Behind the Scenes at the HAMLET Photo Shoot

Director of Marketing Janet Magleby on the Hamlet cast’s publicity photo shoot with director Liesl Tommy and photographer Kevin Berne.

Last week some of Hamlet’s cast members gathered in the Cal Shakes’ green room, in anticipation of our publicity photo shoot Kevin Berne. Zainab Jah, playing Ophelia, inquired as to costumes for the shoot, since the performance versions are still in various stages of design and production. “I guess we’ll be naked!,” somebody teased her. But the costume department did not disappoint, and were ready for the task at hand with simple dresses for the women, military garb for Adrian Roberts (Claudius), and a stylish, slim suit for LeRoy McClain (Hamlet).

Kevin and his wife, Alessandra Mello, were introduced to everyone by Marketing & PR Manager Marilyn Langbehn. And then it was “places!” and right to work: Hamlet director Liesl Tommy had very specific ideas about the feel of the shoot and the positioning of each cast member. First things first, though, we got some tunes bumpin’—Liesl picked a little soulful R&B, which will have a prominent place on the production’s soundscape.

Zainab, Dan Hiatt (Polonius), Julie Eccles (Gertrude), Adrian Roberts (Claudius), Nick Gabriel (Horatio), and LeRoy were all positioned in standing positions as if on an album cover, Hamlet in the foreground with the rest of the “band” strategically placed behind him. A lightning-fast round of 20 shots or more ensued; then Kevin instructed everyone to “wiggle it out” before the cast is given more direction by Liesl. Hamlet was instructed to look right at me, Gertrude at Hamlet, Polonius to look fatherly, Ophelia to rest her head softly on her father’s shoulder softly…consummate professionals, the actors follow their director’s words to a tee.

The cast of Hamlet; photo by Kevin Berne.

Left to right: Zainab Jah as Ophelia, Dan Hiatt as Polonius, LeRoy McClain as Hamlet, Julie Eccles as Gertrude, Adrian Roberts as Claudius, and Nick Gabriel as Horatio; photo by Kevin Berne.

Liesl, Marilyn, and I watched the laptop as the shots appeared in order. We made note of the ones we liked, whispered our insights, and suggested slight adjustments: Subdue some flyaway hair, smooth a wrinkled garment, et cetera.

They wiggled it out once again, and moved to the next round of adjustments: Horatio stands as if he is waiting for the bus. Then Liesl asked him to put his right hand in his pocket. Then his left. How ‘bout just the thumb hanging of the edge? OK, never mind. Back to the first pose!

We all agreed that we had something beautiful in the 30+ shots, so we released Adrian, Julie, and Dan to change for rehearsals. We kept Nick, Zainab, and LeRoy for more shots.

Liesel “shopped” the prop shop for just the right chair; she has an idea for a solo shot with Hamlet.  She picked up a contemporary, Scandinavian piece (hey, this is for the Prince of Denmark, right?) and sets it center-stage. “Sit here, please LeRoy.” He obliged, immediately starting to position himself in striking poses, with exactly the haunted look you expect from the Prince of Procrastination.

Left to right: Nick Gabriel, LeRoy McClain, and Zainab Jah "wiggling it out"; photo by Kevin Berne.

Left to right: Nick Gabriel, LeRoy McClain, and Zainab Jah "wiggling it out"; photo by Kevin Berne.

Next up was Hamlet with the two people he loved the most (or are they?): Ophelia and Horatio. Zainab sat on LeRoy’s lap with Nick on adoringly looks from the side; serious poses were interspersed with laughing, playing around, and “wiggling it out.”

Then everyone was up and standing for vertical shots: Hamlet in the center with Ophelia on his left and Horatio on his right. Hamlet needs his arm around her shoulder, but where? On her shoulder was awkward somehow. On her neck? The back of her head? Finally it landed gently around her waist. More whispers, more laughter; more moments as the cast continued to gel after just six days of rehearsal.

As we released the remaining actors, Fight Director Dave Maier called Nick over to begin sword fight choreography with Nicholas Pelczar (Laertes, Lucianus). Director Tommy moved onto the next job, carefully hand-setting props on the empty rehearsal hall floor. I can’t tell what I saw her putting out—you’ll want to see it for yourself.

Hamlet plays September 19 through October 14 at the stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater. Get your tickets today.


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