NOTE: The live event has already occurred but you can still watch a video of the production embedded below.
Tonight (2/2/2016) at 7:00 pm CST (8:00 pm EST) a very special staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III will be enacted by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Hidden Room Theatre troupe will be recreating the production as it appeared using a promptbook which belonged to, and was annotated by, John Wilkes Booth.
John Wilkes Booth was famous for his portrayal of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and he regularly opened his engagements in different cities with Richard III. Booth’s first full appearance as Richard occurred on October 5, 1860 and his last was on May 12, 1864. Between those two dates he performed the lead role a total of 115 times. Richard was truly Booth’s title character and the one he was most known for. The adaptation of Richard III that Booth used for the role was one that was filled with sword fighting and intensity that suited the younger Booth well. Just as Edwin Booth is known today as being the world’s greatest Hamlet, John Wilkes Booth could have been remembered as the world’s greatest Richard, had he not chosen a different path.
The Harry Ransom Center has in its collection one of only two known promptbooks belonging to John Wilkes Booth. The complete book has been scanned and is available digitally HERE. The book is filled with John Wilkes Booth’s handwritten instructions and cues regarding how his version of Richard III should be staged and enacted. It makes alterations to the printed script’s directions and adds supplemental material on how he wanted scenes to go. Promptbooks were common for stars to send out to different theaters ahead of their engagements. The stock actors in the theater’s company would then read the book in order to know how a particular star wanted “their” version of the play to go.
Usually, other than traveling back in time ourselves, reading through John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook would be the best way to get an idea of what Booth’s acting looked like. However, tonight, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook will be used as the source material for a production of Richard III. The event will be streamed live over the internet on the Harry Ranscom Center website. The live stream is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm CST and can be accessed by clicking this link: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/webcast/
During the event, Harry Ransom curator Eric Colleary will be live tweeting the event and answering your questions about the production and source material. You can follow along with the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #BoothR3.
I hope you are able to watch this unique production tonight. It is the closest we are able to get to actually watching John Wilkes Booth himself on the stage. For more information, please check out this program from the Harry Ransom Center.