Booth’s Richard III
The Hidden Room Theatre
the Harry Ransom Center
& Austin Scottish Rite Theater Presents:
Booth’s Richard III
“Ready trumpet. Boy ready with armor. Take time. More piano. Long flourish continued till discovery, next Sc. - and do not W Till Mr Booth is on stage.”
For The Hidden Room, a company that specializes in historically significant theatre, these and other handwritten notes inside an 1861 promptbook for Richard III are DNA hidden in the book’s rich amber. But the actor/director who wrote most of them, the man who is assisting this work from the beyond, is one of the most detested villains of American history: John Wilkes Booth.
We almost certainly would not have this promptbook had its owner not been so morbidly interesting. It is well-traveled, and such books often did not survive past their usefulness in production. It could have been discarded at any point. Legend has it that most of JWB’s belongings were burned by his brother Edwin, an actor whose reputation for greatness lives on, despite his brother’s infamy. But the book found its way to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where it was spotted by Cline Curator of Theatre and Performing Arts Eric Colleary, who then brought it to the attention of the Hidden Room. Together, Colleary and the Hidden Room lead a team of award-winning actors, scholars, and designers to resuscitate the ghost of this infamous production by way of painstaking research into playing practices of the day, appropriate costumes, props, set, and music, all in the period-perfect and glorious Austin Scottish Rite Theater, built in 1871.
The Austin Scottish Rite Theater is an important working relic, with original 19th Century hand-painted backdrops, extant prompter station, a rare operational thunder run, and more. Together, the Theater’s management and the Hidden Room are joyfully investigating all the possibilities inside this exquisite building to further our research into period practices and enrich the experience of seeing Booth’s Richard.
The play itself is a Shakespeare variation - a Restoration “improvement” of Shakespeare’s classic version written by Colley Cibber in 1699. Cibber’s take was often called the “Blood and Thunder” Richard - shorter, less ambiguous, and more cruel. It was America’s Richard III, and has been seen longer on American stages than Shakespeare’s version, although it has since been lost to time.
Join us as we explore lost theatre practices of the Civil-War era, glimpse into the mixing of 1860’s theatre and politics, and consider how rhetoric and fear turned a country against itself. The promptbook, darkly fascinating, is an unintentional gift - a magic mirror back into to a theatre in 1861, that a radicalized madman left behind.
“All quiet - after Richard tries twice to rise and cannot.”
Directed by Beth Burns
Lead Research by Eric J. Colleary
Starring Judd Farris, Robert Matney, Lynn Mikeska, Kriston Woodreaux, Zac Crofford, Andrea Smith, Robert Deike, Brock England, Jill Swanson, Jeremy Rashad Brown, Kenneth Williams, Lily Pipkin, Andrew Rodriguez, Rachel Steed, Adam Miller Batteau
Music Research and Direction by Howard Burkett
Fight Choreography by Toby Minor
Gesture Direction by Kate Meehan
Costume Design by Jenny McNee
Prop Design by Amanda Perry
Light Design by Stephen Pruitt
Austin Scottish Rite Theater Scholarship by Susan Gayle Todd
Vocal Coaching by Justin Scalise
Prompter Duties by Andrew Rodriguez