Entries tagged with “Hamlet”.

Playing Rosencrantz

I’m Brooke Heintz, better known as (deep breath now) Rosencrantz, Francisco, Reynaldo, the Ambassador, Captain, and a pallbearer.  That’s right, it’s a regular revolving door of characters for me during any one of our runs.  Along with this, I’m our production’s Prop Mistress.   This means it was my duty to work with our director compiling a list of necessary props, determining what look we were going for, and then actually going out and finding them all.   Sharing production duties is one of the most unique things about working with Pigeon Creek, in my opinion, because we eliminate the line between actors and crew, and it allows the show to feel fully ours.  We take ownership of every aspect, or trust the people from our own ensemble to do so.

Speaking of unique opportunities for teamwork, I wanted to focus on the experience of playing half of the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern team.   I haven’t played a lot of male characters, and we also wanted to develop synchronization between R&G’s movements, so I was focused quite a bit on physicality when preparing my roles.  Sarah, who plays Guildenstern, worked very closely with me on developing where we wanted the characters’ center of gravity, how we wanted them to walk, to sit, to stand, to react physically in fear or indignation.   Near the beginning of rehearsals, we would use a mirroring exercise, where we simply stood face to face, and followed each other’s movements, trying to keep it as organic as possible, and get our bodies physically in tune.  We did a lot of work in front of mirrors as well, trying to get our stances to match while keeping it natural.

Once we were confident in the things that matched between the two, and felt that they translated visually as a set, we focused on what differentiated the characters.  Guildenstern is more of the alpha dog of the two, and we decided that they vary strongly in that Guildenstern tries to keep his reactions in the “head” most of the time, whereas Rosencrantz (not very “heady” whatsoever) reacts to most things directly from the heart.  It allowed for us to create tiny physical mannerisms that were opposing, but still complemented those that were synchronized: Rosencrantz was more likely to react to things openly, shoulders back, heart bared, whereas Guildenstern tends to shrink inwards.  When these reactions were combined, it still creates a visual illusion of them being two parts of a whole.

Playing someone’s “other half” so to speak has been a brand new experience for me, and required more specific physical work with another person than I’ve gotten to do before.   Hopefully it pays off in comedy for our audiences.   You still have a chance to come and see for yourselves, at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, May 13-16th!

“To thine own self be true…” is one of my favorite lines in Shakespeare.  On the surface it is so simple, however when you dig deeper at the meaning of this simple phrase the complexities and levels begin to form. This is why I love to perform and study Shakespeare. His words may be constructed in way that is foreign to the modern ear, yet the meaning and emotion transcends time.

Hi, my name is Heather Folkvord and I am playing Gertrude in PCSC’s production of Hamlet! I have had such a great time during the rehearsal period and now performances of Hamlet.

My feelings of the character I play often change from rehearsal to performance. I think of my character as a “jacket” or “coat” that I put on and take off. In the beginning it is just a pencil sketch…very simple…a general shape (text analysis). Second I add color to the sketch and then choose fabric for my “coat”. This step often takes a little longer because type of fabric, color, weight, feel makes a huge difference to character (emotion, mood, first impressions). Third I “stitch” my character coat together weaving thoughts, emotion, voice intonation etc. During this time, my “coat” doesn’t always fit. It may be tight in some places or I don’t like where I place a pocket or seam and have to make adjustments. I borrow something from another coat I’ve worn. Next I add embellishments to my coat…a brooch or trim, maybe some special stitching (back story, core beliefs, main motivations). I try it on and it feels pretty good, fits fairly comfortably. Then I perform in this coat I have created in the last 5-6 weeks, and under the lights with the other characters and the eye of audience scrutiny it fairs well. But during a scene all of a sudden my coat sleeve feels tight or I can’t breathe with the buttons buttoned, so back to my sewing room for more adjustments and additions (or subtractions). This process continues through the entire performance period. So the coat I started with on opening night is not quite the same on closing night. I am always filled with a bittersweet feeling when I remove my character coat on closing night. But as I hang it in the closet with all of my other coats I know that someday I just might need that pretty Gertrude brooch to complete my next coat.

I hope you all will come and see Hamlet. It really is a wonderful play and for a tragedy it really is funny. It has transcended the ages and I find it hard not to think of all the generations of actors and audiences that have explored the world of Hamlet and all who have yet to start their journey. See you in Denmark!

