Getting Back to Basics

Part Two in a new series by Marketing Intern Katie McGee as she participates in a Cal Shakes classroom residency.

I went to bed Monday night eagerly awaiting my return to Northern Light for another dose of middle school Hamlet adventuring. I woke up Tuesday morning to a gloomy sky and the wrong side of the bed.  Never fear, however; I threw on my most brightly-colored shirt in a pathetic attempt to lighten my spirits and dashed to my car with lukewarm coffee spilling in hand.

My mood began brightening as I pulled into the parking lot and scurried to meet up with the Director of Artistic Learning, Trish Tillman, for the day’s rundown: Start identifying action and clarifying textual meaning within each group’s assigned scene.

As class began, we warmed up our actor’s toolkit and made sure the group was functioning as a solid team.  Hallway, lunchroom, recess conflicts checked at the door, then ready, set, go, Hamlet.

We began digging through the textual trenches Shakespeare dug for his performers long ago.  As students tried on their lines for the first time, young voices began to grow louder and braver around the room.  The entirety of Hamlet was being voiced in a matter of minutes.  Questions were raised: What is my character doing in this moment? What motivated my character to do this? What the heck is a fishmonger?

By the end of the period students were feeling a smidge overwhelmed, but a dash relieved as they realized they were beginning to grasp each line’s meaning.

* * * *

Now let’s step back and get real here.  Artists and scholars have taken Hamlet and forced it under that lens, interpreted it this direction, argued it from the east to the west and reread it a kabillion times.  Now all of these efforts may have uncovered some revealing truths or spicy fresh takes, but are some of the story’s fundamentals lost in the process?  Watching the students at Northern Light find meaning in their lines for the very first time reminded me that Hamlet is often overcomplicated and the story’s bare bones alone dish up some titillating entertainment—keep it simple stupid.

Sometimes in life we just need to step back and stop ourselves from getting caught up in the dreary skies of Denmark (or the Bay), the coffee spilling over our hand as we hustle off for the day, and look at the greatness of our overall stories.


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