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as performed by the Tragedians of the City

Directed by Tony Rust

Production concept notes for a touring 5 person Hamlet




This production notebook and its ideas and concepts are, of course, just a beginning. The collaborative nature of theater insists, if we wish it to live, that within the process of rehearsals and performance there be freedom to change, rearrange, discard and revise. Each of the ideas and notions contained here must be tested, judged and played with, wherein we can discover what works, what leads to boredom, what is clear, what screams truth.

I originally began work on this production concept 6 years ago with four members of Quinapalus Theatre Company. I had envisioned a long workshop rehearsal period and this proved our undoing as my Claudius was cast in a touring production (which payed a great deal more than the nothing we were paying) and we eventually had to set the project aside. Originally, I was directing and playing Hamlet, and this is, in part, why Hamlet also "directs" this production throughout. I hope to someday get this piece on its feet again, though I doubt if I’ll be my own Hamlet again.

We were rehearsing in the lobby of the Pace Downtown theater at the time, and were hoping to be able to tour it around the city, and possibly sell it as a wider tour. This production concept expands that original concept, but only slightly. Though I have given it a simple set and indicated lighting and sound, it remains a touring production. These notes include rudimentary stage directions, setting the piece in a theater much like the Pearl Theatre in NYC. Only the offstage exits would need to be reworked in a different space as the majority of the action is self- contained.


The Play

Hamlet is undeniably Shakespeare’s greatest role and play, as probably the most well known. Think Shakespeare and you think Hamlet. The play itself, though long, moves quickly and the revenge plot at its heart lays out its points neatly and succinctly carrying us to the end without wavering. The strong yet basic plot allows Shakespeare to keep the action moving while exploring Hamlet, the man, deeply. He is a complex individual, with many facets that lie in waiting to be discovered by the actor. The role always has new surprises and dimensions, and they lead to an unlimited number of ways to perform the role and present the play.

Though I am more than happy to place Shakespeare in a "concept", I find that trying to narrow his plays down to a central idea can often be confining. All his plays seem to have many different points of view and locking in to one single idea can create blinders, stealing the broader spectrum of the plays from us. Still, it’s helpful to have a base point to start the explorations from, both for the actors and the people who must market and sell your production. I try to find a place to put the play that will resonate the music within, as well as reverberate with the times we live in now. This leads me through the gamut of styles and periods, from straight Elizabethan to Contemporary. I have chosen a more modern period to put this production in to allow me to use a variety of theatrical styles and masks, while having a center for the actors to work from.

Hamlet the man and his play, seem to be about the problems inherent when the "thinking man" impedes the "man of action" within ourselves. This could also be looked at as the conflict between our emotional and cerebral impulses. In the end, though Hamlet is able to see both sides of his many questions, it is his heart that must act, albeit too late to salvage all the damage done by his head.


Production Concepts

The "Tragedians of the City", a touring company in early 1960's England, perform for us their production of Hamlet. All props, furnishings, and masks come from a trunk or two on a stage bare except for a few columns, tapestries, and drapes.

The Cast

The part load falls as following:


Player #1(female): Ophelia/Horatio/Rosencrantz

Guildenstern /Grave Digger

Player #3(male): Claudius/Ghost/Rosencrantz/Player Lucianus

Player #4(female): Gertrude/Fransisco/First Player/Player Queen/Osric/Guildenstern

This production requires a very talented and versatile cast as they all (excepting Hamlet) must not only perform multiple roles, but often must change between roles in full view of the audience in only a few seconds. Each character must be true to itself and fully in the moment of the play. The actors must also have good use of their bodies and hopefully be familiar with mask work, as the sub-roles are played with the addition of a variety of mask types. Along with the other players, Hamlet seldom leaves stage, but is there almost as director or stage manager, overseeing what happens and is happening to him. He will also shadow or interact in some scenes that he is not "physically" in, such as pantomiming behind Ophelia when she tells of his madness to Polonius.


Costumes & Masks

All players are attired for their main role (the first listed) adding masks and costume pieces as needed, stepping in and out of scenes. The base period is early 1960's England, while the various costume pieces are from different times and productions and are used to point out individual characters more than a style as a whole. The player’s main costumes reflect their central characters, and are somewhat neutral bases.

Hamlet- Well cut dark "Mod" suit with peg legs, small neat lapels, he also needs long trench coat

Laertes- A "Rocker" leather jacket and black jeans

Ophelia - English Public schoolgirl uniform,

Horatio - Long "War-time coat" with Who logo (male symbol) emblazoned on the back and a porkpie hat

Gertrude- Party dress in mourning

Claudius- Bankers Suit- well made but ill fitting

Ghost -Danish Helmet/mask with a gauzy floor length drape

Polonius- An "El Dotore" commedia del arte mask, with a cape

Marcellus & Francisco - Riot Helmets with full face shields, long winter coats

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Identical Noh masks

Grave Digger - Groucho glasses and a long scarf

Players - Greek tragedian masks with crowns

Osric - Feathered Mardi Gras mask and a flamboyant cape

Click here to see the Costume Scrapbook 

Click here to continue reading this production notebook


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