If this weekend performing Femina Shakes’ Hamlet taught me anything, it is that I am grateful to be an actor in an educational setting. I am especially grateful to be an actor in an educational setting that encompasses directing and dramaturgy and design in addition to performance.
I like feeling like I can walk away from a piece of work in which I have performed and know and understand its various elements and be able to intellectual discuss the way they were perceived. This has come from several classes in directing, my current light and movement class, and my stagecraft assignments freshman year.
Dramaturgy has added an even deeper layer to this analysis. Our Hamlet was set in mental hospital in 1968, our inspiration McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, with a character framework derived from Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted and poetic imagery from Sylvia Plath. Our political mirroring came from the calamity that was the year 1968 in comparison to our current political and social crisis in 2016. We had so many opportunities, an almost unlimited source material, the longest rehearsal process of the quarter (6 weeks), but… we were also putting on Hamlet. And Hamlet, particularly in our university setting, with young actors, takes a lot of focused time on text; both analysis and technical speech. And even with our process reasonably divided, I knew that our dramaturgs and director probably knew more about the framework than I did, being in the performance.
We have spoken in class about the analogy of “JV” versus “Varsity” dramaturgy. One of our dramaturgs, Corianna, was doing fantastic work not only providing us with background information and 1960s slang but also supporting our speaking of text. I wish that I could have been more deeply involved in her process and teaching, because that work seemed to really get into what I believe is “varsity” dramaturgy. I got more and more excited as I learned about her academic background what her knowledge could bring to another Shakespeare or classical text performance, since the way in which it is presented, in addition to the clarity of thought, is vital to complete appreciation. She set up an in-depth lobby display that asked questions of themes relevant to the audience, considering the force of mental illness and autonomy as a patient. I was seeing in action the work of what a well-rounded production dramaturg could do inside and outside of the rehearsal room.
But I needed more time with her work! I don’t think our cast nor the audience members who came to our show were totally prepared for what was presented for them. The marriage of these elements could have been more present from the beginning, and I wish that Corianna could have worked with us and discussed themes with us even more throughout the process. We have started talking about the balance between director and dramaturg. I think that Christine was great about discussing meaningful topics and including Corianna’s research, but it could have gone even further. It was an amazing first step, and I look forward to seeing the work she encourages and shapes for our school in the coming season.