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Reduced Shakespeare Company

From Academic Kids

The Reduced Shakespeare Company is a company of actors that performs unsubtle, fast-paced, seemingly highly-improvisational comedies presenting ludicrously condensed versions of huge topics.

The Company was founded in 1981 by Daniel Singer, who, upon seeing Tom Stoppard's abbreviated version of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, wrote his own 30-minute version of the work. He cast himself as Polonius, Horatio, and Laertes; Jess Borgeson as the title character; Michael Fleming as Bernardo, Claudius, and the Ghost of Hamlet's father; and Barbara Reinertson as Ophelia and Gertrude. When Miss Reinertson broke her ankle three weeks into the production, Borgeson suggested that Adam Long fill in for her in drag. A wig was procured, and Long's performance was described as "uncanny." (The use of boyish-looking actors to play women's roles harkens back to Shakespeare's time; Long only used drag for comic effect.)

In 1982, Borgeson returned to college to get a degree in English literature, leaving Singer and Long to continue under the RSC banner. Long penned a ten-minute version of Romeo and Juliet, which the two continued to perform.

In 1983, Long and Singer discovered that their weekend hobby could become a money-making enterprise if they crammed as many jokes as they possibly could into the works. They called their former colleague Borgeson and the three of them planned a revival of Hamlet. Several actors had come and gone in the roles of Bernardo, the Ghost, and Claudius; the last in the series excused himself when his daughter was born. The three-man RSC was born the same day, and Long took over the roles, introducing some lightning-fast costume changes into the script. The troika worked Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet in repertory from 1985 to 1987. One of their venues during this time was the original Renaissance Faire in Agoura, California.

In 1987, a friend of the company suggested that they'd find a welcome reception at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Having never heard of the "Fringe", "Festival", or "Scotland" for that matter, the group researched the event and discovered that in order to perform in it they'd need a full-length show. A friend, Jack Tate, suggested that since they had already knocked off two of the Bard's plays in 40 minutes, they could do the Complete Works in about an hour. The group booked a theater in Edinburgh, celebrated, got drunk, then woke up with a hangover and realized they had to condense 35 three-hour five-act masterpieces into 20 minutes, and became physically ill.

Once recovered, the resulting script was premiered before a small audience of friends in an open-framed barn at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, adjacent to the site of the Renaissance Faire. Having passed the test in that safe environment, they took it to Edinburgh, and their eventual success. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is now London's longest-running comedy, where a pastiche of 37 of Shakespeare's plays is performed in 97 minutes, though with most of the screen time given to the tragedies. (The sixteen comedies are condensed into one narrative as they are said not to be as funny as the tragedies, and the histories are presented as a football match with King Lear disqualified for 'fictional character on the field'.) Singer left the Company in 1989 and was replaced by Reed Martin; Borgeson left in 1992 and was replaced by Austin Tichenor. Long now lives in London, England after forming the UK version of the troupe, which performs nightly at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus. The actors in the UK troupe have to learn each of the three roles for Shakespeare, as the cast rotates to keep it fresh.

In 1994 Tichenor, Long and Martin created a six-part radio series called The Reduced Shakespeare Company Radio Show by extending the sequences (especially Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, which got episodes to themselves) and adding a final episode concerning Shakespeare's little-known trip to America. It was broadcast on the BBC World Service from May 11 to June 22 1994.

The company's newer plays include All the Great Books (abridged), The Complete History of America (abridged), The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) and Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (abridged). The best known, though, is Shakespeare.

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