I had an image going into it of something epic, something grand, something that would be larger than life. It was none of those things and to be honest I was never disappointed.
Hamlet feels like a milestone in a directors career. Maybe it is just me and maybe I am putting too much emphasis on it but directing Hamlet was supposed to be a big deal. I began to think about it around 2001, after directing Macbeth. The idea of a spectacle that would be breathtaking and unforgettable was haunting me and something I knew I could not enter into lightly. Hamlet is iconic and so well regarded I knew that I would end up with an audience that had massive preconceived notions, both good and bad. Everyone has done it and they have done it in every way possible. I knew I wanted to be different and unique and massive and mind altering and revelatory and it turns out I was only partially right. I have my cast to thank for making Hamlet simple never boring but in so many ways normal.
I think it is safe to say we all as a cast, staff, and theater company came in expecting, wanting to be transformed by and in turn to transform this script into the magical realm of "art." In the process people kept asking about the the concept and the spin and I always tried to have an answer. Sometimes I really believed that answer and thought that the magic will happen... The "art" will come... We will be epic... The cast was game and had the combination of talent and raw passion to believe these words into existents.
"Hamlet himself is played by a tiny woman, how much more edgy could we get?" Our symbolism and concepts were lined up and what happened was utterly normal. Sure, there were multiple dead bodies, a ghost, and a lot of really pretty words but the cast made all of that as easy as breathing. And it was enlightening and glorious.
I need to stop here and properly thank my cast. After the initial moments of "HAMLET!" in all of them, they pulled up their boots and set to work to tell a story. They had so many moments in rehearsal that challenged what we thought we knew about this show.
"Claudius is a pretty good guy." "Maybe Hamlet's dad deserved to die." "Get Thee to a Nunnery is actually intensely romantic." "The Polonius family are just a family trying to keep their head above water." "Everyone is really just trying to help Hamlet." "What Hamlet is saying is "Not to be" is the correct answer, he just never gets the chance."
As we struggled with questions and prejudices during our all too brief rehearsal period, I began to see a cast realize that a colossal battle between good and evil is not what makes this story so powerful. It is the refusal to be black and white, the determination to live in the muddy grey areas that make this story so universal. It is staring us all in the face, all we had to do was listen to the indecision of "To Be or Not To Be" or the search for meaning in this "Quintessence of Dust." Most of all Shakespeare himself was telling us what to do, "Hold a mirror up to nature." Sometimes an honest struggle to get by in the world is epic enough.
Each night during the run I had the pleasure to hear this cast breathe life into words I have heard and read and studied countless times. And what I noticed most about them is that they were simply the thoughts of people with life and death to contemplate and conversations between friends and families on how to survive in the world as a community, facing the same issues that plague us all. How to be a good leader. How to raise a child. How to mourn a lost family member. How to stay loyal to your friends. How to live up to your parents expectations. How to live up to you child's expectations. It was never about how a small girl playing a young boy going slightly crazy in a 1930's mental institution and sees a ghost deals with these problems. It was simply how do we deal with them, right now in the community we know and love.
The best piece I advice I can give someone entering into the Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark is that maybe it is best if we just breathe. Suit the word to the action and the action to the word. Stop trying to be so clever.
Ok we can afford to be a little clever.
"Great because I have been thinking, what if Othello was a robot?!"