Thirty Pages of Hamlet?

posted by Tobie Windham, Master of Fine Arts Program Class of 2010

Risk. Fail. Risk again. I have tried to live by these words for about four years now, but as time goes by the struggle to keep the second word gets increasingly difficult. Fail. When acting, I have discovered that I am a person who likes to risk everything, but when it comes to failing, I want to cushion the blow. Or: I will jump off the cliff, but when I see how far I might fall, I try to reverse the jump. I think this has held me back from truly achieving my goals.

I had to face this idea of risking and failing when my M.F.A. Program class [2010] recently completed a workshop of Hamlet with A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff. Carey came into rehearsal the first day with an energy that infected us all. If we did not like Hamlet before we started this process, we sure do respect it now. The plan was to follow the main story arc of Hamlet by performing only eleven scenes. The casting was rotated for each scene, and we each had about two scenes apiece. She had great ideas of how we might tell the story, a stack of books of what scholars thought about the play, and a list of questions to further investigate what the story was about. Ultimately, the Class of 2K10 embraced the task of telling one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, cut down to 30 pages. No pressure, right?

So we jumped in and started working night and day to get off book [memorize our lines]. Carey really had a dialogue with us about what was going on in each scene, instead of just telling us what her vision was. I love directors that allow actors to risk big, and I felt that this type of exploration was encouraged. I also enjoyed watching my classmates work; it was very different watching them work in a workshop setting as opposed to a classroom setting, mainly because we were all involved in telling the same story, and also because many of us had the task of playing Hamlet. In order to get a sense of his through-line we had to watch one another with more attention than usual, in the hopes of picking up where the last person left off, or as we put it, “passing the baton.” Watching my classmates make outrageous choices and take huge risks (and sometimes fail) allowed me to see that it was okay to step outside the box.

I cannot talk about Shakespeare without mentioning the language. It was difficult, but in a different kind of way. I found the language in Hamlet to be complex, but not complicated. For example, I understood what Hamlet was saying, as if I could put it in my own words and really say, “Hell yeah dude, I understand you; I want to kill him too.” But the way in which the language was phrased or how thoughts followed one another was very complex. I mean, he would say a thought, and then go off on a parenthetical for about two lines, then go back and finish the thought he had before he started the parenthetical! Yeah, complex but not complicated.

All in all I had fun working on this project. I learned that fear of failure only delays success; I learned that the Class of 2K10 has 14 amazing actors (I swear to God we a problem, somebody betta solve us); and I learned that I look damn good in a black doublet!

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