Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Lipscomb partner to bring Richard II to Nashville, April 13-23

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Although Shakespeare is long gone from this earth, Lipscomb University’s Department of Theatre has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with the next best thing in Nashville: the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, which has been bringing the master’s works to venues around the city since 1988.

This spring, the collegial partnership between Lipscomb and NSF will come ?to fruition as the two institutions’ co-produce a production of Richard II, one of Shakespeare’s little-performed historical plays, April 13-22 at 7:30 p.m. and April 23 at 2:30 p.m. in Shamblin Theatre.

Ticket prices include $17 for adults, $12 for faculty/staff and $5 students. To purchase tickets, contact the Lipscomb Box Office at 615.966.7075.

The production will be an all-female version of the play directed by Sean Martin, an adjunct professor who has trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.

“We’ve had a relationship with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival for several years,” said Lipscomb theatre department chair Beki Baker, who served as the NSF education director before coming to Lipscomb full-time. “But this year does seem to? be a flagship year, with nine students ?and alumni involved in the NSF’s fall 2015 and spring 2016 productions. The NSF held a Lipscomb night at their Comedy of Errors production in Centennial Park in September, and now this co-production formalizes the relationship further.”

The show will also feature NSF Artistic Director Denice Hicks and Baker, who will be performing in Richard II.

“I’m really excited about presenting a play that is rarely produced,” Hicks said. “Richard II is a story of political alliances and civil unrest, and an exploration of honor, loyalty and what makes a good leader. An all-female cast is going to highlight the humanity of these characters, allowing the audience to see the play without predictable conventions.”

Lipscomb students will have the opportunity to work alongside a true professional company, allowing for networking, teaching and real-world learning, Baker said. Plus the collaborative production is likely to draw NSF fans who may have never been exposed to Lipscomb theatre before, she said.

“People in our (NSF) audience will jump at the chance to see a Shakespeare play they haven’t seen before,” said Hicks. “All of Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen not just read, and once you experience a live, professional performance, you have a clearer understanding of the power of his writing.”

The collaboration allows the NSF to stage a third spring production in its 2016-17 season, and the NSF’s expertise in producing Shakespearean plays will bring a unique asset to Lipscomb students, Baker said. The NSF text analyst Santiago Sosa will work with the cast at the start of production to fully explain the Shakespearean text and its nuances.

“Anytime a cast begins a rehearsal process, we start with text analysis. That is something that sometimes gets neglected in other programs,” Hicks said. “It’s an educational opportunity for any actor to be in one of our productions. It’s almost like a master class. Whenever you study Shakespeare line-by-line and talk about characterization, historic significance, poetic devices and how to best convey the language, by the end of the week everyone has much more ability to get up on their feet and approach the play.”

Martin, who was seen as Reverend Hale in the Blackbird Theater’s production of The Crucible which was co-produced by and performed at Lipscomb, came up with the idea to perform Richard II with an all-female cast after seeing several all-female productions of Shakespearean plays in England.

He began to explore the idea of taking a history play that is very political, where the characters make assumptions about who should be in power and who shouldn’t, and performing it with an all-female cast. Then when he arrived in Nashville as the Fred Coe Artist-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University and saw Megan Barry elected as mayor and Hillary Clinton running for president, “Suddenly, all my ideas seemed very timely,” he said.

Martin coordinated an all-female reading of Richard II through Hicks and NSF, and the result was universal praise from Shakespeare fans.

The cast of the Lipscomb production will read the text as written (with male pronouns) and Martin hopes to make the show feel neutral, focused solely on the text and the humanity of each character.

“When you take a play like Richard that is all about power and politics and remove the stereotypes and preconceived notions that come with gender or sex, it allows you to truly focus on the core of the piece which is raw human nature. It is a fascinating way to let an audience see the truth often hidden behind unnecessary layers,” Martin said.

In addition, it provides Lipscomb’s female-heavy department an opportunity to get more of its students on stage, Baker said. And the opportunity to do Shakespeare, and innovative Shakespeare is a resume booster for any future professional actor, Martin said.

For more information about Lipscomb Theatre, housed in the College of Entertainment & the Arts, visit: www.lipscomb.edu/theater.