collisionwork: (Great Director)
Okay, so it's a new year, and there's work to do for Gemini CollisionWorks.

So, an email went out last night to about 60 actors I know (edited slightly here):

Dear Many-of-GCW's-Actorial-Friends,

First, Happy New Year from Berit and myself!

This is going out to many of the actors that I've either directed in shows, or acted with, or seen in shows, or auditioned but had nothing for, or always wanted to work with but it didn't happen. Or whatever. Just a list of people I think would work for one or more of the shows we're doing this year, even if a few of you don't act all that much anymore (nothing ventured . . .). Sorry about the length, as always.

I have 6 or 7 productions (some big, some small) happening this year, and, as opposed to recent years, where I have wound up doing far too much at the last minute and been horribly rushed at the end, I am attempting to make this year's shows a much longer and deep process, with leisurely time to explore the work without cramming it all together. So I'm trying to cast and start the work this month for productions in June and August (as well as smaller ones going up sooner). I hope you are interested in one or more of the shows. The idea is to work on them from January to May, with a bit more focus on the June show (which might have a small July extension), and to have them pretty much together and ready (including sets, props, costumes, tech) by the end of May, with July as final brush-up time for the August shows.

I know this is a hard, full commitment to make, and I fully expect to lose and have to replace some people between casting and opening to paying gigs or other sudden commitments, but I'd rather start with full casts and have to deal with a few replacements in parts that are already formed than wait to know if everyone will make it the whole way. So, if you're interested in at least starting the process, please come along. I'll try and make this as brief as I can (too late).

First, I need a chorus of actors for

Merry Mount, an adaptation by Trav S.D. of Hawthorne's "The May-Pole of Merry-Mount" which will go up in Metropolitan Playhouse's Hawthornicopia for four performances later this month (schedule at their website). This takes place in Puritan Boston, 1628, and I need several non-speaking performers for this short work (12 minutes or so, maybe) with very little rehearsal requirements - 3 male PURITANS, and 6 PAGAN REVELLERS, 2 male, 4 female, preferably - one woman has a line as the LADY OF THE MAY. Interested? Let me know ASAP.

I will be directing an episode of Brian Enk/Matt Gray's serial melodrama

Penny Dreadful in March at The Brick - no idea yet what the casting requirements will be for that.

In June, I'm doing

The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welles: A Reconstruction for The Film Festival: A Theater Festival at The Brick. This will require a cast of 16 (8 principals, 8 others in many multiple roles) in a stage adaptation of the original version of Welles' mangled-by-the-studio second film, which version exists only now as a transcript and photos. This has very specific casting requirements, and while I have some of you in mind for some parts (and will be in touch), will need auditioning for the rest, preferably from this group. It will have 4 performances in June, and maybe another 6-10 in July. Maybe. Big big maybe.

August shows at The Brick, which will get 10-12 performances each:

Harry in Love: A Manic Vaudeville by Richard Foreman - a restaging of my 1999 production - is mostly cast, and I'll be with contact some of you specifically about the roles that aren't.

Spell - is an original play, some of it written, some of it to be created in collaboration with the company - about perception, sanity, identity, language, and terror - quiet, meditative, semi-abstract, inside the head of a woman (who may really be a man) who has done something terrible. Probably 110-115 minutes long. This has no set cast breakdown apart from needing 4 women and 2 men, at least, and will be created specifically around the actors who want to be in it. I have one or two people in mind specifically for this, but apart from that it's open to anyone on this list who's interested.

Invisible Republic (working title) - is another original, to be created entirely with and around the company from scratch, that needs primarily people with strong dance/movement skills. It's about business, specifically selling things that probably aren't needed, the worth or lack of it of anything in the USA today, violence as a capitalist tool, and the military-industrial-entertainment-religious complex. It will be loud, violent, musical, and cartoony (Looney Tunes/Tex Avery). Probably 75-90 minutes long. Lots of people in suits screaming at each other, hitting each other with clown hammers, then breaking into time steps and spouting incomprehensible business jargon. This is open to anyone on this list who's interested in doing it - again, though, I REALLY want dancers for this one.

