Theater Profile: Head Trick Theatre!

For the latest in our new set of RI Theatre Profiles, we talked to Rebecca Maxfield about Head Trick Theatre:

When was the theater started? Officially 2014, I suppose, when I directed/produced Pirandello’s Tonight We Improvise under that name at AS220.

Where does the name come from? Well, I said “officially” 2014 to the earlier question, and that’s because when I was a student at Brown I directed/produced Measure for Measure independently of any group. I felt I needed a company name to list it on my resume, and the show contains a “head trick,” where the severed head of one character is substituted for another; it also sort of touches vaguely on something that interests me in the kind of performance we do: Live with minimal sets, and that’s how the actors can make the audience see what they see, the world around them.

Describe your “mission” in one sentence. Putting on innovative productions of classic plays with a focus on the importance of liveness.

Favorite production or moment you’ve produced so far. Every production is special in its own way, but our 2015 As You Like It was the one that had spent the most time percolating in my brain, so making it real was particularly exciting. Also because it’s one where I feel I was particularly successful in getting my concept across – one of the reviews used the word magic or ritual, I can’t remember which, and I went, “Yes!!” I do work that’s heavily researched and conceptualized, but because it’s still very accessible, audiences and critics who have enjoyed a production still haven’t always necessarily realized that a directorial choice I made isn’t how the play is normally done. It was nice in AYLI to have my work on that part of the directing process recognized.

Favorite production another local theater has done. Oh man, I can’t pick just one – the answer here is cut down by several titles from what I originally wrote! I loved Burbage’s Titus Andronicus. Trinity’s Oklahoma was also a really smart production in how it dealt with some questionable aspects of the show.

Your dream production (if you had unlimited resources)? I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Puccini’s opera Turandot for a long time.

Theatre or Theater – your spelling, and why? “Theatre.” Habit?

What’s the worst thing you’ve had happen in the audience? Low attendance.

The best thing? Just having a good crowd who’s engaged and laughs at the funny bits and gets quiet and focused in the intense bits. Being able to tap into the energy feedback loop between the show and the audience.

Favorite wardrobe/set malfunction? Can it be a prop malfunction? She Would If She Could, which we just closed, has a moment with an orange that literally never went perfectly at any performance no matter how much we rehearsed it (the one time the prop moment happened perfectly, the actor was so surprised about it that he went up on a line and had to ad-lib) – the cast ran with it admirably and the audience generally couldn’t tell, even as Plan B and then Plan C failed to cover all the possible ways it could go wrong.

But my favorite has to be in The Revenger’s Tragedy, our park show last summer, when the bloody sack containing the “severed head” burst open while one character was beating another with it. It’s a good thing that the actors in that scene didn’t need to come back on for some time because they were cracking up offstage for a solid ten minutes.

What’s up next? Our third annual outdoor summer show – The Knight of the Burning Pestle! Like Revenger’s last summer, it’s an often-overlooked show from the same period as Shakespeare – a meta-theatrical mash-up of two plots that often gets described basically as Monty Python doing Don Quixote. And we’ll be announcing our next season soon, so keep your eyes peeled!


Rehearsing in the park: photo credit Benedict Gagliardi


Photo credit Benedict Gagliardi

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