My Most Painted Word

Greetings to all you Pigeon Creek fans and Shakespeare aficionados out there!

I’m Scott Wright and it’s my turn this week.

“Hamlet” has been one of my favorites almost since the first time I read and saw it back in high school, and when I learned that PCSC was going to be presenting it this spring I couldn’t help feeling a little excited.

It wasn’t long before I began thinking, “I could play Claudius…”

Then they actually gave me the role.

Pleased at first of course (-and pleased still, for all that…), as I began reading and researching the script, that small voice that reminds me every so often that I’m not all that, started getting a little louder.

Here I was looking at a role in the play that some might call Shakespeare’s masterwork – one of the greatest works in the English language – a character that has been dissected and analyzed by literary types all over the world for centuries, and played by such actors as Basil Sydney, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart, and Derek Jacobi – to name just a few.

Feeling just a little intimidated now…

But once we got into rehearsals the general wackiness and sense of fun that infuses this group quickly winnowed away any doubts.

Everyone in the group attacked the text with a gusto and seriousness that is truly a thing to behold.

Now, I’ve been a self-described Shakespeare geek for quite a long time, but after being involved with Pigeon Creek for a few shows (“Hamlet is my fifth…) my Shakespeare-geekness-quotient has increased conspicuously.

Under the influence of the brilliant Katherine Mayberry I’ve gone from being simply an enthusiast to the point where I now find myself unconsciously working out scansion, curiously intrigued by the variations of rhythm within the rigid structure of iambic pentameter and intensely fascinated with the minutiae of punctuation…

I found and downloaded a facsimile copy of the 2nd Quarto edition (the “good” quarto) so that I could directly compare its spellings and punctuation with the modern editions, and bought the 2nd volume of the two-volume Furness edition that I’d been missing ever since I found Volume 1 in a used book store back in college, so that I could see the 1st (“bad”) quarto and look for more character clues…

It’s a frightening and wonderful thing she’s done to us…

But in rehearsals we began to look at it from an actor’s perspective – seeing the characters as real people, looking to bring life to their actions and words, discovering the relationships between them and the feelings they express (-or don’t express…) for each other, creating something more than two-dimensional literary characters.

It would be easy (and a bit lazy) to make Claudius a cardboard cut-out villain, but Shakespeare created very few of those kind of characters and Claudius is not one of them.

No one in the play ever says that Claudius is a tyrant or a bad king.  No one (except Hamlet…) seems to think that he’s done anything particularly wrong by seizing the throne and marrying his brother’s wife…  (Though it would probably have been bad form to have said so…)

In fact, whatever reasons he may have had for murdering his brother – whether for power, or for a woman, or both – he’s doing his best to appear a genuinely nice guy – at least in the beginning.

Claudius’ fratricidal act seems to have set in motion a series of events that will inevitably bring his carefully constructed world crashing down around him.  Whenever something unexpected happens he lashes out in a desperate attempt to re-establish order – which he never quite manages to do, as each attempt seems to spin things further and further out of control.  At last, he turns again to secret, cold-blooded murder as the only way to get back on top of things, but the result is that nearly everyone around him – including his queen, the promising young Laertes, and he himself suffer the same fate as his intended target.

So the challenge then will be to bring to life a man with a heart -  a heart that loves, that feels loss, and sadness, and regret, but whose envy, ambition, lust, and fear lead him to commit the primal eldest act of jealousy…

Hello!  My name is Kyle Walker and I am playing Laertes and the Third Player in Hamlet.  This is my first production with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and it has been a fun, interesting and new experience.  It has challenged me in new ways and stretched my talents to their full potential.

Playing Laertes has been an extremely fun role for me.  It is a role full of joy, sadness, anger, regret, and passion.  Exploring these kinds of emotions is always fun on stage.  However, one of the greatest parts of Laertes, for me, is the stage sword fighting I get to do.  I recently graduated from Grand Valley State University in December of 2009 and in my time there, I performed in many shows that ranged from Shakespeare to musicals.  But in all of my time there I never once had the chance to experience stage combat.  It was an aspect of my college education that I regretted.  But as Laertes, sword fighting is an integral part of his character.  Laertes is a short-tempered, head-strong, and impressionable person.  What better person to wield a sword?  I was excited to finally try my hand at stage combat.