Also, a number of members of the cast of

That's What We're Here For have expressed a desire to get back together and redo that, which I would also very much like to do, with some serious cuts, restructures, and fixes, but only if I get at least 2/3rds of the original cast. So, since the whole original cast is on this list, let me know if you want to work on it (and if it won't work by August, I'd like to start now on it for 2009).

So, if you're interested in any or all of

Merry Mount, Ambersons, Spell, Invisible Republic, or That's What We're Here For, please let me know ASAP and I can start pulling together the casts and rehearsal schedules. If you want more info, let me know.

hope to hear from you soon, and best to you and all in your world,


[NOTE: If you're an actor friend who didn't get this and probably should have, let me know - either I missed your email or have a wrong one or your spam filter ate it. Well . . . or I thought you wouldn't be interested in the first place. Or I don't think you're right for any of these shows. But probably I just screwed up. So let me know!]

So far I've had responses from 16 actors - 4 to say "I'm in for anything you want me for that I can do," 9 to say "I'd really be up for this show (or shows)," 2 to say "I'd like to be in, but can I have some more information about these shows," and 2 to say "let me know when you have something more specific you want me to read for." A good start.

So, with the responses of interest thus far, the potentials I have right now are 1 more person for Merry Mount (with four already cast, five more needed), 2 for Penny Dreadful, 11, maybe 12, for Ambersons, 12 for Spell, 7 for Invisible Republic, and 3, maybe 4, people returning for That's What We're Here For (an american pageant revisited).

Yes indeed, a good start.

collisionwork: (Great Director)

Some answers below. Thanks for being on top of some of the textual issues. It's good to have a couple of people remind me of these things (Aaron Baker has also been on top of some of this).

Regarding the things I've done to the text, having worked on it for 15 years, I sometimes can't remember the reasons I did what I did to the play anymore. I've been living mainly with the cutting that I've been doing for all that time, not bothering to look at a "complete" version of the play. When I moved my pen and pencil cuts from the paperback I'd been working with to an electronic version in 2001, other problems may have come up (the online version I went to was a different combination of Q2 and F1 than the book I'd been using). The dropping of "observation" from my line that you pointed out last night is a good example of errors that should be corrected.

At the same time, some of the cuts that apparently change the meaning of the text are intended (I'd think of it not so much as changing as I would 'clarifying"). While things that might be confusing should be brought up, at the same time the text as it stands should be approached as a "Q3," in a way. This is the play we're doing, and variants should only be brought in when needed (as one would in doing a F1 production but bringing in Q1 or Q2 where it actually makes more "sense").

The show is
Ian W. Hill's Hamlet not only out of ego, promotion, and pretension, but also to indicate an individual's specific point-of-view on the play. Hamlet, a masterpiece, is not a masterpiece like King Lear, or a damned great play like Macbeth, both of which work as dramatic pieces if you just stage them as is and stage them well. Hamlet is a big, brilliant, sprawling monster that works best as a play on its feet when a focus is given to it -- and many different focii will work -- but an unfocused version without a point of view becomes a tedious museum piece or a collection of "Billy Shakepeare's Greatest Hits!"

I haven't gone as far as Charles Marowitz, whose views on the play were very influential on my own, though ultimately towards different ends -- he cut it to a 90-minute collage and called it
The Marowitz Hamlet -- but it is a WAY of looking at Hamlet. Which is what any production is, after all; it's just a question of HOW you choose to place your gaze.

But sometimes I need to reconsider whether I've looked the wrong way, even for what I want to do. Thanks for the ombudmanism.

Hey, Ian.  Got your note about Saturday.  A couple of "Hamlet" thoughts, FYI, or for the blog.

In rehearsing the speech to the players last night, I was struck when you pointed out how obnoxious is Hamlet's greeting to Horatio in the very next scene.  How Hamlet assures Horatio that his effusive greeting is not meant as flattery, for the simple, if mercenary reason that Horatio has no "revenue" to bestow upon flatterers.  Apart from his "good spirits," of course.

