Though Austin Tichenor spent 15 years in Hollywood acting in some of the most iconic TV shows of the time (think X-Files, ER, 24, and The West Wing, to name a few), it is the stage—and its most famous steward, William Shakespeare—that calls to him.
“You don’t get that audience response in television,” Tichenor admits. “In theater, you get that immediate connection; that community. You get to try things, work on things. There is more time for discovery.”
Now the creative director of the traveling troupe that is the Reduced Shakespeare Company, he says, laughing, “Shakespeare has always been there.” In fact, he traces his earliest experiences with The Bard to his childhood in San Francisco, seeing productions of Othello and Julius Caesar on stage. “Until Taming of the Shrew, I didn’t know Shakespeare could be so funny.”
In 1992, Reed Martin, a friend from his undergrad days at Berkeley, called on behalf of Reduced Shakespeare, offering Tichenor the opportunity of a lifetime: the role of Hamlet on the West End. The two now run the company, writing, producing, acting, and touring all over the world.
“We are constantly working; constantly fine-tuning, editing, and growing. That is the joy—theater is a living thing,” Tichenor explains.
The troupe recently completed a 50-city UK tour, somehow finding time to release books—including the just-published Pop-Up Shakespeare, an illustrated children’s book—and host a successful podcast, which takes a behind-the-scenes look at theater, along the way. His most memorable interview? Discussing Eugene O’Neill with Brian Dennehy in his dressing room during his run in The Iceman Cometh—it doesn’t get more behind-the-scenes than that.
Tichenor will bring this tireless energy—and encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare—to Skokie’s Northlight Theatre this month for their production of Book of Will, running through December 17.
“I happened to read the play earlier this year, and I loved it. It’s right in my wheelhouse, and the material is so accessible. Most importantly, it’s really funny,” Tichenor says. “It’s a perfect comedy for the holidays.”
In it, he plays the role of Richard Burbage. “It was Burbage who first played all of the great roles—he was the star actor Shakespeare was writing for. He wrote great plays, but he wrote them for great actors; he knew his actors and what they were capable of. It’s humbling to play him.”
Though Tichenor has worked with Will’s director, Jessica Thebus, previously at Lookingglass, this will be his debut at Northlight. “There is so much great theater on the North Shore,” he says. “The commitment and support of the community illustrate the reason I moved back here in 2011.”
The play, in essence, is a comedy about theater—a backstage comedy. “It’s about one of the greatest books ever published: Shakespeare’s First Folio. Without this folio, we wouldn’t have Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing…it’s one of the fundamental books of Western Civilization.”
“We go to the theater to experience language,” he continues, “To experience literature, all communally. And this play is a perfect example of this. This is the goal.”
For more information on Book of Will, visit northlight.org. To learn more about Reduced Shakespeare Company and its podcast, visit reducedshakespeare.com.