Interview: Radio Drama Society of Montreal reimagines Shakespeare for the Podcast Era

The creatives of "Richard III" talk digital drama performance and production for pandemic times

PICTURED: Simon Côté (Actor – Richard III), Matthew Mckeown (Director/Producer), and Bruce Lambie (TD/Editor/Actor) speak to Montreal Theatre Hub’s Cheyenne Cranston on their radio drama production of Richard III.

Engaging with one of William Shakespeare’s most iconic villains, Richard of Gloucester, has never been so accessible for audiences thanks to The Radio Drama Society of Montreal. By presenting the play in a podcast format, audiences are allowed to enjoy the brilliant performances of Montreal actors anytime and in any location. Each of the five acts will be presented as individual podcast episodes, offering audiences a unique listening experience. With the first episode already released on major podcast platforms, you can now make Richard III a part of your podcast listening routine. 

“I had always been interested in having something that people could find repeatedly,” explains Matthew Mckeown, director and producer. “I really enjoyed a bunch of the Zoom readings and live readings folks have done over the past while, but personally I found it very difficult for me to overcome the barrier between performers and audience. We basically just wanted to see if this would work as a way of bringing the audience closer by creating something like a radio drama.”

The nature of the podcast format of the show means the rehearsal and recording processes operate as a hybrid between the recorded world of film and the live world of theatre. The actors rehearse as a group with Mckeown via online platforms, but record their lines individually from their own homes. Technical director, editor and actor, Bruce Lambie, then edits the individual audio into a podcast format. This, of course, presents its own set of challenges.

“My responsibility here is to take everybody’s recordings and edit them all together like you would in a film.” Lambie says, “But the difference here, of course, is that everyone is recording in their own home with their own equipment… It’s been an interesting challenge to try and match the sound of everything.”

Micheline Chartier (First Assistant Director), Marc Ducusin (Actor – Duke of Buckingham), and Stefania Bertrand (Actor – Queen Margaret) of the Radio Drama Society of Montreal’s Richard III

Of course, technical challenges are not the only obstacles facing this highly talented cast and crew as they bring one of Shakespeare’s most iconic villains to life. 

“The challenge is to make it my own,” says Simon Côté, who plays the titular character, “Of course in my head I have Ian McKellan and Laurence Olivier. They’re very strong Richards, so you don’t want to do that. It’s about making it as much my own voice as possible.”

“Even when recording, I sometimes do the physicality a little bit because it does help [get into character].”

However, while there have certainly been difficulties in presenting the play as a podcast, there are certain benefits as well, according to Mckeown. 

“Having options is something that we don’t really get all that much in theatre. There’s one thing you do on the night, and that’s just what the audience gets.”

And Mckeown believes the timing of the project is perfect for today’s political and social climate.

“It seemed like the right moment to look at how people can essentially fall prey to, or be manipulated by, a charismatic leader with duplicitous intentions,” says Mckeown.

The production of the show has been a highly collaborative effort between various theatre artists, both from the technical and artistic sides of the project. Bruce Lambie and First Assistant Director Micheline Chartier have been key people in getting the production off the ground and keeping it running. 

“I think of plays and shows as a storytelling machine, and the purpose of the machine is to get a point across to people,” Mckeown explains. “But if you take even the smallest part of that machine out, it doesn’t work properly. So, every decision, every choice, every small scene, every dialogue exchange comes together to make a whole that delivers that moving experience.”

But, perhaps most importantly, what Mckeown is hoping for as both the director and producer of the show, is impact on audiences. 

“Most of my background in the arts is as a performer, and I like applause as much as anybody, but there is a moment when you feel that you’ve had an impact and moved someone. I don’t know what form that is going to take, but I’m looking out for it. I’m sure we’ll know it when we see it.”

You can now enjoy Act I of The Radio Drama Society of Montreal’s production of Richard III on platforms that include, Radio Public, Pocket Casts, and Spotify.

For more information, access the company’s Facebook page:

Cheyenne Cranston

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