Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Theater / April 30, 2008

Ghosts of change: Hamlet arrives in Studio

Studio Theater’s production of Hamlet this spring will take a different approach to a play known for its epic length and large cast. Directed by Professor of Theater Liz Carlin-Metz, The play will run from May 7 through May 10 in Studio Theatre.

“I knew that I wanted to do something challenging and intimate; and to try to create an ensemble production that would unite the cast and production team in an approach that would be slightly different from the standard approach to text,” said Carlin-Metz, who proposed doing Hamlet as an eight-actor production.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Hamlet, the play is a tale of tragedy and revenge surrounding Prince Hamlet of Denmark whose uncle Claudius has murdered Hamlet’s father, married his mother, and become King of Denmark.

“Whenever one is producing Shakespeare, one is aware of the potential length and the general intolerance American audiences have for plays that are longer than the average movie. This is tragic because it is only in the last 40 years that new plays have succumbed to this general inability to sit for more than two hours and attend to a play.” said Carlin-Metz, who anticipates cutting the play to less than three hours while maintaining the “integrity of the language and the form.” This issue was further addressed by dramaturge Kat Henak.

“[T]he hardest part of working on Hamlet was cutting the script. Hamlet is just so popular and so well known that no matter what you cut, somebody is bound to notice and object,” said senior Kat Henak of the well-known and loved parts of the play.

One of these cuts includes the subplot of Fortinbras, a Norwegian Prince planning to lead an invasion of Denmark. Although this cut somewhat upsets the conclusion of the play, it is not noticeable to audience members who do not know otherwise.

“It’s a lot denser than normal language. The meter partially helps with the memorization. There’s a lot of words you don’t know- terms and mythological places. In his language there is generally a list of words that require research,” said senior Nick Perry, who is playing both Horatio and Guildenstern. Perry was also in As You Like It, another play by Shakespeare, as a sophomore. The language is not the only difficulty for the actors.

“‘Don’t judge your character!’ is told to you from day one at Knox. I’m so used to looking at Hamlet from the high school perspective. There’s so much judgment for Claudius- it’s hard to let go,” said junior Joey Firman, whose main role is Claudius, the biggest role he has tackled at Knox. His first time as the villain of a cast, Firman was also in the mainstage production of Our Town during his freshman year at Knox.

“I feel very privileged to be working with this cast,” said fellow cast member sophomore Devan Cameron, who is playing Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother) and Bernardo. “I want to do Gertrude justice. I think one thing people assumed is that Gertrude knew about her husband’s murder, and I don’t think that’s the case. She’s just very dependent on the men in her life. But as a contemporary woman, I find it hard to deal with this,” she also said of the choices of her character. After the death of her first husband, Hamlet’s father, Gertrude is hastily married by Claudius. Gertrude does not question the suspicious circumstances of her marriage. Cameron is not the only cast member determined to play her character differently than the customary role.

“I think it’s important to remember that Hamlet is just a guy like everyone else. It’s not this huge melodramatic thing,” says senior Matt Allis, who is playing the title role of Hamlet, a character who seems to be set in stone as melodramatic.

“All these characters are so iconic. Even doing research- there’s so much literary research on the character of Ophelia. She has been so historically waifish. I want to find the potential for vulnerability and strength within her,” said senior Meghan Reardon, who is playing Ophelia (Hamlet’s lover). From the first scene, Ophelia is constantly under the influence of Laertes (her brother), Polonius (her father), or Hamlet. When it seems that these three figures have abandoned her, she goes hysterical. Much of what Ophelia goes through, however, takes place off-stage and must be interpreted in the performance. Interpretation is not only relevant to the characters but the play as a whole.

“Ultimately, it is impossible to thoroughly research Hamlet–you have to limit yourself to a few areas. So I mostly researched Hamlet history–both the development of the legend of Amlothi (on which Shakespeare’s play is based) and the history of how Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been acted on-stage over the centuries,” said Henak who is responsible for research as the dramaturge. The question of how to portray Hamlet runs through every aspect of the play. Because Hamlet has been performed so many times and is well known even by those who have not read or seen it, a non-traditional approach is almost always expected of the play.

“Instead of designing Denmark and the place the story was about, I wanted to emphasize the place the story was being told in,” said senior scenic designer Kari Lefevre. “Liz is more sure of herself as a director and is confident in me to take risks.”

“I am thrilled by the work this cast and production team has been doing. The actors are all called every night and they work independently with one another while I have a given scene in the rehearsal hall. Then when I see work, it is already in progress and not waiting for me to initiate,” said Carlin-Metz.

Sadie Arft


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