The following is an interview with seniors Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11 and Ben Vigus ’11, also known as Bemma Sherr-Vigus, who are performing together as Richard for their senior theses in the upcoming Theater Department production of Richard III, directed by David B. Jaffe. The interview was conducted by Theater Major Sarah Wolfe ’11.
How did the idea to have two people play Richard come about?
Emma: Well, last March we were both thinking about doing acting theses and so we got together, and we were both in Shakespeare class together, with David. And so we got together, and we were like, “Oh what could we do?” And so we came up with this idea.
Ben: And so we went to David, and we kind of, off hand suggested, “Hey David, you should do Richard III, and we should both play Richard!”
B: And he gave us a look.
E: Which I interpreted as he thought we were a little crazy.
B: And I interpreted as kind of shocked and taken aback that we would suggest this, but maybe interested at the same time.
E: And then two months later we got an email from him that said, “I’ve decided, we’re going to do Richard III and you two will play Richard.”
So now, as you’re nearing the end of this process, what has been the best part of playing this role with another actor?
Emma: Particularly with a role of this magnitude, I would say, it allows us to explore the role as more of a dialogue.
Ben: It’s like the conversations that you have with yourself. In the working process it’s actually made a lot of things less intimidating.
How do you each view your individual Richards, and subsequently, how do you view your collective Richard?
Ben: We had conversations early about what we were not going to be. We are not the female and male, anima/animus aspects of Richard, we are not a Fight Club-by “Real” Richard and “Schizophrenic Projection” of Richard. We are two physical beings, who are an embodiment of one character.
E: Right. And it’s interesting because we’ve attempted to approach the role as more honest than one would normally think of Richard. You know, Richard is the scheming, lying, dissembling villain. But we decided to take an approach of what kind of truth is there in what he says and what he does. And so that honesty manifests itself in different ways for us.
B: Because we’re both not reaching for some iconic villainous Richard, we come at it from very different places, grounded in who we are.
Other than the obvious (having two Richards) what makes this production different from the hundreds of other Richard III’s that have happened over the ages?
Ben: Well it’s really cut down.
Emma: A of all.
B: We encountered this play, which is really long. I don’t know how long it is if you actually –
E: I think it’s the second longest play
B/E: Second to Hamlet,
B: And Hamlet’s long.
E: Yeah, I think it’s almost four hours uncut.
B: And that’s too long. So we cut about 40% of the play, and got it down to a run time now of about 2:15.
E: But also, I mean part of what I think is ingenious that David realized from the beginning, was that we’re playing this, we’re doing this play as an ensemble of 10 20-something year olds, and we’re not pretending that we’re 80 years old, or 10 years old. We are these people, we’re these Wesleyan students, playing these parts. We’re not going to be in Elizabethan costumes, thank God.
B: We have an ensemble of 10 actors that are going be able to tell this story. And so we have two actors playing Richard, and then just about everyone else is playing two or three roles. And they swap onstage and you see all of that.
B: That’s happening.
E: That is happening.
B: Also, we’re taking kind of a non-literal approach to – that sounded pretentious – to –
E: You’ve said more pretentious things.
B: I was talking about aesthetic! It’s really hard to talk about aesthetics without being pretentious! Anyway, the deaths – (without giving too much away) we’re not trying to make it look like people are actually dying on stage. We’re staging things in a little more of a stylized way and using blood to symbolize a death, or suggest it, or evoke the feeling of that death. And Taiko!
B: That’s another thing that’s cool about this, that’s one of the first ideas that David had, was that we were going to have taiko, really intense beating drums in the background of the whole production, doing great things.
What’s your favorite line in the show, and who says it?
B: Margaret, of course, has all of her wonderful names that she calls Richard. There’s just a slew of them.
E: “Thou elvish marked abortive rooting hog.” May be my favorite. It’s on my refrigerator.
B: “Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider?” “Foul bunch-backed toad”. “Hell hound”. Richard gets called a lot of bad things… He’s generally unliked.
E: Which is completely undeserved. For me, one of his last lines, “I have set my life upon a cast, / And I will stand the hazard of the die.” Which I think is very Richard to me. Yeah, I’ve done these horrible things, but I will deal with the consequences.
Okay, this is my deep question to end with. What’s the greatest challenge of performing Shakespeare today, in America, and as college students at Wesleyan?
Ben: I think there’s a really strong aversion to Shakespeare. I think it’s hard to make it relevant. And for good reason, it’s just very difficult to know what people mean when they talk, and then to invest in the story if you can’t connect to their basic meaning.
Emma: Yeah, I mean I come from a completely Shakespeare nerd background, which is a problem because I lose perspective of what is understandable and what is useful versus what is beautiful, but the important thing for me is to remember that it’s beautiful text, and it is, I believe, the most beautiful text written in the English language. And if we can use that, and appreciate that, and bring it to a certain level, it can be understood and enjoyed by Wesleyan students, by Americans, and everyone.
Performances take place Thursday and Friday, November 18 and November 19 at 8pm and Saturday, November 20 at 2pm and 8pm in the Theater in the Center for the Arts, Tickets are sold out.
For more information, call the box office at (860) 685-3355 or visit www.wesleyan.edu/cfa. The play will run for about 2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission, and contains material that may be unsuitable for children.