with his Queen. Subtle mentions of time in dialogue help keep the audience aware of where we are in the story, but the characters also provide cues based on changes in tone and attitude. Clark says one of the great things about playing Arthur is portraying him during his lifelong journey.

“You follow him from boyhood to older manhood, and all of the things that change along the way. You get an opportunity to play those human circumstances and apply them to a dramatic scene. That is a rare, rare opportunity for an actor.”

The medieval period generally evokes imagery of bloodshed and knights in armor battling for land – or a woman. In other words, a play based in this period of history can be expected to have a very masculine display with limited range in a man’s emotions. But Camelot’s King Arthur represents a courageous leader who is well-respected because of his emotional vulnerability and not in spite of it – a symbol for modern men that feels very necessary to represent onstage in 2018. It’s important, Clark says, for a leader to show vulnerability.

“I think that we need to make it very clear that you can be masculine and vulnerable. The two are not mutually exclusive. And in this day and age, I think that needs to be clear, especially for young men. You can be emotionally available, you can listen, you can be sensitive – and you can still be masculine. They should go hand in hand.”

When the pompous (yet somehow still endearing) Lancelot (played by Nick Fitzer) arrives on the scene, he’s a French knight who has the type of energy you’d expect. He’s always ready to swing the sword and quick to insert self-praise into regular conversation. But he kneels before King Arthur immediately, demonstrating how powerful the King’s presence is even beyond Camelot.

“It helps that the other actors are so good,” Clark says of his castmates. “When you put something out and you get it knocked right back to you, it makes it a lot easier to get to those deep, emotional places.”

The 29-year-old says casting a young King Arthur makes the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production unique and modern in another way.

“First and foremost, it makes the love triangle more compelling – certainly from Guenevere’s standpoint. If you have a much older Arthur, then the audience is going to be like, ‘Well of course she’s going to go with Lancelot.’ But if you can present a more loving, tender, romantic, sexual relationship between Arthur and Guenevere, it makes it that much more compelling when Lancelot comes around, which I think is a smart way to do it. I’m certainly glad they did it that way!”

Arthur and Guenevere’s genuine love for each other makes it easy for them to be the right royal duo to implement changes in Camelot. Clark’s favorite scene is when the pair imagine the Round Table for the first time.

“[This scene] is a window into their marriage when it’s still a very good, strong partnership, and it’s a look at what two people who love each other can do when they trust [each other] and work well together,” he says.

This is one of several scenes with a deliberately intimate setting, allowing the dialogue and chemistry between the actors to shine through. The stage is stripped of visual noise and an array of candles tranquilize the atmosphere. Our eyes follow Guenevere as she moves around Arthur, and delights in their forward-thinking idea with her husband. However, the audience will find it hard to pick just one favorite scene. Clark laughs as he adds, “There’s so many good scenes.”

And even with Arthur at the center of the story, Silber’s Guenevere holds her own and at times, is truly the highlight of scenes. When singing about the “lusty month of May,” Guenevere is a more mature and established queen than at the beginning of the play, but she still reveals the spirited maiden she has always been. This boisterous, vibrant dance and song sequence with the simple folk is one of my favorites.

Each actor perfectly embodies their respective characters in tongue and physical form. The songs are a performance in their own right, granting applause from the audience every time. The use of space is impactful as well, with a character running through the audience aisle or appearing under a spotlight offstage, and Paul even uses floor-to-ceiling space to give the audience dual point of views.

Clark delivers a King Arthur who is relatable in 2018. He says Shakespeare Theatre Company wants to interpret plays thoughtfully, which isn’t easy for a production like Camelot that has a well-known story and is full of household songs.

“They don’t want to put Camelot up and see who comes. They want to take the ideals and ideas that make Camelot special and put them on full display. There’s so much more going on in the story, and STC – especially [director] Alan Paul – has been dedicated to making sure those ideas are at the forefront of this production. I’ve been wanting to work [at Shakespeare] for a long time, and it’s been everything I hoped.”

Camelot runs through July 8, and tickets start at $59. Learn about Shakespeare’s Young Prose Nights and discounted tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.og.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org