I just wanted to be sure you're aware that you've trimmed a large subsequent portion of that speech which places Hamlet's blithe snobbery in context.  After the initial comment about Horatio's "revenue," Hamlet goes on to praise Horatio for his even temper, a trait much more highly prized.

Yeah, here's a place where I didn't remember the cut at all - but this is the way it should be for this production. Whether I knew it when I made the cut, it's a vital part of this Hamlet.

I could have maybe used the "even temper" part to make the point that ultimately this is NOT a good thing for Horatio, one of the reasons he is NOT A GOOD FRIEND to Hamlet -- he accepts things in his friend that he shouldn't stand by for.

But in the end, dramatically speaking, we don't need it here, for this production, and it goes.

Also, you may want to consider trimming Gertrude's "Lady doth protest too much" line.  In the folio text, it comes after the spoken dialogue of the play-within-the-play, a large chunk of which involves the Player Queen declaring her undying love and loyalty to the King--BEFORE he's killed.  In your version, you have it coming after the dumbshow, which presents the entire plot of the play, ending with the Queen taking up with the Poisoner.  So the only thing the Player Queen can be protesting too much of now is either her grief over the dead Player King, or her refusal to take up with the Poisoner. 

Do you mean for Gertrude to be saying, in effect, that the Player Queen should've grieved less and fallen for the Poisoner more quickly?

In the case of this version as it's developed and focused, it's more about our Gertrude's royal reaction to a pretend Queen's very unroyal histrionics -- not even so much that Adam's Player Queen performance is bad, but it goes against Gertrude's opinion of how royalty behaves, which has become an important part of this production.

Also, Gertrude is holding back lots of anger -- the dumb show is more than enough to get across to almost everyone in the room what Hamlet is saying, before the Players speak a word, and Gertrude is having to keep a stiff upper lip in extremely unpleasant conditions.

Just one other note: in the spoken section of the play-within-the-play, Lucianus' first line is "Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing."  Not "The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge."  The raven line is not a quote from the PWP, but a continuation of Hamlet's last speech hurrying the actor to leave his damnable faces and begin the next part of the play.

Because, of course, the poisoner Lucianus is not seeking revenge on anybody.  He's about to secretly poison the king for his own gain.  So may I suggest you cutting me off on "hands apt?"


And here's exactly the kind of correction we need. Yes, of course, you're right on all counts here. That's how we'll do it.


collisionwork: (Great Director)
Christiaan Koop emailed me today about some schedule issues and further asked for some clarification on her part as Voltimand in Ian W. Hill's Hamlet:

I'm excited to be playing jerry's right hand woman. it's cool!

do you think voltimand has been claudius' "rhw" for a very long time- like, does voltimand know "what really happened" to bring claudius to the throne? during the reading i was playing with ideas that voltimand is a sort of secret service agent/security guard/silent partner, but more intimate - heh - maybe she even kinda wishes they were more intimate!?! maybe they are?



Thanks for the
[schedule] info.

As for Voltimand -- I think she's been a bit of an up-and-comer in the court pre-Claudius' reign, but never really noticed (except by "Secretary of State" Polonius).

When Claudius took over, there was a bit of a housecleaning in the diplomatic staff -- Polonius wanted to shake things up a bit, maybe reorganize the political machine a bit to be more under his control, and I think the diplomatic assignment to Norway is a BIG THING for Voltimand, a giant step up. I don't think she really knows where it's coming from, Polonius or Claudius, but she's very pleased with the leap in status.

So she doesn't have a history with Claudius -- he's been career military prior to this, she's been completely on the politics/diplomacy track. She's been doing a good job, and has been noticed, and has been assumed to be very loyal and faithful to the new regime.

And not intimate with him -- she may be interested in that, she may wonder a little if she got the position due to some interest of his (she didn't, and he isn't interested). She may wonder if there was foul play -- as does EVERYONE in the court and kingdom -- but she's in the position she's in partially because Polonius is sharp enough to know that she'll be loyal to Claudius whether he killed his brother or not.

