p/c: Elizabeth McAnulty Quilter
So how did I play Richard III?
In short: lots of assistance!
Whether you’re embarking on this role (or something like it), or are just curious what goes on “behind the scenes,” I hope you find this helpful and informative.
I did feel relatively comfortable with Shakespeare prior to this casting (and had performed it on many occasions), but I had never undertaken anything of this magnitude.
Frankly, in many ways, this part terrified me. It was also the first play where I was genuinely worried I wouldn’t remember the lines (with good reason). While you can never expect “perfect” onstage, I’m happy to say I did remember them, usually in the right order. 🙂
I’m focusing below mainly on the resources that are available to anyone, with the exception of the specific voice teachers mentioned.
[Though of course invaluable, what you won’t see listed below are the director and cast—couldn’t have done it without them.]
Performing Shakespeare / Text Analysis:
The following aren’t necessarily *all* the books I used (we’d be here for a while), but primarily the ones I found most helpful. I’ve provided links to Amazon for all the books I could find, though I imagine most can be found in the library, which is where I picked up all of these.
1) Speaking the Speech: An Actor’s Guide to Shakespeare by Giles Block
This was my big kahuna—I worked through the entire book and took a ridiculous amount of notes (about 18k words!). Suffice to say, this really helped me “up my game” and gave me lots to think about.
2) Playing Shakespeare by John Barton
The classic RSC series from the 70s and 80s! I was familiar with a couple episodes and the accompanying book, but had never gone all the way through it. Well, I did this time, watching all the episodes (via YouTube here) and following along with the companion book, which streamlines and cleans up some of the lessons. Great advice and fun to see very well-known actors “working out.”
3) Speaking Shakespeare by Patsy Rodenburg – one of the classic texts, it is an extraordinary resource and can be extremely helpful to getting the body and mind working together.
4) Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players by Peter Hall – another great book by a legendary director
5) Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare’s Monologues Illuminated by Rhona Silverbush and Sami Plotkin – provided some additional insights and ideas of playing with specific monologues in the play
6) The Necessary Shakespeare by David Bevington – a helpful “collected works”. I always like to review several sources for definitions and meanings (like an Arden or Oxford), in addition to a Folio text.
History of Richard / Understanding the Play:
7) Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare by Isaac Asimov
This text provides a “play-by-play” analysis of the script, explaining historical references and contexts, where Shakespeare took liberties, and what actually happened. Amazing resource, and Asimov covered all the plays in multiple volumes.
8) King Richard III: Shakespeare at Stratford Series by Gillian Day – looking at 50 years of productions from Stratford, I would file this under “steal from the best” (see below), looking at how other productions or actors had handled certain moments, to see if there might be something I was missing or hand’t considered.
Other fun discoveries:
The following were all fascinating to read in terms of the REAL Richard III (wasn’t as evil), what actually happened, and Shakespeare’s possible motivations and reasons. It was exceptionally cool to see almost entire passages from More’s book used directly in Shakespeare’s play!
9) The History of King Richard the Third by Saint Thomas More
10) Richard III: The Maligned King by Annette Carson
11) Richard III: a Source Book by Keith Dockray
12) The Artistic Links Between William Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More: Radically Different Richards by Charles and Elaine Hallett
I’m curious by psychology and since much has been written about this character (including by Freud), and he is such a curious study in WHY he does what he does, it seemed only natural to pursue this thread and see what the medical folk have posited.
The first article is fully online, thought the other two can be ordered, including through university libraries if you have access. Highly engrossing and fascinating reads—absolutely recommended!
1) ‘I am I’: a Lacanian Analysis of Richard III [full article] by Aisling Hearns in PsyArt (an online journal for the psychological study of the arts), 2011.
- Hypothesizing that Richard has regressed to the Mirror Stage
- The importance of his dream/nightmare in this transgression
- Richard’s residency in the Imaginary
2) “O, coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me”: Ruthlessness and the Struggle Against Conscience in Richard III [abstract] by Melvin R. Lansky M.D. in Psychoanalytic Inquiry (a topical journal for mental health professionals), 2015.
- How Richard’s shame drives his envy and rage
- Also, the power of his conscience during his dream/nightmare
- The moral battle going on inside this human
3) The Death of a Mind: a Study of Shakespeare’s Richard III [abstract] by Maxine K. Anderson in the Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2006.
- Attempts to bring clarity to present-day clinical work through understanding this character (and patients who might behave in similar ways)
- Provides possible insights as to what is going on with Richard psychologically as he advances his cause: perverting the normal, manipulation, etc.
In addition to these scientific articles, I also found:
4) Mark Rylance Discusses Richard III and His Long Interest in Mental Health Issues – I’ve been a fan of Mark’s ever since I saw him as Richard II at the Globe in London. It was exciting to read his thoughts on the part, particularly the psychological ideas.
