Archive for February, 2006

starting up

February 23, 2006

Just ran into ****, the actor who has been precast as Hamlet, over at Cal State Long Beach. We made plans to start getting together once a week or so to read from the play and start talking about the possibilities.

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Julius Caesar

February 20, 2006

In between rehearsals for Julius Caesar and driving all over southern California for my various teaching gigs, I’ve been reading the Arden edition of Hamlet and various essays on the play. But rather than post about those before I really have anything useful to say, I thought I’d post this week about my Caesar at UC Riverside.

I went in to this production excited about the idea that Brutus destroys the Roman ideals he’s trying to protect by murdering Caesar — that was the central action of the play for me. It’s reflected in the design, in which the set is torn apart over the course of the play. But in rehearsals, I quickly became much more interested in Cassius’s friendship with Brutus. Cassius suddenly seemed like a much more interesting character, and I found myself compelled to put him and his attempts to win Brutus away from Caesar more and more into focus.

It’s typical for me to get excited about the most intimate and personal aspect of the story. Political themes are important, but they only really get my blood pumping as a director when they’re played out through intensely personal interactions. So it didn’t surprise me that the friendship aspect of the story turned out to be more interesting than I realized at first. It did, however, worry me — because I didn’t see how this friendship story related thematically to what I still believed was the central, political, action of the play. My intuition was way ahead of my analysis, which is a dangerous place to be when you’ve already blocked the show and are taking your second pass at the big scenes.

But then I got it. The climax of the famous quarrel scene — and the point in the play at which Brutus seems to give up on Cassius — is when Cassius offers his dagger to Brutus with the words:

Strike as thou didst at Caesar: for I know,
When thou didst hate him worst, thou lov’dst him better
Than ever thou lov’dst Cassius.

Cassius’s motivation has nothing to do with tyranny or protecting the Republic — he just wants to be loved. But the results for Cassius with regard to Brutus are the same as the results for Brutus with regard to Rome. Cassius betrays Brutus’s ideals just as Brutus betrays Rome’s, and just as Rome is destroyed by Brutus’s attempt to protect it, so Brutus is destroyed by Cassius’s attempt to win his love. Brutus is to Cassius as Rome is to Brutus; the central action is played out on both the personal and the political levels.

We open next week.

Progress Report #1

February 10, 2006

Still a couple of months away from the beginning of rehearsals; probably at least a month away from the first design meetings even. At this point in the process, I’m reading the script and refamiliarizing myself with the story, the plot, the scenes, and the characters. At the same time, I’m thinking about the questions that I need to answer in order to start making the big choices about the production.

The first big choices that I’ll have to make are how to cut the script and what the fundamental design concept will be. Both of these depend on my understanding of the play itself — which means an articulation of the central action of the play along with the play’s central theme or message. Each of these are choices as well; different productions of Hamlet can choose to articulate the main action in different ways, and can focus on different themes. But they need to be rooted in a strong understanding of the text.

To make these choices, I need to read the play several times, take lots of notes, read analysis and criticism from a wide variety of sources, and look at what other directors have done with the play. I’ll be posting about all of these over the next few weeks.

A few things that I’m thinking about as I read the play this week:

-The big question: why doesn’t Hamlet just kill Claudius right after the ghost tells him to? (Much more on this in a later post.)

-What is Hamlet really trying to get the other characters to do in each scene? Might there be a way to understand Hamlet’s true superobjective as being separate from revenge, so that the hesitation in the revenge arc is due to Hamlet’s attempt to achieve something else? (More on this later as well.)

-What does Hamlet learn by the end of the play? How does Hamlet change?

Lots more on all of this to come. I’m still in rehearsals for Julius Caesar until March; regular posts will begin then.

Impact Theatre’s Hamlet opens Feb. 9

February 2, 2006

Hamlet at Impact TheatreImpact Theatre, the company I founded in 1996, is producing Hamlet right now in Berkeley, opening February 9.  It’s directed by Melissa Hillman, who has been Impact’s Artistic Director since I left in 2000 to go to grad school.  If you’re in the Bay Area, go check it out.  Then come back here and post a comment to tell me what they did with it…