The Reduced Shakespeare Company is an American acting troupe that writes and performs unsubtle, fast-paced, seemingly improvisational condensations of huge topics.
The Company was founded in 1981 by Daniel Singer, who wrote a 25-minute,4-actor version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, to be performed at the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Novato, California. He cast himself as Polonius, Horatio, and Laertes; Jess Borgeson as the title character; Michael Fleming as Bernardo, Claudius, and the Ghost of Hamlet's father; and Barbara Reinertson as Ophelia and Gertrude. When Reinertson broke her ankle three weeks into the run, Borgeson suggested that school-chum Adam Long fill in for her in drag. A wig was procured, and Long's performance was described as "uncanny." The show won high praise and developed a large following.
Borgeson returned to college in 1983 to pursue a degree in English literature, leaving Singer and Long to continue under the RSC banner. They penned a twenty-minute version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which they performed at Renaissance Fairs, on street-corners, beaches, and at private events. Crowds were amazed to see two men arrive with a small basket of costumes, two fencing foils, two bottles of poison, a rose, a dagger, a wig and a dummy, and proceed to enact the entire story with the zany style of a Marx Brothers movie. Taking the advice of some fellow street-performers, Long and Singer expanded the comedy in the act and solicited for tips afterwards; their solicitations proved generally successful.
Borgeson rejoined the troupe in 1985, and so Singer's version of Hamlet was resurrected into the repertoire. Several actors had come and gone in the roles of Bernardo, the Ghost, and Claudius; the last in the series excused himself when his daughter was born. The three-man RSC was born at that time, with Long taking over those roles. In 1987, a friend of the company suggested that they'd find a welcome reception at the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland. The ideal show length being about an hour, they decided they needed about twenty more minutes of material, and proposed doing Shakespeare's other 35 plays to round out an abridgement of everything the bard wrote in less than one hour.
The resulting script successfully premiered in an open-framed barn at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, adjacent to the site of the Renaissance Faire. It then moved to Edinburgh proper, being performed in a church basement at 10:30 a.m. for a three-week run to generally sold-out houses. After that, the show (expanded to 97 minutes) toured theatres and festivals around the world. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) ran for nine record-breaking years at the Criterion Theatre in London's West End. It has become one of the world's most popular shows, playing frequently in a variety of languages. A video version was released on DVD in 2001.
Singer left the Company in 1989 and was replaced by Reed Martin; Borgeson left in 1992 and was replaced by Austin Tichenor. Long has also retired from the company, and was replaced by Matthew Croke, who has also since departed. In 1994 Tichenor, Long and Martin created a six-part radio series called The Reduced Shakespeare Radio Show. It was broadcast on the BBC World Service from May 11 to June 22, 1994. In 1994 they also produced The Ring Reduced, a half-hour version of Richard Wagner's operatic Ring Cycle, as part of Channel 4's Wagner season.
In the mid 1990s Martin and Tichenor wrote the company's second play, The Complete History of America (abridged). They followed this up with The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged). For the turn of the century Martin and Tichenor wrote The Complete Millennium Musical (abridged). All the Great Books (abridged) was next in the early 2000s. Completely Hollywood (abridged) is the troupe's most recent show, and a seventh show, "The Complete World of Sports (abridged)," is currently being written and will begin touring in Autumn 2010.
In August 2005, at the Sebatiani Theatre in Sonoma, California, the Reduced Shakespeare Company recorded its second show on DVD, The Complete History of America (abridged).