My work with the fight choreographer, Steven Schwall, has been a quite the learning experience.  Going into the fight rehearsals I already had an objective in mind:  I wanted to gain a basic knowledge of stage sword combat.  One of the first basics that we learned in our rehearsals was how to stand.  In sword play it is important to have a strong, steady stance: knees bent, legs apart and at a 45 degree angle.  This gives the player a strong hold on the ground so that he/she is in complete control of their body.  This concept is what has guided my stage combat experience.  Control is everything when you sword fight on stage.  It keeps the players in synch, keeps the actors safe, and makes the swordfight convincing.  This established a very useful fundamental for stage combat and even for acting.  Control of the body leads to control of the scene that you are playing.

The next aspect of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company that I want to discuss in my blog is the music.  I have been playing the trombone since 5th grade and have always loved playing it.  But in recent years, since I began to focus more on acting, I began to lose touch with my trombone.  I was extremely excited to learn that I would be playing my trombone in Hamlet.  I have always kind of hoped that one day I would be able to bring my skills with the trombone to the theatre.  Sadly, I had never heard of a play where the actor is supposed to play a trombone.  So when they asked me to play my trombone in Hamlet I was very excited to finally have the chance to connect my two favorite arts: theatre and music.

At first I felt a little rusty and had to get used to blowing on the old horn again.  But just like riding a bicycle, it all seemed to come back to me as if it had never left.  Being able to play my trombone in this show has been fun but it has also made me realize something about the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company.  As an original practice Shakespeare Company, they play a lot.  They play with words, sounds, movement, emotions, meanings, costumes, props, and audiences.  But they also play to each other’s strengths.  When you are cast in a role, you don’t only learn your lines and play a character, you reach inside yourself for something more.  Something you can give to the cast, to the audience, or even to yourself.  And for me, the only thing I ask in return is a stage to make a character come to life.

Well, that about does it for me.  I hope you’ve learned something about the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and maybe even something about me.  If you want to know anything else about me… (WARNING: shameless self-promotion coming up)… you will just have to come see me in Hamlet performing at Dog Story Theater: April 15-25, Beardsley Theater: April 28, and Christ Community Church: May 13-16.   Thank you for reading!

-Kyle Walker

Hello!  Sarah Stark here, with a few reflections on my individual acting process in Hamlet.  The initial approach I took in the definition of my characters was a literary analysis.  I wanted to discover a basic conception of Bernardo, Guildenstern, and Osrics’ unique connections to Hamlet. I first kept my focus on the larger context of the play, rather than each subjective reality.  I recorded details such as the given circumstances, atmospheres, and relationships.  I next observed how these illuminate various aspects of the humanity and conflict of the character Hamlet.  What is so captivating, to me, about Hamlet is his embodiment of the quintessential everyman figure.  He is a man who encounters great tragedy which dismantles his worldview and reduces him to a state of nothingness.  Within this state is the potential for drastic transcendence; however it requires direct intentionality and hope as an anchor through the despair of suffering.  The tragedy of Hamlet is that he shrinks from and fails his greater purpose by choosing alienation over vulnerability, revenge over forgiveness; essentially hate over love.  We despise Hamlet in as much as we have shame over ourselves, our own instances of acquiescence to fear.  In the famed line “to be or not to be” he presents the essential paradox within the soul of man – the generative and the perverse.  The positive urge is spiritual, creative, life giving while the perverse is negative, earthly, and destructive.  These conflicting forces seem to be what consumes Hamlet, and I feel they mirror a fundamental conflict of which humanity universally identifies.

With this larger theory of Hamlet’s character in mind, I developed each of my characters by similarly determining the paradoxes which animate them.  I pinned down a super objective for each and applied the principal that every force has its equal and opposite reaction to develop a paradox.  This allowed me to incorporate tension which is elemental to conflict and required of drama.  They turned out to be the following:
Bernardo – Doubt & Belief
Guildenstern – Hope & Despair
Osric – Arrogance & Love (pure)

All of these, I felt, aligned with what Hamlet was dealing with in each different stage of the play.  They also signify each character’s private struggle.  Bernardo encounters the Ghost and fights to convince Horatio of the incident, and obtain comprehension himself.  Guildenstern is divided between a selfish motive to please Claudius and the honest intention to save Hamlet.  Osric is highly disillusioned and also the character most removed from the main plot, but in his lavish praising of Laertes I perceived that he atoning for a passionate and unselfish, but wounded love for Hamlet.  He parallels Hamlet’s relationship towards Ophelia and that is exactly what seems to emotionally prompt Hamlet into the rapier duel, as Osric literally does his role of the messenger in 5.2.

