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Quill Theatre’s Bootleg Shakespeare returns to the VMFA Halloween evening with 60′s B-movie horror version of ‘Macbeth’

Brad Kutner | October 20, 2015

One of RVA Theatre’s most unique shows is back for 2015 and the folks involved are already hard at work getting the zany, off the wall production of Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth together as part of their annual Bootleg Shakespeare event.

Bootleg Shakespeare, now in its seventh year, aims to add a new twist on The Bard’s classic works. The unique angle is there are almost no rehearsals for the performance and the entire, one-off event is nearly improvised.

“I like to refer to it as ‘the wedding,’ cause there’s so much work leading up to it. Then it’s one shot, and it’s over,” said Jacquie O’Connor, Quill Theatre‘s Managing Director. “It’s an opportunity for the audience to see how the process happens and be in it with us.”

The lack of preparation puts actors to the test, and its something the audience has come to love, she said.

“The adrenaline that’s running through the actors is running through the audience.”

This year’s performance will be the classic tragedy Macbeth, but it will of course feature numerous twists, including a live rock band, and a 60′s B-horror-movie theme.

“We pick the tragedies or the darker plays because they end up becoming so funny… there’s really nothing like it, O’Connor said. “We do Shakespeare’s stunning words, we just give it a twist… We’re honoring Shakespeare, but we’re ramping it up.”

Lady Macbeth will be a version of Sandy from Grease, Macbeth is Elvis Priestly, and The witches are a version of the 60′s du-op band The Shirelles, among other wacky tweaks.

“It’s become a full blown party,” she said of the ever-evolving performance.

When it first started it was held at the Barksdale theater and fans would line up around the block to get the free tickets; some would show up hours before release. “It reminded me when I was a teenager, going to NYC to get tickets to Star Wars,” said O’Connor. She used to see people with lawn chairs and board games waiting in line.  ”All the excitement we had waiting in line early for tickets.”

But last year they were invited to hold the show at the VMFA’s  Leslie Cheek Theater. The additional seating space allows for more folks to get into the show, but they also get to host a pre-show band, prize giveaways, and the availability of finer booze and food from the VMFA’s restaurants.

“This is our gift to the community, and we don’t want to turn anybody away,” O’Conner said. The performance returns to the VMFA again this year.

Beyond being one of the most fun and unique shows for audiences in Richmond, Bootleg Shakespeare is also a coveted opportunity for RVA actors.  O’Connor said she gets requests for roles for next year’s performances the day after the current show ends.

“It’s filled with surprises, and you can’t fake it,” she said. “A lot of actors hold back until they get on stage and so a lot of what you see is real. Real reactions, real moments; and we actors love that… it’s as close as you can get to improv without it being improv.”

As someone whose acted in , and now directs, Bootleg shows before, RVA theatre legend Foster Solomon has a unique perspective into the show’s past and present.

“Just shoving lines into my brain is not an easy thing if it’s not attached to rehearsal in the scene,” said Solomon about his days prepping for roles in the annual show, with a total lack of stage blocking prior to showtime.

Actors are informed of their roles 30 days before the show opens and they’re given scripts to memorize without any interaction from the other players or crew. This is one of the great challenges in the production, but it helps make it stand out.

Soloman’s role as Director, his second year in the chair, is just as stressful, but the timeline is a little different. He’s got about six months to prep for the show – cutting the script, creating a theme, and casting roles. He too has faced excited actors begging to be a part of the production within 24 hours of the last performance.

“It’s like child birth,” he joked about being asked about roles days after the show wraps. “You don’t ask a woman whose just had a baby when she’s going to have another one.”

But even with the stress, Bootleg Shakespeare productions are among his favorite to be involved in.

“I’m looking forward to it all coming together,” he said. “Standing there, and everybody’s hanging around and we start with the first word in the first scene. People are enthusiastic and they take my idea for the character and run with it… no one has any idea how far or how wide anybody’s going to go with the character choice.”

Expect a bit of melodrama, a one-of-a-kind performance, and lots of laughs when Bootleg Shakespeare’s Macbeth opens Halloween night, 10/31, at 7 PM with free tickets available at 5 PM sharp from the VMFA’s Leslie Cheek Theatre.