Sunday, December 2, 2007

Butoh Fu for The Ghost of Hamlet’s Flesh

Something is rotten in Denmark. Old Hamlet’s putrid flesh decomposes but will not surrender its ghost. Manifold earth would take the decomposing flesh as its own, but the flesh cannot surrender its elemental nature until the usurped monarchy is brought back into the natural order of the universe.

Old Hamlet rises as a frightful Frankenstein of disparate elements out of the bowels of the putrefied kingdom. As sovereign king on earth he summons all of nature to the place of his murder, the site where the natural order was usurped. At this Orchard of Crime, all flora and fauna begin to misbehave. Half-ripened fruit falls prematurely to the ground, fermenting into a stew of alcohol on which the bionetwork will feed. All of the court and Denmark will become drunk with the poison of the crime, but none so much as the son Hamlet, flesh of the flesh of the disintegrating realm.

Flesh in this usurped kingdom and unnatural world is no longer subservient. Old Hamlet/Claudius are the same flesh and blood. The kingdom is now ruled by the gangrene of this dual King, who is both living and dead. This dead and dying flesh must be amputated, purged and burnt away. The elements Fire, Earth, Air, Water convene to contain this rebellion of unholy flesh.

I am thy father's spirit, doomed for a time

To walk the night, and all the day

Confined in flaming fire,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of Nature

Are purged and burnt away



But the rebellious flesh will not surrender dominion over earth. The diseased family unit is the unholy trinity at the core of the kingdom. The Father, Son, and Unholy Ghost. Gertred animates not so much the dead king as the dead and dying gangrened flesh of the First Family.

The earth in the Orchard is moist, almost alive in the fermentation of the fallen, decaying fruit. Flesh would differentiate itself from the other elements. Wind/Air is breath. Rain/Water is saliva. Earth amalgamated with muddy flesh of fallen fruit. The moldering rot gathers its body together.

The body of many rises from the ground. The eyes look backward into the hollow head in an attempt to see the tail being pulled from the earth. Wind enters through the anus, swirls in the stomach, up through the throat, but cannot escape the mouth, returning back through the body. Moist humid air enters the mouth to become saliva. This water and air would gather into Fighting Words. This body cannot speak yet but may be able to Spit Nails in its anger.

Who has better teeth

The blood or the stone

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More Mike

Mike came back with some great analogies, although I would argue that those are precisely what make the play universal and enduring through the ages, and don't so much explain its heightened popularity these days in particular (if indeed that's even the case, as Mike himself queries). It's probably safe to say that teenagers have always been moody and rebellious and that heartbreak and hardship go way back.

And yet, there are other ways of looking at Hamlet’s appeal. One of the things about it that jumps out at me these days is its function as the archetypal dysfunctional family story. In a culture that has now been overrun by such tales, from Death of a Salesman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to American Beauty and Little Miss Sunshine, no one does it better than Shakespeare. In a sense, Hamlet is the original moody goth; his mother and stepfather are the predecessors to all those beastly parents who’d rather spend the weekend dining at the country club than having quality time at home with the family.

The other aspect of Hamlet that stands out for me is its depiction of a man who is heartbroken by everything he holds dear to him - life, his family, his friends, his girlfriend, etc. The aggregate amount of misfortunes that fall on Hamlet’s head simultaneously short circuit both his ability to mend himself and his sense of social decorum. Politeness goes out the window as Hamlet lashes out at the world for his pain. Such emotions are familiar to anyone who has ever lost a parent, gone through a divorce, been dumped by a partner, or [insert your choice of hardship here].

The beguiling and awe-inspiring (and addicting) thing about the text that you learn over time is:

Of course, that’s just how I feel today. Ask me again tomorrow and I might say something different. But, as [Peter] Brook so astutely points out, whatever I say tomorrow would most likely be supported by the text.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Post Mortem

Over on nytheatre mike's blog, he queried today why Peter Brook called Hamlet “the greatest experimental work of all.” And, "What is it about this play that still compels us after 400 years?" And, more particularly, "Why is it on the mind of so many different theatre artists all the time right now?"

My response in his comment section:

Oh Michael, like the Ghost in Hamlet, I fear you’ve been sent by the devil to torture me. Just when I vowed to quit the play cold turkey -- I am under so much time pressure from other projects and the universe is begging me to move on -- you’ve delivered me back into its clutches at all hours of the night…

Background: I was in a production of the first quarto of Hamlet in July of 06, playing Gertrude and the Ghost. Was so gripped by it that I searched for a way to remount it. Meanwhile, I studied the play – after the first run I knew I had only scratched the surface. Took a class dedicated solely to it taught by a wonderful woman named Annie Occhiogrosso who has studied it for 30+ years and lost not an ounce of passion for it. Finally got accepted into the Brick’s Pretentious Festival this June. Was able to reassemble the entire team and rehearse for 6 weeks, beginning where we left off a year earlier, for a mere four-day run. (We’re the “of it” link in your “four/different/productions/of it.”) Wrote a blog during that time dedicated to dissecting it, to which I posted 64 entries in 2 ½ months ( Ended the one-year journey through it bereft and lonely at its loss, knowing it probably doesn’t have another life.

And now, like a voice from deep within me, you wanna know why. Keeping in mind that there have been centuries and piles and piles of smarter words than mine dedicated to this question, I’ll take a relatively off-the-cuff stab... Maybe because the play is all about deceit? Levels of complicit lies we tell? To others and, perhaps most importantly, to ourselves? Beginning with our inability to face up to the fact that we’re going to die and to act accordingly towards our fellow humans? About how hard it is to muster sincerity and honesty in our dealings with each other, even knowing we’re mortal? Even with the people we share our most profound life experiences with? Even with family? And this makes everyone ultimately lonely, whether they know it or not? And these things just become more nagging as we age, but only in proportion to the degree in which we’re capable of living an examined life in the first place.

As to why it is on the minds of so many different theatre artists all the time right now… I went to a reading recently by my friend Josh Furst. He’s got a novel coming out in a month. Afterwards, the audience was clearly moved. I told him how comforting it was to hear his words, which were powerful, complex, gripping inquiries into his characters’ souls. He knew of my post-Hamlet blues and how hard it was to explain them to anyone. He said, “Yeah, it’s a strange mood in the country these days. Not much into introspection.”

Saturday, June 30, 2007

~ The End ~ .....(or is it?)

It's been another great ride. And it's even harder to let go this time than it was last year. For one thing, the production is even more refined and nuanced. We found so much in this bottomless pit of a play. And of course there's less likelihood that we will get yet another chance to perform it. Yup, we're all pretty sad puppies right about now. But then again, who knows what lies ahead.

Union rules prevented us from recording the show. Which isn't all that sad because generally, unless you shoot with great cameras and from several angles, theater tends to look pretty awful on video.

So it'll have to live in our memories, until... (dare I hope???)

The final act... weeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Amazing how many scenes from Hamlet you can find on YouTube... But I love this one. Carefree, hormones raging, the pure joy of theater...

Saturday, June 23, 2007 review

A great review just came out... yay!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Here we are...

Wow, crazy... one day in the space with the platforms and the coffin, one cue-to-cue, one run through in costume and... tada... tomorrow we open. Then we'll have 3 more shows and it's over. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. But I suppose it's only fitting that the no-frills Hamlet gets the drive-through, or should that be drive-by?, production process. And besides...

This is our second time around, so it's not really true. In fact, I AM SO PSYCHED because everything I was dreaming about at the end of the run in July 06 -- the all but impossible -- HAS OCCURRED. Talk about feeling like this was meant to be (there goes that magical thinking again!):

- We found a way to produce the show again without paying an arm and a leg. God bless the Brick people and their incredibly generous spirits. As one of the early purveyors of the rat m.o. of theater production, it's totally thrilling to see the 'big cheap' ethic alive and well in NYC.

