Audience favorite Griffin Stanton-Ameisen will play Hamlet for DSF in 2014 and Producing Artistic Director David Stradley will direct the production. Griffin and David have been meeting once a month since August to discuss the play and the character. With two weeks before rehearsal, we asked Griffin and David to share what they gained from the “I Am Hamlet” Project that they will take with them into rehearsals.
May 26, 2014
David and I learned a ton with our “I Am Hamlet” workshops. And it was a blast. It was awesome to delve into the play and some of its scenes with students as well as folks in retirement homes. We got so many different perspectives and it shed light in a variety of ways. New insight into certain lines, certain circumstances. It made us think about things in a totally different way. For instance, towards the end of “the closet scene” (Act 3, Scene 4 where Hamlet finally confronts Gertrude), Hamlet and his mother have this exchange:
GERTRUDE: O Hamlet, thou has cleft my heart in twain.
HAMLET: O throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half.
I had never thought of Hamlet’s line there as a line of forgiveness, but that was an idea suggested by a resident at Cokesbury Village.
I am always thinking about how this play applies to my life, but to hear how it applies to all of the folks we were able to work with reaffirmed its life and shed new light on possible interpretations of lines, scenes, and circumstances. It was very interesting that there always seemed to be a barrier put up because of the language. But once we read and talked about it, that went away quite quickly and the workshop participants understood those same words they might have been intimidated by before. Hamlet is a play that speaks to the soul of human existence no matter the age or type of person, and the workshops gave me an a very vivid insight into that truth.
Preparing to direct a play is normally an act done in isolation. You spend a lot of time alone, with your script, working things through. The process opens up as you start to work with designers and then really kicks into gear when the company of actors arrives for rehearsals. Normally, it isn’t until the very end of the process that the public is invited in. The wonderful thing about the “I Am Hamlet” Project has been the opportunity to engage with the public before we even start rehearsals. I’ve learned lots of specific things about how our community connects to the play (high school students connect the idea of death to graduation; senior citizens feel Hamlet is definitely a teenager; area politicians sympathize with Hamlet’s sense that he is always being watched and judged). But perhaps the biggest thing I’ve gained is a clearer sense of how to ask questions about this play on behalf of the audience.
As I started out the “I Am Hamlet” Project, my questions would go kind of like this, “So, Hamlet is really depressed about his life. Have you ever been depressed about your life?” Which is a downer of a question, and doesn’t really lead to a useful conversation! So, I started shifting to questions like, “Hamlet is down on himself for his inability to take action. Do you understand the essence of the circumstances Hamlet finds himself in, and how have you felt or behaved in similar circumstances?” Then there was a second part of the question. “Hamlet engages in certain actions to get himself out of his depression. What do you do to get out of your down times?”
That’s a more active question, and a more positive direction for the play. Nobody wants to go see a play about a bunch of people who (spoiler alert) die at the end. But a play about a bunch of people who are trying desperately to figure out how to move forward in crippling and dramatically emotional circumstances, who keep going no matter what the world throws at them – well, that is something that sounds a lot more interesting and a lot like what you and I go through every day.
I’m incredibly grateful to the members of the community who shared with me how they saw themselves Hamlet. It turned the normally isolated period of director’s preparation into a crowd-sourced activity. It helped me look at this play in a whole new light. And, hopefully, it will shift the experience of this play from the exploration of man who is depressed and paralyzed to a more moving and life-affirming affair.