Goodbye to the Olde 

Richmond Shakespeare gets tricked out at the Gottwald Playhouse.

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Four hundred years ago this fall, William Shakespeare moved his players into the Blackfriars Theatre, its first indoor home. Richmond Shakespeare repeats that exercise in September by moving into its first indoor space built specifically for live performance.

Its new residence in the Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage — along with the African American Repertory Theatre — takes the 25-year-old company from a comfortable but technically unsophisticated home to a state-of-the-art, tricked-out pad in the new downtown venue. That means new toys and production possibilities. 

Richmond Shakespeare has long touted its Spartan production style as being much the way Shakespeare would have produced plays rather than as a limit imposed by performance space. Traditionally there's been no formal set, just a few props such as a throne for the random king and uniform lighting so the audience can be better incorporated into the action.

Gottwald, however, provides the opportunity to expand technical applications. Artistic Director Grant Mudge assures that having access to a higher level of technical capability won't alter the artistic philosophy of the company. “Moving into the Gottwald enhances it,” he says. “We will continue to make use of Shakespeare's traditions in a modern setting using only key set pieces to create a different imaginary look, but will have the advantages of enhanced sound and lighting for special effects.”

During a recent tour of the playhouse, Mudge seems more excited about the abilities of the theater to morph into different staging possibilities than its high-tech capabilities — such as the 20 individually moving panels in the floor at the center of the space. “We have always been able to change the seating configurations at Second Presbyterian,” he says, “but in this space we can do so much more to enhance the personal way we like to engage our audiences. By lowering these panels we can create a thrust stage, a pit — or by leaving them floor-level, [offer] a different type of experience.”

The public will get a taste of how Richmond Shakespeare will play with the new space in October with the opening of Shakespeare's most lively comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.” S

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