- We managed to reassemble the ENTIRE cast for this second go-around, albeit by the skin of our teeth, which made it feel even more meant-to-be. After everyone was contacted and there was unanimous excitement about the opportunity to remount the show, and everyone miraculously was free for a late June run (including the Pretentious calendar), Cynthia and Meghan pored over each of our copious conflicts 'til they were cross-eyed and managed to hammer out a reasonable rehearsal schedule.

- And most importantly, we got that rarest of opportunities to take an already great production of an awe-inspiring play and to continue to mine the depths of both, complete with Meghan and the rest of New World and Al and of course my anchor (inasmuch as I can ever get steady), Nick -- check out his butoh fu for The Ghost of Hamlet's Flesh. And then we managed to be further blessed with Amanda. It's always possible to do another production of Hamlet and I hope to some time. But this is an extraordinary group of people - disciplined, talented, big-hearted and FUU-UU-UNNNNNNNNNNN like you wouldn't believe. How often do you get that in one package, I ask you?!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nearing the End

"If danger be now, why then it is not to come. There's a predestinate providence in the fall of a sparrow."

This passage alludes to the Bible, Matthew 10.20: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father?" Meaning God has a plan for the least of us that we cannot escape.

As always, Q1 is short by comparison to F and Q2. But this, to me, is a particularly good example of where the brevity of Q1 enhances the impact because it is more readily understood in performance, especially by those unfamiliar with the play. If Shakespeare is meant to be performed not read, as Tim's old high school English teacher said, then the above is more accessible and impacting in performance than:
"Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is't to leave betimes?"

Long or short, it is sweet text that hurts the heart in much the same way that Hamlet himself describes when he learns of the duel: "Believe me, Horatio, my heart is on the sudden very sore all here about."

And still, he rejects ‘augury,’ any attempt to read the tea leaves in order to take steps accordingly and instead accepts his destiny.

He knows, from the beginning when the Ghost appears to him, that he must, eventually, confront the King -- "oh cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right" -- and that it will cost him his life. Now he realizes the time is upon him.

With this line, Hamlet's restless anxiety of “to be or not to be” gives way to a “let be” of God’s plan. (Or is it Satan's? Does it matter? One doesn't exist without the other). And in this final, heartbreaking giving up/giving in there resides finally, paradoxically, also the resolve to act.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Q&A with Tim Sheridan

In 2003, Tim Sheridan produced and played Horatio in a production of the First Quarto Hamlet, directed by Andrew Borba, at Theatre of NOTE in Los Angeles. The production dramaturg was Kathleen Irace, editor of the version we're using. Details and some photos of the production were outlined in Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623 (Arden Shakespeare: Third Series) -- "They chose an intimate indoor set, furnished like a library, they dressed the actors in vaguely Victorian or Edwardian costumes, and they cast a woman as Hamlet." Tim was kind enough to give us some further, pretty illuminating, insight into his production:

1) Why did you decide to cast a woman as Hamlet? What were you exploring?
Not surprisingly, we get this question all the time. It's a two-part answer: The very bland truth is that Alina Phelan came to the audition and blew the roof off the place. She was the best actor who auditioned for the role, and therefore won it! Usually, people are disappointed by this answer, as they expect we had some sort of important message in casting a woman; if there is a message, I suppose it's that, when producing a text such as this that has been neglected or overlooked - we have an even greater responsibility to present it in the best light possible! She was the best, and we wouldn't settle for less. That's the first part; now the second: There was an interesting byproduct to Alina's casting. I, in my arrogance, had expected that doing the Q1 text was more than enough to get people to the theater. The director, Andrew Borba, was much smarter. He knew that we needed to play up in the press the fact that we had cast a woman - just to show people (who were mostly ignorant of Q1) that we were doing something different and exciting that was worth their time. Once we had them in the theater, then we could excite them about the text!

2) How did you decide upon the indoor library setting and the "vaguely Victorian or Edwardian costumes"?
I wish I could claim credit, but again these were the brilliant ideas of our director and our terrific production staff. The important thing about the library is that it was in a state of massive decay. On one very practical level, the set was meant to symbolize the erosion of the state in the play. We basically took a cue from Hamlet's unflattering descriptions of Denmark, his uncle, in comparison to Denmark, his father, and then brought that to the physical world of the piece. On another level, this was in keeping with the main theme of the production, which was that we were creating new life inside something very old, very established and, to a large extent, run-down (referring to Hamlet in general). Wardrobe has always been the easiest way to convey chronological setting. We felt it was important to set the production somewhere in the past - and we agonized for much of the pre-production and then even into rehearsals over when to set it. We wanted to be careful not to look like we were making political or historical arguments and/or judgments, which unfortunately you so often see in Shakespeare productions. Some people seem to think that since they're in the public domain, these texts are their own personal blank canvases; those productions invariably end up imposing a logic upon the text that Shakespeare did not intend and which, therefore, works against the true merits of the play. If you want to know how to produce Shakespeare, simply take Hamlet's advice to the players and keep it simple and honest. Back to the wardrobe: one of our main goals was for our audiences to walk away thinking of Q1 as a perfectly viable and playable text. We thought we'd play upon the common prejudice that "good" and "legitimate" Shakespeare is regal and heavily costumed. We wanted the audience to know that we were taking this very seriously and that, therefore, they ought to as well; hence, the Victorian/Edwardian wardrobe. That sort of consideration isn't something you see a lot of in L.A. Shakespeare, and I assume it's why ended up being nominated for Best Costumes at that year's Ovation Awards (L.A.'s "equivalent" to the Tonys.)

3) You had a fascinating beginning to the play. How did you arrive at using the First Player performing the Pyrrhus speech as the context for announcing old Hamlet's death ("presumably") to Hamlet?
I was totally against it! And I was totally wrong! Remember that our goal was to show people right away that this text was not what they were accustomed to. Andrew knew that the opening scene (and every scene with Marcellus!) was too similar to the Q2 and Folio versions to get that message across right from the start. So he concocted that "moment before" which opened every show and showed the audience that they were about to see something they'd never seen before. All I can say is that I was very lucky to have found Andrew Borba - the guy's a genius.

4) I was intrigued by Rob Kendt's calling the production "found-art 'outsider' Shakespeare, as richly revealing as any post-modernist deconstruction." Inasmuch as you understand at all what he meant, could you elaborate on/take a stab at this?
Isn't that a great quote? What I especially love is that he completely got what we were going for without any coaching or program notes. Success! We produced Q1 in 2003, on the 400th anniversary of its publication. Yet very few (even Shakespeare lovers) knew of its existence! This was a great experiment; we were confident the text was playable as written, but we would never truly know until we actually did it. Then when it all started coming together, though we had been confident, we couldn't help but enjoy feeling like we had uncovered something special. Many folks who came to see the show have told me they experienced the same rush I had felt years before when I, quite accidentally, happened upon Q1 in the Florida State University library - "Wow! What is this that I've stumbled upon??" It's virtually impossible to get that kind of rush from a 400 year old text, and I think Kendt was verbalizing the excitement we were all feeling!

5) Why did you decide to cut the Ghost's appearance in the closet scene? And to have Hamlet speak the lines instead?
Well, this is a terrific illustration of why I should never direct. Throughout the production, I (along with our amazing and gracious dramaturg, Kathi Irace) was the champion of the text "as written." If I had been in charge creatively, we would've ended up with a live version of the play exactly "as written," which would've been very authentic, very structured and VERY BORING! Andrew came in and right away said "Tim, I'm going to direct Hamlet. Period." I told him he had my total support as long as he didn't alter a word of the Q1 text. He completely agreed and it was as simple as that. As far as this particular scene, Andrew always tried to keep us remembering that, in a lot of ways, Hamlet is a ghost story - and it therefore be scary! I think we felt that a guy onstage looking 'ghostly' (especially after having already seen him twice) was less freaky than if young Hamlet became possessed by Old Hamlet right in front of the audience. I mean - it's like 'The Exorcist' - how scary is that? Wish you'd seen it. Still gives me chills.

