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HAMLET, 1603   

By William Shakespeare

DIrected by Robert Leff

Vision Statement

The ghost of the King of Denmark tells his son Hamlet to avenge his murder by killing the new king, Hamlet's uncle. Hamlet feigns madness, contemplates life and death, and seeks revenge. His uncle, fearing for his life, also devises plots to kill Hamlet. The play ends with a duel, during which the King, Queen, Hamlet's opponent and Hamlet himself are all killed. OR, “A ghost and a prince meet, and everyone ends in mincemeat.”

In 1980, I, age 31, was interviewed for the Directing Intern position at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. One question was, “If you could direct any Shakespeare play, which one and why?” My answer, Hamlet.  It’s a young man’s play and if I don’t direct it soon, I won’t be a young man.”  Today, I, age 75, am long past my young man days. Still, Hamlet is about a group of young people.

Hamlet takes place in a  surveillance state where the major action is watching. Some examples: Sentinels watch for enemies of the state; some of them watch for a ghost; Hamlet watches his mother and her second husband, the King; the King watches/spies on his step-son and a young girl; the court watches a play; Hamlet and Horatio watch for the King’s reaction to the play; Hamlet watches the King at prayer; and the Court watches sword-play that turns deadly. At the end, all the Danish characters (except Horatio) are dead.

In this production, I am interested in the young people, in their twenties, who are plunged into a world of revenge and paranoia created/fed by adults who want them to “do the deed.” By doing so, all of them are destroyed, as is true of the adults in the story.

To me, a director’s primary goal is to tell the play’s story theatrically in order to engage the audience from beginning to end. To me, a director does this with the talent and help of the actors, designers and crew.

I plan to cast between 15-18 actors with some playing more than one character. Auditions and casting will be open to all. Actors will play their identity. I see the young characters in their early 20s to their late 20s.

During the first two weeks of the rehearsal process, I plan to explore relationships. For example,  before the play, what was Hamlet’s relationship with his father, his mother and his uncle?  What was the relationship between Laertes and his sister?  What was Hamlet’s relationship to them?  What was/is the relationship between Hamlet and his three school friends? The past informs the present.

Ophelia - I’ve seen productions where she is a fragile character manipulated by her father and the King and once her father is murdered, she goes mad.  In my view, Ophelia is the youngest character.  She is at the age when a young girl wants to assert herself in the world. In the farewell scene with her brother, after he gives her advice on how to behave, in so many words, she tells him he has no room to talk.

Design - I see a simple set with a small platform.  I would like some panels that look like they have frosted glass.  Throughout the production, the audience will see people standing behind the panel spying on others. 

Costume - I see the look as contemporary with the guards in military uniforms (no specific country). The costumes could be pulled from stock or borrowed.  

Props - Except for two skulls, nothing that can’t be pulled from stock. I will stick to the budget I am given.

Quarto 1 - I plan to use Quarto 1 published in 1603. It is shorter than Quarto 2 and the version in the First Folio. The story is the same in all three versions. Of the three, Q1 is not as polished and reminds me of an acting version rather than a version to read.  It is less philosophical than the other versions, so the story rushes forward.  Our audience  will see and hear Hamlet afresh.  There have been successful productions of Q1. 

Why do Hamlet now? -  Among young people  today, there is an uneasiness about the world and their place in society. This is also true about the young people in Hamlet. Like in the play, young people today are forced to deal with situations created by adults. Also, Hamlet is an exciting story.

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