H2016: The Night Before Elsinore

CW1_8546Tonight the cast and crew catch their collective breath; tomorrow we plunge into the deep, stormy waters of Hamlet for realsies. Well, last night’s run-through was an “invited dress,” which means half a dozen of our most supportive friends and family members were there to clap in spite of the manifold technical glitches. But tomorrow, the glitches will hopefully vanish as a bona fide audience appears.

With a show this complicated, glitches are inevitable. It takes a seasoned director to be able to identify the problems that aren’t likely to go away, and it takes a measure of humility to be able to cut ambitious and potentially breathtaking moments entirely, in order to reassure your cast and crew. Fortunately, there haven’t been too many such sacrifices.

Case in point: I’ve always envisioned Hamlet getting sucked into a grave before the meeting with his father’s ghost, and we hit on a method of hiding the trap-door from the audience until that moment arrived…or so we thought. But as it turns out, it’s too risky to have people under the “grass” canvas (to lift it up and restore it into place) at the same time as Hamlet leaps, or tumbles, in. One of our ASMs had a scary fall under the grave, and I swiftly ruled that safety trumped spectacle. Now, the grave is concealed as patrons enter the theatre, but it’s wide open as Hamlet approaches it; then, a light pulses up to “lure” him in for his visit with the undead.

Other perennial problems are not so easy to rule on. A starter’s pistol needs to fire (blanks) at two points in the play; some nights, it works, and some nights, it doesn’t. I suggested having a sound effect onhand as a backup, in case the gun jams at a crucial moment. And then there’s the secret passage (I’ve got a lot of weird entrances and exits in this puzzle-play) that looks like stone but rises up like fabric, seemingly of its own accord. It doesn’t always settle back into place correctly. Also, last night, Gertrude and Horatio both somehow got tangled up in the fishing wire that makes the fabric “levitate.” Inevitable compromises? Freak accidents? Hard to tell at this point.

But in the eye of the hurricane of late cues and off-kilter transitions, amid the costume flubs and forgotten props, there is a remarkable show taking shape. One of the invitees raved to me afterwards about what she’d seen, and posted on social media that Hamlet was a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-something” kind of show. I like that a lot, and it feels like a particular triumph in the case of this leviathan of a play, which everyone assumes is going to be 4 hours long and dull as ditchwater.

Tomorrow my Hamlet opens, and while it’s going to end up being a lot of things, one thing I can absolutely guarantee it won’t be, is dull.



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