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An Interview With Richard III

Allison Schwartz chats with Aaron Kirkpatrick, the actor playing the title role in Indiana University's production of Shakespeare's tragedy.

Aaron Kirkpatrick as Richard III ruling his biker-inspired throne in Indiana University's current production of Richard III
(Courtesy of IU Department of Theatre & Drama)
To receive my college diploma, I am required to take three different theatrical production classes. I am in the midst of tackling my first one, and I have spent the past two weeks backstage, making transitions and props run seamlessly for the production of Richard III. Since I do a lot of sitting around, I decided to use this opportunity to study and soak up the acting in the production. So, amidst the darkness of backstage, my brain ignited a light to interview the man who plays the crazy, incredibly complex, highly esteemed role of Richard III, Aaron Kirkpatrick.

I sat down last week with Aaron, the 2nd year MFA student from Virginia Beach, Virginia. He received his BFA degree undergrad at University of Central Florida. Here is what he had to say about the experience:

ALLISON SCHWARTZ: One of Richard III's most distinguishable traits is his physical deformity. What was it like to play a character with a handicap and how did that affect your rehearsal process?

AARON KIRKPATRICK: This is a role, like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, that is famous for the physical deformity. When you think of the show, Richard's hump, withered arm, and limp immediately come to mind. So, strangely, even before I was cast, I started dreaming about the deformity and began placing myself in these "what if" situations. I started working with the deformity as early as possible in the rehearsal process so that the posture and physical obstructions became engrained in every aspect of my motivation for the character.

After I got the movement in my body, I explored textual and vocal opportunities that could be affected by this handicap. I did not solely discover ways the deformity affected me as an actor, but also how others perceived the deformity. I believe the biggest coal in my (Richard's) fire is how much my irregularity discriminates me in the social structure of society. The poison I have for everyone stems from never knowing what it was like to love or be loved in return. As Richard quotes, he is "the cursed product of her [his mother's] womb". It was necessary to accept this emptiness and neglect early in the rehearsal process, before I even thought about the cerebral approach to my character.

AS: Richard is hungry for power and is willing to take drastic measures to acquire it. How did you jump into Richard's brain?

AK: Well, I think it is very important that an actor never stands in judgment of his character. It is very easy to say, "oh, I'm the bad guy," or to think that someone is bad because it stems from some sort of "evil" or "demonic" power. But an actor must do the homework to justify the actions of his character, just as we justify our actions in our own lives. So, I began to ask, "why does this have to happen," as opposed to "why do I want this to happen?"

My (Richard's) physical deformity and denial of love leaves me feeling powerless. I take great joy in manipulating my environment because my changes are validation of my work and power. I kill anyone who stands between me and the crown, and there really is no limit to what I would be willing to do to further myself in achieving that goal. The ambition and fantasy around the crown had to be so strong and to have that power had to be so… sexy, that I would be willing to kill God himself.

AS: IU's production of Richard III is adapted to take place between motorcycle gangs. Why this adaptation?

AK: The concept of motorcycle gangs is based on an idea of civil unrest. The fighting that was happening in the context of the show is neither a Civil War nor an epic battle, but these skirmish-type battles, that can take place over many years from these rival factions all fighting for what they consider to be their divine right to rule England. Then, to translate that into the modern world and to say "who fights like that?" and "how can that be stylized into a theatrical production" gave birth to the idea of a motorcycle gang.

AS: Do you have any unique ways you put Richard III "to sleep" at the end of a rehearsal/production?

AK: Of course, we all love to have fun and joke around, but at some point, there needs to be a ritualistic side to theater… like "stepping into the character" and finding the urgency in telling this character's story. And with a character that really goes to dark places, I think there is a necessity to "step out of it." Come to think of it, I have not actually done it…I've been more concerned with stepping into it and trusting my own mental health to take me out and release it for the night. Let's hope it works!


If your life brings you to Bloomington any time this week, I highly suggest you buy yourself a ticket to this fantastic production. And… a really awesome girl (aka me) does a killer pre-show sweeping job and puts some heads on spears…just sayin…