Televisions and cameras surround the action, and music thumps out of the huge speakers. People saunter by in black leather and chains, brandishing signs and video cameras. Has Judas Priest come to town? No, it's the Batavia Players' 'Shakespeare in Springtime' production of Richard III this weekend at Batavia High School.
"It's very contemporary," says director Jane Burk. "The show goes to a very dark place, and I wanted to take advantage of that."
The show is very dark, indeed. It follows Richard, the younger brother of King Edward IV of England, and his plot to become king -- even if it means killing whoever gets in his way.
"The play is called 'The Tragedy of Richard III' but it is not actually a true Shakespeare tragedy," Burk explains. "It was part of a series he wrote about that specific time period in English history. It's a historical play."
"[Richard III is] pretty much a guy who's really upset because he's deformed physically, and his family has rejected him," says Anthony Giambrone of his title role, which has the second-largest number of lines of any Shakespearean character. "He basically wants to become king to make people love him."
Aside from the setting and costumes, there is another unexpected twist to the show: the performance takes place behind the curtains, in the center of a ring of chairs on stage. The audience members will be sitting in these chairs, only feet away from the action, mimicking the feel of a black-box theater.
"The Batavia Players are in the process of building a black-box theater, and we had originally hoped that this would be the first show performed there," says Burk. "So when we began rehearsals, we blocked everything in this style. Once we found out that we were going to be performing here at Batavia High instead, we decided we still wanted to keep the intimacy of a black box and not just do it straight out to the audience."
"I think it's really, really cool," says Giambrone, who has previously performed in a black-box setup. "But it's a lot harder because you have the people right there in front of you, watching you really closely."
"It's the first show I've done like this, so it's been a challenge," says Rachel Oshlag, who has the role of Queen Elizabeth.
Although Oshlag may be inexperienced when it comes to the setup of the stage, she is no stranger to the stage itself. This is her seventh Shakespeare show, and her twenty-first year of doing theater.
"It becomes easier each year," she says of performing Shakespeare, "but each show is its own challenge. You have to be careful how you say the lines and make it sound as close to (real) people speaking as possible."
"Shakespeare is poetry. There's a rhythm to it that helps a lot," says Jesse Conklin, who plays Buckingham, one of Richard's right-hand men. This is Conklin's fifth 'Shakespeare in Springtime' production.
James Earl, an Elba High School senior portraying Lord William Hastings, says that for him, the highlight of the show hasn't been the costumes or the dialogue.
"The best part about it is that I get beheaded, and then I come on carrying my head later. The head is a cabbage in a bag," laughs Earl. "It's a lot of fun."
Performances of Richard III are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at BHS. Tickets can be purchased online at www.bataviaplayers.org or at the door, and are $10 general admission and $8 for students and seniors.