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Un-Earthed for Halloween:
Richard III Is Resurrected at
Germantown Performing Arts Center

(September 30, 2014) – Tennessee Shakespeare Company (TSC), the Mid-South’s professional classical theatre, opens its seventh performance season with a resurrection of William Shakespeare’s Richard III inside Duncan-Williams Performance Hall at Germantown Performing Arts Center over Halloween.

Playing an extremely limited run from October 30 – November 1 inside the 824-seat hall, Richard III features TSC founder and producing artistic director Dan McCleary in the title role.  The production is sponsored by Ann and Wellford Tabor.

Directed by Dave Demke (TSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Richard III features a seasoned cast of eight actors that will act as King Richard’s spirit world during All Hallow’s Eve.  Seven spirits revisit Shakespeare’s narrative of the most infamous villain in literary history.  This revisitation has been prompted by the factual discovery and un-earthing of the real Richard III under a parking lot in Leicester, England two years ago.  The bones remain un-interred as of this writing and performance.  The discoveries made about the man who was Richard do not always support Shakespeare’s creation, but do tell a compelling and even painful story.

The company

Richard III features a professional AEA ensemble from around the country and Memphis.  

Returning to TSC are Rachel Brun (TSC’s Juliet last season), MaConnia Chesser (Kate in Taming of the Shrew), Johnny Lee Davenport (Othello, Prospero, Oberon/Theseus), Paul Kiernan (Petruchio last season), and Caley Milliken (Peaseblossom in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, Lady Capulet, and Ariel in The Tempest).  New to the company this season are Crash Buist out of Houston and Craig Wesley Divino from NYC.

The design team includes Memphian Bruce Bui (costumes), Brian Ruggaber (scenic and properties), Jeremy Allen Fisher (lighting), Ian Milliken (sound), and Neil Freeman (First Folio).  The stage manager is Melissa A. Nathan, with Blakely Saucier.


Richard’s Discovery Inspires TSC’s Production

King Richard III's factual death at Bosworth Field in 1485 prompted his theatrical, if propagandized, fame.  

After the battle, when Richard's body was unceremoniously buried at an Abbey in nearby Leicester, much of the truth about him was buried as well.  The Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor, the victor at Bosworth, claimed the English throne by conquest, and as the newly titled King Henry VII, he needed a villain.  Over the following years, the ‘historical’ Richard gave way to the Richard created by Tudor chroniclers.  For the past 500 plus years, there have been two Richards: the Richard of history (mostly buried under earth and propaganda); and the dominantly popular, magnificently horrifying, murderous hunchback made famous by William Shakespeare.  

“But all that changed when Richard's remains were found in a Leicester car park in 2012,” says director Dave Demke.  “Suddenly, Richard's bones had their story to tell.  And that discovery was the inspiration for this production.

“Tennessee Shakespeare Company's production begins in that Leicester car park, as Richard's bones are being uncovered.  Suddenly time stops, the world stands still, and seven ethereal beings appear.  They have materialized for the purpose of raising Richard's spirit from the grave.  When Richard asks why they have conjured him, they reply:

Once more to tell your story.
Once more to judge your guilt.

Richard's story must, once again, be told; but this time, with his bones able to speak for him, the villainous Richard of legend must be measured against the ‘historical’ Richard.  And what better poet to serve our purpose than William Shakespeare.  With the seven ethereal beings as Chorus and supporting cast, Richard himself must play the lead character in Shakespeare's story of his life.”

Richard was born into a to-the-death family feud over the English crown.  By the time he was eight years old, he had been abandoned to the mercy of enemy forces; and his father (the Duke of York) had been killed in battle, his brother Rutland had been murdered, and he and his mother had been forced to leave England.  

Known as the Wars of the Roses, the houses of York and Lancaster fought continuously for nearly 20 years until a decisive Yorkist victory at Tewksbury and the murder of Henry VI in the Tower of London.  Richard led the main force of the Yorkist army at the Battle of Tewksbury, and had played a significant role in securing a victory for his brother Edward.  Richard was then just 19 years old.

“A child of war grows into a deeply wounded man,” says Demke.  “One can only imagine the psychological and physical scars Richard must have borne in his adult life.  As he plays out the inevitable end to his own story, it is not the Chorus that must judge his guilt, it is us.  And in truth, how can we?  All we can do is attempt to understand him, to show respect and give care to his bones.”

A History of the Play

William Shakespeare wrote King Richard III around 1592.  It was first published in 1597.  Likely due to its unique popularity, the play went through multiple Quarto versions leading up to its inclusion in the 1623 First Folio.  The play was a best-seller not only immediately, but ever since then.  The play is among Shakespeare’s most perplexing textually, with its many incarnations, frequently defined as a “tragedy” in Shakespeare’s lifetime yet published in the Folio as a “history.”    

Shakespeare lifts the original literary creation of the role of Richard from Sir Thomas More (the unfinished History of Richard III, 1516) through the mid-16th Century re-creations of Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshead.  But Shakespeare uniquely dramatizes the title villain and also creates the un-historical roles of Queen Margaret and Lady Anne.

