This Sunday, we had a most strange and unnatural line run. What made it strange? Not the fact that only half our illustrious cast was off-book. I’m a pragmatist, and I know that off-book dates (ours was a week ago) don’t mean all that much. No, the strangeness was two-fold: first, it was Hamlet without Hamlet. And second, we spent over half of it in the dark.
Our mousey Prince was off this weekend, playing another mousey Prince — in The Nutcracker. I wrote up a roster for all the other actors to sub in for Hamlet, one scene at a time. It takes a village. And it takes a stage manager to guide the feckless new Hamlets around the stage, since they obviously didn’t know the princely blocking any more than they knew the Dane’s lines. But it worked, in a way, and it kept the mood light while the cast struggled with their own lines…
Until the lights in the rehearsal hall — and, indeed, all over the university — snapped out, at which point the mood changed considerably. While the SM checked online updates to see how long the power outage was expected to last, I urged the cast to keep running their lines, if not their blocking. Luckily, we had some flashlights onhand for Hamlet surrogates (they are props, used by Horatio during the Ghost scene, and by Hamlet himself before the Mousetrap), and there were enough cell phones with flashlight apps that people could move about when needed. The read-through took on a spooky, almost supernatural flair.
It actually turned out to be quite effective. On any other rehearsal day, a blackout would have been disastrous, but this was just the right moment in the process for the cast to remind themselves of the power and beauty of the verse — and what better way to do that than by stripping away everything else? It also forced the actors to keep their eyes off their scripts — although, as we made our way towards the play’s final scenes, I could see more and more flashlight apps winking on in the darkness, handily revealing who was not yet off-book.
For a brief moment, I toyed with the fantasy of staging an entire Shakespeare play in the dark. Think of the money you’d save on costumes and sets! But my team has already bent over backwards to ensure that there is as much to see in our Hamlet as there will be to hear. So let there be light!