R3: 'Transforming Tradition' Interview And Transcript

Happy belated Hallowe'en! Here's a special treat:

This is a video interview concerning the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of Richard III from their 2011 season. It features director Miles Potter, lead actress Seana McKenna, and designer Peter Hartwell.

For convenience and study purposes I have made a transcript of the video, which I have been given permission to publish to this blog. No permission has been extended for reproduction. I would like to thank with all my heart Mr Aaron Kropf, the Festival's social and online media coordinator, without whose help this would not be possible.

Without further ado, the transcript:

Transforming Tradition

Interviewer: I guess we should start with the big question, which everyone is talking about. Seana McKenna is playing Richard III, which as far as we know is a historic first at the Stratford Festival, and is not that common elsewhere! How did that come about?

Seana McKenna: Over the years I had helped, you know I teach as well, and I had helped young actors with their monologues and usually a Richard III would come up and I’d be working on it and I’d always go ‘oh, such wonderful lines, what a great part, really fascinating'.

And then, Richard Monette had asked me once to be one of six Hamlets, two women and four men, and I thought, ‘well I don’t really see myself as a Hamlet, transforming myself into a virile young man. Maybe a reading, or Richard III maybe’. And once I’d actually said it out loud I thought ‘yeah, yeah, maybe that!’ and so it [had] sort of been in my mind and we approached Des [McAnuff] about it a few years ago, and he was very intrigued and excited, but it didn’t fit in one season, so we’re thrilled that Des decided to put it in this season.

Miles Potter: Well I mean when I was working on it I came across this quote that I loved: ‘Richard is not; he just pretends to be’, and that’s the essence of... there’s no... the interesting thing about Richard is that there is no Richard there... you can’t get to the bottom of that character. It’s one layer of performance on another layer of performance. All we’ve done is lay down one more layer of artifice on Richard.

And Richard shares a lot of secrets with the audience. Only the audience and Richard know the things that he shares with them. And I think part of the joy of this will be under that will be the sense that our Richard is sharing one more secret with the audience, and he won’t say what it is, but you know and I know that I’m not what I’m pretending to be.

Interviewer (to Seana McKenna): So it kind of takes the whole thing a wee bit beyond the literal I mean, it’s not as if... you’re referring to the character as a ‘he’, so it is a male, but you’re not impersonating a man in
that sense, are you?

Seana McKenna: I’m not trying to be like a really really believable male where people go ‘oh, that was a guy, wasn’t it?’ and that’s not really my intent as much as ‘what’s the core of this guy? Where is he?’ and I’m finding things already that are kind of... frightening to me. -laughs-

I mean, just the way my face sets, you know? Because as women, we’re often told to be pleasant or to, you know, smile, because if you’re not smiling you don’t look nice or pleasing to other people and so if you’re listening to someone even if you don’t like what they’re saying, you’re supposed to go ‘mm-hmm’ and Richard’s going... {demonstrates some serious Richardness} that already feels foreign to me! to go {demonstrates once more} you know already that’s something that’s crossing a line somewhere. So it’s discombobulating to me at times.

Interviewer: Peter, could I turn to you for a moment. What kind of physical world is this production going to
take place in?

Peter Hartwell: It’s pretty much a bare stage and yeah, it’s pretty simple, I mean there’s colour, and there’s some curtains, the mechanism that can move onstage actually can create entrances and exits and define entrances and exits. It’s basically kind of having Shakespeare’s inner stage, but... it’s pushed forward and you can use that inner stage with a little more facility, because your entrances and exits are thrust forward.

Miles Potter: I think that he stripped it down to the essential elements that Richard III in the Tom Patterson requires, and there’s something very strikingly theatrical about what Pete’s done with that space using a little bit of colour, a little bit of proportion, some curtains. Just to make it sound like there’s curtains and a bare stage... I find it quite a compelling use of the space. We got a play, we got Seana, we got Pete, we’ve gotta decide where we’re going to do it, how we’re going to do it.

And you know Pete and I usually, unless there is some reason, compelling reason to do a {bunny ears} ‘concept’, we don’t tend to go that way, though I have done concept productions. I thought with Seana playing Richard III, if I wanted to say ‘I think it’s important to set it in Libya, or Africa, or something’ it’s not going to serve what we’re trying to do here because when I started looking at Medieval silhouettes and things, long hair, men are wearing long outfits, and what we would practically call dresses, so it already is blurring that world between male and female.

Interviewer: What is this play ultimately about? Is it a play about betrayal, or would you categorize it in some other way?

Miles Potter: My primary job before rehearsals begin is to answer for myself that question, so that I have something around which this whole production can coalesce. And there are so many... For every different production of Richard III, people can have different themes and ideas.

But I was very struck by one of the scenes in the play which is always cut, and it’s out in the middle of this play with all of this stuff, these people flying around and coups and murders and whatever, a man is taken away and he’s going to have his head chopped off and a guy comes out and he has a warrant in his hand, and he just turns to the audience and he says ‘Look, I was just sent the warrant for Hastings’ arrest yesterday, but yesterday Hastings was free. Untainted, uncharged. Nobody said a word against him. Is there anybody out there who doesn’t see this trick? But is there anybody who will say anything about it?’ [This is a reference to Act 3 Scene 6]

And I thought that Shakespeare- he put that scene in there because what he’s trying to say in my modern parlance is that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. And that’s essentially what I’m trying to construct the play around. Everyone in the play, if they’re not directly attacked by Richard, looks aside.


I found this to be an extremely invaluable interview. Having these three together and talking about the play helped crystallize for me various aspects of the play and the production. It's not often that people are privy to such profound analysis of a play by the creatives and cast who are putting it on. I hope this will be useful to other students studying Shakespeare and theatre in Canada, because it was very useful to me.

Amazingly, the Stratford Festival makes a habit of posting interviews of this manner concerning all the shows they put on. Unlike their production clips, this interviews remain available after the closing of the season they pertain to. You can find them, along with loads of invaluable behind-the-scene videos on their youtube channel here.

Next week I'll be talking about gender and Richard III, and how the play is affected by casting decisions like the one made in the Stratford production. It's going to be a long post guys! Stay tuned!

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