In the midst of busy rehearsals Colin Palmer took a few minutes to be interviewed about his directing and role in RICHARD III. The interview was conducted by Abigail Field, a board member of Northeast Stage.
What is your role in Northeast Stage’s Covid-safe production of Richard III?
I’m an actor, playing the role of Richard III, and I’m the director, and I’m the chief editor of the film product.
I confess, as an American, I have no idea who Richard III is. Who is he and why did Shakespeare write about him?
He’s probably the most misunderstood king in England because of this play. He was no better or worse than any other medieval monarch, but Shakespeare makes him out to be the most evil villain ever, mostly because he was writing the play at a time when the descendants Richard’s enemies were ruling. He was far from a saint in actuality, but in this play he's an outright villain.
So he’s the arch villain?
Absolutely! Some people think Iago in Othello is the most evil character in Shakespeare, but I would argue Richard III is. Some of his villainy is superhuman. It’s just a lot of fun. Because Richard is a character who does all these terrible things, and is terribly duplicitous while he does it, he’s a real politician. There’s a moment in Act I scene 2 right after he’s gotten the character of Lady Ann, whose husband he’s just murdered, to fall in love with him and agree to marry him, he has a soliloquy after she leaves:
Was ever woman in this humor wooed?
Was ever woman in this humor won?
I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long
It’s just so much fun playing a villain, especially a humorous one like Richard, since you get to experience parts of life you never would in reality.
As a director, do you have a directorial vision for this production?
Because this is a show that most of the actors have already been able to do—with the exception of two of the actors, we staged it in 2017, and this time we are using the same costumes, etc—my challenge is to achieve the same magic we had in that live performance.
For a play set in the late 15th century, it’s still so modern. The motives, the outcomes, the machinations: they’re not far off from what Washington is like. Our goal is to make the play feel as contemporary as possible, and the play lends itself to that very well. The design is mostly modern with some medieval accents to connect this 15th century world with our own.
Can you speak to the unique challenges of a zoom production?
Blocking we have to throw out the window. A lot of the blocking has to be implied. Luckily, Shakespeare included most of the physical action in his dialogue.
For instance, in Act One, Scene 2, Lady Anne is supposed to spit in Richard’s face, and we can’t do that because we’re in physically different places. So she appears to spit, and my reaction is ‘why dost thou spit at me’? which makes what happened apparent.
We really can’t even do a set for the most part. The main goal is, since each of the actors are doing the recording from their own homes, you need to create cohesion with their location. You don’t want to see someone’s office behind them. So we’re using backdrops, whether they are simple black or banners. The banners represent different factions, each for a different king, and it helps the audience keep track of whose side each character is on.
A big thing about this, because we’re editing from zoom in gallery and speaker view, there’s more of an ability to control who the audience is focusing on. In this version we can control exactly who the audience is looking at, which adds an extra dimension you can’t create in live theater.
What's your background? How did you get into show biz?
I’ve been acting, technically, since elementary school, but I’d say in earnest since high school. I went to college as a Latin and Ancient Greek major, but I noticed I was spending all my time in the drama club. So I (ended up) transferred to Stony Brook University and ended up in their theater arts program; I graduated a few years ago.
My directorial debut was Glengarry Glen Ross back in 2010 with a group called Management Productions. When I graduated high school, my friend Tim Ferris, who is in this play as the Duke of Buckingham, started that group as a way to try new things theatrically, doing different shows each summer during college. I was able to direct four shows with that group, and I’ve directed 10 shows all together so far.
Richard III was the first Shakespeare play I ever really connected to. When I was 10 my mom took me to London and she took me to the Tower of London, and told me the story of Richard III because there are so many rooms there that are connected to the story. Not to ruin the story, but it’s where numerous characters in our show were executed or murdered. Even though the show isn’t good history, it’s grounded in history. Seeing where these events took place brings it to life so well!
RICHARD III will be presented virtually on November 28, 2020 at 8:00PM. There will be a link provided a few days before the production.