Friday, March 18, 2016

Playing Hamlet

Playing Hamlet is, above all, intimidating. This is an old cliché, but like all of the oldest clichés, it has stuck to the collective consciousness for a reason: it is true. Hamlet gives us one of the most interesting considerations of suicide and the ending of life of any character in Western literature. Hamlet is Shakespeare to most. Not as Prospero is William Shakespeare the artist/magician; rather, Hamlet embodies the struggle between the self-fashioning philosophies of the Renaissance with the order and heroism of the Medieval that animates, to my mind, the very heart of Shakespeare’s work. “What is I?” has always seemed like Shakespeare’s most persistent question, and Hamlet is that question made flesh and interesting and dramatic.

Hamlet (Alex Dabertin) prepares to kill the
King (John Walbolt) in Bad Quarto's Hamlet

How do I embody all that? Obviously I cannot, but I must try.

Most actors get to be supported in this mad, open, painful endeavor by a cast and director they meet in the flesh every day or a few times a week. They get to be grieved and sallied together, and the actor playing Hamlet can let himself be as much of an ensemble member as he is able, which, in my consideration, is the best thing any actor can do. I, on the other hand, must struggle almost alone.

Some romantic teenagers, some Hamlets, out there might think that I am lucky, that my near complete autonomy allows me to find my true Hamlet, a Hamlet more original and more real than any other. Unfortunately, an actor, at least this actor, is not an original creature—we imitate at start and move from there: reacting, pushing, and seeing what happens outside. Completely original emotional fabrication on the part of an actor has a name: “camp.” And Hamlet does the solitary actor no favors. All of Hamlet’s greatest soliloquies (or part soliloquy, depending on what text one uses), are direct reactions to what is happening onstage, and many of Hamlet’s most powerful emotional beats spur forth while he is surrounded, none of which I can practice ahead of time. It is the confusion around him that reflects and feeds his struggle.

Bad Quarto Productions force me to develop my part in a near vacuum and in that way make me work in almost the purest form of theatrical acting. I must first hone my breathing and my mental casting so that I can imagine many possible reactions to my lines and make all of the options supported. I must be aware that I am being observed and try to make myself a dynamic stage presence, and most of all, for Hamlet, I must make sure my images are crystal clear. It is the montage of my mental images, their juxtaposition, order, and duration, which embodies the sole creative portion of my acting process. The rest are following certain rules, at best creatively, yes, but overall line memorization and movement are basically rote activities—as modern convention mostly desires them to be. My mental life, however, is entirely mine, and in a Bad Quarto production, it is almost untainted

This is not a necessarily good thing. While, yes, this autonomy makes me feel good, it does not always mean that I see the forest for the trees, or even that I have seen the trees as they are at all. This monomania is the reason why directors exist, I find. Tony nudges me to look again at the text I am speaking: what is the cadence the verse wants me to use? Should I agree or go against the grain? What is happening? Why does Hamlet say these things? Actors need directors. Young actors need them more.

I have been so influenced by all the Hamlets I have seen, and all the classes I have taken on the Prince…and my own particular biases—such as the fact that my father died when I was very young and so have never really had the feeling Hamlet has, the fact that I sometimes hate men as a rule, particularly when they are cruel to women—that I could not see certain developments in the text. The most important of these interactions was directed around the “nunnery” scene.

I could find nothing but Hamlet’s unnecessary misogynist tirade against Ofelia. I could neither forgive him nor understand him. I almost did not want to. It was at this time that Tony took me by the hand and led me through my trepidation to an understanding that felt much more natural and real than I could before have hoped. That being said, Tony and I disagree sometimes too. Directors also need actors to deflate their own assumptions, too.

Influence has been a problem in another way in this process as well: the undue influence of the Second Quarto and Folio texts of Hamlet. Often I have found myself slipping into the more famous verse rather than the more contradictory lines of our working text. The example that most comes to mind is “that puzzles the will,” rather than “that puzzles the brain and confound the sense.” Easy enough to see why the mind gravitates towards the more common version, but that is no excuse. This textual sensitivity—and the directness of the first quarto—has been a boon, however. I must be more concerned about what the real goal of Hamlet’s words is because I must speak words I do not think of as Hamlet’s. In a way, that makes them more mine than any of my friends’ previous turns as Hamlet.

I have very little more to say about Hamlet. I am still nailing down all of my lines; I am still finding out what I will be when I am on stage; I am still in process. This is a good place to be…but it is terrifying. I want to be so perfectly settled that no one can tell I am human, that would make me feel safe. It would be terrible theater, but I could do my job.

In the end, I will have to be terrified onstage, which, I think and hope, will allow me to touch the most visceral aspect of Hamlet’s life as we see it onstage: his terror and confusion. Hamlet is smarter than pretty much everybody onstage, but too often that translates into him being shown as some Bugs Bunny like infallible being. I do not want that. I want my Hamlet, if nothing else, to be achingly human, afraid, and confused, as I feel he should be. I now can only do the work to make sure that my terror is not hollowly mine but Hamlet’s as well.   

