Yesterday I got to have coffee with the three confirmed cast members of Hamlet 2016. Our chat covered a broad range of ideas; soon I’ll sit down to try consolidating them for the blog.
In the meantime, I’ve been charged with pitching a poster design. I’m gratified that our Theatre Manager is thinking so far ahead as to develop a poster for the show; often, community theatres leave matters of publicity and marketing to the last minute, with obvious consequences. But Hamlet already has a buzz around the local theatre community, and the logical next step towards increasing that buzz is a visual image to stir the imagination. (Teaser trailers will follow at a later date.)
I have a couple of ideas, but I’m kind of overwhelmed by the possibilities. There are as many ways to advertise Hamlet as there are to perform Hamlet. What image could possibly sum up the breadth of the play?
Well, if the internet is to be trusted (and why shouldn’t it be?), the answer is: something involving a skull.
This motif recurs often in the Google Image search: an overlay of skull and skin, implying perhaps that Hamlet constantly has one foot in the grave, as it were. Most often, unless the Photoshopping is crappy, the intent seems to be akin to peeling back Hamlet’s face, to show the skull beneath. Below is a different take on the same idea:
Here, it appears more as though Hamlet’s face is encased in skulls — overwhelmed with thoughts of death, maybe?
Almost as common are skulls which also signify other objects: crowns (as above), scales of justice, daggers, arrows, or even the word “Hamlet” itself. I admire these sorts of images because, like the figure-ground images I’ve written about before, they imply that Hamlet is a puzzle.
I found a couple of playing-card posters, which would obviously work quite well as handbills, too. The one above works very hard to incorporate multiple symbols — skull, crown, dagger, cross, heart — while suggesting overall that the plot of Hamlet revolves around a game of chance.
A surprising number of posters also quote lines from the play: “Something is rotten in Denmark,” “To thine own self be true,” or the most common, of course, “To be or not to be.” I don’t consider it an effective bit of advertising to remind audiences that Shakespeare plays feature dialogue, even famous dialogue; but I’ll admit that some of the layouts were intriguing, and this one is downright hilarious:
If a non-skull design can be considered brave, then audacious indeed is the poster design which features a character other than Hamlet himself. The ones I found featuring Ophelia mostly look like private art projects, not publicity for actual productions. Never the less, if I saw this poster for a show, I’d clear my schedule immediately:
I leave you with the worst Hamlet poster I came across, which could easily have been featured in Season Two of Slings & Arrows. All I can say about this is, the King in this production had better be wearing fishnet stockings, and they had better do the Time Warp.