Shakespeare's 'Richard III' invades the quad

On a cloudy Monday November morning, students walking by the quad at Santa Monica College were treated to a ninety-minute outdoor performance of Shakespeare's bloody, dark play "Richard III." Performed by the Salty Shakespeare theater troupe, the play came to life Nov. 4 as actors raged, plotted and wept for all to watch.

Salty Shakespeare has been a company for three years, with Nancy Linehan Charles as the artistic director. For live performances, they "cut Shakespeare to pieces and try to put together the essential story," which they call, "flashmob Shakespeare," said Charles. Previous target locations have been the Women's Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Occupy LA protests. For SMC, the guerrilla actors were asked by the school's theater department to perform a work students are about to study, which in this case was "Richard III."

The play was a moveable work that began by the Starbucks Coffee house with students witnessing the saga of the deformed, hunchback Richard who seeks to gain the throne of England by wiping out all suitors in his path.

"What you really got today was the essence of Richard's evil, how he killed everyone for power," Charles said.

The cast dressed in casual shirts and jeans, with female actresses occasionally donning a Medievalist cape.

Actor Michael Hanson snarled as the power-hungry Richard, discriminated by his family and peers for his deformed state. Hanson was certainly not deformed, but he contorted and limped to give the impression of a scarred body very well.

Other actors in the outdoor spectacle were Michael Rothaar, who played one of Richard's assassins, Christina Zamora as Lady Ann, who must marry Richard even after he slays her husband and father, and Joe McGovern as Richmond, who must finally bring down Richard's reign of terror.

Students who saw the performance as they passed by in the quad were thrilled.

"It's interesting," said student Anna Smith. "Obviously outside theater is always a gamble, but they are doing well."

"I think it's great they are bringing Shakespeare to a community college where some might not have access to seeing it onstage," she added.

"I think it's cool they're doing it outside," student Josephine Tehrani said. "It's a different environment. It's not the typical stage atmosphere. I'm not personally a big fan of Shakespeare. I don't quite understand it, but if I could understand, it would be cool."

After pretending to gasp his last breath as a defeated Richard, Hanson said that the experience was "exhilarating."

"It's fun to watch people squirm when you make eye contact with them," he said.

Hanson said that he hopes the play acted out would open the eyes of students to the beauty of the text.

"I hope that they can now go back to reading about the play or the history without being bored," he said. "I hope it feels for them like real people and not like some assignment they have to do for class."

Tom Beyer, the co-adapter who helped Charles cut the play for the outdoor show, chatted about the play's relevance in our time as thrones are again starting to wobble in places like the Middle East.

"What I love about the play is how political and personal it is," he said. "Richard is a man who loves being a manipulator and uses power for his own means." "Fortunately, he ends up being destroyed, but those kind of people thrive on power and manipulation," Beyer added. "That's part of the play. We hope people that bad end up in the ground."

Beyer emphasized that while Shakespeare is great to read, "this work was meant to be heard out loud."

Now that they brought the tyrannical Richard to life at SMC, Salty Shakespeare will get cooking on future flashmobs.

"Nancy is always being creative with ideas," Beyer said. "She might say, 'Maybe we can do one in an elevator.'"