At this point in the rehearsal period – freshly off book and two weeks away from our opening show – I am most concerned with physicality.  The transition from individual scene rehearsals to full runs tuned me into the amount of time my characters use nonverbal expression (particularly Guildenstern).    I need to specify and sharpen the physical actions of each character to reveal tacitly their intentions and relationships.  So I am currently experimenting with a couple technical exercises I’ve acquired: Laban Effort Actions and Michael Chekhov’s techniques of sensation of feelings and body centers.  Come see how it all turns out — Hamlet opens at the Dogstory Theatre soon!

This week we hear from Bill Iddings:

Odds are that I stand at least a Ghost of a chance of getting out of “Hamlet” with my dignity intact.

In the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production of playwright William Shakespeare’s tragedy, the spirit of the title character’s murdered father is one of three — make that four — characters assigned to yours truly.  The Ghost of “Hamlet” present is one of three — well, four — roles I’m playing in the spring 2010 show that opens on the deadline for filing income taxes, April 15, and runs through mid-May.   I’m also stale hamming it up as the First Player, an egomanical actor — but I repeat myself — who later in “Hamlet” performs as the Player King in “The Mousetrap,” the play within the play wherein Hamlet (Scott Lange) intends to catch the conscience of his fratricidal uncle, King Claudius (Scott Wright).  I lastly pop up as the Priest who gives Laertes (Kyle Walker), the lone survivor of his dwindling clan, some grave concerns over the burial of the young man’s suicidal sister, Ophelia (Amy McFadden). “Hamlet” is a tragedy, all right; Characters drop like flies gagging their last in a cloud of insecticide.

With rehearsals underway in Spring Lake at the West Michigan Academy of Arts & Academics, King Hamlet (guess who?) is dead before the first line is spoken.   I mean, I’ve died on stage before — hey, I heard that — but usually I’ve first had a chance to make an entrance.  This must be what happens when your reputation precedes you.  Then the meddling Polonious (Laertes’ and Ophelia’s father, played by Joel L. Schindlbeck) shuffles off this mortal coil, stabbed in the back by Hamlet who’s disappointed to discover the old fool behind the arras and on the business end of his dagger isn’t Claudius, drat the luck.  Ophelia follows, venturing into the “undiscovered country” by diving right into a swim she would have been better off taking while strapped in a life preserver.  The Bard of Avon’s domino effect continues.  Falling one after the other under William Shakespeare’s quilt pen are Queen Gertrude (Heather Folkvord), courtesy of potent poison in an ill-advised cocktail; and a hat trick of principals unfortunate enough to be nicked by a fencing sword, the tip of which has been dipped in said poison: Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet, you’re outta here.

For good measure, Claudius, who before “Hamlet” begins has poured a concoction akin to battery acid in the ears of his napping brother (guess who?), literally gets a taste of his own medicine.  And let’s not forget about Hamlet’s goofball buddies, Rosencrantz (Brooke Heintz) and Guildenstern (Sarah Stark) who never should have accompanied the melancholy Dane back to England in the first place.  Horatio (Kat Hermes) and Fortinbras (Jeff Otto) are the last men standing, even if only one of those actors is actually a male; time for the willing suspension of disbelief.

But be it at the Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Beardsley Theater in Muskegon or the parlor at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, the final body count will litter the stage with corpses, the clutter orchestrated by director Katherine Mayberry and fight choreographer Steven Schwall.

This time I’ll have eyes to take in all the carnage.  “Hamlet” is my second production for Pigeon Creek, a professional troupe dedicated to breathing life into plays that were written four centuries ago.   My first, last spring, was “King Lear.” In that adventure, my white-bearded Earl of Gloucester had a bloody bad time of things, getting my eyes plucked out by Regan (Kate Bode) and her husband (Randy S. Brown), both of whom got what was coming to them.

Take the word of Juan Whonose: Even if it’s only make believe, having your eyeballs ripped out of their sockets smarts, hence my howling to make blood curdle.  Plus, afterward you suffer from CSSS: Can’t See S— Syndrome.  Good thing we always had a box of wipes just off stage, usually around the spot where I exited by clanging into a folding chair or bumping into a wall.

