Archive for September, 2006

This Dane is Blogged

September 30, 2006

I’m loving my new job as Education Director of the Marin Shakespeare Company, but it’s quickly becoming clear that I’m not going to be able to continue regular posts about Hamlet. Which, considering the show closed a month and a half ago, is probably appropriate anyway. I’ll leave this blog up, and I’ll continue to post erratically — when I can’t sleep, or when something occurs to me, or when the official archive photos finally come in, or when I finish editing more of the video. But no more trying to post something every week.

I’ve had a great time writing Blogging the Dane, and the process of articulating all my thoughts about the play here had a definite positive impact on the production — a huge percentage of directing is simply articulating ideas (to actors and designers, and through them to the audience), and anything directors can do to improve their ability to articulate themselves will make a difference. If, in addition, this was entertaining or enlightening to anyone who happened to read it, so much the better.

Eventually, I hope to create an index for this blog that I can show to prospective employers. For now, this archive is a good place to start.

I love Shakespeare. I want more people to love Shakespeare, and that means making better and better productions of his plays. This is how I’ve tried to do it — this time. Onwards.

The play’s the thing.


Poor Yorick

September 24, 2006

I loved this show.

The Animaniacs doing the Yorick scene. Dot does a pretty damn good job translating, too.

Big News

September 20, 2006

I’ve just been hired as the Education Director for the Marin Shakespeare Company. More about this soon.

Lucas on collaboration

September 17, 2006

Nice post from Lucas on collaboration and getting hired again to work with the same people, from a lighting designer’s point of view.

Everyone speaks their own language and thinks in their own way. Some people I work with can only talk in terms of images, and so we share images back and forth. Some talk in terms of music and we play songs for one another. Some talk through the language of the play and we discuss the meaning of words and syntax. Usually it is some combination of these three with differences in balance of the one and the other. One director I have worked with a few times talks very literally, in terms of what kind of light or scenery or costume he wants. It is a game of translation. I think very abstractly. But the way I think for myself is not conducive to collaboration. So I must translate. Often I translate into pictures or music.

Nice follow-up from Scott, too.

Video: Act II, Scene 2

September 12, 2006

This is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s first scene with Hamlet. In this production, this was their first entrance; the earlier scene with the King and Queen was cut.

My goal here was to set up a strong relationship between Hamlet and his old friends — see this post on my analysis of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and this post about directing this scene.

A bit about the technical aspects of the video below.

This is cut together from two different performances. I shot one with my shitty camera, sitting close to the center front part of the audience. I borrowed two cameras from actors in the show to shoot another performance with a total of three cameras — the nice camera (thanks, Crystal!) was house left, another was at the back of the main audience area, and my crappy camera was house right and gave me almost unusable footage (you can see a few shots that I had to rebalance the contrast in Final Cut to use at all). There was heavy wind the night we had three cameras, which plays havoc with the sound. And theatre on video always seems to magically sap the chemistry and vitality that makes live theatre work.

Still, I think I’m fairly happy with how this turned out, all things considered. This was one of my favorite scenes in performance: I love what the actors do with the language, and I’m happy with the rhythm and staging choices we made. Hopefully some of that comes across in the video.


September 10, 2006

Once again, Final Cut Pro is destroying my life. I finally got my camera and computer set up in my new apartment, and I’ve started editing the Hamlet footage. As usual, the video quality leaves a lot to be desired. But I’ve found that cutting between multiple cameras makes theatre on video much more watchable. And editing is incredibly addictive for some reason I can’t really understand.

I’m going to edit together the whole play, then go back and cut together a short montage for my web site. I’ll try to post a little something from it soon.

Acting the Paraphrase

September 5, 2006

A very smart director friend, who doesn’t direct Shakespeare himself, was telling me about a Shakespeare production he saw that wasn’t very good. His criticism of that production was incisive and points to something widespread.

The cast of that production was filled with actors who have had some success on screen — not movie stars, but people you might recognize from appearances on sit-coms or what have you. He said they were strong, confident actors who understood the circumstances and what was happening in the scene. The problem was that they weren’t actually using the words Shakespeare gave them to pursue their objectives — they were “acting the paraphrase,” if I remember my friend’s words correctly. It’s as if their preparation for the role included rewriting Shakespeare’s words into more familiar language; they did this accurately, but then they failed to make the leap back to the words Shakespeare actually chose. The result was intense, committed, connected performances with flat and disconnected language. It sounds like a paradox, but it’s something I’ve seen all too often.

The best acting of Shakespeare, for my money, happens when actors own the language. Another common way of describing it is that the words Shakespeare chose are the only possible way to express what the character is trying to express — the paraphrase never means exactly the same thing. The sounds of the words, the vowels and consonants, carry their own meaning that supports the intent.

Shakespeare gives actors so much to work with. It’s a shame when they don’t use it.

The Nunnery Scene, Part Two

September 1, 2006

We left off with Hamlet asking Ophelia whether she is honest — which, in this production, means whether she is returning his love letters on her own volition or because her father told her to. She has held out the letters, and he has grabbed her arm instead, pulling her in for a closer look. Ophelia breaks eye contact, unable to give him a direct answer.

My lord?

