As any theater artist will tell you, renting a space is expensive, definitely more than the subway fare that Brooklyn-based actors Paul Marino and Fred Jones pay to use train cars for their Shakespearean busking.
The two, profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article, perform excerpts from climactic and closing scenes of Shakespeare tragedies on crowded (but not too crowded) subway cars, earning anywhere from $5 to $20 for each few-minute performance. They’ve been doing this for about twenty hours every week since January, and their repertoire includes scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and Julius Caesar.
They do without props and costumes (save a severed head for the final scene from Macbeth), but the familiar Shakespearean verses are usually enough for people to realize that they’re not crazy—except the time one of them was tackled by a drunk passenger. Even without such run-ins, the performances are intensely physical, with Marino and Jones tumbling on the hard floor, bouncing off poles and running through rattling train cars. They perform most frequently on the J, M, Z, N, R and L trains, avoiding the perpetually crowded 4, 5 and 6 lines.
Unlike 2009’s IRT: A Tragedy in Three Stations, which was more of a full production that happened to use the subway as its stage, Marino and Jones see their train theater in the vein of the breakdancers, Mariachi bands and other performers that are common fixtures of the daily commute. Jones tells the WSJ: “All we need is a car with people in it and we can feed and clothe ourselves. This is a straight hustle.”