Theater is not for wimps.  It can, however,be for windbags, egos whose operational philosophy runs along the lines of, “That’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”

Not that I’m one to talk about myself.

Hey, I heard that.

Playing Fortinbras, Marcellus, and the 2nd Player

Hello!  This week’s blog comes to you from Jeff Otto.  I’m going to talk about my experience so far acting as many people.  In Hamlet, I play Fortinbras, Marcellus, the 2nd Player (or Player Queen), a pirate, and a pallbearer.  That means that I have to portray five different characters within Hamlet which is a very fun and exciting challenge.  This is my first experience working with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, and I have had a great first experience so far!  I love the camaraderie among the cast.  I never get the feeling that anyone is putting in less work than anyone else.  By that I mean that it’s a collaboration, we are working together as a cast to create this amazing performance and it’s very exciting watching it begin to get to its feet.

In portraying my five different characters, Katherine discussed with me differentiation.  I decided that in order to differentiate my characters, I would think about the different social classes that they would be in.  While thinking on that, it really helps with physical movement.  I have thought as Fortinbras being of the highest class.  He is the ruler of Norway, and therefore has a lot of power there.  That makes him more commanding, militaristic, and proper.  This commands walking more upright and with a purpose.  Marcellus is a guard.  Slightly militaristic in the way he needs to hold the watch, but of a lower class.  Marcellus knows that he can be a little more laid back in his talking when he’s with Bernardo and Heratio – but in a later scene when he’s talking to Hamlet, he’s very humble, doesn’t speak much, and always makes sure he addresses Hamlet as “my Lord.”  This makes Marcellus more upright, on his guard yet a bit uneasy at times, and attentive.  The 2nd Player is of the acting class.  A lower class.  What I especially need to keep in mind is that the 2nd Player, since he plays the Queen in the Mousetrap (the play-within-the play), would be very young.  Younger men played women in Shakespeare’s day, so I need to portray that when portraying the 2nd Player.  The pirate I thought of as a slightly older man who has spent many days off at sea.  I haven’t fully decided, but he may have a slight limp from someone injury he received while off on some pirating adventure.  The pallbearer is probably of a slightly higher class.  He’s attending the funeral of Ophelia, so he would have to be in some sort of standing with the Polonius household.  He’s solemn and upset due to the recent death of Ophelia, and I have made the decision that he believes Ophelia’s death to be an accident, not a suicide.

Another fun thing I’d like to discuss was my recent participation in The West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics’ Festival of the Arts.  For the festival, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company performed a few different scenes from various Shakespeare shows.  Two scenes from Hamlet were chosen, and of those two – Act I, scene i was one of them.  It was fun actually getting to perform one of the scenes from the show already, especially at such an early stage in the rehearsal process.  It was very exciting.  Afterwards we answered a bunch of questions for the students and it was great to see that students that young already have an interest in the works of Shakespeare.  I know that I didn’t even read my first Shakespeare play until I was in High School, and I didn’t understand it.  But these kids knew Hamlet.  They knew the characters and were answering questions Katherine asked them about the plot.  That to me is really cool.  It’s great to see an interest in theatre at such a young age.

Anyways, that’s all for me!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s blog.  Otto out!

Greetings everyone!
This section of the Pigeon Creek actor blog is brought to you by Scott Lange.  I’m here today to talk to you about the role of Hamlet.
Scratch that. I’m here to talk to you today about my opinions and thoughts about Hamlet.  All in all, I do not actually think there can be one definitive perspective on the Danish prince.

Let’s start by actually looking at the size of Hamlet.  The role is immense.  He is onstage for eleven of the play’s seventeen scenes, and speaks over a third of the play’s lines.  Please don’t think I’m complaining here, I welcome the challenge.  But so have many other actors.  Looking through a list of people that have played the role in the past, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the heavy hitters.  Here is a sample:
David Tennant, Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Christopher Plummer, Kevine Kline, Jonathan Pryce, Ian McKellen, Richard Burton, Lawrence Olivier, John Barrymore, John Gielgud, and Derek Jacobi.  That’s not even counting the number of productions on television, in movies, or on stage that haven’t been seen by as wide of an audience.  Also remember all the productions that no one alive has seen, starring Richard Burbage (the original Hamlet) for example.  It’s an intimidating list.