6) How long was your run and how would you describe your audience response to the Q1 version?
We were limited to a twelve-week run, like most Shakespeare shows in L.A., but we knew that going in. Obviously, we had a terrific response from the Shakespeare literati, as evidenced by our inclusion in the new Arden edition! As far as the general audience, I think Rob Kendt's quote totally embodies the response. Things I heard were that people enjoyed the production, were thrilled to have "discovered" the text, and most of all, to have seen the entire Hamlet story in under two hours!! Who wouldn't love that?

7) What was your own response trajectory from your first encounter with this version to the end of the run?
When I stumbled across the text, I knew it was good, it was playable and that I would produce it. But then, I'm pretty stubborn. I have to say, though, that nothing prepared me for the rehearsal process and, ultimately, the run of the show, where I and our entire company came to believe in and fall in love with Q1 more and more every night. It's one thing to understand something intellectually and quite another to experience it viscerally. My old high school English teacher was the first to tell me that Shakespeare is meant to be acted, not read. This becomes especially significant when dealing with a largely unknown text and is why I am so thrilled to know that you are involved in a Q1 production! The work isn't done yet; some of us on the inside get it, but there's still a world of audiences out there who are unfamiliar with Q1 and those who are familiar with it know it as the "bad quarto." It's up to us to change their minds!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

GO SEE LIVING DEAD IN DENMARK!!!! -- no really... go see it!

I saw it last night. It got a standing ovation -- how often does that happen other than on Broadway where it's just a hohum habit!? Well, here it was well deserved. The acting is excellent across the board, the fight choreography is thrilling and the play and production are what anyone who has ever complained of the moribund state of American theater is looking for. No geezer theater that's better done on film or TV here. And like the comic books it emulates, Vampire Cowboys' theater has a cult following. How cool is that! (And Jason is like totally rock 'n roll - make that punk - happenin' with his studded leather wrist cuffs, bad-ass moves and wide-ranged Ghost-ninja-zombie-Hamlet portrayal, and yes, I'm biased -- he is my son after all -- but it's still true.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Enough of this drab- and dreariness... sheesh!

Let's talk zombies, instead...

Son o' mine, Jason Liebman - our very own Hamlet - is starring as
zombie Hamlet in the sequel to our show... the most excellent
Vampire Cowboys' Living Dead in Denmark by Qui Nguyen.

4 nights only beginning tonight:
June 12th thru 15th, 2007 (tues, wed, thurs, fri @ 8pm)
(410 W. 42nd Street)

Part of the National Asian American Theatre Festival.

Click here for details.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rainer Maria Rilke - Duino Elegies (First Elegy)

Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the ranks
of angels? and even supposing one clutched
me suddenly to its heart: I would perish from the
power of its presence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of a terror we can hardly bear,
and it amazes us so, because it nonchalantly declines
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.
And so I restrain myself and choke back the call
of my dark wailing. Oh, who can we turn to
in our need? Not angels, not men,
and the perceptive beasts already sense
that we are not very secure or at home
in the interpreted world. We are left with perhaps
some tree on the mountainside, that we see again
each day; we are left with yesterday's street
and the perverse loyalty of a habit,
that liked us so much that it stayed and never left.

Oh and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
sucks at our face - for whom would it not stay,
deceptive, difficult for the solitary heart
to confront. Is it any easier for lovers?
Ah, they only conceal their fates in each other.

Don't you know yet? Hurl the emptiness from your arms
out to the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will respond to the expanded air with more fervent flight.


Still, it is peculiar to inhabit the Earth no longer,
to no more practice barely-learned customs,
for roses and other especially auspicious things
to have no significance for a human future;
what one was in endlessly anxious hands,
to be no more, and to leave behind
even one's own name like a broken toy.
Peculiar, to no longer desire one's desires. Peculiar,
to see everything related to one's self
floating off into space. And being dead is laborious
and full of catching up, before one gradually senses
a trace of eternity - yet the living always
make the mistake of drawing too-sharp distinctions.
Angels (they say) often don't know, whether they pass among
the living or the dead. The eternal torrent
sweeps through both realms carrying all ages
with it and drowns them out in both.

In the end the early departed have no longer
need of us. One is gently weaned from things
of this world as a child outgrows the need
of its mother's breast. But we who have need
of those great mysteries, we for whom grief is
so often the source of spiritual growth,
could we exist without them?
Is the legend vain that tells of music's beginning
in the midst of the mourning for Linos?
the daring first sounds of song piercing
the barren numbness, and how in that stunned space
an almost godlike youth suddenly left forever,
and the emptiness felt for the first time
those harmonious vibrations which now enrapture
and comfort and help us.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Truth, Beauty and Ofelia's Death

These are the intertwining recurring themes in the play (as Chan lays out so well):
  • Our tendency to artificially beautify reality in order to conceal the truth.
  • Our tendency to be false to others because of our failure in being true to ourselves.
  • Our lack of honesty in facing up to the truth, the most fundamental one being that we are going to die; and
  • Death itself - mortality and how we humans (fail to) deal with it.

Shakespeare makes that last two points overtly right at the beginning:

But you must think your father lost a father,
That father dead, lost his, and so shall be
Until the general ending.
Therefore cease laments, it is a fault
Gainst heaven, fault ‘gainst the dead, a fault ‘gainst nature,
And in reasons common course most certain,
None lives on earth, but he is born to die.

But nowhere in the play does he interlace the themes so completely as in Gertred's description of Ofelia's drowning. It's actually pretty funny: I doubt there has been anyone who has taken a closer look at that monologue and didn't think, "Oh for chrissakes people, don't just stand there and watch her... somebody jump in and save her!!" And I used to write this off as "Shakespearean" or poetic license or with some such dismissiveness. Wrong.

Here's a thought: How 'bout entertaining the notion that Shakespeare knew exactly what he was doing and meant it as morbidly stinging commentary. Here is the Quarto version, which is even less florid than the Folio. Read it with the four bullet points above in mind:

O my lord, the young Ofelia,
Having made a garland of sundry sorts of flowers,
Sitting upon a willow by a brook,
The envious spring broke. Into the brook she fell,
And for awhile her clothes, spread wide abroad,
Bore the young lady up, and there she sat
Smiling, even mermaid-like 'twixt heaven and earth,
Chanting old sundry tunes, uncapable as it were
Of her distress. But long it could not be
Till that her clothes, being heavy with their drink.
Dragged the sweet wretch to death.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Hic et Ubique

Our director, Cynthia, accuses me of too much magical thinking. And she's right, by god. Though I would quibble with "too much" and might remind her that SHE's the one who cast me as Gertrude and the Ghost. Besides, how boring the world if you believe it is made up of only what our 5 measly senses can perceive and rationalize. Even Einstein knew, "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

So wrap your head around this one: Since she and I pushed this second production of our Q1H into being, both our fathers have died. Mine was "estranged" -- a teenaged dad who could never figure out what his only child represented in his life ("oh, you know, when kids marry," was all Horst Schäfer could ever muster to my, "what happened with you and mom?") -- so more of a mind-bender than a heart-render (the dad who raised me died in '95). But, what's it all about, Alfie? Don't worry, Cynthia, I won't dwell there. I realize, "It hath made me mad," enough as it is. But even you find this one... trippy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Art, Money and the Heart

As we get closer to the show's opening, it's only appropriate to give audience and attendance some thought. Here's an amazing keynote speech to the The Association of Arts Administration Educators a few days ago by Bernard "Bernie" Sahlins, an American writer, director, and comedian best known as a founder of The Second City improvisational comedy troupe with Paul Sills and Howard Alk in 1959.


"Like most priests, like some doctors, and fewer lawyers, you have not a job, but a vocation, a calling. You have chosen not to enter the clock-watching world of nine to five. Yours is a consuming, full-time activity. While few of you will grow rich, you are members of a highly privileged group. You are able to make your work and your life one.

I would submit to you -- as an example of that -- and as a marker for the accomplishments and the importance of administrative achievement, the contribution of James Burbage, a sixteenth-century English entrepreneur in the arts... What he did -- like so many important discoveries once they have been achieved -- seems simple now. But I think you'll agree it really was revolutionary. What he did was nothing less than to invent -- the box office!

