The Reduced Shakespeare Company | Essays

Brevity is the Soul of Wit… An Interview with Reed Martin of the Reduced Shakespeare Society

Feb 6, 2017

16-17 SEASON | February 6, 2017

The Schimmel Center is proud to be presenting the New York debut of the acclaimed Reduced Shakespeare Company’s latest play, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged.) For two performances only, the merry men of beguilement and brevity act out an entirely new narrative that weaves together most of the famous speeches and plot devices of Shakespeare’s thirty-nine plays to create a fast, funny, and fictional fortieth. I had the pleasure of speaking about the piece with Co-creator and performer Reed Martin.

From Left to Right: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer and Reed Martin

From Left to Right: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer and Reed Martin

 

The Reduced Shakespeare Company started in 1981 as a “pass-the-hat act” in a California Renaissance Faire. When and how did you become involved in the company?

I joined the RSC in 1989, about a year before it became a full-time job. I’d gone to college with one of the founders of the RSC, Jess Winfield so when an opening came up he contacted me to see if I’d be interested in joining the company. Id just finished a two-year stint as a Clown and Assistant Ringmaster with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Previous to joining the circus I’d earned an MFA in Acting from UC San Diego and double-majored as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in Political Science and Dramatic Arts.

 

You mention previously performing  in the Ringling Brothers circus. What skills were you able to bring from that world into this one?

I learned physical comedy in the circus, as well as the ability to keep a performance fresh during a long running show. The other invaluable skill I developed in the circus was learning how to comfortably deal directly with audience members which is integral to RSC shows. When I was in the circus the clowns spent about 25 minutes per show in the seats actually interacting with patrons and, of course, frightening a few children.

 

You have co-created nine plays for the Reduced Shakespeare Company including America, Bible, Hollywood, Western Civilization and Christmas (all abridged.) Where did your inspiration for this latest play come from?

 Several years ago we toured the vaults at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC where they told us that the holy grail of Shakespearean scholarship would be to find a play written by Shakespeare in his own hand. We were unable to find anything remotely like that so we decided to write one ourselves. The conceit of the show is that we find (in a parking lot in Leicester, England) the first play that Shakespeare ever wrote. He was seventeen at the time and it contained every character that we now see in his later plays, but they are all woven together into a brand new, 400 year old, storyline. The actual play is over 100 hours long so as a public service we reduce it down to under two hours.

 

For those who have never seen a production by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, what can they expect with this production? 

The show is a nouveau-vaudevillian roller-coaster ride through the newly discovered first play that Shakespeare ever wrote and is not recommended for people with heart conditions, back problems, inner-ear disorders or English degrees. Audience reaction to the show has been the same the world over. People leave the theater with a feeling of nausea and motion sickness. The RSC cannot be held responsible for expectant mothers.

 

Does one have to be well versed in Shakespeare’s plays to truly appreciate this show?

Absolutely not. I think between we three performers, we have heard of most of Shakespeares plays. We like to say that if you like Shakespeare, you’ll like the show. But if you hate Shakespeare, you’ll love the show!

 

This play creates many strange bed fellows between the greatest characters of the Bard’s canon. Without giving away too much, which is your favorite new coupling in the play?

Dromio and Juliet.  But Hamlet meeting up with master motivator Lady Macbeth is a close second.

 

What advice would you give to a young person starting a career in theatre?

Engineering is a good field.