Post-Production Review of “Hamlet”
After a one month “vacation” (two weeks spent rehearsing and two weeks spent in performance) I am now home in Chicago, reflecting back on my experience with the Village Players at Village Chapel Theatre near Portland, Oregon. We successfully attempted and adapted (special thanks to Marianne Savell, http://www.mariannesavell.com) a version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” with only six ensemble members.
Thanks to everyone involved, it was THE most complex and rewarding process I have gone through as an actor. We experimented with one-on-one character analysis, extensive table work, improvisation, and journaling. As an ensemble we strove as one to present a performance that would not only be a memorable production, but a piece of art that evoked change from the inside, out. Our ensemble note was precise :”We offer a reflection of human nature and the cost of personal responsibility.” We wanted to do just as Shakespeare had so brilliantly stated with Hamlet, “hold a mirror up to nature”.
Our director Andy Christensen (doubled as Hamlet) gave us our scripts roughly a month before we all met up May 12, 2014. I had the pleasure of meeting up a day earlier, and only a day after I flew in, to do what he called a character analysis. We met at Starbucks and began to chat about who my character (Queen Gertrude) was and what I thought about her thus far. He asked me lots of questions, some were easy, others were very difficult. I walked away knowing more about my character while still asking in-depth questions about her. Andy had done with simple rehearsal with everyone in the cast previous to our first full rehearsal. The ensemble raved about it and you could tell it made a difference in our connection, confidence, and knowledge throughout the rest of the process.
At our first rehearsal, Andy sincerely asked the ensemble, including tech, to give to this production, “your best work yet”. I had never had a director/actor/friend ask that of me. It’s something I have also expected to do; work hard, be the best that you can be, etc. yet when asked to your face, you remember it clearly and never give up. He also informed us that we would undergo “extensive table work”. This meant that while we sat around a table, scripts open, pencils out, in character, we read through the play, asking ourselves and each other what EACH LINE of dialogue meant; why we chose to say that, who specifically we were talking to, foreshadowing, metaphors, alliteration, why, why, why?!?! This took us just over a week to get through (we only had 2 weeks of rehearsal mind you!)
After we concluded the table work portion, we immediately dove into improvising in character. For those who are familiar with the story of Hamlet, you know that not much is stated about Old King Hamlet’s funeral or Queen Gertrude and newly crowned King Claudius’ wedding/reception. The play begins right after all that good stuff. So Andy asked us to improvise them (not in verse or “Shakespearean Dialect”). We planned to come to rehearsal completely focused and in character, we would begin with the first scene, Old Hamlet’s funeral. As the six of us trickled into the Chapel, we instantly felt the power these exercises held. So many interesting relationships expanded and shaped themselves into honest communication of needs and wants. Both exercises ran about 30-45 minutes, tons of time to relate with each character and then some. These interactions fed into every performance thereafter. It completed the understanding of each character, our situations, and relationships.
Throughout the process we are also asked to journal our experiences, often in character. We also journaled about the process and the ensemble. The journaling exercises made each step, however large or small, a recorded fact that I could easily access whenever I was confused or “just not feelin’ it”. I would start every show reading over my journal from the improvised exercises. Reading those words, so close to Gertrude, put me right back in those scenarios and emotions. We often shared what we wrote and why, this also helped each actor maintain the sense of ensemble. We journaled why the ensemble was important. What themes/stories do you what to tell? How do you want to audience to react? What have you learned? How do you move the same or differently than your character? etc. Everyday held a new journal to expand your thoughts on the process at hand.
Even after rehearsals had ceased and performances ran on, the process was still important to us all. We always checked in as an ensemble before approaching the stage and vowed to look each other in the eyes and meet anew on stage. We wanted each night to be different and new, discovering new truths and new suspicions.
Having the opportunity to be in this production of Hamlet with Village Players gave me the artistic reawakening I have needed for years. It was the kind of process that helped me to know that I am not just an actor, but an artist many disciplines; writer, poet, illustrator, and designer. I used everything in me to be educated and perform “my best work yet”.