Since 1988, the UTSA Friends of Shakespeare and the Department of English have been bringing in actors every year to perform Shakespeare for students at the university. This year, they bring “The Actors From The London Stage”–an international touring group comprised of actors who have performed with world renowned theatre groups like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Bristol Old Vic–to perform Richard III.
While the production will be relatively small, using only minimalist set designs and costumes and having its five actors play multiple roles, the organization hopes to spark an interest in theatre and in Shakespeare for students through their performance of Richard III as well as provide hands-on experiences within UTSA classrooms.
Dr. Kimberly Fonzo, an English professor and one of the main organizers of the event, believes the performance will be a gateway for students to experience the works of William Shakespeare. Additionally, she hopes that the live performance will help students navigate through the anxieties they may have when reading older texts.
“I think that students sometimes get scared off by Shakespeare’s language,” argued Fonzo, “and when you see these performers having this confidence in performing the language and performing the parts, you see that it’s about the motivation of the character. It’s not just about the words on the page, it’s about a living breathing person that has their own desires and that’s what the actors are delivering. I think when you see that, you see the difficulty melts away and it becomes about the play.”
Dr. Fonzo said that this type of experience opens students’ imaginations and sparks an interest in experiencing and even performing theatre in the future. Dr. Fonzo believes that “plays are special, they aren’t like movies or television, they are their own experience as a live performance” and she hopes that her “students take this as an opportunity to learn about a new art form. It’s much more about the moment that can’t be recreated, because a movie—you can watch a film over and over, and it’s always the same—but theatre is different every time.”
With theatre consistently transforming plays into a new light, with four female and one male cast member, the actors from the London Stage will significantly affect Richard III. Despite the challenge, Haig “loved the idea of more parts being available for women because it’s a very male dominated industry even now, same in the movies, so it feels like a very important thing to do and is very satisfying.” For students concerned about the predominately female cast portrayal of Richard III, Haig reassures everyone, claiming students “very soon forget about male and female and just hear the story of that person.”
But the actors will not just be performing on stage, they will also be working in the classroom. Part of what The Actors From The London Stage do is to go into classrooms and interact with the students. They teach them how to perform and interpret the text into life. Alice Haig, the actress portraying Lady Anne and many other characters in the production, described the experience: “what we come into the classrooms and do is work on Shakespeare in practice. We get everybody on their feet, books and desks get pushed to the side and we engage people’s voices and their bodies. That’s the way to experience Shakespeare best, is to feel the grounded physicality and your voice being heard for the first time.”
Haig believes that this type of interaction will further motivate students to experience theatre—she has even seen students take interest already.
“The best way to experience Shakespeare is to see it and experience it and watch it in performance,” Haig continued. “Reading plays isn’t what’s supposed to happen, they’re supposed to be heard and watched.”
Richard III will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28; Thursday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Oct. 1 in the Arts Building Recital Hall on UTSA’s main campus. Tickets are $18 for general admission or $10 with a student ID, and they can be purchased at colfa.utsa.edu/english, or at the door by cash or check.