Interview with Jester's Dead co-creator Rhett Henckel
Inside the minds behind NYC's new Top Gun Shakesparody
Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Norma Sepenuk
Shakespeare. We’ve all heard of him, some of us through high school, some through Ten Things I Hate About You, or (grimace) She’s the Man. And while we love the original plays, we can’t help but feel giddy when we see a new twist on an old literary genius. Cue Jester’s Dead, a new Shakespearean parody of the classic Tom Cruise flick Top Gun currently running at The People’s Improv Theatre.
The show itself consistently has people laughing at a witty blend of language from every play in Shakespeare’s canon and the story of Top Gun. During even t he most serious moments like when Goose – dying in the arms of Cruise doppelganger Dan Hartley as Maverick – belts out Mercutio's famous last speech in Romeo and Juliet, people were awestruck at the transferability from old to new. Here, creators Rhett Henckel and Nat McIntyre showcase their ability to harness the language of Shakespeare for new audiences in what they call “Shakesparody.”
“After grad school at The Old Globe, I moved to NYC, and Nat followed a year later. We were in a lot of shows together, and one day we s tarted talking about how we’d like to start something on our own. We realized that a lot of actors want to create their own thing. It’s hard- especially when you’re starting out in New York to do different plays and sometimes you can’t choose what you want to do. So we decided to take matters into our own hands and started a company called The Outfit with nine founding members.”
Unlike most actors, this dynamic duo knew they wanted to skew away from the Shakespeare norm, but they knew they had to make it appealing to popular culture. After forming The Outfit, a theater company full of graduates of the Old Globe in San Diego, it was time to brainstorm thoughts and combinations that would be creative yet relatable.
We were initially inspired by this wild improvisational production of Hamlet by a London-based company called The Factory,” said Henckel. “They would pick the cast on the spot, do the show in non-traditional venues, and encoura ge people to bring their own props – you could bring a rubber balloon and somehow they’d work it in. Then we stumbled upon Point Break LIVE! and thought we’d do something similar with Top Gun, but less ridiculous. You know – sans water guns.”
Ultimately they chose the 80s classic . “As soon as we started talking about Top Gun, we found gold,” he continued. “First, it’s a movie we both love, and second, it touches on something about our country – this cockiness, this competitive attitude, it’s funny to look back and see how ridiculous it was. Once we started going through the lines, we realized that Top Gun fits Shakespeare perfectly. It’s been two years and I’m so excited that Jester’s Dead has really taken on a life of its own.”
With the economy in free fall upon their arrival in New York, and established actors booking even the smallest roles to get by, it meant an unusually steep uphill battle for Henckel and McIntyre as they were starting out. "It’s always hard,” said Henckel, “and when we got here it was maybe the worst time to be an actor in New York City. I think t was hard to get work anywhere, really, but that’s what really drove us to start this.” Henckel and McIntyre worked with three directors and nearly twenty actors, some of whom are members of The Outfit, over two years crafting their script for this first major New York City run of Jester’s Dead.
“When we initially conceived The Outfit we were definitely inspired by The Factory in London. We saw it as an opportunity to create a home for artists where they could create great work in theater in NY. The people making the work are so passionate and personal and that’s what’s going to drive us,” said Henckel. “Our company is young but I think we’re pretty fortunate to have some good DNA.”
For tickets and showtimes for Jester's Dead visit Jestersdead.org