Our tragedy today, said Faulkner, is a general and universal fear. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? (way back in 1949!) Because of this -- the young artist has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict -- only that is worth the agony and sweat. He must learn them again.

So teach your students to step right up and fear not. They can appeal to the pocket book, yes. But they must be aware also of the spiritual hunger we all wish to satisfy.

Let me close by returning to Mister James Burbage and by trying to convey a most important and really beautiful idea embodied in the spiritual effects of what he did. When Burbage had that brilliant notion (you remember, the box office), he not only changed forever the structure of play presentation but (and here is the delightful and wondrous point; here is the ultimate value of what an arts administrator does), he started the process of transforming the actor from being a beggar, who humbly passed the hat, to being an artist, who was held to be of great worth to the community. And there you have the indispensable, the crucial role of your teaching: to bring to art the world's respect and to the artist, self-respect."

Saturday, June 2, 2007

preliminary ghost notes

it’s not just dead hamlet, it’s every soldier that has died in battle for the righteousness of this natural kingdom. and now that it has been usurped, this rotten flesh in denmark will rise up out of the ground. it is stepping into reality, not content to stay in the ground anymore. flesh as element as quintessence, as it discerns itself out of earth, water, air, fire. decomposing flesh and how do you reactivate it, redefine it. fire needs fiber to exist. all those things that will burn on earth.

discerning between saliva/air, breath, earth/flesh – all elements mixed together because it’s decomposing flesh.

drooling goo, decomposed = all of denmark all who have fought and died for the rightful throne of denmark.

it’s as natural as it is supernatural.

look for sight inside your eyes. look into back of head to see what’s coming up with you. see your tail, backwards into your body.

signature is “la” (dies irae dies illa) – open mouth, munch’s scream. ghost starts and ends there always.

-- flesh forming one step up onto platform

-- one plus ending in munch’s scream = cock crows

-- everything goes into book that i will carry (with vulture on left shoulder and birds under feet); the book is me = kingdom = history = what's right and good in denmark = what hamlet will inherit = the legacy = what i will give to him

-- on platform vulture flies off; i find vision but 360 degree simultanously; book is delivered; i turn and give it to hamlet (look how it beckons you)

hamlet will follow me same way. ships crossing in night. coming into my world.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Closet and Nunnery Scenes

Obviously both scenes are extremely complex, but having worked on both scenes on the same day I was made aware of a particular similarity. In both cases it needs to be decided -- again, especially in the short-and-to-the-point Q1 -- how much self-awareness to endow Gertred and Ofelia with at the beginning of these two scenes. That is, do you allow Ofelia to know and feel guilty about participating in a plot against Hamlet before the scene even starts? Does she do it against her better judgment but in obedience to her father? To me, that is the weightier choice because a) it makes Corambis's double-dealings all the more craven and b) it allows Ofelia to be worthy of Hamlet in the first place. He would not love someone of infererior morality and who wasn't pure from the start. Her answer to Hamlet's question, Where is thy father, "At home my Lord" is also then a deliberate choice versus a spur of the moment one which it would be if you made the choice that she doesn't realize, or doesn't think there's anything wrong with what she has willingly participated in until that very moment of Hamlet's question, which is the other argument to be made.

Similarly, exactly how aware is Gertred at the beginning of the closet scene versus the end. Does she, for example, take in that she is being implicated in the play-within-the-play and bring that into the scene with her? The more "correct" choice here is probably not, I would think, if you believe "The lady protests too much" should be straight up and without sub-text. Also, I relearned yesterday yet again the ever deceptively simple lesson that it is always best to look back at the text for the answers: Corambis, when telling her he will hide behind the arras, tells her, "There question you the cause of all his grief, And then in love and nature unto you, He'll tell you all." So I think she's just preparing to have a simple mother-to-son heart-to-heart when Hamlet enters her chamber.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Of course looking at the character of Corambis, he is decidedly less than noble when working for his own interests, wanting to control his public image, which the behavior of his son in the world also affects. He goes so far as to send a spy to gather information about Leartes, revealing his lack of trust and respect for even his own family member and his hypocracy: the parental "do as I say not as I do." Then he spies on Hamlet using his own daughter for the dirty work and ultimately, his spying on Hamlet in the closet scene does him in.

Corambis is somewhat of an extreme example of the point Shakespeare is making about how we humans blithely connive our way through our lives as though it meant nothing. Nevertheless, just as none of us is all good or all bad, in order to give Corambis the same shades of gray, it is important, especially in the abridged Q1, that his speech to Leartes be given due weight -- both to let Shakespeare's wisdom be fully heard and to let a good side of Corambis be at least briefly glimpsed so that his kids' grief at his death has more credence.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Or put another way...

The highest compact we can make with our fellow is - "Let there be truth between us two forevermore." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. ~Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

Some people will not tolerate such emotional honesty in communication. They would rather defend their dishonesty on the grounds that it might hurt others. Therefore, having rationalized their phoniness into nobility, they settle for superficial relationships. ~Author Unknown

When a man lies, he murders some part of the world. ~Rospo Pallenberg and John Boorman, Excalibur, based on Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory

BIG DADDY: What's that smell in this room? Didn't you notice it Brick? Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?...There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity...You can smell it. It smells like death.
RICK: You said it yourself Big Daddy, mendacity is a system we live in. ~Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

To thy own self be true

And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any one.

There's a reason it's "above all else"
and there's a reason it's become a cliche.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Letter from Kathleen Irace

I'm delighted to report that Kathi Irace not only responded to my letter but is actually considering coming to New York to see the show!

Hi Gabriele,

I'm sorry for my very slow response--I've been out of town for a couple of weeks. Your production of Q1 Hamlet sounds wonderful--I'd love to see it! As you can tell from my intro and notes, I designed my edition with actors and directors in mind, so I'm delighted that you've found it helpful.

I haven't seen Anne Thompson's edition yet; Amazon is still searching for a copy. Just after Note's production of the play, I sent her a fairly detailed description, which I'll attach to this email.

Feel free to post this email and the review for Anne Thompson--and I'll let you know if I can arrange to make it to New York.

All best wishes,
Kathi Irace

Sunday, May 27, 2007

And yet more Ghost

Kenneth Chan's website is officially my newest favorite Hamlet site. Following what I wrote yesterday, here is exactly why Q1 is virtually a different play. It can certainly be argued that in the usual version,
"Hamlet has the courage to face the unknown and to seek the truth unflinchingly. If he follows this path with the ideals of love and compassion, new spiritual heights will open to him. Tragically, he chooses instead to transform his mind into one obsessed with avenging his father. This mind of bitterness and hatred has disastrous consequences. Hamlet, from this time on, remorselessly transforms into a different person: a cold, cynical, and tormented soul. Thus his new motto is appropriate: "Adieu, adieu, remember me." For, in effect, we are bidding Hamlet himself goodbye."
But this chapter on the Ghost is riveting. At the beginning of it, Jason, he basically argues that in fact Hamlet WAS cursed by the Ghost, that because the Ghost is no "enlightened being" that he "destroys [Hamlet] spiritually" by fixating him on revenge like any fallible bitter human does to another susceptible person. Looking at it that way, though, I could counter with the Ghost-as-a-soul-in-Purgatory argument; that he is a spirit looking for rest and thus more trustworthy versus devil-like and conniving, which Chan later says the Ghost is because of hic-et-ubique ("canst work in the earth so fast") referring either to God or the devil, among other arguments. (There's that OCD kicking into overdrive again... ahhhhhhhh... better to stop right here or I could well be up all night.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Your Loves

So maybe Hamlet doesn't trust the Ghost either (it's his information that's important, not his "character"). And even if he maybe hadn't suspected the King of precisely being a murderer with "o my prophetic soul," just of being a creep that's certainly capable of murder and that there was something suspicious about his father's death and his mother's hasty marriage, his world is nevertheless collapsing bit by bit. What's so endearing and moving to me about Hamlet is that in spite of the lies and deception all around him, he's not only not a cynic, he's warm and open and affectionate to his true friends -- especially of course Horatio -- whom he rewards with his absolute loyalty.

