Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goodbye to the Olde | Style Weekly

Goodbye to the Olde

Richmond Shakespeare gets tricked out at the Gottwald Playhouse.

by Mary Burrus
Moving in: Grant Mudge, artistic director of Richmond Shakespeare, inside the flexible Gottwald Playhouse. Photo by Eric Dobbs

Four hundred years ago this fall, William Shakespeare moved his players into the Blackfriars Theatre, its first indoor home. Richmond Shakespeare repeats that exercise in September by moving into its first indoor space built specifically for live performance.

Its new residence in the Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage — along with the African American Repertory Theatre — takes the 25-year-old company from a comfortable but technically unsophisticated home to a state-of-the-art, tricked-out pad in the new downtown venue. That means new toys and production possibilities.

Richmond Shakespeare has long touted its Spartan production style as being much the way Shakespeare would have produced plays rather than as a limit imposed by performance space. Traditionally there’s been no formal set, just a few props such as a throne for the random king and uniform lighting so the audience can be better incorporated into the action.

Gottwald, however, provides the opportunity to expand technical applications. Artistic Director Grant Mudge assures that having access to a higher level of technical capability won’t alter the artistic philosophy of the company. “Moving into the Gottwald enhances it,” he says. “We will continue to make use of Shakespeare’s traditions in a modern setting using only key set pieces to create a different imaginary look, but will have the advantages of enhanced sound and lighting for special effects.”

During a recent tour of the playhouse, Mudge seems more excited about the abilities of the theater to morph into different staging possibilities than its high-tech capabilities — such as the 20 individually moving panels in the floor at the center of the space. “We have always been able to change the seating configurations at Second Presbyterian,” he says, “but in this space we can do so much more to enhance the personal way we like to engage our audiences. By lowering these panels we can create a thrust stage, a pit — or by leaving them floor-level, [offer] a different type of experience.”

The public will get a taste of how Richmond Shakespeare will play with the new space in October with the opening of Shakespeare’s most lively comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Award Nominations Announced

Congratulations to Richmond Shakespeare artists! But before I list the nominations, let me give a special shout to Vanessa Passini. Selected for an award before the event even takes place, Ms. Passini has won an award for outstanding Fight Choreography to Vanessa Passini for her work on Richmond Shakespeare's Henry V [The History Cycle].

We're also nominated in a new category, "Best Ensemble Acting" for which I'm delighted to report that the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream has very rightly been recognized. They should be nominated just for enduring emotional rainouts.

Finally, our exquisite costumers, Rebecca Cairns and Anne Hoskins are nominated for their truly outstanding work, also on Henry V [The History Cycle]. I always feel like I hand these two ladies a pocketful of lint for supplies and they return with the most gorgeous costumes a director could hope for. They are the 2008 winners in the same category; I couldn't be more pleased that their work is receiving recognition again.

One can always gripe and moan about artists not nominated (Joe Carlson's stunning Laertes comes to mind! as does James Bond's marvelous direction on Henry V--so there's mine!) but I want to take a moment to thank the critics as they attend, ponder, enjoy, endure, and evaluate the productions that make up our theatrical culture. They do it for very little compensation--sometimes none, I'll wager---factoring in the gas to see Sycamore Rouge or Swift Creek Mill (not far, but it adds up), and I couldn't be more pleased that the success of last year's ceremony has led to year #2.

Let me go on record right here to invite the RTCC awards for year #3 to Richmond's newest performing arts venue, Richmond CenterStage.

-Grant Mudge