‘The Power of Words and the Mind’ Takes Center Stage in Indy Shake’s ‘Ricky 3’

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INDIANAPOLIS — William Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” at the Taggart Memorial Amphitheater will be unlike any past production of the legendary playwright’s historical drama.

The Indianapolis Shakespeare Company (Indy Shakes) remixes the story of Richard III in “Ricky 3: A Hip Hop Shakespeare of Richard III”.

Ricky 3 director Mikael Burke says the meaning of Richard III and Shakespeare’s language remains unchanged in the production. Still, the narration of the story will be different from its traditional form as it incorporates rap and hip hop style.

“It’s close to Shakespeare’s original intent in terms of what the play is supposed to do, the questions it poses to the audience, I think, and the language, as it might be,” Burke said.

According to Burke, using the style of hip hop music to tell the story of Richard III helps to do several things, like streamlining the show, which, for example, cuts the storyline from nearly 4 hours down to 2 hours. Moreover, the incorporation of the style of music also brings together two types of artistic communities.

“The theatrical side of Shakespeare and the rap and hip hop sides of these two art forms are actually very, very close. They are actually incredible forms of verbal storytelling and demonstrate the power of words and spirit” , Burke said.

Photo provided: Indianapolis Shakespeare Company

The cast of “Ricky 3: A Hip Hop Shakespeare Richard III” poses for a promo of the play performing at the Taggart Memorial Amphitheater from July 21, 2022 through July 30, 2022.

Chinyelu Mwaafrika plays Lord Hastings, Sir James Tyrrell and is part of the ensemble of Ricky 3. As an actor, hip hop writer and someone who appreciates Shakespeare, he is enthusiastic about these different art forms, originating from two periods distinct, to come together on the same stage.

Mwaafrika says he thinks many people see Shakespeare’s name and see it as an entirely different world to the one we know today. It can be intimidating. But, he says, think again.

“It’s just drama. It’s just poetry. And it’s just storytelling. And hip hop is all those things too,” Mwaafrika said. “It’s grounded in human emotion and human experiences, and it’s, like, what connects those two.”

Mwaafrika is enthusiastic about Burke’s directing style, saying he is determined to ensure the show’s music still serves a narrative purpose.

“It’s not just there to look and sound good and to excite people. It’s there to help with the world we’re trying to build and the narrative we’re trying to build,” Mwaafrika said.

Burke says he’s by no means a hip hop expert, but he enjoys hip hop.

Thinking about the power of rhythm, flow, cadence and inflection of words and what it can do for a story, Burke says the character of Richard III jumped out at him when it came to rappers.

“He’s mastered at telling a story and holding the power in the room by making sure he’s the smartest in the room, and he does it through his verbal prowess,” Burke said. .

Ricky 3 - Played by Shawnté P. Gaston - Photo courtesy of The Orange Portrait.jpg

Photo provided: Indianapolis Shakespeare Company/The Orange Portrait

Shawnté P. Gaston plays Ricky 3 in the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company production of “Ricky 3: A Hip Hop Shakespeare Richard III”.

The story of Richard III is one of unchecked greed and what happens when someone’s desire for power goes too far.

“The opening of the play is him (Richard) telling us he’s gonna be the bad guy in this play, and, you know, hold on to your butt while we just watch him move pieces off the board to surrender to the crown,” Burke said.

Although steeped in specific British history, Burke says this piece has proven timeless and is, in a way, a reflection of today’s society.

“After the last few years that we have had in this country and also all over the world, I think about this question of how dotyrants come to power; how do they hold power; and what is our individual and personal responsibility in this effect? ​​think it’s a really fun and fascinating look at this kind of playbook about how it happens and our own roles,” Burke said.

Actor Akili Ni Mali says the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays makes it a joy to portray his characters, as the plots don’t rely on gender or race to tell the story. Instead, she says, “It’s about all human beings.”

“I want people to take that away from these characters. That I can tell you, not necessarily because of these factors about you that you can’t control, but because of the story,” Mali, who plays Lady Anne and others in the Ricky 3 set, said.

Actress Akili Ni Mali - Courtesy Indy Shakes.JPG

Photo provided: Indianapolis Shakespeare Company

Actor Akili Ni Mali plays Lady Anne and several others in the set of ‘Ricky 3: A Hip Hop Shakespeare Richard III’.

Burke says Ricky 3 shows how “really good things can turn into really bad things depending on who’s holding it.”

“I think that’s what comes out of this piece. That, like, Richard takes something wonderful and joyful, which is so fun and entertaining for us as viewers, and uses it to do things horrible,” Burke said. “And what does that say about us? That we find ourselves so thrilled by what he does differently and how he does it, that we forgive what he does.”

Ricky 3 from Indy Shakes is free to play and will play at the Taggart Amphitheater in Riverside Park from Thursday, July 21 through Saturday, July 30. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the show starting at 8 p.m.

Shakkira Harris, WRTV digital reporter, can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.

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