Spurred on by his comments, as well as ones I heard from Kevin Spacey, I wanted to delve more into how “evil” Richard really is, and how “far gone” he is, or if he’s just wildly troubled and hurt.
5) How to Tell a Sociopath from a Psychopath: Understanding important distinctions between criminal sociopaths and psychopaths
A more scientific approach to the terms and the differences between them.
This wouldn’t be a 21st century show without an app!
I really love the Shakespeare app. I recommend upgrading to the Pro version, as it’s a one-time payment and includes an entire glossary (the Crystal’s version, most of which is online, and fully in books), plus research, background, summaries, statistics, and more.
I also used the Play Shakespeare site to read and search through the Folio version of the play. For some plays, they have more than one Folio, and in some cases, even the Quartos!
My normal routine, even before I started rehearsals, consisted of working out regularly, usually some form of high-intensity interval training and yoga.
In addition, I knew if cast, I would want to increase my overall fitness and endurance and settled on an activity I knew would be highly beneficial…
I started going about twice per week, and have kept this up pretty regularly over the past two months. I’m now up to 50 lengths (aka 25 laps or ~ 12 x 100), which is almost *double* what I could do at the start of 2017!
Before the Show
Would start with a 10-minute lying-down meditation to relax and let the day go. Then do a full physical and vocal warm-up (see below) before make-up. About 30 minutes for everything.
I was particularly conscious of eating on show days, and it took me a while to figure out what I needed and how to best organize my day.
What I ended up with:
- “Dinner” around 4:30 pm, as I would leave for the theatre around 4:45 (to start fight call/warm-up @ 6 pm).
- First protein bar before the show, during make-up, around 7:00 pm.
- Begin show @ 7:30 pm.
- Drinking water just about every time I was offstage (I had many helpers making water runs for me!)
- Second protein bar before Act 3, Scene 7 (when Richard refuses, then accepts the crown)—for the first handful of performances, I always felt like I was just “getting through” the scene, and I wondered if I was simply tired. This extra boost of protein helped me feel more connected here.
- Protein drink during intermission (whey + water)
- Third protein bar before Act 5, Scene 3 (Final scene through battle and death)—this was another place where much energy was required for the final bit of the show—not just with all the lines and the final monologue, but also the fight choreography!
All in all, I probably consumed about 50 grams of protein over the course of the evening, which is about as much protein as I need each day! So on show days, I was consuming double the protein I needed, but I was also expending MUCH more calories and energy.
Truth be told, I was a bit concerned with my voice for this show, as it would be outside, and we’d be competing with other noises in the park (kids, games, fountain, etc.). I wanted to know I could give 100% , and that I’d be ready to go for the next night. My goal was to avoid needing “vocal rest” at the end; I could be tired, for sure, but not hoarse. I wanted to find a healthy way to use my voice, so I sought out working on it with professionals.
I worked with Andrea over three sessions: she really helped me find a more supported and expressive voice that carried. She really helped my confidence. It was also great to “bounce” ideas off someone else when it came to the text and how to work with it, and to make it sound connected, rather than just groups of words spoken well. Connect on LinkedIn.
A voice teacher closer to our performance space, he was able to listen to us outside in the park. Jeffrey gave me the note about keeping my chest open (I have a tendency to “collapse” concave a bit)—by doing that, I open up the voice and make the sound that much purer and resonant. Connect on LinkedIn.
No, I didn’t hop over to London in-between rehearsals, but I did use this series of videos to give me some warm-up exercises to do either in the car on the way to rehearsal/performance, as well as before the show. This list actually contains a number of different items (including an older and newer version of warming up).
Steal from the Best!
I stole with abandon. It would be utterly impossible for me to think of everything! I wanted to see what I was missing, or if I was simply overthinking something. How would someone else do this scene or line?
With my experience at Antaeus, I could use all of these great actors as my DOUBLE in casting – watch what they do and steal what works!
Now what I came to realize with these “iconic” roles that are larger than life and have “made” careers is that it wasn’t going to do me any good to obsess over doing something NEW or DIFFERENT. Questions like “how am I going to leave my mark?” are just counter-productive, and become more of an ego-game vs. actually doing the work.
What I needed to focus on was being truthful and telling the story! Just play the part.
With that caveat, the following is a playlist that not only shows great actors tackling the part (Rylance, McKellen, Sher, Spacey, Olivier), I also included a few clips on the Trendelenburg Gait, which may be the actual reason Richard walked with a halt and a limp.
The playlist contains 10 videos, and you can access the menu by clicking the icon in the top-left corner (3 lines/arrow), which will load the sidebar of videos.
I had watched Kevin Spacey’s NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage documentary about performing Richard III around the world, though this predated my casting by about 4-6 months, so it wasn’t intentional research for this part. I did not re-watch it upon being cast, though I do recommend it for theatre-lovers; it’s quite a unique ride to witness!
BONUS: want to spend all day watching the RSC do the *entire* history cycle from 1965?
I hope you found this helpful!