It occurs to me that this is also what's so wrenching to Gertred and why she's so grateful to God for not taking her son away after what she's done (and she never loses him; she dies before he does): She sees the purity and the big heart in her child. He's her moral anchor and against the backdrop of his unrelenting, uncompromising search for the good, the pure, the honest, she feels doubly dirty and ashamed. And yet, the way we're playing it, he's also capable of immediately forgiving her and showing her his love again.

(I think it must be said that this is all true for Q1. The Q2/Folio is more complicated.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Closer Look at "Honest(y)"

The word appears so often and is arguably the central motif in Hamlet. As such, it becomes one of the most rewarding things to meditate on, especially if you believe that making the struggle for honesty central to your life's pursuit is what is truly behind the notion of pursuit of enlightenment or true love or heaven or whatever your ultimate is.

Sometimes in the play, the word has more than one meaning -- for instance in the nunnery scene when Hamlet asks Ofelia whether she's honest, the word means both chaste and truthful and as such they talk past each other, another kind of an escaped truth.

But mostly it is used as a way of exploring our willful human tendency to think of lying as casual or benign or an acceptable means to an end -- how this comprises the first biggest lie we tend to tolerate -- the lie to ourselves -- and how from there it just gets easier. The play relentlessly looks at how not facing up to the rottenness in the state of things affects every aspect of our existence until that impurity is purged and burnt away. (This is also why Corambis's admonishment, "To thine own self be true" must be given due respect by Leartes and Ofelia. It makes Shakespeare's central point and keeps Corambis from being a complete buffoon, which would obfuscate Ofelia and Leartes' grief at his death.)

One of Shakespeare's most stinging commentaries on this question of honesty, as Annie O also points out, is making Hamlet's choice for putting on an "antic disposition" simply to be honest, because to be totally honest in a so-called civilized society is to be insane. But that's just the beginning.

The entire play is comprised of one lie, deception, spying or eavesdropping episode, betrayal and denial after another. And it is the abandonment of honesty that does these characters in -- in some cases because lying comes too easily (R&G, Corambis, Leartes, Gertred, King), in the most devastating case because lying to the one you love is simply impossible to live with (Ofelia) and, then, in Hamlet's case... because it's... what?... Well, there is centuries of scholarship exploring that question. But maybe it has to do with erring too righteously on the other end of that spectrum.

There is a wonderful chapter in Kenneth Chan's book, Quintessence of Dust: The Mystical Meaning of Hamlet that explores the theme of fundamental self-deception in the play. He delineates three kinds of lies:

• Our lack of honesty in facing up to the truth.
• Our tendency to artificially beautify reality in order to conceal the truth.
• Our tendency to be false to others because of our failure in being true to ourselves.
A revelation to me was how Chan explains Hamlet writing down, "That one may smile and smile and be a villain" as an example of the second point above:
"In the midst of Hamlet's intense emotional distress, upon being informed of his father's murder, he suddenly has the need to write down the line "That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain," and actually does so. This noticeably jolts the flow of the action. This strange action of Hamlet is, however, deliberately designed to alert us to the recurring motif: our propensity to artificially beautify things to conceal its rotten core, here represented by the King's amiable smiling appearance that actually conceals a murderer."
A darker example is the reference to Ofelia's make-up in the nunnery and graveyard scenes: "Now go to my lady's chamber and bid her paint herself an inch think, to this she must come."

Which brings me to the most prominent self-deception that Shakespeare explores in Hamlet. This being, as Chan points out,
"our lack of honesty in facing up to the inevitability of death, and to the profound truths in life. Throughout the play, we are constantly assailed with harsh references to death and its inevitability. No other play by Shakespeare comes remotely close to Hamlet in its endless and remorseless references to death. It is as though Shakespeare is subjecting us to a form of shock treatment designed to shake us out of our denial of its truth."
The Ghost scenes, None lives on earth but he is born to die, To be or not to be, Ofelia's drowning (she denies she's in trouble), the graveyard scene, and on.

It's as though he were saying that our failure to face our mortality head on is at the root of all our other deceits.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Jason brought the recently published and hard to track down Arden Hamlet in today, which has the Q1 and First Folio, as well as a listing of known Q1 productions and notes and photos and Theatre of Note's production in 03. I look forward to finally looking at it and formulating some questions for Tim Sheridan, producer and Horatio of that production.

It's difficult for us until the end of May to find time for the entire cast to rehearse together, but, as Cynthia pointed out today, in the meantime the scene work has the advantage of being able to examine closely and talk through what we did last year and what we've discovered since. It's very exciting to me to build on something already there. Again, a rare opportunity!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Croaking Raven Doth Bellow for Revenge

That the line mocks the speech in a play called The True Tragedy of Richard III, a precursor to Shakespeare's Richard III written in 1591-2 and possibly revived by a troupe called the Admiral's Men around the time of Hamlet's debut. It has the word 'revenge' 15 times in 16 lines. So it may not only mock the players' taste in theater but also Hamlet's.

KING: The hell of life that hangs upon the crown,
The daily cares, the nightly dreams,
The wretched crews, the treason of the foe,
And horror of my bloody practice past,
Strikes such a terror to my wounded conscience,
That sleep I, wake I, or whatsoe'er I do,
Methinks their ghosts comes gaping for revenge,
Whom I have slain in reaching for a crown.
Clarence complains, and crieth for revenge.
My nephew's bloods, "Revenge, revenge," doth cry.
The headless peers come pressing for revenge.
And every one cries, let the tyrant die.
The sun by day shines hotly for revenge.
The moon by night eclipseth for revenge.
The stars are turned to comets for revenge.
The planets change their courses for revenge.
The birds sing not, but sorrow for revenge.
The silly lambs sits bleating for revenge.
The screeking raven sits croaking for revenge.
Whole herds of beasts come bellowing for revenge.
And all, yea all the world, I think,
Cries for revenge, and nothing but revenge.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

O Jephthah Judge of Israel

Hamlet’s remark to Corambis/Polonius before the players enter is a Biblical reference: Jephthah promised the Lord that if he would give Jephthah victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah would offer up the first person to come out his front door. He was victorious and when he returned home, the first person to greet him was his daughter, his only child.

Hamlet is chiding Polonius for similarly sacrificing his own virgin daughter -- barring her marriage and procreation (and ultimately sacrificing her life). Also according to Steve Roth, he may be "commenting slantingly on his own situation": Jephthah was "the son of a harlot."

It is also a reference to a then-current ballad on the subject:

I have read that many years agoe,
When Jepha, judge of Israel,
Had one fair daughter and no more,
Whom he loved passing well.
And as by lot, God wot,
It came to passe most like it was,
Great warrs there should be,
And who should be the chiefe, but he, but he.

See here for rest of ballad.

Monday, May 21, 2007

From Dry Dirt to Ghost

1) A person made of pieces of dry dirt becomes a ghost.
The ghost wanders then transforms back into that person.
While suffering from cramps on his burns, he again becomes a ghost.
The utterly lost ghost disappears into a wall. Later,
he comes back with a certain look on his face.

2) From a doll to a ghost.
The doll stares at bloodstains on the tatami floor.
The doll turns away from the bloodstains.
Suddenly, the doll's feet catch fire.
It had become a ghost.

3) Repeat (1)
After he reappears with a certain look on his face.
the ghost becomes a different ghost which is on horseback.
Then a ghost made of scabs at the ruins of a fire
Then a ghost called Ubume,
who hides her stillborn baby behind her hair.
The ghost is transformed back into the person made of pieces of dry dirt.
Again, it has returned to being a ghost.
The ghost wearing high heels walks over a swamp.

4) The person becomes a long shadow which enters a wall in the air.
A heavy neck protrudes out of the wall and wanders around.

5) A person made of loose pieces of straw comes out of the wall.
(He is like a man in a painting by Jean Dubuffet.)
He is a silly fool, like a joker.
he is close to being a person made of only wires.

6) Person of dry dirt comes out of the wall
and disappears into the wall.

