Thursday, May 31, 2007

Corambis

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

Arden

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

Butoh-Fu

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

Exposure

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 nytheatrecast.com. Check it out here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

RSC

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 nytheatre.com, 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,
Gabriele

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.

“Ha.”

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 na├»ve ("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

TCOB

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" (Leithart.com: "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!)