Director Erin Woods speaks to Uncovering Oklahoma on Reduxion’s Original Sins series of productions, Hamlet.
For those in need of a refresher, what is Hamlet’s story?
Hamlet is William Shakespeare’s Revenge Tragedy – a popular play-form of the time. It is also his most lengthy play and widely regarded as one of, if not the, masterpiece of Western Literature. We have begun a new educational component called “Before the Play Begins” study guides.
Visit the link for a little story background before the play starts. Also, there’s a literature lecture notes on Hamlet written by Dr. James Yoch of University of Oklahoma. He will present a preshow lecture and post-show talk back at our Saturday, Nov. 12th evening performance.
Why should one see it?
Because Shakespeare wrote a play and over 400 years later, we still perform it and study it. It is living literature.
More so than any other show I have directed, I discovered that each production of Hamlet is as individual as the actors working on it. Each production is as specific as the actor playing the title role. Same can be said of the roles of the King, or Gertrude or Ophelia, or Polonius, etc. The actors bring so much of themselves to the roles, that the combination of specific actors has the ability to bring out Shakespeare’s tale in different ways. After this production is closed, you will never see a Hamlet like this again. That is a powerful thought. It illustrates the importance of live theatre as an art form.
What makes your version special?
We are revisiting our 7-Actor concept for the show. In this production, as in our previous 2006 production, seven actors tackle all roles in the show, in whirlwind fashion, shifting character and gender at a moment’s notice. A challenge by any actor’s standards, this ensemble shows their versatility while exercising their talents to the extreme. The purpose of this casting choice is to showcase a founding principal of Reduxion – that there are no small roles. Instead of populating the stage with countless spear-carriers to reflect the “reality” of the court, we rely upon the language and the imagination of our audience to populate the play. We have stripped down the cast to the seven leading actors in order to illustrate that Hamlet, like most of Shakespeare’s works, can be powerfully performed with an equal ensemble of leads. We also use a minimal set, universal lighting and exclusively live sound effects and music similar to our first version of this show.
What’s different and what’s the same about performing Hamlet this time and back when you originally performed it?
In our fourth residential season in Oklahoma City, we revisit this inaugural production, using the same script cutting and seven actor character-tracks. For this production, we have enhanced our live music aspect by adding the musician & composer Kyle Gossett, scoring the piece with live music of the time and place.
The production previous, in 2006 in New York City, was stripped down in terms of setting and costumes and characterizations were universal, not illustrating a specific time period. For this production, we work within a precise time and place, 1938, Denmark. The threat of impending strikes and outside forces moving in permeates Hamlet. Scandinavia, in a brink-of-war or brink-of-occupation environment, shares the political and royal unrest as well as the economic crisis throughout Europe in 1938: a time when strong leaders, such as Claudius, perhaps felt it necessary to use unthinkable measures to take control in order to bring assurance and order to circumvent the upheaval of the time.
What was the most challenging aspect you had in the production?
For me, as director, I found the challenge being in that I don’t often direct tragedies. I am the director of comedies and romances at Reduxion more typically. I found myself not trusting myself at the beginning of rehearsal. Tragedies need guidance, but they also need breathing room and exploration within the rehearsal process. Luckily, the actors in this company are terrific and they brought energy and innovation to the process. We soon found the balance needed for success.
Another challenge, I think experienced by others in the company as well as myself: being too precious with the language and characters. Hamlet is famous, probably the most famous play of all time. It deserves respect, but there is a trap in too much reverence. It is not a museum piece – I found I needed to get over being scared of messing it up, trust in myself, trust in my company, and trust in Shakespeare and roll up my sleeves and get to work!
How did you grow as director while working on this show?
I grew as a director by learning how to let the show grow more organically and develop over the weeks in our rehearsal process. In a comedy, there is specific timing to work out and build upon; in rehearsal of a tragedy, there are shared elements – development of relationships, finding the emotions, etc, but there is also an element of letting the show run to allow the actors to find the proper the flow. Blocking may need to be altered based on the growth of individual scenes. Flexibility is key.
What advice would you share to other directors looking to put on Hamlet?
I suppose, I would tell another director seeking advice to let the actors breathe and bring their personalities to their roles and find how the group shapes Shakespeare’s story.
What scenes do the actors enjoy?
I think it is different for each player. They seem to love the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scene, as well as the play within the play scene. Another favorite is the final duel and Ophelia’s mad scene. I would also bet that Tyler Woods, our Hamlet, enjoys all of the famous soliloquies.
Any other comments?
Initial feedback has been incredible! We recommend pre-purchasing tickets. We run Thurs-Sat at 8 pm through Nov. 19th and one special Sunday matinee on Sunday, Nov .13 @ 2 pm. Tickets available online at www.reduxiontheatre.com/Tickets