Group Spotlight on troupe Dartmouth Rude Mechanicals

The group's fall show featured a medley of famous Shakespearean death scenes

by Lex Kang | 11/7/17 12:07am

On Mischief Night, a group of students performed a collection of Shakespearean death scenes in gender-inclusive fraternity Alpha Theta. In the “Spooky Show,” excerpts from “Hamlet,” “Henry IV” and “Henry VI Part 3” made up the body from which spewed blood and splattered gore to make an atypical theatrical experience.

Known for being the only entirely student-led theater troupe on campus, the Dartmouth Rude Mechanicals is a group of passionate, talented students with a singular obsession.

“Shakespeare is very much alive to us,” member David James ’21 said. “Everyone [in the Rude Mechanicals] is a Shakespeare nerd, so it’s just the willingness to play within the world of Shakespeare that makes it a fun experience.” 

While the text can alienate some readers and potential audiences before they see a word performed, James said that the perception of Shakespeare does not line up with the subject matter.

“People think of Shakespeare as kind of dusty and dead,” he said. “But he writes about stuff that’s exciting to everyone. He writes about death, and sex and hatred … money and power. These are things that everyone cares about and gets drawn into.”

Isabel Wallace ’21 echoed James’ sentiment, saying that in reality, Shakespeare’s appeal lies in how relatable the characters are.

“Shakespeare is hilarious, [and] I think he has a sense of tragedy that’s unparalleled,” Wallace said. “He really knows how to make you cry. It’s the relatability of it [that I like] ... The characters are people you see around you every day.” 

Though Wallace and James both had experience acting in Shakespearean productions prior to coming to Dartmouth, the Rude Mechanicals welcomed all interested to audition, and some fostered their love for Shakespearean acting only after joining the group. Katherine Carithers ’20 said that before joining the Rude Mechanicals in spring 2017, she had approached Shakespeare only as written word. 

“I always enjoyed Shakespeare from an English perspective,” Carithers said. “I heard about the [Rude Mechanicals] a bit, but I hadn’t really done theater before I came to college … so I was pretty hesitant to audition.” 

Fortunately, she found the group accustomed to relying on one another for everything from practicing lines to comprehending the verse and said the group welcomed her into the fold. 

“If you feel like you don’t understand Shakespeare that well, I promise that when we’re rehearsing there are times when we don’t really have a good clue about what was said in the passage we just read, and we go back and talk about it with people,” Carithers said. “We have some incredible [senior] leadership.”

Peter Skow ’18, long-term member and current production manager of the Rude Mechanicals, said the group strives to collaborate and asks for that members of all backgrounds and skill levels contribute their ideas for shows. 

“We essentially collaborate on everything … Our positions are largely bureaucratic,” Skow said. “Anyone and everyone is welcome to shape the shows that we make, and we expect them to. That’s how they get good. Everyone comes to their own ideas … and not all of them make it into the final product, but it’s that process of working through it with everyone that really makes it unique.” 

This self-sufficiency unique to the Rude Mechanicals is what many members found to be the defining feature of the group that made membership so valuable. 

“[I gained] a sense of responsibility for my own actions … It’s just us, we really only have ourselves to be accountable to,” Skow said. “Even though it’s challenging sometimes, it’s ultimately very worthwhile and a very instructive group to be a part of [because] it teaches you to be self-reliant while simultaneously leaning on your group for support.” 

Wallace seconded Skow’s understanding of the difficulties of a student-led organization. 

“To put on a Shakespeare production completely run by students is a feat in and of itself,” Wallace said.  

Carithers felt that the struggles induced by relying solely on one another strengthened the group’s bond.

“We rely on each other,” Carithers said. “We don’t have an outside director — it’s students giving each other notes, offering perspectives and giving suggestions.”

James said that he enjoyed the student-focused environment of this kind of group and found that the insular rehearsal process builds intimacy and trust between members.

“It’s fun being directed by peers,” James said. “As the new folk in the group are getting more acquainted with each other, we’re getting increasingly comfortable giving and receiving notes. They’re always helpful, and there’s always new things to try.”

After spending most of this fall term integrating the first-year members into the group and doing monologue workshops with them, the group is now preparing a full production for the winter term. The Rude Mechanicals share an excitement about the preparation that lies ahead and hope to attract audiences with varying experiences with, backgrounds in and feelings about Shakespeare. 

“Without an actor to interpret [Shakespeare] for the audience, it’s very easy for people who are not as big into language … to just dismiss it as too much,” Skow said. “So I would suggest that someone looking to get into Shakespeare or give Shakespeare a second chance to go watch it.” 

James said that seeing a Rude Mechanicals show is a gamble worth making.

“I just hope people take the risk of going to see a Shakespeare show,” James added. “I hope more people feel [about Shakespeare] the way we do.”