She knows her job well enough to give her report to Claudius in proper diplomatic words, while imparting a bit of subtext to them -- when she remarks about Old Norway looking into Fortinbras' actions and saying "he truly found it was against your highness," there can be just a hint of "if you can believe that, and don't think he knew about it all along and just got caught."

Even something like the "in brief" she throws in about Fortinbras' obeying of his father can have a lot of weight and irony -- as though not wanting to go into extent of the argument between the two, while getting across that Fortinbras' ultimate submission to his father was not an easy one.

She also tests how chummy she can get with Claudius by taking on some of the qualities he uses in his own speech -- her referring to Old Norway's "impotence" is a direct reference to Claudius referring to him as "impotent" in his opening speech -- a phrase which is an off-the-cuff improv by Claudius in that part of the speech, and slightly inappropriate for a King to be using (and for you to be using in your report - it's an innocent enough word, yes, but I think you both give it a slight nasty spin). So you're parroting some of the tone you got from him in the opening back to him, consciously or not.

So that's a start,

see you Friday,

collisionwork: (GCW Seal)
Last night, we had the first reading of Ian W. Hill's Hamlet at one of the rehearsal rooms at Theatre 5 on 43rd Street.

16 members of the company of 19 were present:

First Reading - Cast Photo #2

front, kneeling: Maggie Cino (Second Clown, etc.), Christiaan Koop (Voltimand); standing: Aaron Baker (Francisco, Priest, etc.), Danny Bowes (Gravedigger, etc.), Ken Simon (Bernardo, etc.), Edward Einhorn (Guildenstern), Daniel Kleinfeld (Rosencrantz), Ian W. Hill (director, Hamlet), Adam Swiderski (Laertes), Bryan Enk (Polonius), Carrie Johnson (Marcella), Jerry Marsini (Claudius), Peter Bean Brown (First Player, Reynaldo); on chairs, rear: Rasheed Hinds (Horatio), Jessi Gotta (Ophelia); behind camera: Berit Johnson (design/direction/management collaboration); missing: Gyda Arber (Norwegian Captain, English Ambassador, etc.), Stacia French (Gertrude), Roger Nasser (Osric).

Swell cast there, folks (sorry 'bout the so-so picture on some of them - we had three shots and all of them had blurs or blinks - this was the best).

A good first reading in many ways. The voices work as I hoped they would. The cast got to meet, or rather re-meet -- most of us have worked together quite a bit before, but in some cases it's been a few years. Good bonding and rebonding. I don't see many of these people between shows, unfortunately; just the way it is. So I have these short-duration, very intense, work-friendships that become very important to me.

I think it was important to have this reading, and the next, right at the start, to hear this cutting with these voices -- not even so much for me, but for the whole cast. I know what the tone and mood of the show is going to be, and I tried to get that across in the stage directions I put into the production script we're all working from, but I think that hearing it really got across to everyone the particular attitude and point-of-view of this production. My viewpoint on some of the characters and events here is not a standard one, and I think that came across better out loud.

There is a great deal of work to be done, but about the right amount of work for the time we have, judging from what people were bringing to it here at the start. I'll have to concentrate on getting the colloquial tone that I want down with some of the cast - some people begin to slide towards an Englishness in their tone the more they do Shakespeare, and this is a very American version, and should sound it (except for Danny, who gets to play an immigrant Gravedigger). Some people who had been emailing with me about character things were a step ahead to where they need to go. I knew more of my own lines than I thought I did - I wasn't off book, not nearly (that's to happen this coming week), but I was able to look away from it more than I expected. I've been imagining Bryan, Rasheed, Daniel, and Edward in their parts for about six or seven years now, so hearing their voices saying the lines for the first time was a thrill.

The first act ran 1 hour 25 minutes (ending with Hamlet leaving for England - "My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!"), and the second ran 38 minutes. I suspect the first will continue to run about the same, as it will speed up a lot from the pace we were at for a good deal of it last night, though I'm also planning on putting back the majority of the Polonius/Reynaldo scene that I had reluctantly cut for time. The second act will expand by about 5 minutes or so, as it can slow up just a bit, and will have a lot of violence added, so time will fill out there.

