H2016: Sins and Silence

Hamlet has a cast! Or it will have, very shortly, as soon as we finish confirming everyone’s involvement. It’s incredibly exciting — one of my favourite points of the entire process — to see all these new faces and to start imagining how they will grow into their roles. I’ll post a cast list by the end of the week.

Another reason I love auditions is, it gives me a chance to free-associate with the play. When I ask people to read excerpts from the script, I often ask them to do things that even I wasn’t expecting, just to see what works. Or sometimes, something a performer brings to the audition will inspire a new train of thought. This weekend, two things that have been fairly vague for me so far just clicked right into place, and I have my brand-new babycast to thank for it!

Mousetrap_SilentFilmRevelation One: The Players and the Mousetrap. Up till now, I’ve been frustratingly vague about how to perform the play-within-the-play. I knew I wanted it to have a very distinct look, but that wasn’t enough to go on. Recently, I brought on a choreographer (Cynthia Vokey), to give the Players a unique, stylized approach to movement…but I couldn’t give her much beyond that.

The Players are not all cast just yet, but one young man I’m hoping cast as Lucianus has a really strong physical repertoire that immediately reminded me of silent film acting. Since that’s within the wheelhouse of the 1920s setting we’ve been using, I decided that the Mousetrap itself should play out as a silent film from that era.

In terms of staging, that might just mean performing the Mousetrap in the broad, melodramatic gestures of silent film. However, I’m also going to talk to my videographer about setting up a live-feed, to record the performance and simultaneously project it elsewhere onto the set, hopefully with a grainy, black-and-white filter. Perhaps, instead of having the actors/dancers speak the lines, they could be projected elsewhere, as old-timey title cards.

There are also lots of costuming possibilities. Given the “fairytale” feel of the Mousetrap’s language, it could be fun to dip into the Hollywood version of the Orient — harem pants and shiek robes. Alternatively, since Hamlet mentions that the play is “written in very choice Italian,” we could dip into the somewhat more obscure (but very fun) Italian futurist style — Google “italian futurism film” and you’ll see a few examples, mostly from the 1917 film “Thais.”

A related thought would be to clothe the Players entirely in shades of grey, to anticipate their silent film performance.
(Of course, there is no such thing as a new idea, and it didn’t take a lot of searching before I discovered a recent version of Hamlet that included a similar device. But that was a ballet based on Hamlet! Entirely different.)
seven_deadly_sins_my_little_pony_style_by_candy_janney-d59k754Revelation Two: Seven Deadly Sins. I’ve been exploring this motif for awhile, but so far my thinking has been limited to associating one sin with each character — Claudius embodying Envy, Polonius as Sloth, Ophelia as Wrath, or whatever the actors decide. While I still think this might be a useful character exercise, I realized while watching the auditoners strut their stuff that it was simply too limiting, too reductive, to expect these dynamic actors to just play one sin each.
And besides, isn’t the whole point of an expressionistic Hamlet to show the characters from different points of view? I’ve been trying to read these characters somewhat against the grain, telling myself (for example) that Gertrude should not embody Lust, even though Hamlet seems convinced that’s what drives her. But how is it any better, if I (or the actress playing Gertrude) merely substitute Lust with some other sin?
Instead, I realized I need a cast of supporting characters who are capable of demonstrating any of the Seven Deadlies, depending on how the different POV characters see them. So, in a scene staged from Hamlet’s perspective (1.2, for example), it makes perfect sense for Gertrude to embody Lust, because that’s how Hamlet sees her. But if Gertrude appears in a scene that’s from Ophelia’s perspective (eg. 4.5), she may embody a completely different sin — Pride or Sloth, perhaps, if Gertrude seems unwilling to help her? And when we see Gertrude from her own perspective (in 3.4), well, she’s not embodying a sin of any kind, she’s just her own complex self.
That’s arguably more obscure from an audience’s perspective, but I don’t mind giving my audience another puzzle at this point. And more importantly, it’s going to make for a much more dynamic staging. Characters will not get boring, or predictable. And yet, hopefully, if the “sin” gestures and stances are consistent from one actor to the next, there will still be a recognizable physical vocabulary on stage.
So that will be one of the first big subjects for us to explore (after “what’s the rehearsal schedule?”): how does each Deadly Sin stand, walk, and talk?

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