Take one of Shakespeare's plays, add capable actors, ask them to choose their own costumes and props, shake it up by providing no rehearsals, direction or blocking, serve it to a live audience and what do you get? A recipe for guaranteed mayhem called bootleg Shakespeare.
“This is the embodiment of what live theater really is. … the immediacy and danger of being in a moment onstage in front of an audience, unrehearsed,” says James Ricks, the new artistic director of Henley Street Theater Company. “The bootleg process is much like Elizabethan actors would experience in that they would be responsible for all their own stuff [costumes and props] and have little preparation for a show.”
Actors will meet as a cast for the first time the morning of the performance and run through the show only once or twice before the evening show. This may seem simple, but it's a real test of actors' mettle to execute a fight scene or a lip-locking kiss without weeks of confidence-building. “That the process is tough is what's attractive to everyone involved,” says Jacquie O'Conner, Henley Street's managing director, who'll play a part in the show. To add to the fun, actors' roles will not be revealed to the public until the night of the performance.
All four of the Henley Street company's new ensemble members (Lyddall Bugg, Jennifer Frank, Fredrick Kauffman and Jacob Pennington) will participate in the bootleg production, symbolizing the start of their roles as ambassadors of a free theater mission instigated by Ricks. “It is absolutely terrifying to do this with no rehearsals,” actress Erin Thomas-Foley says. “But it is exhilarating at the same time because you just have to trust that they've picked a talented cast that can bring it on.” S
Henley Street's bootleg version of “Romeo and Juliet” will be performed for one free show at the Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn on Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. For information, visit www.henleystreettheatre.org or call 804-340-0115.