I'm pleased with the cutting, for the most part, but I'm a bit concerned about whether my cuts have screwed with the clarity of the story in one or two places, and I have to review those parts of the uncut script(s) with mine. The problem is that with some of the cuts I made, you either have to go with the entirety of a long speech or conversation, or none of it, as you can't cut into it and have it make any sense, and there's sometimes just one or two little pieces of information in that long (and sometimes, yes, tedious) piece of dialogue that are not exactly crucial, but close to it. So I try to cut and elide and hope that other mentions in the dialogue will cover it. Now I'm not so sure about some of my cuts in the section leading up to the Laertes/Hamlet duel. I'll check it.

Now I'm in Maine. Pleasant drive today. Personal and other work to do here. Still getting over the unsettling feeling of being "away" from NYC, and work I feel I should be doing there (though there's nothing more to do there that can't be done by phone/email till I'm back for the second reading - all 19 of us this time - on Friday the 27th). I miss Berit and the cats a bit already.


collisionwork: (Great Director)
Tonight, the first "full cast" reading of Ian W. Hill's Hamlet (we're actually short a few people, but close enough). I am nervous and excited.

After this, I'm gone for a week before continuing with rehearsals, but I'm sure (I hope) I'll be doing plenty of character work with the actors by email.

Inside the cut below is a long email exchange between Jerry Marsini (Claudius) and myself regarding his character's motives and actions, which necessarily winds up ranging widely over many other aspects of this production. I still have mixed feelings about using LJ Cuts, but when text gets this long, I get more self-conscious about shoving it onto peoples' Friends lists.

Now . . . as has been mentioned in passing here before, I've cut from this production all definite evidence that Claudius actually killed Hamlet's father. There is the possibility, but only that, a possibility.

Still, fine to be ambiguous with the audience, but Jerry and I have to know for sure (I think, oddly perhaps, of George Romero and John Amplas, for Romero's film Martin, having to decide for themselves if the title character was actually a vampire or just an insane young man who believes he's a vampire). In these emails we make the decision -- in passing, really -- as Jerry asks for direction on Claudius and suggests a number of options. Since I still want it to be ambiguous for everyone else, I've taken out the parts where our decision is clear.

Regarding Claudius )

collisionwork: (GCW Seal)
Email questions and thoughts come to me from the cast of Ian W. Hill's Hamlet.

Edward Einhorn (Guildenstern) asked me something yesterday morning:

Quick question: what's the concept behind making R&G Jewish? Not that I mind particularly, but what made you think to portray them as Jewish?

Response from me, also cc'ed to Daniel McKleinfeld (Rosencrantz) to bring him in on this issue of interest to him as well:

Not so quick answer:

The concept was sort of reverse engineered, as with making Horatio black -- I was interested in the actor for the role first, then realized that people would wind up taking it as a "statement," and realized that I had to be in control of the statement, so I should actually make one. I saw you and Daniel in the parts, realized this would be "taken" a certain way, and had to take the idea throughout the script to be in control of how it might be taken.

Since this is a WASPy-world, country club/yacht club HAMLET, I was interested in different classes and how they interrelate -- somewhat as I saw in my own wealthy hometown . . .
[personal information about myself, Greenwich, Connecticut, and being both “on the inside” and an “outsider” at the same time, redacted].

In this production we see classes from Royalty down to Commoner, with many stages in between, and see all of them react to the death of a king and the fumbling attempts to keep the country together when he's gone. Hamlet's friends play different roles in this. Horatio is given a certain leave as Hamlet's "black friend from school," as he is well-educated, well-spoken, etc., but because of his color and background, he will only ever be able to rise to a certain level in this world. As a result, he is not perceived as (nor is he, or wants to be, I think) a social climber to be watched out for. He is treated somewhat openly.

R&G come, I believe, from several generations of getting-wealthier-and-wealthier merchants -- shopkeepers who have expanded and expanded into a wholesale-retail-mailorder empire -- possibly wealthier and "more powerful" than the Lords and even Royalty (powerful as in "if we don't get something we want, we may not help you out with the money and supplies for this war here"). I think R&G were the first generation born into their family as already fabulously, disgustingly wealthy, and have grown up around the Court, and their friend Hamlet, and want more than just "being rich," they want respect, and a position within the Court the same as anyone else with not only their money, but their talents and abilities. There has NEVER been any overt anti-semitism at work at them, but there has been a definite "you are not one of us" attitude that they're trying to get through.

