Many of us remember reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet in our high school English classes. The frantic skimming over of footnotes and listening to our classmates stumble over iambic pentameter left many of us with a vague understanding of the text. This year’s spring theater production, under the direction of Professor of Theater and Dance Amy Seham, will give us a second chance to understand Hamlet on a far more personal level.
Cast members highlighted the modern vibe of the production and its accessibility to a modern audience. “It’s not traditional Shakespeare,” Junior Theater Major Ben Kolis said, describing it as the “re-imagination of a historical period.”
“[Seham] is trying to shift Hamlet from high culture to popular culture,” Junior Theater Major Jane Chung said. Jane plays several roles in Hamlet, including Player Queen.
In order to create this atmosphere of modernity, the production incorporates a variety of elements including live music, filming and pre-shot cinematic projections. Another intriguing element of multi-media is the use of security cameras both on and off stage, communicating the intensity of paranoia experienced by Hamlet to the audience.
Senior Theater Major Christian DeMarais, who plays the role of Hamlet, said the audience is given a unique opportunity to connect with Hamlet’s delusions through the use of the security cameras, because of the presence of them in our everyday lives. In this sense, we can all relate to the feeling of being watched. Heighten that feeling to the level experienced by Hamlet and “any normal person would react in the same way [as Hamlet did],” DeMarais said. This understanding adds a new lens through which to interpret Hamlet’s actions.
The overall set design codifies the themes of popular culture and multimedia with the incorporation of over thirty televisions and two large projection screens. “The televisions signify for me the reproduction and representation of real life,” Kolis said. “Hamlet is constantly being watched and the televisions show that to the audience,” Chung said.
There are several staging levels within the set that also lend an interesting dimension to the design. Chung said the levels were calculated with a deeper meaning in mind, as well. “The multiple levels convey multiple levels of reality,” she said.
Senior Theater Honors Major Lydia Francis, who designed the set, said her vision is constantly developing. She began with several smaller sketches back in January and then sat down with the director before creating a more realized sketch. “Things have still changed from my ‘final’ rendering, but that’s the exciting part of theater,” Francis said.
The costumes in this production were also carefully designed to complement the overall theme. Costume Design and Technology Professor Larissa McConnell developed her designs through a modern Elizabethan lens, pairing high collars and lace alongside the nuance of more modern elements.
No theater production runs smoothly without the collaboration of all those involved, and several of the actors pointed out the unique make-up of this particular production. “It’s a very diverse group of people,” DeMarais said. Playing the role of Hamlet, DeMarais gets the chance to interact with everyone and mentioned how enjoyable that has been.
“It’s a pretty big cast, so it’s been fun working with so many people,” Chung said. “There are so many talents. It’s been a treasure to watch them.”
Kolis mentioned his sincere admiration of DeMarais as he tackles the role of Hamlet. “He has really come into his own,” he said. “He has a tremendous role and does a tremendous job.”
“Everyone appreciates Shakespeare, and we find a common bond in the play,” DeMarais said of the feeling of solidarity he’s experienced. He also mentioned his admiration of their director. “[Seham] harnesses the collaborative nature [of the group].”
DeMarais draws many parallels between the experience of Hamlet and those of the audience. “We’re all Hamlet in our own right,” he said. “People can see themselves in him.” Just as Hamlet struggles in the aftermath of his shattered reality, so too do many of us struggle when our belief systems are challenged. Hamlet endeavors to set right what has gone wrong, but “he can’t do, he can only think,” DeMarais said. “I think for a lot of people, at least in my life, that is very applicable.”
Hamlet will be performed in Anderson Theater May 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14. Tickets are available at online or through the Student Activities Office.