7) A ghost of scabs and burns becomes thinner.
He is being pulled up by an imaginary thread and then evaporates.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


We're developing some good ideas for the ghost using Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of Butoh-Fu ("Fu" means score in Japanese). At a certain point, Hijikata began choreographing his dancers by speaking his poetry or Fu to them. One of his students, Yukio Waguri, later set what he remembered down (Hijikata himself did not document his work well).

Here is an example of "Butoh-Fu" inspired by a painting of Dubuffet:

"YOU LIVE BECAUSE INSECTS EAT YOU - A person is buried in a wall. He becomes an insect that dances on a thin sheet of paper. It makes rustling noises, trying to hold falling particles. The insect then becomes a person, so fragile that he could crumble with the slightest touch, who is wandering around."

There was much Butoh-Fu around the subject of ghosts:

"To be a ghost is having a conversation with your destination.
To be a ghost is having a conversation with the air.
(There is a village and there is no sound. You are standing at its gates.)
Ghosts are always transforming into other things at tremendous speeds.
Ghosts sometimes imitate living people.
Ghosts are also that ephemeral substance that melts into the surroundings.
This ghost, unlike a person, has the ability
to sense a thousand branches of a tree at the same time.
And the ghost, unlike a person, can hear
the sounds of these branches grow at the same time.
The ghost does not have the form of a person.
The ghost dwells in a place without time
and space where numerous white flowers are blooming.
Or maybe the ghost hides behind trees and rocks in a Japanese garden.
The ghost misses the time and space where it once lived.
Sometimes on the very fingertips, he remembers the time when he was alive.
The ghost is like the mist, the fog, always changing."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

About Q1

As we work on this version again, it just keeps making me smile inside... Let's just say it's forever cutting to the chase. No lengthy character development, no tedious plot intricacies, no chance for actorly self-indulgence in this baby, no sir. Here's the scene, slam bam thank you ma'am... you figure out how to make it work. And figuring out how to do that is indeed half the fun. I'm constantly reminded of all the new plays I've worked on where the tension is between taking the time to develop the playwright's vision and just wanting to take a scissors to it, do some major surgery, getting it down to its bare bones, maybe rearranging it a bit and, voila! Which makes you wonder if it wasn't, in fact, a reconstruction by some pragmatic, sensible soul who couldn't wait for the overwrought, overly analytical playwright to be out of the way.

As Kathleen Irace puts it, "this alteration speeds the plot at the expense of complexity and depth... Q1's more linear plot design is certainly easier for an unsophisticated playgoer to follow [definitely our experience]... But the simplicity of the Q1 plot arrangement eliminates the alternating plot elements that correspond to Hamlet's shifts in mood, a nuance that other productions might emphasize, catering to a more sophisticated audience."

Friday, May 18, 2007


So, the Festival is starting to get some nice plugs and the Festival blog is a great place to keep up-to-date. Jason Zinoman listed it in The Times last Sunday, David Cote gave it an entry in his Time Out blog and, most entertaining of all (and not just because we're mentioned) is the Brick's own Jeff Lewonczyk being interviewed by Michael Criscuolo at Check it out here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The Royal Shakespeare Company website is truly fascinating.

In "Exploring Shakespeare" under Hamet: The Key Ideas, you can watch performance and rehearsal videos of of key scenes, including the nunnery and closet scenes, with key questions popping up, at which point you can stop the scene video and watch videos of director Michael Boyd or various actors addressing key questions, and afterwards return to watching the scene video where you left off.

Most frustratingly... Apparently, when Greg Hicks played the Ghost, he in fact was staged using butoh -- far be it from me to think I had an original idea! -- and that happens to be the one video link that is broken - arghhh! (or maybe that should be "whew!")

HQ1 PR Image

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Butoh Ghost

Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, cofounders of Butoh:

"Butoh is a corpse standing straight up in a desperate bid for life....
We shake hands with the dead, who send us encouragement from beyond our body: this is the unlimited power of Butoh... Something is hiding in our subconscious, collected in our unconscious body, which will appear in each detail of our expression. Here, we can rediscover time with an elasticity, sent by the dead. We can find Butoh in the same way we can touch our hidden reality. Something can be born, can appear, living and dying in a moment." Hijikata

"There is something between life and death." Ohno

Soul food

Going back to one of my friend Johnny Stranger's favorite quotes: "Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one. -Stella Adler"... (And seeing where we first performed our Q1H and are rehearsing again now, it's somehow appropriate to invoke her...)

It's that reminder that makes great art great and what keeps our ilk worshipping at its altar, despite the indignities sometimes heaped on us down there on our knees. And great is of course subjective -- whatever it is that sends us, the talismans we hold on to, the recognitions that give us a moment's peace when we know we're not alone... the reminders. For me, they are often music, poetry, songs. Springsteen, Waits, Cohen are my teachers and my standbys. Literature - While I don't pretend to have gotten through the book ever, I love the very end of Ulysses and often do it as a monologue. It's silly really to start listing. Sometimes it's just moments, measures in a song, lines in a play: "That was in the winter of senior year. Then in the spring something happened to me. Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was happy for a time," comes to mind.

Hamlet has several moments like that. But, to me, the most devastating one is in the nunnery scene: "Where is thy father?" "At home, my lord."

In those two lines, there is an entire world coming to an end. It is where Ofelia begins to go mad. The betrayal, the lie -- the realization that she just threw away everything with that answer. All potential of a Great Love between her and Hamlet is over in that second. And if she realizes that, then Hamlet also knows that, which not only has implications for the rest of the scene. It in turn causes Ofelia to think that Corambis died because of her lie. It is also why dramaturgically Corambis can die, because he unleashed it all by forcing this upon Ofelia and deliberately putting her in harm's way.

Two lines. Eight words. Lives distilled to something that simple.

Monday, May 14, 2007

To read or not to read

Over on his blog, nytheatre mike, a reviewer for, has an interesting thread going on: Should reviewers read a play before they go to review it? He's of two minds about the issue, whereas his editor, Martin Denton, "would unequivocally say that a reviewer should NEVER read a script before seeing a show." I presented the case of our Q1 Hamlet, asking whether one isn't in danger of bringing Folio assumptions into the First Quarto performance if one doesn't read Q1 first. It is, after all, a different play in some respects... Having never read Q1, mike argues for a blind experience in this case, asking, "How often does one get introduced to 'Hamlet' all over again for the first time?" Hmmm. True, but then I would definitely say, as Martin suggests, that the reviewer should read the play afterwards to verify what s/he just saw and avoid the pittfalls of what s/he THINKS s/he knows about the play.

Meanwhile, over at mirroruptolife, YS requests that, "When reviewing productions of Hamlet, could print critics, bloggers, etc., please refrain from using the headline that plays on the phrase, 'Get thee to a nunnery?'" YS muses that surely we can come up with better pull-quotables and asks for suggestions, getting the list started herself with:

"Bound in Postmodernism, This Prince is Still King!"
"Alas, Poor Shakespeare. They Slew Him, Horatio!"

and my personal favorite, "Elsi-Snore"

Letter to Kathleen Irace

Dear Kathleen,

A while back we found out about Tim Sheridan's production of the Q1 Hamlet at Theatre of Note and contacted him. He in turn told us that you were production dramaturg and gave us your email address. We are producing the Q1H in NYC and would very much like to engage both of you in a dialogue about the play and your experience with it, if you're game.

We have created a blog that will give you an overview of our circumstances. In brief, we produced the play in June of 06 and had such a rewarding experience with it that we looked for an opportunity to remount it. Then recently, we were accepted in the Brick Theater's summer festival and now have the rare chance for a 'redo' with the same cast, director and ad/sm.

The Brick is wonderful place to work. The Village Voice once called them unpretentious, which -- insisting this could not stand -- is how its members decided to call this year's festival the "Pretentious Festival." In rereading the introduction to the book you edited, The First Quarto of Hamlet, I actually found this rather fortuitous: You called the Medieval Players and Oregon Shakespeare Festival's productions, respectively, "intentionally unpretentious" and "even more unpretentious." In fact, one of the most personally satisfying aspects of our production is its simplicity. Using very few props and set elements, all we really need is a stage, the actors, the audience and the text, which we too present wholly unapologetically. Like the Medieval Players' production, we have seven actors playing multiple roles, letting the characters, fast action and story line speak for themselves.