I honestly think well of R&G (as I do NOT of Hamlet himself), and think they're simply trying to kill two birds with one stone: They ACTUALLY DO want to help their old friend out here, AND if they can use this to get in better with the Royal Family and The Court, what's the harm in that? Frankly, they probably think that they're "playing" Claudius and Gertrude by giving help to them that they would have done gladly for Hamlet's sake anyway.

They don't get, horribly, fatally, that they are dealing with a fanatic who sees these two goals of theirs as incompatible: If they're helping out Claudius and Gertrude, as far as Hamlet is concerned, they are his enemies. End of story. And as Hamlet pushes them away, they resent him more, and more turn to Claudius, which Hamlet sees and gets meaner and nastier to them, which send them . . . well, you see.

So, that's what came out of simply looking at/listening to you and Daniel years ago and thinking I'd like to see you in these parts someday.


Thoughts from Daniel in response:


Thanks for the note! That's pretty much what I had been thinking---that Ros and Guild have fielded a lot of questions about money management (on the assumption that they'd just *know* what to do with money), but have never encountered straight-up vulgar anti-Semitism in the court (which is why Hamlet's display of it is so unpleasant). They sorta seem like the two faces of assimilation---Guild is obsequious and eager to be in his place (an aspiring dentist, I'd think), while Ros has a somewhat ironic attitude towards the court, his life, and himself. He plans to fuck around for a few years after college, and then go into investments, smirking ironically even as he becomes part of the system.

I'd been thinking of playing the first meeting with Hamlet---"my most dear lord!"---for irony, with a heavy helping of rich-kid sarcasm From the instant he walks in , they're doing routines, like kids reciting Firesign Theater records, and there's not a word that doesn't come out with raised eyebrows and a lilting inflection. By the later scenes, he's become more direct as he starts to realize that something's really wrong---by the post-Mousetrap scene, it seems like he's started to worry that Hamlet's genuinely going mad. Now he thinks it's his turn to step
up---he's always been smarter than these courtly dipshits, and by the time it comes to dealing with the body, he's convinced that he's the only one who can straighten this mess out. If anything, he's a little impatient with having to rely on Claudius---who he's always considered a half-wit----to solve the problem, even though he knows that's Claudius' job.

Does that sound about right to you?

A final comment from me:

Yup, sounds about right to me, thanks!

There's also a notable difference between R & G as their arc goes on -- Guil begins to try to play too much on R&G's past friendship in ways that are improper in dealing with Royalty. Maybe once they could, as friends, but I think Ros senses a bit before Guil not to push the friendship thing too much. As important as the anti-semitic flip Hamlet gives to them about "trade" is the fact that he pulls out the royal "we" with them in the previous line - he may have never done that before, and he almost never does it elsewhere in the script. He only does it when he wants to MAKE A POINT about being a fucking Prince.

I have CONSTANTLY used, in auditioning people for this show, and talking to others about it, your line as reported to me by Berit regarding all the auditioners who wanted the title role in your HENRY V, "Kings don't SLOUCH!"

That phrase has become central to dealing with the royalty here. Gertrude NEVER slouches, and is a Queen through and through (even with Claudius, being his Queen comes before being his Wife). Claudius only slouches in private with Gertrude -- he somewhat got out of the whole "Royalty" bag that he disliked by going into the military, but knows when and how to turn it on as a King. Hamlet slouches a bit, and more and more as he is seen as "mad" (part of what is taken for "madness" is simply "not behaving like a Prince ought to"), and he affects a more intellectual, artsy demeanor, but he has been raised since birth to be a King someday, and will turn it on when he "needs" to.

Ros sees Hamlet's back straightening before Guil does, and pulls back.


collisionwork: (GCW Seal)
I've been having some interesting email exchanges with members of the cast over certain elements of Ian W. Hill's Hamlet, and I've asked their permission to share some with you when appropriate.

