Babes With Blades Theatre Company (BWBTC) offers a powerful, ambitious production as it returns to live performances for the 2022 season with William Shakespeare’s Richard III, in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Disability Cultural Center and directed by Richard Costes, playing until October 15, at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway Ave. The performance schedule is Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. All performances are presented with open captioning and streaming available Saturday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 25 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 – $35 and are on sale at BabesWithBlades.org.
Bringing the tale of Shakespeare’s most complex, cruel and fascinating protagonist to life, BWBTC Shakespeare’s Richard III tells the story of Richard of Gloucester, who uses intelligence, deception and political manipulation towards his ultimate goal: England’s crown. This is a new version that accounts for previously disregarded perspectives. BWBTC’s production is a partnership with a project called “Making Inclusive Theatre: Richard III as Disability Art,” a collaboration with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Disability Cultural Center, the UIC Department of Theatre and Bodies of Work, a network of disability arts and culture. BWBTC Shakespeare’s production of Richard III adds a new layer to the complex tale by making it more inclusive so it can further explore othering and disability culture.
Richard Costes is the production’s director and a deaf artist who shares that, “…. in our production, Elizabeth (one of the most othered characters in the text as a commoner elevated to nobility, as a woman, as a mother, and as the eventual architect of Richard’s downfall) is also disabled. By featuring two (or more actors) with disability onstage, in polar opposite roles, we can confront the trope of disability as a metaphorical mark of Cain.”
Costes’ directorial choice challenges the archaic notion that disabilities propagate evil or guarantee helplessness in people. It’s a timely challenge, given that, according to a 2018 study by the CDC, 1 in 4 adults identify as having a disability (making it the largest marginalized population in the US). If theater is supposed to reflect the communities for which it is produced, then artists with disabilities must be embraced and included in all areas of the process and production.
Aligned with their mission of representing marginalized voices, “BWBTC Shakespeare” specifically features actors of marginalized genders providing an opportunity for audiences to perceive these classic stories through a new lens. As BWBTC partners with UIC’s Disability Cultural Center in telling the tale of Richard of Gloucester’s rise to power, the casting includes disabled and non-disabled actors allowing the exploration of disability beyond the role of Richard III.
As an audience member what was my take away? The set was at once simple, clean, functional and engaging. The swords were well used and impactful. The open captioning was very helpful and enhanced the performance. The story was modified so that Richard III was presented as cruel and ambitious but the disability that is often presented was not emphasized. The acting was excellent. The story is difficult. I was engaged and moved and glad I went to see this powerful play.
For more information, tickets, and live performance streaming information, please visit BabesWithBlades.org.
Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux
List of cast members and production staff and more