Louisville’s Shakespeare Behind Bars is in its 18th season producing the works of Shakespeare with a company of incarcerated men. In June, they’ll open “Richard III,” the Bard’s dramatization of the rise and fall of Richard, the Machiavellian Duke of Gloucester, and England’s House of York, at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange.
“Richard III” will be the company’s first time tackling one of Shakespeare’s dense histories, but artistic director Matt Wallace says the tale of the twisted duke whose corrupt ambition compels him to commit murder in pursuit of the crown takes on a whole new resonance when performed by incarcerated actors, who suggested the play to Wallace when planning this year’s production.
“They bring insight and discovery every day,” says Wallace. “There’s a lot of relevance.”
From his first monologue, Richard establishes himself as a schemer, eaten by envy and resentful of his status in the royal family: “Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, / By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams, / To set my brother Clarence and the king / In deadly hate the one against the other,” revealing his nature yet establishing himself as a sympathetic — if not likable — character.
“The line ‘I am determined to prove a villain,’” says Wallace, his voice full of emotion. “A lot of these guys, in their past, before they started working on themselves, could have been Richard. Were Richard. Seeing the effect on the victims in the play, and having these men have to play the women characters who have lost everything, is pretty powerful stuff.”
Four performances will be open to the public on June 17-20 at Luther Luckett. Reservations are required, because patrons must complete security clearance in advance. There are 80 seats available for each night, but members of the actors’ families and donors receive priority reservations. Shakespeare Behind Bars will notify patrons by June 1 if they are cleared for attendance.
The organization recently added several area youth and young adult programs to its offerings, and its Journeymen ensemble of 18-21-year-old inmates at Luther Luckett will perform the pre-show at “Richard III.” SBB established a similar journeyman programs this year at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, Uspiritus at Brooklawn and Audubon Youth Development, along with Shakespeare Beyond Bars programs at Home of the Innocents and Louisville Day Treatment.