One great thing about theatre is seeing all the ways a show can be mounted. Three different theatre companies could all present the same show and yet each one would be different. When I heard The Bridge Production Group was presenting a bold & bloody production of Shakespeare's Richard III, I thought I would take a closer look.
I called and The Bridge Production Group's Artistic Director, Max Hunter, answered. So, we sat down to discuss this new telling of a classic show. The Bridge Production Group's Richard III, utilizes video & film projection, this complex historical saga has been streamlined & distilled for contemporary audiences in the style of Quentin Tarantino & Baz Luhrmann, with inspiration from American Psycho and Dexter. It stresses the fractured and bloody nature of deceit and betrayal through ensemble-driven storytelling, movement, and a kinetic visual landscape.
Richard III plays Fourth Street Theatre (83 East 4th Street) from November 9-27. Click here for tickets!
1. This November, your theatre company, The Bridge Production Group is staging a bold re-envisioning of Shakespeare's Richard III, stylized after Quentin Tarantino & Baz Luhrmann, with inspiration from American Psycho and Dexter. What made you want to present this show in this new way? When looking at a complex historical drama - with an incredible amount of context surrounding the plot and characters - I felt that it had to be presented with a vocabulary that might allow audiences an authentic entry point into this world. In looking to mirror the stylistic techniques of artists like Tarantino and Luhrmann, I wanted to bring a visceral energy to the grit and violence of this play, activating this world beyond a museum-piece presentation.
2. What is it about Quentin, Baz, American Psycho and Dexter that made you want to present a theatrical show in their style of work? The deliberate juxtaposition between thematic elements in these works create a conversation between audiences and artists, creating a new lens for audiences to experience these worlds. In Django Unchained, Tarantino presented the world of the American slave trade through the musical underscoring of traditional western motifs and contemporary hiphop. American Psycho famously utilized graphic violence and Huey Lewis and The News to comment on American consumerism and masculinity in the 1980s. In looking at Richard III, I felt that by keeping these characters grounded in a sense of tradition - while taking liberties with how we present that world - we can create a more authentic relationship between actor and audience.
3. What do you think audiences will be most impressed by this new telling of Richard III and what, if anything, do you think they will miss about a traditional telling? We are deliberate to note that the play still "occurs" in 16th-century England; this is not Shakespeare with cell phones and machine guns. Our interpretation of Richard III allows for a heightened portrayal of how that world manifests to our audiences. In shying away from a more static staging, we are allowing the energy and emotion of the text to dictate more modern stylistic designs - using movement, music, and visual design that might otherwise seem anachronistic to work together to elevate the vitality of the play.
4. You are playing "Richard III" himself. What do you identify most with about "Richard III." What characteristic of his do you wish you had and which one are you like, "he can keep that trait."? I identify with "Richard’s" unwavering ambition. He sets out defined objectives - marrying "Anne," killing his brothers, securing political clout - and doesn’t stop until each box has been checked. While I might personally disagree with his choice of tactics, there’s something to be envied in having every single personal desire manifest into a deliberate and decisive action.
5. Your production of Richard III, stresses the fractured & bloody nature of deceit & betrayal. When have you been deceived and betrayed? Have those situations been rectified or was the relationship to those involved just ceased? I think Richard III can act as a catharsis of sorts to audiences who, having been deceived to some degree in their lives, wish that they could extend the control that "Richard" maintains in the play. While I doubt many have experienced the immense jealousy and anger that occurs in the play, we all instinctively go to dark places when figuring out how best to let our retribution manifest itself. For me, it's usually sitting in a dark room with a six-pack of Bud Light Lime, rewatching whole seasons of Friends.
6. In Richard III, "Richard III" sets out to overthrow his brother from the throne. Has there ever been a time when you wanted to become the head of something because you didn't like how it was being run? I've been in several productions of classic plays where I disagreed with the manner in which it was being produced - pacing, tone, and context are too important to ignore when dealing with audiences who already feel removed from these older plays. Those experiences - where I wished I could've taken a more dominant hand in control - were instrumental in the decision to co-found The Bridge Production Group with Jacob Owen (Associate Artistic Director).
7. In addition to acting in this show, you are also directing it. What do you like about having this dual role? How do keep the actor in you separate from the director and vice versa? I admire the director/actor duality because I think it forces the creation of ideas that aren’t necessarily just interesting in theory, but have to be carried out in practice night after night. In asking for trust from a team of actors, I’m not removed as a third-party director but rather standing side by side as a member of the ensemble. The lines can blur, but having Jacob Owen to act as a second set of eyes and clarify moments of storytelling has been a true collaboration, enriching our production and theatre company.
8. What made you want to start your own theatre company? What do you get from being the Artistic Director that you don't get from being a performer/director? Life is too short to spend every day in New York thinking, "How can I gain the approval of this casting director/agent/restaurant manager/etc." I felt confident that we could produce classic theatre in a model that is accessible to an entire demographic of audience ignored by classics companies, while also creating something that would rise above the noise of shoestring productions of three-hour plays with four actors, a chair, and black curtain in a closet in Chinatown.
9. How do you feel Richard III relates to the political race we have seen this year between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump? While obvious to draw parallels between Trump and our title character, I believe that would give too much credit to Donald Trump. I think a common theme in both Richard III and this election cycle is the reminder that politics is so often about exploiting the public thirst for sex and gossip, with policy and experience taking an extreme backseat.
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? This entire experience has been a continuous learning curve of trying to produce smarter and more interesting art - if we can grow by one percent every day in the way we budget, schedule, advertise, and rehearse, I would be a very content Artistic Director.
New York: The Pearl Theatre Company, Metropolitan Playhouse, and readings with New York Theatre Workshop and 54Below. Regional credits include Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, New London Barn Playhouse, Opera North, LAMDA.
Directing credits include Zorba! at Encores! (dir. Walter Bobbie, SDC Fellowship), Long Island Theatre Festival (Winner, Best Director), Midtown Midwinter Theatre Festival, New London Barn Playhouse, Dartmouth College. A member of Actors Equity and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.