HAMLET Rehearsal Blogs: The Process or the Product?

Director of Marketing Janet Magleby and Box Office Manager Robin Dolan offer two perspectives on Hamlet rehearsals.

Thursday, September 6, 2012—one week before tech rehearsals begin.

LeRoy McClain as Hamlet, Julie Eccles as Gertrude, and Adrian Roberts as Claudius; photo by Kevin Berne.

LeRoy McClain as Hamlet, Julie Eccles as Gertrude, and Adrian Roberts as Claudius; photo by Kevin Berne.

It was 9:59 a.m. and more than half the company awaited Stage Manager Laxmi Kumaran’s calling of the start of rehearsal.

They began from the top of the scene, where Claudius (Adrian Roberts) and Gertrude (Julie Eccles) enter center-stage with Hamlet’s university chums, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, hot on their heels. The newly crowned King of Denmark wants a report: “How did you find Hamlet? ….With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?” As actors Jessica Kitchens and Brian Rivera began to explain Hamlet’s overall demeanor, director Liesl Tommy stopped them to request that the cast recite this scene in their own words, which proceeded as such:

Claudius: “So, what’s up with Hamlet?”

Rosencrantz: “He was erratic, he was rambling…”

Gertrude: “Well, did you do anything to draw him out? Did you talk to anything that interests him?”

Just as this improv was unfolding Zainab Jah, who plays Ophelia, walked into the space, confused about the lack of “Shakespeare” being spoken. Everyone chuckles, but they kept on rollin’…

Guildenstern: “Your Majesty, Hamlet was talking about Ophelia a lot.”

Rosencrantz: “He seemed happy to see us!”

Liesl ended the exercise by saying that this version of the scene would be funny to keep in the play, a fact on which all agreed. Then the director pointed out something that had been brought out with the actors’ modern speech—that Claudius’ job in that scene is to calm Gertrude’s fears, to let her know that he cares about Hamlet and is doing everything in his royal power to help her son.

As the scene came to a close, Gertrude embraced Ophelia, telling her that she hoped Hamlet would come around, and that Ophelia’s love would help him get there. Liesl reminded Zainab that she should be completely surprised by Gertrude’s permission to love her son.

LeRoy McClain (Hamlet) arrived for his call time and Liesl immediately set him to work the “To Be or Not to Be” speech. Hamlet entered from upstage left to find a stunned Ophelia center-stage, having just received a surprising blessing from his mother. Zainab let Ophelia feel Hamlet’s eyes on her and looked up—and they were frozen in time. She dropped the book her father Polonius (Dan Hiatt) had given her, and broke down in hysterics.

Next….well, I just can’t tell you what happens…you think you know, but you don’t. You’ll have to see it for yourself. —Janet Magleby


Friday, September 7, 2012—less than one week before tech rehearsals begin.

As we head toward designer run-throughs, dress rehearsals, and previews, everyone gets very excited about seeing the finished product: the actual production that will be performed at the Bruns Amphitheater. Many of us also love to witness the process of how the production is created. We all peek out the front window when the actors practice sword fighting in the parking lot. We laugh when we hear pounding on the walls, or screaming. (“Wonder what scene that is? Ah well, back to selling tickets.” ) We love watching the costume department open their daily deliveries of fabric, or the prop department receiving goodness-knows-what. It’s very funny to read rehearsal reports that spell out how much blood will be used and from what body part it will flow. But the most interesting work to me is what I see when I watch rehearsals.

Quietly slipping into watch two rehearsals of Hamlet this past week, I happened to primarily observe scenes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. While no scenes in a Shakespeare play are unimportant, they didn’t seem primary to the plot. However, director Liesl Tommy focused on making sure every element was real. Tommy and the actors revealed nuances in the script, hidden depth in character, and a creative, supportive work environment.

There were two directorial corrections Tommy made that involved the same simple blocking, but brought so much to each scene. In Act II, ii, when R & G initially enter the stage having been summoned by the King, Rosencrantz enters first and speaks. Then Guildenstern pushes Rosencrantz to the side to enter the court. Liesl Tommy instructed actor Brian Rivera to make sure that he didn’t look at Rosencrantz as he pushed her aside. “You’re too nice,” she joked, “Don’t look back at her to make sure she’s okay. Just do it; she’ll get it.”  The act of not looking communicated an understanding between the characters, as well as a slight power relationship.

Next, in Act IV, i, Gertrude explains to Claudius that Hamlet has killed Polonius. Actress Julie Eccles began the scene by looking at the King as she told her story. Tommy suggested, however, that Eccles look straight ahead instead, at the furniture. This simple choice made even clearer how distraught Gertrude was.

It’s a gift to get to see such skilled artists creating a piece. Tommy, at times, would get right onstage with the actors, stretching on the floor to see exactly what they were doing. She and Eccles laughed at how much they wished Gertrude noticed more of what was happening around her. Everyone in the room laughed at a scene where Dan Hiatt used his great comedic skills to simply say “uh” while thinking as Polonius.

In Act IV, ii, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern summon Hamlet to the King’s chambers. This was the first time I saw Leroy McClain perform, and it was clear why he’d been chosen to play the role of Hamlet. McClain made fresh choices in blocking, voice inflection, and emotional communication each time they ran the scene, even after he tripped over a set piece. I also got to see a brief part of scene IV, v, where Ophelia begins to go mad. Actress Zainab Jah was riveting, the kind of performer you can’t keep your eyes of when they’re onstage.

It’s difficult to communicate the richness of observing this work. For me, it builds my appetite to see more of the creative process and product of these artists. While I love the process, I also now can’t wait to see the full production once it is brought to life. —Robin Dolan

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

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