Arch Villain Theatre Company Debuts in Bridgeport
According to conventional wisdom, you start a theatre company in a place that doesn't have a theatre, put together a board of directors, find a place to perform, and then beg, borrow or steal for your first production.
But that's conventional wisdom. Fuggedaboutit! As Arch Villain Theatre Company prepares its opening production, Richard III, the Steampunk R3 version, you just may hear a cacophony of noise as the rules are being smashed to smithereens.
The Arch Villain Theatre Company means to shake up Shakespearean plays and new works from contemporary playwrights. If it also means shaking up people's perception of local theatre, so be it. The "unholy trio" behind the Arch Villain Theatre Company is made up of Victor Terenzio, Geoffrey Gilbert and Melissa Schleier, all "outcasts from local theatre." Among their other goals, they mean to bring Shakespeare indoors again, a feat that hasn't happened in the Greater Bridgeport area for some 30 years.
The drama that will take place on the stage of the Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport is nothing compared to the drama about Shakespeare in the area. Bridgeport is next to Stratford, a Connecticut town that is picture-perfect in the way of old Hollywood. Even the Sikorsky Aircraft factory looks clean and tidy. Until about 30 years ago, it was the home of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, which underwent a brilliant renovation. Simple mobile wooden sets could easily be transformed from a castle to a ship. It also gave the theatre superb acoustics. Christopher Plummer, Roy Dotrice and actors from Ireland's Abbey Theatre performed there. Its last full season was in 1982. Seven years later, there was a one-person show of The Tempest. Since then, the American Shakespeare Theatre Festival hasn't seen the light of day, although there have been some unsuccessful attempts to revive it.
Enter the Arch Villain, inspired by the title character of Richard III. Terenzio says, "My tag lines is 'Every story is only as interesting as the antagonist,'" and chose Richard III as the Arch Villain Theatre Company's first play. The production actually began as a fundraiser for the beleaguered American Shakespeare Festival Theatre. Volunteers have been cleaning out the place as promises for its revival have been made yet again. For Stratford residents and lovers of Shakespeare, it's been akin to Lucy's promising Charlie Brown that she won't take away the football when he's about to kick it. Maybe one day that will happen. Right now, the efforts to revive the American Shakespeare Theatre Festival are continuing. Other theatre venues were already booked. The principals of the Arch Villain Theatre Company would have to go before the boards of other theatre companies. They did not want to infringe on another artistic directors' plans. "The one place we like to call home we thought was sure we'd be interested in" just wasn't available. Instead of "staring that in the face - that empty theatre," said Terenzio, the Arch Villain Theatre Company is taking off in nearby Bridgeport in November of this year. Costs forced him to look at other venues, and Bridgeport has become as friendly to theatre lovers with the Bijou Theatre and Downtown Cabaret Theatre as it is to baseball and hockey fans. The company is using QR codes to raise money through crowdfunding and raising its profile through social media. They are exploring the idea of a running a silent auction during which people bid on pieces from the show on their smart phones.
What makes this Richard III so compelling is the version the Arch Villain Theatre Company is doing. It is the Victorian Steampunk science fiction version. Not limiting itself to that era, this production will be taking all the artifacts - the top hats, the corsets - and making the show and one of the world's most controversial figures something most people cannot even imagine. "Richard is this charming, cunning brilliant" figure, notes Terenzio, who thinks that the Victorian Steampunk and Richard III is a perfect fit. Throw in high tech production with projections as backdrops and some inspiration from Mad Max and The Gangs of New York, and people will never think of Richard III in the same way again. Terenzio notes that Shakespeare is open for interpretation. "We're taking that Laurence Olivier type of speech and throwing it out the window," he says, with the aim of making "it sound like people in everyday conversation....That was the winter of our discontent."