When I was first cast in the role, I immediately forged an obsession about who Hamlet was, based on what previous productions had done with it.  There are so many questions about the character, and the play in general.  I felt I needed a helping hand, some sort of boost to get me started.  In my mind, the role was almost too large to battle without some weapons.

Is Hamlet’s madness real or feigned?  Does he really love Ophelia, or is she merely a pawn in the master plan?  Why was Claudius named the king when Hamlet should have been next in line for the throne?  What is the cause of Hamlet’s melancholy?  Is it really because of the death of his father and mother’s overhasty marriage?  Is the Ghost of his father sent from heaven or hell?  All these questions need answers.  For a short while, I was on a quest to discover the answers from those that have already traveled the journey. Well, that plan failed.

I don’t mean that those questions are unanswerable, or that I’m totally lost in my character development.  What I’m suggesting is that I cannot find the answers from someone else.  I watched a lot of video, and read quite a bit of analysis.  I found, in most cases, I either could not figure out what the actors’ motivations were, or I didn’t like what they had decided.  Ultimately I have to figure this out myself.

One specific part of my “who is Hamlet” obsession centers around whether Hamlet can be likable.  I think the play Hamlet is an amazing work of literature, the characters (especially the title character) are extremely complex and detail.  I love the play, and the character, but if he was fully alive, embodied and living next door to me, I wouldn’t want to spend much time with him.  He’s moody, spiteful, indecisive, whining, at times violent, cruel, “proud, revengeful, and ambitious.”  I was concerned about making a Hamlet who is all of those things, but also likeable and relatable.  But I couldn’t find much of a reason for audiences to admire him.  I brought this point up to my director and fellow actors in a rehearsal last week.  We discussed that the reason that audiences relate to Hamlet is that he is a flawed man, dealing with extraordinary circumstances, faring as best he can in the only way he knows how.  Hamlet as anti-hero.

This conversation brought two things to light for me.  First of all, I’m not really alone in my quest.  I have a director and ten other actors to help me.  I may be portraying the title character, but it doesn’t matter whether I’m amazing or not, I need to have a cast with me on stage, and a director behind me that I trust completely.  I am extraordinarily blessed to say that this is absolutely the case here.  Really this is what Pigeon Creek is all about, creating an ensemble and exploring a play, discovering what we can get out of it to share with the audience.  There is no one actor that is more important than the group.  Everything I do must relate to the other characters on stage.  This gives me visions of myself lurching around the stage, screaming my head off, while my fellow cast members stare at me in horror.  There is no room for me to be a primadonna or allow my ego to get ahead of me.  One for all and all for one.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Also, our talk made me finally realize why it is that we are so infatuated with this character.  He is us.  Shakespeare shows us this all along.  We like Hamlet because we can see ourselves in him.  He may not be very nice, but he opens his heart and soul to us.  He acts rashly, but how many times during the day would we love to tell people exactly what we think of them.  He is frustrated with his situation, angry at the world, and cannot stop his brain from chewing on itself.  I know I’ve had some sleepless nights where I’ve felt the exact same thing.  It’s true that the audience may not like the character, disapprove of what he does and says, but cannot help but relate to him and sympathize with his struggle.

This also explains why my search through the past for the perfect Hamlet failed.  It is impossible for me to be Kevin Kline, Lawrence Olivier, or even David Tennant.  The Hamlet that I play has to be MY Hamlet.  I need to glean from my own personal experiences to create who Hamlet really is.  Shakespeare gives us clues to this.  Hamlet tells the players:  “hold the mirror up to nature;” and shows Gertrude a glass so that “she may see the inmost part of you.”   That has to be me on stage, a mirror to my own nature, show the audience the inmost part of myself.  And most importantly:  “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night, the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  As long as I trust myself, my instincts, my company, and my audience, flights of angels will sing us to our rest.  And now, for silence.

Hello! This is Amy McFadden and I am playing Ophelia.  My personal mantra-on stage and off- is “All for one, and one for all!” Being a part of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company fits it perfectly.  The entire company is supportive, everyone has some skill or talent to offer, and we all accept multiple responsibilities. I have happily accepted my roles as actor, event manager and costume crew member. I will not elaborate here on organizing an event or doing my castmates’ laundry, but I will share some of my acting process.