A while back, Peter and I wrote back and forth about a number of issues regarding the play, which wound up in a discussion of two things I am trying to do or get across in this production:

1. Hamlet is more than a little bit mentally disturbed for real.
2. I don't particularly like Hamlet, and I don't particularly want the audience to either.

Peter wondered if #1 didn't mitigate #2, as his insanity may make his actions "not his fault" but his disease's, and possibly then generating sympathy for the poor madman. I never answered his thoughts on the matter. So he asked me again today:

. . . have you had any further thoughts on how to keep the audience from sympathizing with Hamlet once they see he's clinically insane?

And my response was:

I'm not sure that "sympathy" will actually be their reaction. Nor should it. "Empathy" however, is fine and desired.

Hamlet is unpleasant, he is a bit of an asshole, sane or not. He is a bit of a monster, but monsters can engender empathy. I think of characters as wide as Macbeth, Travis Bickle, and Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts in
Mulholland Drive) -- they are monsters, all, irredeemable, and I'd say at least the latter two are mentally unstable (the first, well, that's an interpretive thing, production-by-production). Their mental instability does not mitigate the monstrousness of their acts, but it does allow a degree of empathy (I cry at the death of poor, sad, sick, evil Diane Selwyn every time I watch the Lynch film). Hamlet is also, on some level, a genius, which makes the insanity harder to take. He can be capable of great and honest love and kindness. But he is a monster. (Horatio is in fact the worst at ignoring the latter because of the former and ultimately as a result, for all his respect and devotion to Hamlet, he is Not A Good Friend to the Prince -- if the audience sympathizes with Hamlet too much, they are making Horatio's mistake)

I think, even if it's not understood consciously, that insanity, even in a genius, does not entirely give a "free pass" to a character onstage, as it doesn't in life. Not all insane people become murderous, and if they do, it is often as much them as it is the disease (as I think is the case with Hamlet).

Also, while Hamlet is "disturbed," I'm not sure his delusions entirely cross the line into full-out paranoid schizophrenia. He is self-possessed enough to know what he's doing is "wrong," in some way (a sharp lawyer could easily get him off, though - "Judge, he believes he was told to do this by the ghost of his father, the great king we all knew and loved, whom he loved even more as father, King, and man. Also, he's been set up his whole life to be king when Old Hamlet was gone, whether he liked it or not, and this one thing he was certain about has been taken away from him. Your Honor, of course he's not himself!").

There is a definite part of this production that is the story of a kingdom in rough shape, trying to pull itself together and regroup following the death of a great and strong king, thrown horribly out of whack by having to deal with a crazed, manic prince bouncing around in its midst, with no one around him knowing quite how DANGEROUS he is until it's too late. Everyone deals with him with kid gloves for a time, because he is The Prince after all, and eventually he pretty much destroys everything around him, deserved or not.

I'm not going at all the same way as Derek Jacobi, but he made a VERY strong choice in his Hamlet in that seeing the Ghost (definitely real, in his production) drove Hamlet absolutely completely batshit insane, and he was in a crazed, manic state for most of the play following. His insanity did not cause you to sympathize with him, but instead to feel incredibly nervous watching him, scared, wondering what the hell he was going to do next (even if you damned well knew the play). I'm going in a different way than him, but the thing I think we share is that you then never ever feel SAFE around this guy -- you can feel for him, but it's hard to feel too much for someone who makes you think he might punch somebody in the face at any moment for no good reason.

After all,
[name redacted], that little guy who lived upstairs from NADA you may remember, was clinically insane (and, in fact, a mathematical genius who could even, on rare occasions, be funny and cool), and I sure as hell didn't feel sympathy for the little dangerous bastard when he was threatening my life. But empathy? Yes. I actually did.

That make some sense?


collisionwork: (GCW Seal)
So, I've seen eight actors on Saturday, one on Sunday, nine last night, and I have one more to see this afternoon for Ian W. Hill's Hamlet.