Friday, March 4, 2016

Meet the Company of Bad Quarto's Hamlet!

Get to know the company of Bad Quarto's upcoming production of Hamlet, The First Quarto!

Alex Dabertin (Hamlet) is an actor, writer, and director who recently graduated from Columbia University, and he is so, so incredibly excited to be a part of Bad Quarto's Hamlet. He has nothing but gratitude for the whole amazing Bad Quarto crew. Recently he was seen in Bad Quarto's Taming of a Shrew, and The Brewing Department's Othello. You can find him on Facebook as "Alex Niles Dabertin" and on tumblr as "postmodernnosferatu."

Beatriz Browne (Ofelia, Braggart Gentleman) is very excited to be returning to her second production with Bad Quarto. Beatriz is a Brazilian actress and graduate of AMDA. Since graduation in 2015, she has been working extensively in film, television and theater. Past credits include: The Taming of A Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Marat/Sade, and more. With a passion for Shakespeare, she cannot wait to explore the text and put it to work with her fellow cast members. Big thanks to her family for the constant support, and to Tony for believing in her work.

Kitty Mortland (Queen Gertred) recently appeared in Richard II and Romeo and Juliet with Hamlet Isn't Dead, Measure for Measure with Hudson Warehouse, and As You Like It with Folding Chair Classical Theatre. Originally from Chicago, she appeared there in Down & Derby (The New Colony), Devour (20% Theatre Chicago), and the Jeff Nominated The Bad Seed: The Musical (Corn Productions). Kitty also played the title character in Hamlet: The Series, available on YouTube. When not on stage, Kitty is also a singer/songwriter who has played venues across the Chicagoland area including the Elbo Room, the Underground Lounge, and Reggie's Rock Club. DFTBA.

James Overton (Ghost, Player Duke, Fortenbrasse). This will be James Overton's second time working with Bad Quarto Productions and he couldn't be more excited! He last appeared with Bad Quarto as Lord/Simon in, The Taming of a Shrew and more recently as Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night at the Secret Theatre. James recently graduated from Bennington College where he concentrated in Drama and Music Composition before moving to New York City last summer to pursue his career. He is an accomplished singer, guitarist, and ukulele player. He is a natural blonde.

Roz Cavallaro (Rossencraft, 1st Sentinel, 2nd English Ambassador) is thrilled to be a part of another Bad Quarto production. Some of her previous credits include, Phylema in The Taming of a Shrew, Ensemble in Julius Caesar, Rosalind/Ensemble in Conditions of Love (a devised Shakespeare and Sondheim piece featured in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), Bella in Big Love, Solita in Capture by Emily Dinova, and Hera in The Nemesis Effect by S.E. Taylor.

Arif Silverman (Marcellus, Player Duchess) graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in theater this past May. His film Bless Me, Apollo recently saw its premiere at Dixon Place in January. Other recent credits include: All’s Well That Ends Well (Shakespeare on the Sound), Nolie Min Tangible (Dixon Place), Spirits to Enforce (Cleveland Public Theater), The Bacchae (Edinburgh Fringe Festival), The Taming of the Shrew (Pulse Ensemble Theater) & Heart to Heart (American Globe Theater).

Dani Martineck (Gilderstone, Gravedigger) is a New York-based actor, writer, and lab manager. Dani recently appeared in Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project's Twelfth Night (Viola) and played five seasons with Tennessee Stage Company's Shakespeare on the Square. Favorite Shakespeare credits include Hamlet (Rosencrantz) and Taming of the Shrew (Grumio).

Sophia Kokonas (Corambis, priest, ambassador) grew up in Chicago and after taking some acting classes in the city she decided to move to NYC to train at the Atlantic Theater Company's Conservatory program. There she had some of the best acting teachers in New York and discovered that Shakespeare, Moliere, and Chekhov are all she ever wants to do in life. Sophia is so excited to have been cast in Bad Quarto's production of the Hamlet and thanks everyone who made this production possible!

Owen Moss Hayden (Barnardo, Montano, the Player Murderer, Voltemar) is in his first production with Bad Quarto. Past credits include: Edgar Willoughby in The Poet (Manhattan Rep), Hotspur in Henry IV, part I (Hampshire Shakespeare), and Petruccio in Taming of the Shrew (Theater Under The Stars). He thoroughly believes flying by the seat of
his pants is the best way to travel.

Andre Silva (Leartes) is a New York based actor. He recently finished an intensive course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). He has been seen in Bad Quartos production of The Taming of a Shrew and The Second Shepherds Play, and in Daniel Adams production of Three Sisters at the Alchemical Theater Laboratory. He has just finished filming his first indie feature film, Jay Mancini, and also has several short films being submitted to film festivals around the country. He is delighted to be a part of this cast and wants to thank his friends and family for their ever growing support!