Since the Restoration, the play has been through many adaptations, many of which include text from both the First Folio and earlier Quartos, as well as text from additional Shakespeare plays, usually parts one, two, and three of Henry VI, which Richard III concludes in Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays (following the civil Wars of the Roses in sequence).  TSC’s production will use the First Folio script, occasionally opting for Quarto text while also supplementing with lines from a handful of other Shakespeare plays.  

The Story of the Play

Richard's brother Edward has become King, saying, "Now am I seated as my soul delights."  The House of York has come out on top in the decades-long conflict with the House of Lancaster.  The Wars of the Roses seem finally over.  But for Richard there is only discontent and loneliness.  Life has no value to him, unless destiny has a crown in store for him, so he determines to become king no matter what it takes.

Upon Edward's premature death, and through a web of plots, murders, and machinations, Richard achieves his dream of becoming king.  But now he has a new, more potent obsession, and he says to the Duke of Buckingham, his faithful co-conspirator, "shall we wear these glories for a day? Or shall they last, and we rejoice in them?"

Edward's two young sons, potential threats to Richard's reign, are imprisoned in the Tower, but Richard must be rid of them.  When Buckingham balks at the thought of eliminating the Princes, King Richard breaks off his alliance with him and employs a desperate man to do his bidding.  Privately, the Princes are pronounced dead, having been smothered in their beds, and the bottom quickly begins to fall out from under Richard.  His Kingdom is now in turmoil.  Buckingham has raised a rebellion, and the Earl of Richmond, who has been living in exile in France his entire life, is planning an invasion.

Richard must prepare for war, but he must also stop the rise of old and new Lancastrian enemies.  He needs a Queen who can ensure his reign, so he quietly gets rid of his wife, Anne, and determines to marry his brother's very young daughter, the Princess Elizabeth.  And to do that, he must appeal to Elizabeth's mother, Edward IV's widow, the mother of the two deceased Princes in the Tower.  “Murder her brothers and then marry her.  Uncertain way of gain,” Richard tells the audience.

Meanwhile, Richmond has landed on English soil, and Richard must meet him on the field of battle.  The night before the battle, in his sleep, Richard is visited by the ghosts of those he has murdered on his quest.  Upon waking, he must confront his conscience and prepare to meet his destiny on the battlefield.  Though Richard has a much larger force than Richmond, during the battle he is betrayed, outnumbered, and finally
slain in combat.  Richmond is now king, pledging to marry the Princess Elizabeth, uniting the Red rose and White.

The Discovery and Excavation of Richard III

The exhumation of King Richard III of England from his burial place within the former Greyfriars Friary Church in the city of Leicester, England, took place in September 2012.

The last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485.  His body was brought to Greyfriars Friary in Leicester, where it was buried in a crude grave.  Following the friary's dissolution in 1538 and its subsequent demolition, Richard's tomb was lost.

A search for Richard's body began in August 2012 under a modern parking lot, initiated by Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.  The dig was led by the University of Leicester working in partnership with Leicester City Council.  On the first day of the dig a human skeleton belonging to a man in his thirties was uncovered.  The skeleton showed signs of multiple wounds and had a number of unusual physical features, most notably a severe curvature of the back.  It was exhumed to allow scientific analysis, which found that the man had probably been killed either by a blow from a large bladed weapon that cut off the back of his skull, or by a halberd thrust that penetrated his brain.  There were signs of other wounds on the body, which had probably been inflicted after death as "humiliation injuries.”

The University of Leicester announced on February 4, 2013, that it had concluded "beyond reasonable doubt" that the skeleton was that of Richard III.

It was determined just last month that Richard, the last English monarch to die in combat, suffered 11 wounds at the time of his death at Bosworth Field.  Nine of these were to his apparently unprotected head and two of them “non-survivable,” suggesting a sustained attack.

In May this year it was decided legally that King Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral, just a stone’s throw away from where his remains were uncovered, in spring 2015.

Performance Schedule at Germantown Performing Arts Center

Thursday, October 30 at 7:00 pm Opening; Free Will Kids’ Night; Post-Show Party
Friday, October 31 at 7:00 pm Performance; Free Will Kids’ Night
Saturday, November 1 at 7:00 pm Closing; and Free Will Kids’ Night

Ticket Information

All performances are general admission; first come/first seated.  All tickets are $33 and are on sale now.

All three performances are Free Will Kids’ Nights: Children 17 years and younger are admitted FREE when accompanied by a paying/attending guardian.  All Seniors and college students receive a discount with valid I.D.

Purchase tickets in person Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm at TSC’s office located at 3092 Village Shops Drive in Germantown, or by calling 901-759-0604, or by going on-line to www.tnshakespeare.org.  The TSC Box Office inside GPAC will begin selling tickets one hour prior to each performance on-site.  Free parking. No refunds. Cast and schedule are subject to change.