Back in May I had the good fortune to perform in Hamlet. While all others played one role, a fellow actor and I had the honor of playing “everybody else.” I was Barnardo, The Player Queen, First Gravedigger, and Osric.
There was a lot that was unusual about this performance. Unusual, that is, if you’re theatre-going experiences have been limited to mostly high-budget, indoor, full length, late evening performances. This play began at 6pm in an outdoor amphitheatre, no set, minimal props, costumes out of the actors’ closets, was a one-night-only event, and ran no more than one hour and forty minutes, sans intermission.
That’s right. We did Hamlet in less than 100 minutes. How? We cut. A lot. Now let’s not turn this into a discussion of the blasphemies of cutting so much text out of a play or how it’s not the play as Shakespeare intended. That’s not what I want you to take away from my telling of my experience.
The play was, among other things, lots of fun. Both for the actors (all eleven of us) and for the audience — of which there were a few hundred. As you may have surmised, we took a very bare-essentials approach to the play. It moved very quickly. The story not only moved quickly because of the cuts, but we aimed for a fairly fast pace as well. Our goal was to tell a good story before the sun set. I think we did that much.
It really brought to my attention that there isn’t a whole lot that is necessary for good theatre. Theatrical philosophy texts often repeat the fact that theatre consists of at least a space, a performer and a spectator. We had no fancy proscenium to hide behind. We were outdoors. No electrical lights, we used the sun. No sound system, but we had a guitarist and the chiming of a nearby clock tower. No microphones. The costumes consisted of articles of clothing in our closets. Nothing fancy, just something to suggest the character.
And it worked! If the story is good (and it is) why confound the play with bells and whistles? I talked with some audience members after the show, many of whom were actors too, and were very impressed with what they had just seen. I don’t think most of the people there really expected a bare-bones production of a heavily reduced script in an outdoor daylit location to be as good as it was. I don’t think I expected it either, to be quite frank. Having all talented actors was a a great bonus and we all worked hard, but we didn’t know what the outcome would be.
I had done a fairly bare-bones production outdoors before, but we had digital sound system for playing music, as well as an intermission. We didn’t have a whole lot, but it felt much less of a bare-essentials type of set up.
After this Hamlet, both actors and audience learned a great deal about what theatre is and what it needs and more about what it doesn’t need. We take for granted sometimes the things we have available to us and what is really most important when producing art.
Even so, I would still prefer to have a dressing room.