I will post this letter to you on the blog and hereby invite you to participate in our dialogue, publicly or privately, if you prefer. Either way, we would be honored by and look forward to your unique perspective on the work.

Best wishes,

Friday, May 11, 2007

The King Responds...

1. What exactly makes your show so damn pretentious anyway?
Ars est celare artem. Ars gratia artis.

2. Name some obscure influences on your work ­ extra points for unpronounceability.
Cogito, ergo sum. (Reni Descartes)
Trahimur omnes laudis studio.

3. The late Roland Barthes once wrote “For the theatre one needs long arms; it is better to have them too long than too short. An artiste with short arms can never, never make a fine gesture.” Explicate.
Ars longa, vita brevis.

4. In what ways do you plan on alienating your audience? Cite an intentionally opaque or confusing moment within your production.
Saepe ne utile quidem est scire quid futurum sit.
Vah! Denuone Latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur.

5. Which other Pretentious Festival show will you declare as your sworn ideological enemy, and why?
Stultorum infinitus est numerus.

6. Please give us the gist of the acceptance speech you would use were you to win one of our Pretentious Awards.
Veni, Vidi, volo in domum redire.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

meeting and read-through

So yesterday evening was our first time meeting everyone at the Brick and getting the 411 on the festival. I must say you guys are an amazing breath of fresh air. You have your act together AND are fun and unpret... (oops). Anyhoo, it's a rare combo and I'm glad I finally 'officially' met you all...

... including our significant other in the Festival, Ian W. Fortuitously -- but I suppose not unexpectedly -- we immediately struck a symbiotic bargain. He's got the platforms we want and we've got the coffin he wants. Let's call the whole thing on.

First read-through tonight. Wow, it all came back to me like a splendid dream: great memories, lots of laughs (you had to be there), all laced with a touch of goosebumps.

This is gonna be fun!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Pretentious Questionnaire Answers

Authored by the Actor Playing Hamlet

Version One

1. What exactly makes your show so damn pretentious anyway

What could be more pretentious than doing the First Quarto version of Hamlet, the only version of Shakespeare’s most oft-produced play - that no one ever deigns to do? Perhaps doing it with fake British accents while sipping martinis, or perhaps talking about doing it while in public so as to lure eavesdroppers into thinking how interesting and creative we must be. We’ve tried doing those things, but performing the play in the Pretentious Festival would make us feel far more self-satisfied.

2. Name some obscure influences on your work -- extra points for unpronounceability.

We have no influences. Not even each other. We reinvent the wheel each time we take the stage. If not the wheel, the arts at least. We’re like the Walt Disney Corporation that way. Not influenced by it, just like it. We should also mention that Shakespeare’s First Quarto of Hamlet in no way influenced our performance of Shakespeare’s First Quarto of Hamlet, nor did Shakespeare. Nor Bacon.

3. The late Roland Barthes once wrote “For the theatre one needs long arms; it is better to have them too long than too short. An artiste with short arms can never, never make a fine gesture.” Explicate.

That’s ridiculous. Did this Roland Barthes character ever write a Shakespeare play? I think not. “Speak the speech…nor do not saw the air with your hands…” seems pretty plain to me we’d better off as theatre artists without the distraction of arms.

4. In what ways do you plan on alienating your audience? Cite an intentionally opaque or confusing moment within your production.

Audience? We’ve never noticed one before and we’re not about to start now. That doesn’t mean we don’t want you at our show. It just means we will only acknowledge you existentially (and not without a modicum of ennui).

5. Which other Pretentious Festival show will you declare as your sworn ideological enemy, and why?

We declare the entirety of the Pretentious Festival, it’s very existence, our sworn enemy. Ideologically, metaphorically, allegorically, acutely, obtusely, truly, madly and deeply. And that other production of Hamlet too (break legs Ian & Co.). To illustrate the disdain we bear, we will no longer refer to this as the Pretentious Festival, but rather the ?retentious Festival.

6. Please give us the gist of the acceptance speech you would use were you to win one of our Pretentious Awards.


Version Two

1. What exactly makes your show so damn pretentious anyway?

We perform it entirely in the nude. (Nudity is pretentious AND it sells!)

2. Name some obscure influences on your work -- extra points for unpronounceability.

Our show has been influenced profoundly, much like the experimental German theatre, by the work of Baron Von Jaegermeister. His work seems wonderful at first, but in excess gives you a serious headache in the morning.

3. The late Roland Barthes once wrote “For the theatre one needs long arms; it is better to have them too long than too short. An artiste with short arms can never, never make a fine gesture.” Explicate.

David Mamet once wrote “Fuck you. Fuck you all. Fuck the lot of you. And especially fuck Roland Barthes.”

4. In what ways do you plan on alienating your audience? Cite an intentionally opaque or confusing moment within your production.

We start our show 30 minutes EARLY every night. That way everyone is confused.

5. Which other Pretentious Festival show will you declare as your sworn ideological enemy, and why?

Mary Poppins!

6. Please give us the gist of the acceptance speech you would use were you to win one of our Pretentious Awards.

“Thank you so much for this award. If anybody else thinks they deserve it more they can bid on it tomorrow on Ebay.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The King and I

This is all great stuff... I'm wondering of course how Gertred/Gertrude fits into it all from the point of view of your Claudius/King? It's so difficult to fathom. For one thing, there's so much less information -- virually half as much -- in the Q1 versus F that one almost has to look at them as different plays/characters but of course it's all but impossible to ignore what's known from the Folio, which is A LOT more.

But tell me, why does he feel it's his Divine Right?

What's the cosmic wrong?

Do you think there was anything between G & C while old Hamlet was still alive? From my Gertred's POV, I don't think it's possible. I think Claudius fulfills a whole different need in her than she fills in him, don't you? They just happen to be there for each other's distinctly selfish reasons. And G's willful blindness and willing flesh are just what C needs to feel his full power. What's so fascinating to me about the relationship, though, is that there seems to be true affection from both sides. Ultimately, that's what adds to the tragedy and makes C not some simplistic villain. I don't have a real, internalized grasp on it yet though... Do you?

A Good King Gone Bad

I am currently wrestling with the character of Claudius. I had previously categorized him as a hedonistic, calculating megalomaniac. I am rethinking it all, if for no other reason than to avoid judging him as opposed to being him. I am also trying to wrap my head around the idea of "King." We don't have a ready example in American culture. Power and money (or the name Elvis) are not the only factors that make a King (as opposed to President). Kingship comes from divinity - whether or not the wearer of the crown got there legitimately, or illegitimately. A King is not elected. In the minds of a King and his subjects - a King is placed there by none other than God himself.
I am beginning to approach Claudius as a man who made himself King because he feels it is his Divine Right. By killing his brother, he is righting a cosmic wrong. And Claudius does make a good King - moral objections aside.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hamlet's Age

Hamlet's age is much disputed. People sometimes cite the actors' ages who played Hamlet, but Burbage, for example, played everything from Hamlet to Lear. As far as textual reference, the gravedigger says 30, but later the scene itself is contradictory. As actor, I prefer treating it like any other text and finding the evidence in relationships, behavior and general character development. And inasmuch as 30 is the new 20 or maybe a bit younger, I would agree, i.e.:

"In addition to being brilliant, noble, acceptably eloquent, and all those other things we love about him, at least until the final act he’s naïve ("meet it is I set it down/That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!"), peevish, petulant, wildly changeable from moment to moment, maddeningly and intransigently judgmental, a know-it-all theater critic, and a shallow philosopher who actually believes he can solve the eternal human problems that nobody else has succeeded at. If that’s not a teenager, what is?" Stephen F. Roth

This site makes the most comprehensive and convincing arguments, one of the most unusual and intriguing ones being:

"Only two dozen lines after the gravedigger’s thirty-year references, Hamlet conjures up some of the most haunting imagery of the scene: 'Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander…' 5.1.86 Alexander’s name is repeated like an incantation, five times in a dozen lines. And a dozen lines later, Hamlet invokes 'Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay…' 5.1.89

Consider: Alexander led his father’s armies into battle at sixteen. He became king at nineteen, following his father’s murder. And by the time he died at age thirty-one, he had conquered the known world. Caesar, likewise, was thrust into the machinations of power after his father’s death, at age sixteen, and was leading men into battle at eighteen.