The first step is the text work.  It’s like finding all of the pieces of a puzzle before you start putting it together, and it’s a blast.  This process began the second I got cast, accelerated after the read-thru and initial cast discussions about character, and continues now (our third week). Armed with the clues, truths and tools gleaned from this work, we entered the next phase of the work: ACT-ing.  Moving. Talking.  Hurling myself into interaction with my scenemates.  I held the intellectual detail work in my head, and began the struggle to pull myself out of my brain and into my BODY.

This is the work of communication, PLAY-ing for the audience.  It can feel like a betrayal-when the words resonate as something so lovely and true in my head, but my body isn’t sufficiently marinated in Ophelia yet to properly bring her scenes to the stage. Fortunately, our director, Katherine Mayberry, started our first working rehearsal with a perfect exercise to snap me out of my head.  She sent Scott Lange (Hamlet) and me to improvise a non-verbal exploration of what happened when he came to Ophelia on the  night he talks with is father’s ghost.  (This scene is not in the play, but Ophelia recounts it to her father, Polonius, in II, i.)  Directly after the improvisation, we rehearsed II,i, and then the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene (III,i).  The 10-minute improvised exchange infused my body with Ophelia.  It gave me an emotional starting point, visual- and muscle-memory, and a visceral anchor for Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet.  It made this early work in the scenes more productive, and gave me my next goals for homework and future rehearsals.

In transition from brain to stage also comes speech. We all know that speech expresses thought, and comes from breath and energy.  I do not always know where that breath and energy should originate, or sit, or how to connect it to Ophelia’s thoughts.  Enter Katherine, again with a tool for me!  The exercise is “Head, Heart, Gut, Groin,” and it helped me to decide where my energy is centered, where to speak from, and how, within a speech or scene, those things transition between the four places.  Some of the choices seem pretty instinctive, but being aware of them for each line is helping me connect my body and my voice.  Work on connecting my thoughts comes next…I can’t wait to see where the next few weeks of rehearsal take us, and what I will learn next about Ophelia!

This week, our Horatio, Kat Hermes, shares her experiences from the first weeks of rehearsal.

Hello, Blog Readers! I’m Kat Hermes and I’m playing Horatio. I’m also the costume coordinator, so I’ll be working under our designer, Roz Mayberry, directing the costume construction crew. Once we go into production week and the costumes are handed over to the wardrobe crew, I’ll be acting as Fight Captain and making sure all of our onstage violence stays safe for the actors and audience.

One of the things that I find most rewarding about working with an original practices company like Pigeon Creek is the opportunity to work on multiple parts of a production. We’re not relying on a separate team of set, costume, and sound techs to create the world in which we play, we’re building it ourselves. If there are people in the seats, it’s because we went out with posters and postcards and did our own marketing. Also, I love that I don’t have to chose between acting and costuming. I get to do both, and let my work on one inform my work on the other.

Right now, we’re nearing the end of our second week of rehearsal. While last week was all about introductions, this week we got to get out hands dirty and work on some scenes. Generally, scene work goes like this: we read through the scene, talk about any textual questions and then put it on its feet. Our director, Katherine Mayberry, will stop and start us to adjust our positions onstage. Once we’ve got a shape for the scene, we run it again and start to layer in character, intentions, atmosphere (you know, the “acting” part).

The first scene we worked was, appropriately enough, the first scene of the play. Guards Marcellus and Bernardo bring Horatio up to the battlements of the castle to watch for the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who has appeared to them twice before. After we read through the scene, Katherine asked if I thought Horatio actually expected to see the ghost, and I answered definitely not. In fact, I think he’s a little annoyed that he’s been dragged out in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, because Marcellus and Bernardo got spooked by something that was probably an owl flying by, or a coat on a chair.

After we’d walked through the scene once and everyone had a general idea of where they were supposed to be in each moment, we ran it again using the cold as a point of concentration. I found that focusing on the cold effected both my breath and movement. Next, we turned out the lights in the room and ran the scene again in total darkness (reading out scripts by flashlight). The characters’ lines indicate it is too dark to see each other clearly. “Playing the darkness” can be tricky in an original practices production, with both the stage and the audience fully illuminated all the time, but I think we made some progress toward finding the “creepy” atmosphere Katherine wants in the scene.

Outside of rehearsal this week I’ve been working on my musical parts (I’m playing the bass guitar for the first time) and doing text work, looking at the way my character uses language, scanning my verse lines and thinking about what that tells me about him.

So, that’s a little glimpse into my rehearsal process.