Rachel Matuse (Horatio) is thrilled to be returning to work with Bad Quarto Productions in Hamlet. Most recently she was involved in their production of The Taming of a Shrew. She is a graduate of the George Washington University, and recently trained with the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, where she performed as Marcus in Titus Andronicus. Other notable credits include Olivia in Twelfth Night, Nurse Ratched in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Stella in Streetcar. Rachel is a proud teaching artist with George Street Playhouse, and has a particular passion for socially progressive theater. Thank you to her family and friends, and enjoy the show!

John Walbolt (King) is thrilled to be doing Shakespeare here in New York with Bad Quarto! Favorite credits include Feste in Twelfth Night, Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, and Victor in Cabaret. John also develops free mobile Apps for performers, most notably Pocket Pitch for iPhone. Thanks to Mom, Dad, Grandma, Val, Farns, Peter, Jose, Jassy, UC Irvine and the Golden State Warriors!

Tony Tambasco (Director) is excited to be directing the first quarto of Hamlet, and to be the Artistic Director of Bad Quarto Productions. Some of his past credits with Bad Quarto include The Taming of a Shrew, The Cronicle Historie of Henry the Fift, The Ballad of Dido, and The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Some of his other favorite directing credits include Julius Caesar (Sweet Tea Shakespeare), As You Like It (The Weathervane Playhouse), An Experiment with an Air Pump (Clarkson University), and Closer (Catalyst Theatre Co.). Tony holds an MFA in directing and a M.Litt. in Shakespeare from The American Shakespeare Center / Mary Baldwin College. He is deeply grateful to everyone who has helped make Bad Quarto, and this production of Hamlet a success.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"That Same Skull, Sir."

Bad Quarto's production of Hamlet. Featuring
Alex Dabertin as Hamlet. Directed by Tony Tambasco.
Rehearsals are well underway for our current production of Hamlet, and I couldn't be more excited. I've been wanting to direct Hamlet for some time, and I couldn't be more pleased to be working with this most excellent company on this most excellent play.

Something I've wrestled with in preparing this production was finding a unifying image that really stuck out to me. I tend to find that my best work as a director comes when I've got a clear image in my head that captures the essence of what the play is about: like the thesis of an essay, it helps keep you focused on the story you're trying to tell and faithful in the way you're telling it. And, conveniently, it tends to make for a good poster.

Hamlet was a challenge, though, because one of the most prominent images to me has always been of the world, and Denmark specifically, as " an unweeded garden // That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature // Possess it merely." I picture the Denmark of the beginning of the play as a the garden that old King Hamlet died in, left untended by King Claudius, and the implements for cleaning it grown rusty and dull with age. Hamlet spends the entire play sharpening his metaphorical machete until he is ready to clean house.

Clearly, I didn't go with that concept.

First and foremost, those lines I quoted above don't appear in the first quarto of Hamlet, so it wouldn't have been appropriate to use them. But beyond that, the image of the skull is so intimately connected to Hamlet, and to Shakespeare in general, that I felt like I couldn't ignore it. The image of Hamlet holding a skull and reciting his "To be or not to be" speech, a-textual as it is, has endured as an image of the master Shakespearean tragedian confronting Shakespeare's most difficult role.

John Gielgud as Hamlet
Of course, as we've already discussed, the "To be or not to be" speech is different in the first quarto, and no version of the text asks for Hamlet to be holding a skull in that moment. And, maybe most significantly of all, when Hamlet does confront Yorrick's skull, and his own mortality in a concrete way, he is in the company of Horatio, by then his only friend, and the gravedigger, who gives him practical lessons in the materiality of death, which is what ultimately prepares him to accept the "special providence in the fall of a sparrow," and that "the readiness is all."

When Hamlet looks at Yorrick's skull, he knows he's looking at himself, and that understanding of death allow him to become the angel of death, and complete the vengeance that his father commanded him to. Which reminded me of a Hobein painting from the early modern period....

Holbein's The Ambassadors. 1533
Holbein's The Ambassadors is probably familiar to anyone who took an art history class for that anamorphic skull sitting in the bottom of the painting. Death is always present, despite all the other accomplishments and honors that we see depicted in the painting, our own deaths are always with us, but we can only see our deaths from a certain point of view, which makes everything else in our lives fall out of focus. This is what Hamlet ultimately wrestles with when he confronts Yorrick's skull, and learns to understand death as the gravedigger does: not as something to be wondered at, but, as Horatio says, "custom hath made it in him seem nothing." Whilst everyone else in the court, especially the King, fixates on the temporal trappings of life, Hamlet sees our temporal life for what it is, and more than a mere memnto mori, becomes death itself.

Bad Quarto Productions is dedicated to performances of Shakespearean plays that honor Shakespeare's original staging conditions, and Hamlet has given us an opportunity to explore that as regards the imagery of Hamlet.