The Shippensburg Theater Collective performed ‘Riii! From the Life and Death of King Richard III’ by William Shakespeare at the Cumberland Valley Hose Company #2 Station on Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. The station was nearly full, with even Shippensburg University President Charles Patterson and Colleen Patterson in attendance. Audience members of all ages sat in assorted chairs around the room and were treated to popcorn and broody background music while waiting for the show to start.
The play details the story of Richard III - played by Shippensburg alumni Luke Hershey - a scheming, traitorous duke who attempts to steal the English throne through murderous plots. While the original stands at three-and-a-half hours, the Collective’s production was cut to a 90 minute version, but it was not lacking in any aspect of its performance. The crew practiced in random spaces for two months until the borough lent them the local fire hall where the play took place. The space was not what one would expect for a theater production, but the cast did a fantastic job with the resources they had, putting together a truly immersive experience for audience members. The dim lighting and minimal props added to the grit of the story and allowed for the actors’ talents to take the main stage.
This marks the first performance for the Theater Collective, but it was formed around three years prior by Misty Knight, a professor at Shippensburg University. Like many great projects, the collective began as the result of a single, simple idea and arose through a true passion and love for the craft. Knight was tasked with forming this organization by the Shippensburg Revitalization Group and set to work assembling interested parties. Sadly, as they were gearing up to begin their first season, the pandemic sent everyone into lockdown.
Luckily, the love for theater in Shippensburg was never snuffed out. ‘Riii!’ was spearheaded by Hershey and Luke Reed, a local high school drama director, and the Collective decided that this show would be the perfect opening event. The two then recruited people they knew to play certain roles. The actors are all Shippensburg locals and, with the exception of two members, were born and raised here. Many attended Shippensburg Area High School or Shippensburg University. Their respective talents and angles came together to make the show something special with very few traditional theatrical aspects. Sam Little, for example, was the fight choreographer for the Renaissance Fair and Tom Crochunis is an English professor at Shippensburg University.
As the group is currently fairly small, Crochunis and many other cast members played multiple parts in the show. This made for fairly simple costumes, yet each new character was easily identified as cast members seemed in full control of the personalities they took on. Skills levels were said to have varied, but every player seemed to encapsulate their role. Each member gave a powerful and spirited performance and the audience met the energy, laughing along with the humor the actors injected into the fairly serious subject matter. The players added a new life to the Shakespeare production, and it seemed to be deeply appreciated by everyone in attendance.
‘Riii!’ was an incredibly vibrant performance, and a stellar start for the Shippensburg Theater Collective. Despite its somewhat humble foundations, the Collective showcased the talent present in Shippensburg. The Shippensburg Theater Collective’s next show will be ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ and information on auditions and show dates will be announced soon.