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Celery Stalks And Cinder Blocks: Savage Rose Turns Shakespeare Into Radio

Courtesy Savage Rose

Ashley Beck Heimbrock -- the production manager of Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company -- walks into the theater with a watermelon under one arm and a grocery bag stuffed with celery stalks under the other.

No, it’s not snacks for the cast.

For the purposes of this show, celery stalks are a substitute for the sound of bones breaking, while watermelon doubles as the sound of flesh being pierced. This weekend, Savage Rose is putting on a production of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” But, in an unusual move, the company is doing it as a radio play.

Here’s a quick summary of the tragedy: The story is set in Rome, where the two sons of the late emperor are fighting over who is the rightful heir to the throne. It’s determined that their brother, Titus Andronicus, who has been away fighting a 10-year campaign against the Goths will decide when he returns.

Fast-forward. Titus returns -- and with him as his prisoner is Tamora, queen of the Goths, and her three sons. It turns out that, in order to satisfy the gods, her eldest son must be given as a human sacrifice.

Kelly Moore is the artistic director of Savage Rose. She says “Titus Andronicus” was written very early in Shakespeare’s career -- it was his first tragedy -- at a time when “revenge plays” were very popular.

“Therefore the rest of the play is spent in a lot of mounting vengeance and violence,” Moore says. “This play is very gory. There are a lot of pretty bloody deaths, a lot of dismemberment.”

Essentially, if Shakespeare had written an HBO series, this play would be it.

For that reason, it is typically a very visual production, but according to Moore, Savage Rose is all about focusing on the language of classical theater.

“That’s really one of the reasons we decided to do this as a radio play,” she says.

And it’s one that requires a unique set of audio tools to set the scenes. There are coconut shells to signal horses galloping (think “Monty Python”), various utensils for feast scenes, and one very large cinder block used to make the sound of an opening tomb.

Add in over 20 characters and voices, and you have a pretty robust set of tools to redefine the sound of Shakespeare for modern audiences; something Moore says is integral to the mission of Savage Rose.

“Titus Andronicus: The Radio Play” opens September 22 and runs through Sept. 24. Savage Rose will record each performance in front of a live audience. It is part of the 2016 “Will in the Ville” festivities celebrating the 400th anniversary of The Bard’s death. More information is available here