Friday, May 21, 2010

Continued HAMLET thoughts

These last few weeks I have continued my work on HAMLET. This has included some Civil War research, some text work, and discussions with members of the cast. It has been an interesting and exciting challenge to explore the circumstances of HAMLET through the Civil War South.

Hamlet has gone through so many incarnations over the many years since Shakespeare wrote the play. The original Richard Burbage that we can only speculate about. The brooding intellectual that Sir Lawrence Olivier brought us, the unpredictable Hamlet that Mel Gibson brought us, the masculine and yet comical Hamlet that Richard Burton performed, to today's interpretations by Jude Law and David Tenet.

As we approach our HAMLET there are some very important things I want to instill with our production team and cast. Number 1: Their versions of their characters must be their own. Walter will create Walter's Hamlet. Melora will create her Gertrude. All of our actors must bring themselves to the roles they play. Number 2: Our HAMLET will tell a story about Civil War Virginia rather than simply pasting the story of HAMLET into Civil War Virginia circumstances. That is what makes the Ethan Hawke version ( so awful. They simply pasted "corporation" onto the story. It didn't tell us about corporate America, it simply used corporate America to modernize HAMLET (and quite poorly. The "to be or not to be" in the Blockbuster Video is about as bad as it gets).

In looking at the Civil War there are some really rich circumstances for us to play with. One is the idea of war and death. The Civil War was a bloody war and one that is rife with moral conflict. Hamlet struggles with the idea of death and the idea of honor. In our production Hamlet has not gone off to war but Horatio has. Horatio is returning home at the start of our production wounded and limp. Laertes has been to war and returns at the top of the show. He is going to "Richmond" and not to "Paris." Laertes takes action in opposition to Hamlet's inaction. This idea of manhood and duty play a large part in our Hamlet's struggle. He also debates the nature of this particular war.

The state of the farm and the shift of culture also plays a big part in our character's lives. The farm is in disarray. The effects of the war, the loss of slave labor, and the loss of community has hit the farm. The irony is that the characters want to continue on as usual. The past is slipping away. The present is barreling forward. They want to stay in the past but it is impossible. Their lack of change and ability to adjust ultimately destroys them.

We are also shifting some of the circumstance to help us tell our version of the story. Ours is an adaptation of the story of Hamlet in many ways. Hamlet is sent off to war rather then being sent to England. We meld a lot of characters into Marcellus and Bernardo who serve as farm hands and our players are one traveling musician.

Krista and I just went to the barn (our performance venue) this morning and began plans for the performance prep. A lot needs to be done to make the barn both ready for performers and the audience. As is the case with our outdoor work, there is a lot of unusual production prep to be done. It is always exciting to perform outside of a theatre, but it also brings with it a lot of new challenges. Audience comfort, parking, bathrooms, ect. We are excited for the challenge though.

I will continue to update the status of rehearsals as we move forward.

More soon.

Geoffrey Kershner
Artistic Director

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