Booth’s Richard III on Stage

Two years ago, Eric Colleary, Curator of Theater and Performing Arts at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center, collaborated with Beth Burns of the Austin based theater company, Hidden Room Theatre, to conduct a staged reading of Richard III based on a promptbook in the collection of the Ransom Center that was once owned and annotated by John Wilkes Booth. The staged reading (which can be viewed by clicking this link) was a great success. Since that time Eric, Beth, and the Hidden Room Theatre company have continued their collaboration and have managed to turn Booth’s promptbook into a full production that will soon take the stage.

For those of you who live in the Austin, Texas area, this is a wonderful opportunity to essentially go back in time and experience live theater as it was in the 1860s.  Over the past few months, the entire creative team behind the production has conducted in-depth research on theater history and dramatic techniques in order to make this show as accurate to the period as possible. A few days ago, Eric and Beth took part in a fascinating discussion / question and answer session regarding how their collaboration came about and the impressive work being done to bring it to fruition.

As you can see, despite its title, the upcoming production of Booth’s Richard III is far more than just a re-enactment of John Wilkes Booth’s edits to Shakespeare’s (really Cibber’s) work. Instead, it is a rare look into the type of acting and production that was commonplace in the 1800s but is almost completely lost today. John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook is a time capsule of theater history and it is a rare event to see such a piece of history brought back to life. The Hidden Room Theatre in collaboration with the Harry Ransom Center will be performing Richard III at Austin’s Scottish Rite Theater for only eight performances starting on Friday, June 15 and running through Saturday, June 30. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please click this link or the image below:

For those of you who, like me, are no where near Austin, Beth Burns mentioned in the question and answer session that she is hoping one of the shows will be recorded and later made available online. While I am grateful for that, I know a recorded show will not be able to replace the total immersive effect of witnessing it firsthand. Beth also mentioned her hope that this show may live on in the future as an educational tool for college and university theater companies that wish to re-enact theater history. So there is chance Booth’s Richard III could be do a bit of touring if interest is high. Though I know it is a bit of a pipe dream, I, for one, would love to see this show produced by the Ford’s Theatre Society on their historic stage.

In closing, I would ask that any of you who are able to get to Austin during the show’s run and see Booth’s Richard III to please report back to those of us who were not so fortunate. The comment section will definitely be open. I’d love to hear your thoughts on experiencing 1860s theater just as people like Mr. Lincoln would have.

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Booth’s Richard III on Stage

  1. Iva Gilliam

    Thank you so much for this, Dave! A fellow “Boothie”and I will be attending on the 23rd. We wouldn’t miss this opportunity for anything.

  2. Bruce Hunt

    We went to a performance on Sunday (June 17). It was great — a marvellous production, very well acted (particularly Judd Farris as Richard III), and with excellent use of the kind of gestures actors like Booth would have made in the 19th century. The Scottish Rite Theatre, where it was performed, was also great — built in the 1870s and with beautiful painted backdrops from the period. Sorry it will have such a short run, and that those of you not near Austin will miss it, but if you’re anywhere near, I urge you to go.

    • This is a bit delayed, but I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the show, Bruce. I hope they take it on the road sometime soon.

  3. Iva Gilliam

    We attended the play last night, and it was indescribably wonderful! It WAS like stepping back in time. Entering that beautiful old theater with the musicians playing period music, (which patrons would have heard in 1861), set the feel as the play began. All of the actors were extremely talented, and the makeup, the costumes, the gestures and the period lighting! Oh! And let’s not forget the beautiful hand painted backdrops! The director had even worked on the actors voices so that they were speaking as actors would have done during the CW – complete with rolling ‘r’s! Judd Farris was deliciously evil as Richard, and even managed a few humorous interactions with his audience that made this experience a true delight!
    I took lots of pictures. Too bad I can’t post some of them here. I agree with Bruce Hunt. If there is any way you can see this in person-go!
    I hope this isn’t the last time they do this play. I want to see it again!

    • Iva,

      Thank you so much for the detailed report about the show. It sounds like you had a wonderful time and I’m envious.


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