Into the Spotlight: M.F.A. Actor Rivka Borek’s Hamlet Experience

By Rivka Borek

During my second year here in the M.F.A. program at A.C.T., a new email popped into my inbox. “Dear all,” the email began. “We have the incredible privilege of doing some developmental work on Hamlet in preparation for our opening show of the 2017–18 season at The Geary. This Hamlet will star John Douglas Thompson.” Um, what?! I had seen John in four plays in New York, and witnessed his tour-de-force performance in Satchmo at the Waldorf here at A.C.T. during my first year in the program. The fact that my classmates and I would be workshopping my favorite play with him seemed too surreal to be true.

Peter Fanone, Rivka Borek, John Douglas Thompson, and Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal 
of Hamlet. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
On the first day of the workshop, I entered Studio 9A and there John was! We all got to work, reading and discussing different scenes throughout the play. When we arrived at the famously tricky “nunnery scene,” Carey scanned the room, her gaze finally landing on me.

“Rivka, why don’t you read for Ophelia in this scene with John,” she said. 

John looked at me and simply said Hamlet’s first line, “Soft you now, the fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.”

I did not have time to be afraid. I did not have time to overthink. I did not have time to worry about getting it right. All I had time to do was act and react

“Good my lord,” I replied, “how does your honor for this many a day?” 

And from there, the scene quickly tumbled forward, both of us actors alive and in the moment, acting from a place of immediacy and openness.

Later I learned I was cast as Ophelia. I hadn't fathomed that this was even a possiblity. I was just grateful to have had the opportunity to read and work on the scene with John, someone I’ve watched and admired for years in Studio 9A, where so many magical acting moments have happened for me.

Rivka Borek in the M.F.A. Program's Sky Festival production of
Doubt. Photo by Jay Yamada.
As I write this, the cast of Hamlet enters our fourth week of rehearsal. This morning, at 9 a.m. I had a two-hour clowning class, and then hopped over to the William Ball rehearsal room, where we ran the first half of the play. During that run-through, John and I did the “nunnery scene”: the same scene I read with him back at the workshop in March, the same scene that got me into this play, the same scene that is still so tricky, and yet, while acting with John, so easy at the same time.

By September 20, we’ll be performing this same scene in The Geary Theater, where I have sat so many times as an audience member and a student. And now I will be up there myself, performing opposite one of my true artistic heroes. I definitely didn’t know that that one small scene could take me so far, but I am still pinching myself with gratitude every single day for the fact that it has.

Rivka Borek is in her third year of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program.

Hamlet runs September 20–October 15 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want some insight into John Douglas Thompson’s process as an actor? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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