“Who’s There?”

hamlet_monkeyIt’s January 7, 2015 — the day after Twelfth Night, if anyone is counting. ‘Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart. The cold is to be expected: it’s winter in Atlantic Canada, so you’d have to be a madman to expect anything different. Yet I am a hardened Canuck, with four decades of icy winters under my belt (just above my long johns). So why am I heart-sick?

I’ve just received confirmation from Todd Hiscock, Theatre Manager at CBU’s Boardmore Playhouse, that I will be directing Hamlet in the 2015/16 season. The run will either be in January or February 2016; we’ll sort that out in a few months’ time. This is, of course, good news — great, even, if you’re as big a Shakespeare fan as I am. I have directed Othello, Macbeth, The Tempest, even Troilus & Cressida, but this will be my first time scaling Castle Elsinore (as a director, anyway; later I’ll tell you about the time I played Laertes).

So why am I heart-sick? Because the task is Herculean, and I am as much like Hercules as Hamlet, Sr. is like Claudius. Even at 40, and with 15 Shakespearean productions to my credit, I scarcely know where to begin with a play this huge.

It’s not only the fact that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, or that there are three different versions of it for me to get lost in. Nor is it merely that Hamlet has been in near-constant production since its premiere, over 400 years ago, giving it one of the longest and most complex theatrical traditions of any English play. Nor the fact that more scholarly material is written about Hamlet every year than any other singular text, possibly excepting the Bible.

It’s the fact that, in our culture, Hamlet is more than just a play, and Hamlet is more than just a character. He’s Shakespeare. He’s England. He’s Theatre. And (here’s where, like Ophelia, I really start going out on a limb) he’s Canada, too — our fractured, chilly, ironic identity, distilled into one moody prince. I can’t ignore all that with my 2016 production — in fact, I really want to celebrate it. But I don’t know where to start.

“Who’s there?” is the first line of Hamlet, in any of the three versions. It’s fitting to start the play with a question, since it seems to provoke more and more questions the deeper one delves. With this blog, I’m asking the question not only of the play itself, but also turning the question outwards, towards the internet.

Who’s out there? Who will help me as I sort through the infinite number of Hamlets, in search of the one that’s right for Cape Breton in 2016? It feels cold and lonely now, but once the journey gets going, I predict things are going to heat up.

Next post: What you can expect to find in Maple Danish, and why it’s worth bookmarking.

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