Letter From a Director to His (Soon-To-Be) Hamlet


Good work today.

I get that you’re scared. It’s totally understandable that our time constraints have fallen most heavily upon your shoulders.

Sheila and I will do everything we can to ensure that you encounter your first audience feeling practiced and prepared — especially whenever safety is a concern. But that may mean devoting time to particular trouble areas, instead of running the whole show.

I’m as frustrated as you are by this, although for slightly different reasons. I’m the guy who’s had the “perfect” show stuck in his head for at least a year, and who now, finally, has to let go of that dream, and accept imperfection. You’re the guy who still has a chance to prove me wrong.

But here’s the thing: you’re facing an impossible task. You’ve got distractions and potential disasters biting at your heels. You’ve got way too much other stuff on your plate, from the grandiose to the banal. You’re trying to serve my vision AND be true to your own idea of the character AND help your castmates through the show. You’re being pulled in a dozen different directions at once.

In short, at this point, you’re Hamlet.

I’m not even joking. You are at the point in your life and your career where you’re closer to Hamlet’s point of view than you’ll ever get again. Your fears and doubts are the same as his — disappointing yourself, your mentors, your colleagues and friends. He needs to stick this landing just like you.

He learns to laugh about it, though. And he discovers that “the readiness is all” — you can’t prepare for everything, so you need to be prepared for anything.

That speech has always eluded me, by the way, even though I’m a Buddhist and it ought to be my gospel. I now see the reason: I’m the director, I’m at the helm, and so I can’t “let be” until my show is wrested out of my hands. But you can do what I can’t. You can be whatever the show needs, in the moment, as it unfolds.

In the Closet scene, you always say “Murder!” to the Ghost when you’re supposed to say “Revenge!” There’s a reason for that, I think. “Murder” seems a lot easier — more desirable. Cut through morality and just make a mess. Here’s the analogy for us theatrical vagabonds: it’s easy to amaze an audience, to “slay ’em” with bells and whistles, sound and fury. This show has that stuff in spades (have you noticed?).

But your job is more delicate — you have to hold on to people’s hearts while the world (not the set) is falling down around you. The “revenge” in this analogy isn’t just doing the play “justice”, it’s also keeping an audience close and making sure they understand what you’re going through. And, again, that’s the business of the moment, not the whole play.

We started with 5 Hamlets. You can forget them now. There’s actually a thousand Hamlets — one for every line. And, of course, at the same time, there’s only one Hamlet — unless you count Gabrielle.

You’re going to be great. And they will be amazed, and moved. And the rest is silence (from me, at least).


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