I will have nine men to cast for seven roles (having already cast 5 of the 12 total already), and ten women for six roles.

On paper (or rather spreadsheet), I've set down the five men of those nine I'm sure I want in the show, so I'll have to cut two of the four remaining. Two very good actors.

I've boldfaced three of the ten women, because I know for sure I want them in the show, but I'm not yet sure for what parts. Of the remaining women, I'll be cutting four. Four very good actors.

Everyone I've seen -- since I only asked good actors I know and wanted to work with -- has been excellent and a distinct possibility for several parts. There have only been three people who came in and so nailed something that they just HAD to get a specific part.

Which means that for all the other parts, I've seen multiple takes, all good possibilities. Now, it's up to me (with a great deal of discussion with and input from Berit) to figure out the sound of the ensemble.

Two actors would be equally good in one role, in different ways, but one is a trumpet and the other is a cello, and I had the cello in mind . . . but what if the actor who is to play many scenes with him brings her own string section with her, and the trumpet would sound better against it?

This is my 50th show. For almost all of the others I went in with an idea in my head as to what my "ideal" cast would be from the actors I know and like, asked them to do my show, and if they didn't, I had another in mind to take the part. Occasionally I had to read people for a part or two if my ideal actors weren't available and I had no one of the right type around. As with Temptation, I didn't have very many preconceived ideas going in to this Hamlet - there were five actors I was sure of, including myself, and they all are in - and I have wound up with even more of an embarrassment of riches for the rest than I did on the Havel.

Even worse, after the auditions on the Havel, I had my mind changed in a lot of cases about what I was looking for, but to a pretty obvious solution. Here, I have read people for roles that I was pretty sure they were wrong for, and that someone else had in the bag, and they aced them. So now I just have more and more choices.

One of my Excel casting spreadsheets now has the 39 roles of the play down the left side column, with the nine actors I'm sure of in their assigned roles. Across the rest of the screen, all the other rows have several possibilities stretching to the right. Now it's mix and match time. Or rather, it will be later tonight, after the last audition. I'm keeping as open a mind as I can until then. Then Berit and I can go at it, and tomorrow I can send the first request emails out.

At a stressful time like this, I am somehow comforted by the nostalgic beauty of something like this Flickr photoset: pictures from the construction and first few years of operation of Disneyland. This is all before my time, of course, but my mother and I went there in the mid-70s, and all that wonderful 1950s design was mostly still there -- I'm told it's pretty much gone now.

I've also decided to go back to many of the books and films I've looked at for research in the years I've been thinking about this production -- which started with seeing Chris Sanderson's production at NYU in 1989 (actually, just seeing a full rehearsal of it in Tompkins Square Park) with Michael Laurence (now on Bway in Talk Radio) as Hamlet. Then, around '92 or so, I started my work on the script. Steven Berkoff's book I Am Hamlet has been very valuable at times, so I'll reread it. David Finkelstein loaned me a book about Papp's version with Martin Sheen that I'll reread, and Michael Gardner is going to loan me a book about John Geilgud/Richard Burton's 1964 production, which I once skimmed at a friend's parent's apartment.

Then, thanks to Netflix and The Brooklyn Public Library, I have ten filmed/taped versions of the play coming to me: Laurence Olivier, Innokenti Smoktunovsky, Richard Burton, Derek Jacobi, Mel Gibson, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Ethan Hawke, Adrian Lester, and William Houston.

I will probably also rewatch, for fun, the MST3K version of the TV version with Maximilian Schell (with Claudius dubbed into English by Ricardo Montalban). Unfortunately, there seems to be no way through my sources of getting the Nicol Williamson or Campbell Scott videos. Oh, well.

I had considered, hell, just figured I would be, avoiding all these other Hamlets while I was at this point, but I think I need some other ones to argue with while building mine. I've been thinking so long about this production that it runs the risk of simply being a smart, well-crafted production with no real blood in it. I have to look at all the others, all of which, good as some of them are, have been unsatisfying to me for all these years and made this production a necessity for me. I need to get angry, combative, and determined about this production again.

The Olivier and Kline versions will be showing up here first. That should do it.


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