Alexander’s life was common Elizabethan fare, and London theatergoers had been treated to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar multiple times in the years preceding Hamlet’s release. The parallel between young Hamlet and those warlike young sovereigns–lodged here in the scene that so consciously and repeatedly sets times, durations, and ages–is more than suggestive. Certainly the classics-battered Oxford- and Cambridge-ites would have copped to it."

Sunday, May 6, 2007


Great meeting with Thomas today. Need to start PR-ing this thing and he has some good ideas. Meghan got Gerard to do the coffin and he's picking up the ball and totally running with it on his own. Meghan also went over the crazy schedule and figured out when we could do rehearsals at the times the Brick has offered us. Cynthia got the meeting at the Brick changed to Wednesday. Moving right along. Thank you, thank you very much.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Soliloquies and more

Of course I knew I would get dissent on my take on soliloquies. Be it ever so humble and minority, it's just my opinion based on experiences as audience member. And no, I don't think soliloquies are where characters speak their subtexts. But that gets into the whole discussion of how one defines subtext. Certainly Shakespeare has devious characters saying what they don't mean, but a character's underlying intention, to me, is defined as motivation, not subtext.

And while we're at unpopular opinions, let me just get this out of the way, too: I did not like the Wooster Group's Hamlet. I thought it was a pointless exercise, a one-joke premise, passionless, cocky and in general kind of a downer for all the wrong reasons... and that's despite the very capable actors.

There, I said it. I feel better now...

Friday, May 4, 2007

Seeing is believing...

Although generally important in theater, in Shakespeare it is particularly incumbent on the actors to see what they're talking about in front of them as part of the storytelling job. (Annie goes into this as well; she talks about words having life not meaning.) So that when the sentinels recount seeing the Ghost, they have to make the experience real to the audience. When the Ghost describes his brother poisoning him, the experience has to be conveyed by seeing the act. Claudius seeing his brother die makes him fight all the harder for his right as king. Gertrude seeing Ophelia drown. Ophelia seeing Hamlet coming to her closet disheveled, etc.

Which brings me to the soliloquies. It kind of bothers me that there's this seeming imperative to deliver them to the audience. From my limited research, first of all, that practice has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries so to talk about how it's "supposed to be" done is weird (not to mention strident). Besides, even if you do, I think it needs to be carefully nuanced. If soliloquies are thoughts that the character cannot entrust to any other character in the play, then maybe those thoughts are better understood by the listener if s/he can listen in on, or overhear them, versus being told them, complete with eye contact. Also, there's the intimacy factor -- the audience as one listener versus many individual listeners; confession versus lecture.

And again, from the storytelling point of view -- even if the story is thoughts -- the story has to be reflected/experienced on the body, face, eyes of the teller in order for it to be empathized with by the listener. So in my view, if you're going to err, it should be on the side of internalizing versus externalizing a soliloquy.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Undiscovered Country

There's real life and then there's real death.
Our thoughts are with you, Cynthia...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Ghost III

So back to Hamlet and the Ghost... Does Hamlet lose his soul when he promises the Ghost to revenge his father's death and is the devastating end of that play proof of that? Does Hamlet's indecision come from his weighing revenge against "remember me," as one theory has it? That is, does killing someone ultimately become a difficult way for Hamlet to remember his father?

Turns out that in the English Reformation, the Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory was officially banished in 1563. Hamlet the play may have been messing with that censorship by indirectly depicting Purgatory, which was no longer allowed. There are a bunch of allusions to it: "doomed for a certain time"; "purged and burnt away"; "yes, by St. Patrick" (St. Patrick is the keeper of Purgatory); "hic et ubique" ( "Hamlet's strange 'hic et ubique' to the ghost may be taken from a prayer to be performed in a churchyard that relieves the one praying from as many years of Purgatory as there are bodies buried in the yard -- 'Avete, omnes animae fideles, quarum corpora hic et ubique requiescunt in pulvere' – Hail all faithful souls, whose bodies here and everywhere do rest in the dust.")

So, to put the play in its contemporary context, the Protestants put an end to the practices and beliefs associated with Purgatory, which had everyone concerned about the fate of their souls and those of their ancestors. Purgatory was all about remembrance and communion with the dead so that when the Ghost says "remember me," he may have been asking to have his burden lifted through prayer by the living.

Now, to say that the Ghost's primary directive is "remember me" and that revenge is secondary, as some scholarship out there would have it (like Stephen Greenblatt in Hamlet in Purgatory), is stretching it... a lot, especially if you're looking at the First Quarto. The Ghost's whole rant is essentially, "Here's what the bastard did to me; you'd be a wimp if you didn't 'sweep to my revenge'; oh but don't get carried away and off your mother -- leave revenge on her to heaven." But it is interesting to consider how revenge and remembrance can be reconciled in a culture where there was a widespread fear among the living of being forgotten after death and the one way of dealing with that was just made illegal. So, that young Hamlet may be indecisive about praying versus killing is not a bad theory, especially when you also think about other scenes; like, what stops him from killing Claudius when he has the chance.


Holy shit... you'll never believe this. I SWEAR it's true: We've been having trouble with mice in our building. We've been trying to catch them live and set them free, with not so much success (meaning they bred faster than we could catch them). So tonight we reluctantly set our first death trap. I was just about to post this and go to bed when WHAM the mousetrap springs. I can't look... hey, Nick...!!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

For Real

Although we mostly have a mutual admiration society going on, seems I've embarrassed poor Ian. Sorry, my friend, but don't fret. I think ol' Philucifer's basically got it right. I'm just a little devil who can't help myself sometimes.

Can't wait to get quality time with Hamlet thoughts again. "Real" life can be so surreally boring, ever notice that?...

I don't know, but I been told
You never die and you never grow old
(joyeux anniversaire, jay-son!)

Monday, April 30, 2007

Pretentious Questionnaire... whoa

"The Pretentious Festival is only a month away! Whee/ouf! We're in the midst of scheduling your tech rehearsals, so be on the lookout for that. Meanwhile, we'd like to get the ball rolling in terms of turning the Pretentious Blog into a fun-filled world of magic and wonder. As such, we'd like a representative from each of the Pretentious shows to fill out the following questionnaire. We will post a new series of answers every day or so over the course of May, so that everyone will be able to have their say preliminary to the opening of the festival. If you don't have an answer to any of these questions, make it up! The idea is to be tongue-in-cheek, but the questions have been put together in such a way that you can actually answer them with some degree of integrity if you choose to. Links to your responses will be added to the blog during the immediate run-up to your opening as well.

And now - the questions:
1. What exactly makes your show so damn pretentious anyway?
2. Name some obscure influences on your work ­ extra points for unpronounceability.
3. The late Roland Barthes once wrote “For the theatre one needs long arms; it is better to have them too long than too short. An artiste with short arms can never, never make a fine gesture.” Explicate.
4. In what ways do you plan on alienating your audience? Cite an intentionally opaque or confusing moment within your production.
5. Which other Pretentious Festival show will you declare as your sworn ideological enemy, and why?
6. Please give us the gist of the acceptance speech you would use were you to win one of our Pretentious Awards.

Oh, and I'd like to include an image with each answer-filled post. If you haven't given us an image yet, remember to do so - likewise, if, for these purposes, you'd like to include a photo of the person doing the answering, that works too. As always, if anyone has any questions or comments, don't hesitate to ask. Likewise, if anyone has any suggestions for relevant bloggery, do tell.

We look forward to hearing what you have to say! Best, Jeff "