HAMLET Production Notebook  PAGE 2

Script: cutting/editing and use of First Folio

Using the text and punctuation from the first folio, I have cut the play down to about 75 typescript pages. Though not an especially short cutting, it retains all the key scenes usually played and cuts out the often removed Reynaldo/Polonius scenes, the Fortinbras scenes completely, and the gravedigger/clowns before Hamlets entrance, with other bits and pieces removed here and there. I have also moved the occasional line, mostly to expedite entrances, exits and character changes for this production. When Hamlet requests a "passionate speech" from the First Player, I have cut the Hecuba section altogether and inserted the first portion of "To Be or Not to Be." Hamlet then continues this speech in it's usual place before the nunnery scene with Ophelia. The Hecuba speech would most likely have been a well known speech (or at least well known variety of speech) for the Elizabethan audiences, much as the "To be or not to be" speech is to us. Well known and approaching holy, it can be vastly difficult to get past those barriers. Hamlet will follow along with the First Player, mouthing it with her, and even joining her in passages, in essence acting it as she recites it.

My training with Patrick Tucker, both at SMU and with him in many workshops since, lead me to use the First Folio as the departure point for all my verse and script work. Though not accounting it as a holy scripture, I have found that there are indeed many useful clues to be found by working through the punctuation and phrases as laid out in the First Folio. The typescript also incorporates the folio’s spelling and capitalization, as often there are additional clues to word emphasis and possible pronunciations given by the "incorrect" spelling.

The first folio is generally accepted to be compiled primarily from the acting versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Much of the grammar and punctuation in subsequent versions have been "corrected and updated" losing a great number of acting notes Shakespeare so kindly included. They had virtually no rehearsals in Shakespeare’s theater and therefore any acting notes were given in the actors lines.


It would be in the best interests of such an ensemble production to extend the rehearsal process as long as possible. Though I often start out with one-on-one verse work and basic text problems, for this production I plan on starting on our feet working the masks and the actors. Building a working vocabulary in the forms needed to portray the multiple characters, as well as building a solid company are well worth setting aside the text for a while. Only when we feel in tune with each other and find a basis for our work will we move on to the actual text. Some of this text work can be fit into the schedule once we have begun, but extra time will be needed, as each actor has numerous parts which must be gone over one at a time.

Working with the text from the folio, I like to go through each separate part individually with the actors using Patrick Tucker’s notes as a springboard. I’ve included part of his notebook to show the basis for this verse work:

Shakespearean Verse Acting Check List

( Patrick Tucker, 1990)

1. Identify whether the piece is in prose or poetry - and make the appropriate acting conclusions.

2. Find and identify the ends of each thought in the speech - a thought continues until the first full stop or period. Usually, the few words leading up to this period or full stop are what that particular thought is all about.

3. Saying it out loud, find the masculine and feminine endings (and the Alexandrines!) and so choose the final word in each verse line or not, as appropriate.

4. By saying it out loud, find the verbal conceits; that is, the rhymes, alliterations, assonances, and repeated words. These help you to decide which words to choose.

5. Saying it out loud, choose the similes, metaphors, the strange words, and words with double meanings - especially the bawdy ones.

6. Saying it out loud, find the rhythm breaks and changes, the full or half lines, and (if you are keen, the Caesura) - and see what they are telling you.

7. By doing all the above, and making all those choices, find the changing attitudes. Particularly notice when the language changes from simple to complex, and vice versa.

8. By doing all the above with the changing attitudes, find the character by making all these words and choices your own. (In other words, find the acting reason for your character to say these lines in this way and at this time.)

9. Finally, speed it all up - amazingly.


Having found a beginning to the physicalization of the piece and a start on the understanding of where the text may lead us, I prefer to get immediately back onto our feet, as finding the physical life of these many characters is of the utmost importance if we hope to delineate them. I’ve never found "table work" with the whole cast to be very useful.

Generally, I approach the staging of a show with the minimum of blocking worked out. The exploration in rehearsals will help lead us to where the blocking needs to be. I lay out initial entrances and exits to give a starting point, as well as ideas and notions for stage action, but nothing is set in stone. I also always prepare a platt of who is on when and as which character. The platt is even more important with this production as the four actors other than Hamlet must constantly be changing characters in a split second in many cases, and the less confusion the better. All actors will be needed for most, if not all rehearsals.



The ambient sound and music background for the production is based on Pete Townshend and The Who's album, "Quadrophenia." From it's pulsing surf and storm sounds at the beginning of the album through it's pounding and, at times, majestic Rock and Roll orchestra sound, the album and it's central character go a long way in helping to set the mood for both the inner turmoil of Hamlet and the majesty and pomp of the court.

The chilling rain and relentless surf, dampening Hamlet’s soul. The piercing guitar, screaming to be released from torments placed upon him by his parents, his peers and himself. The mournful French Horns recalling a grander place that Elsinore perhaps once knew under the former King.

"Quadrophenia" and Pete Townshend’s music in general, deal with the angst of the young man. A young man in a place in his life where he is now a man, yet is not allowed his manhood. There is also a great deal of sexual frustration running throughout the music (like a good deal of rock and roll.) Though the words and stories of "Hamlet" and "Quadrophenia" are different, much of the feeling and soul of the two echo many of the same themes.

Too often we lose the passion inherent in Shakespeare: we become too careful and neat. The freedom of Rock and Roll strips us of these pretensions, baring our souls to discovery and enlightenment.



For the purposes of this production book, I have set it in a space essentially like the Pearl Theatre at 80 St. Marks St in NYC. This is, in essence, a traveling production and could easily work in any space with no set and no lights. However, the ability to provide more clues and help focus our stage-pictures insists that we make full use of lighting if possible. The audience is practically on top of the players, and vice versa. The actors are close enough so that the intimate scenes can be played as small as needed and eye contact can always be made with the audience when desired. The audience will also be treated as the rest of the court, making them participants without the necessity of them being active. The lights in the house, therefore need to be kept up enough to allow their faces to be seen, while still providing a sense of separation, and the ability to change moods on stage.

The stage itself must not be bare, as this is not a "rehearsal" production. Rather it must be dressed, as by the Traveling Players. The furnishing are few: two trunks containing most of the props and masks used throughout. One of the trunks is large enough to play as a bed, platform, or coffin as needed. The playing space is made smaller and more intimate downstage toward the audience by four columns with three rich and worn tapestries strung between them. The tapestries are lined in blood red and rigged to break away when Hamlet stabs Polonius, and in the final scene when everyone but Horatio is killed. The majority of the action takes place in this smaller playing space, with small amounts of the action coming and going behind and further up and off stage. The actors seldom leave the stage once they have entered, except at intermission. Behind this set area, the existing theater will show. There is a fire pit light DSC, which also serves as illumination for Ophelia in the funeral scene. The space of the stage is a dark huddle out of the rain where we may stage our play.

Click here to see SET RENDERINGS

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