SDA hath taken upon itself ‘Richard III’

Students showcased their craft in Second Stage’s take on Shakespeare’s classic.

The School of Dramatic Arts’ new Second Stage program performed “Richard III” with a modern interpretation. (Keira Weiss)

In a world of intrigue, betrayal and ambition, the School of Dramatic Arts’ Second Stage program brought Shakespeare’s “Richard III” to the intimate McClintock Theatre last week. The production showcased the budding talents of the sophomore cohort of Bachelor of Fine Arts acting students in creating and crafting each nuance of the show throughout the semester.

The Second Stage program, which is new to SDA, was designed to bridge the skills students hone throughout their coursework. It provides them with an opportunity to apply these learned techniques to a mainstage production during school hours as a self-sufficient theater company.

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“Second stages are a representation of what the students have learned so far in their other classes,” said Kathleen Dunn-Muzingo, associate professor of theatre practice in voice and movement.

SDA Dean Emily Roxworthy assigned Dunn-Muzingo as the practicum leader for the performance. The practicum leader serves as a guide, directing the show and supporting the students through telling the story to the best of their skill sets.

The two-hour play, with one 10-minute intermission, proved to be a captivating experience, skillfully interpreting Shakespeare’s text while delving deep into the timeless themes of power and greed. The actors innovatively used the nature of the theater to interact with the audience. With actors seamlessly moving between the confines of the stage and dynamically playing with the fourth wall, the audience was immersed in the unfolding narrative.

“I structured the show where actors come on in different entrances,” Dunn-Muzingo said. “This show can travel anywhere, just like Shakespeare, and a lot of times in Shakespeare’s world, the actors were also the producers. They were the costumers. They were the dramaturgs.”

The BFA cohort began their process with historical research on “Richard III.”

“I showed them paintings or things that were an essence of the show,” Dunn-Muzingo said. From there, the team interpreted their roles and constructed the set.

The set consisted of two tables and a few boxes, all painted black. Though simple, the students effectively moved the set pieces between scenes to enhance their scenes, establish environments and bring the story to life. 

For Coby Hawkins, a sophomore majoring in acting for stage and screen, the foundational character-building work was vital in approaching the titular role of Richard. With the historical context in mind, Hawkins proceeded to apply this knowledge to his character.

“He is known pretty much on all sides as a villain, but for me, it was really getting down to who is he as a person. Why is he the way that he is? And looking into and molding what shaped him as a person,” Hawkins said. “Obviously, we can’t see the people that we play as villains. We need to find the humanity in them.”

Oscar Salvaggio, a sophomore majoring in acting for stage and screen, spoke on the challenges of simultaneously creating a connection with his roles and audience, all while balancing the Shakespearean text.

“I’m playing a few different characters in the show, and there’s a lot of ups and downs,” Salvaggio said.

However, the cast had the support of their director and other faculty members in tackling these feats. Hawkins found balancing the projection of the difficult text in a digestible manner for the audience and the physicality of Richard’s hunch to be tough.

“I had to work a lot with that with Stephanie Shroyer — our movement coach — and Laura Flanagan — our voice coach — and figure out how I could do both of those things simultaneously,” Hawkins said.

Grasping the complete essence of this show initially extended beyond the performance witnessed onstage.

“One of the important things that we discussed with Kathy, our director, is the real-world connection,” Salvaggio said.

Salvaggio elaborated on the thematic significance and reflected on the portrayal of recurring human dynamics within his characters.

“There’s a continuous cycle of humans, tyrannical leaders and people being put down,” Salvaggio said. “[It’s a cool feeling] emphasizing and embodying that in our characters.”

Dunn-Muzingo spoke on how the performers and the text would ultimately resonate with audience members in various ways.

“Perhaps they identify with the power, the quest for power or what power is. And also maybe the injustices that are happening in war today,” Dunn-Muzingo said.

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