What's the play about?
Edward IV has recently been made King, and the people of England are in celebration. However, Edward's younger brother, Richard, resents his rise to power. Disabled and miserable, Richard will not rest until everybody shares his misery and he can reign over England as King.
What did I experience?
I was very disoriented walking into Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company's production of Richard III. Perspective wise, everything was flipped. A few years ago, I saw a production of A View From the Bridge at The Secret Theater, and I was expecting the space to have a similar layout. But where the actors usually performed, the audience sat, and where the audience usually sat, the actors performed.
I should probably mention that I've never read Richard III, and prior to seeing Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company's production, I had never seen a staged version of the play. But I knew this much: Richard was disabled, with a hunched back and a variety of other unmistakable deformities. And so it came as a huge surprise to me when Guy Ventoliere, the actor playing Richard and (coincidentally) a classmate of mine from Hunter College, opened the show in nothing but his underwear, proving that he was completely able-bodied.
As Guy got dressed, he walked off the stage and right over to me. I couldn't believe it! Then, as he was buttoning up his shirt, he handed me his vest to hold. Suddenly I was a part of the show and loving it! Guy continued to speak directly toward the audience, engaging us during his monologue as if we were his confidants.
The space wasn't all that was flipped in this production. I was brought into a world where Guy, as Richard, was the sole person without disabilities amongst a cast of actors that shared an assortment of both physical and mental challenges. As each new actor entered the stage, I found myself searching for their disability, because not all were visible. There were amputees and little people in the cast, but then there were also people with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and on the Autism spectrum.
Witnessing so many actors with disabilities on stage at once (in a Shakespearean production, no less) was not something I was familiar with. In fact, Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company's production aside, I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen theatre that featured anything other than able-bodied performers. It had never occurred to me that people with disabilities were an under-represented group in theatre, but sitting where I was it was glaringly obvious. Watching the actors at work, their so called "disabilities" didn't hinder them in the least. During one fight scene, an actress missing her leg from the knee down removed her prosthetic to use as a weapon in a particularly bad-ass display. That single action challenged everything I had subconsciously grown to associate with disability.