This answers Hamlet’s question — she is not honest. He now knows that she has been acting on orders from her father, though he still hasn’t figured out that he is watching even now. Hamlet lets her go and moves away, circling upstage. He starts a new beat, as if just asking an innocent question:

Are you fair?

In other words, “Since you can’t answer whether you’re being truthful, can you at least answer whether you are pretty?” This is a concious set-up for what he’s about to say, which will twist the meaning of the word “honest” into something he had not intended when he first said it a moment ago. Ophelia sees that he is making a left turn, but is nevertheless lost for a moment here.

What means your lordship?

That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.

Which means, “If you are both chaste and attractive, your chastity would trump your attractiveness and you wouldn’t let anyone fuck you.” This resonates on multiple levels. First and foremost, Hamlet is pushing Ophelia away. “If you’re a good person, you wouldn’t let yourself be with me.” But he’s also talking about his disappointment in Gertrude for failing to be both fair and honest. So in a way, he’s trying to make Ophelia understand that his loss of faith in love and loyalty (first occasioned by his mother’s marriage to his uncle, and now reinforced by Ophelia’s loyalty to Polonius instead of to Hamlet) will make it impossible for their relationship to work out. If they have already had sex, this line is especially hurtful.

Ophelia crosses towards him on her next line. She acts as though she misunderstands, deliberately choosing to miss Hamlet’s twist on honesty to mean chastity.

Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?

Again, she uses a more rhetorical language in an attempt to disarm him. Beauty and honesty are both virtues, so why shouldn’t they go together? I think she’s trying to get him to drop the doubletalk and speak plainly with her. Hamlet takes her question at face value, though, while continuing to use honesty as a synonym for chastity.

Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.

Beauty is more powerful than chastity — a beautiful woman will become a whore before a virtuous woman will lose her beauty. This is a rough thing to say to the beautiful and virtuous Ophelia, the more so (again) if they have already had sex. But it’s also a confession, and maybe even an apology. He’s saying that this is how he now sees the world, and it’s making it impossible for him to be with her. He takes this confession/apology/explanation further as he continues:

This was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.

It’s hard to imagine that this is not on some level a reference to Gertrude, though I believe it also applies to Ophelia’s betrayal here.

I did love you once.

We’re playing this as an admission, as Hamlet letting himself slide back into the love he once felt and continues to feel for Ophelia. In trying to say goodbye, he gets caught up in the attraction. She has crossed to him, and they are holding each other here. Ophelia is caught in it, too.

Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

This line is active — she’s trying to get Hamlet to continue with this, to tell her more about what he’s feeling and why he’s doing this. But then Hamlet breaks away. He can’t let himself give in to love. Ultimately, in this scene he is trying to end the relationship — primarily because he believes neither he nor anyone else deserves to be in love in a world in which the kind of change that he’s facing (his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage) is possible. I believe that he does love her, and that makes pushing her away all the more difficult.

You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.

The general sense of the line is fairly clear (“I didn’t love you after all”) but the specifics are complex. The Arden is helpful, as usual, pointing out the horticultural sense of “inoculate” — Hamlet is creating an image of grafting a branch (“virtue”) onto a tree (“our old stock,” which refers to the original sinful nature of mankind). The actor playing Hamlet and I went back and forth on the meaning of “relish” — if it means “give full expression to,” then the “it” on the end of the line must refer to “our old stock” — no matter how much virtue you try to graft onto our sinful nature, we’re still going to act like sinners. If “relish” means “devour lustily until nothing remains,” then “it” can refer to “virtue” — no matter how much you try to graft virtue onto our sinful nature, our nature will overcome that virtue with ease. This manifested itself in the amount of stress placed on that final “it.”

This line cuts even deeper if Hamlet and Ophelia have indeed already had sex. “You shouldn’t have believed I love you; there’s no way that virtue could possibly overcome sin. I didn’t love you — if I did love you, I wouldn’t have had sex with you.” Again, he’s saying this partially to hurt her and entirely as a way to push her away. He breaks away from her.

I was the more deceived.

I love this line. “Well, you sure had me fooled.” Ophelia reverts to formality again, letting Hamlet know she knows he’s lying when he says he never loved her. She’s trying to get him to drop the bullshit, letting him know she can see through it. It’s another example of Ophelia’s underrated strength.

Hamlet can’t let himself acknowledge her, however.

Get thee to a nunnery.

The Arden does a great job of proving the case against the bawdy interpretation of “nunnery” that I’ve occasionally heard defended — Hamlet is literally telling Ophelia to go join a convent and never get married. In a way, this idea is a great example of Shakespeare’s genius. It serves so many purposes. Hamlet is getting Ophelia out of the way of the brewing violence at Elsinore; he loves her and he knows if she stays around she could easily get caught up in the revenge plot in one way or another. At a nunnery, she’d be safe from all of that (this interpretation was very important to the actor playing Hamlet when we first began talking about the play, but seemed to lose its urgency as we fleshed out the scene). Also, nuns don’t get married. Hamlet loves her dearly but feels unable to continue his relationship with her — but he doesn’t want anyone else to marry her instead. And joining a nunnery preserves her virginity (if she still has it) and innocence — in a way, it keeps her young and changeless. If the main action of the play is To Deny Change, this is another example of it.

More soon in Part Three.