The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of an actor skinning a dead rabbit on stage during the RSC's previous stagings of As You Like It. RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said the rabbits were obtained from a U.K. farm and were used in a scene where a dinner is being prepared.
The RSC had intended to source rabbits for the New York production from a company that provides already killed animals as food for pet snakes and other animals. Once New Yorkers learned of the scene, which Boyd said delighted audiences in London, a host of animal lovers and activists began protesting the staging.
The Lincoln Center Festival, which co-presents the RSC's U.S. visit along with the Park Avenue Armory and Ohio State University, had its Facebook page inundated with calls to halt the use of actual rabbits in the scene.
On July 3 Boyd issued a statement that the RSC would not be incorporating rabbits into As You Like It in New York, which launched the 44-performance repertory run July 6.
A representative for the RSC issued the following statement: "The production opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2009 in the rural heart of the UK. The dead rabbits used for the performances in Britain were part of a scene illustrating the contrast between court and countryside, where life was harsher and people hunted and prepared their own food, and were sourced locally from game-keepers as part of a farming control programme. The RSC and the RSPCA (UK equivalent of the ASPCA) were satisfied that the rabbits used in the British performances were sourced responsibly and killed humanely. It has not been possible to source rabbits in the same way in New York." Boyd previously commented that the company had initially hoped to also use the meat from the skinned rabbits as a post-performance dish, but the animals were not deemed fit for human consumption.
The American Humane Association, which oversees animal use on film and television sets in the U.S., does not monitor live stage productions. Jez Butterworth's epic drama Jerusalem, a Tony nominee for Best Play, features several chickens and, at one point, a goldfish in peril. None of the animals is harmed in that production.
Forty-one actors and 21 musicians comprise the RSC troupe who offer As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, The Winter's Tale and Julius Caesar in repertory through Aug. 14 at the Park Avenue Armory. The RSC has constructed a full-scale replica of its Stratford-upon-Avon theatre for the epic event.