Dominic Conti, Austin Tichenor, and Reed Martin, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, performed in Markel Auditorium last night. Anders Kiledal | Collegian
Dominic Conti, Austin Tichenor, and Reed Martin, the Reduced Shake­speare Company, per­formed in Markel Audi­torium last night. Anders Kiledal | Collegian

Last night, The Reduced Shake­speare Company per­formed “The Com­plete History of America (abridged): Special Election Edition” for Hillsdale’s campus. The Col­legian sat down with Reed Martin, per­former, writer, and man­aging partner of the Reduced Shake­speare Company. The group, which also includes man­aging partner Austin Tichenor and per­former Dominic Conti, has per­formed in the White House and London’s West End, and the Kennedy Center, and has made TV appear­ances on PBS and BBC.

Your plays appear to be very off-the-cuff — is there a lot of impro­vi­sation, or is it mostly scripted?

We want it to look like we’re flying by the seat of our pants. The whole thing is scripted. That being said, we do design certain parts of the show with room for impro­vi­sation. In the show, in the second act, we take actual ques­tions from actual audience members, so that’s impro­vised. But in most of our shows, there are a number of things that go wrong, but they’re planned to go wrong. We hope the audience really thinks they’re going wrong. 

When you’re writing and pro­ducing plays, do you ever find it stressful trying to be funny?

I guess the stressful part is that it’s how we make a living. I think Austin and I both come from funny fam­ilies, so being funny is fun — but you’re not doing it for fun, you’re doing it for a living. That part is stressful. I was newly married when we wrote “The History of America.” I read the script to my wife, and she didn’t laugh once. She would nod, and then she would shake her head, and then she’d nod, and then she’d shake her head. When we got to the end I said, “You didn’t laugh once,” and she said, “Well, it felt like I was lis­tening to the mortgage.” So the nod meant, “Yes, that’s funny,” and shaking the head, “Nah, I don’t know.”

If Shake­speare saw your abridged version of his com­plete works, what do you think he’d say?

We think he would approve. He was a popular enter­tainer in his day — over the years he’s sort of evolved into high culture — but when he did his shows, everybody from the high to the low would come and see his show, and love it. The audience was right there in front of the actors, and the actors would acknowledge that, and Shake­speare wrote stuff where they would interact, so the fact that we’re inter­acting with the audience…I think he would take us out for a drink afterward. We actually perform in England a lot, so we went to visit Stratford-upon-Avon. We went to visit his grave, and we put our ear to the ground and did not hear any seismic activity, so we’re pretty sure he was not rolling over in his grave.

Do you have any authors or play­wrights or come­dians that you draw inspi­ration from?

Yes, too many to list, but I’ll rattle off a few: Monty Python, Sat­urday Night Live, Second City, classic “Looney Toons” car­toons, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, a lot of the standups from when Austin and I were kids — the Smothers Brothers, George Carlin, Cheech and Chong.

How did you come to be a  part of the Reduced Shake­speare Company?

I was ready to leave the circus, and Daniel Singer, the founder, had gotten an offer to go be an artist for Disney, for their theme parks. So Jess, one of our co-founders, said, “I know a guy who studied serious Shake­speare in graduate school and has also studied clowning,” and it seemed like the perfect com­bi­nation. He called me, and that’s how I got started in 1989. It barely became a full-time job a year later. So I guess like a lot of good things, it was done for the love of it for about 10 years.

Would you con­sider yourself an avid Shake­speare fan?

Yeah. I love Shake­speare. One of my goals is to be in or see live the whole Shake­spearean canon. I’m about two-thirds of the way through. So yes.