What Would Hamlet Do?
We recently asked supporters of Theatre Three to contribute to our blog, podcast, and silly videos to help us in our pursuit of providing equal parts information and escapism to our friends and fans at this time. Our Alumna Jenny Ledel, who you may remember as Marjory in The Moors by Jen Sliverman, sent us her perspective.
It can sting to be reminded that as important as our work in the theatre feels, we’re not essential business at this moment in time. We’re not physically saving lives and, in fact, our work is lethal to the public right now. (Though I’m sure one can argue that watching a production has helped people get out of tough emotional/spiritual spots and may have saved a few lives). But we actually do get a chance to save lives with our art right now. And that’s by not doing it.
It feels entirely unnatural as actors to sit down and not promote ourselves, to not hustle, to not compete, compete, compete in a society that warns us never to slow down, never stop, never stop grinding. Rise and grind! “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now” attitude.
It also feels good, as an artist, to live without this grind lifestyle for a minute. And to question it. Is it working? All the grinding? How could the industry of theater work better? If we had all the money in the world to improve upon the American Theatre how would we do that? What would be the first 3 things we’d change? How are things going to have to change in the business of theater after all this is over? Does our business really have a chance to thrive in a digitally-forward capitalistic society? I really don’t know. But it seems the right time to ask these things. And as artists, what on earth are we doing if we’re not questioning everything we know to be true? If not now, when? We certainly have the time.
I don’t know about you but I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘time.’
When Mayor of Dallas, Eric Johnson, announced the quarantine and declared my city as a disaster area, my stomach immediately – I’m not kidding – IMMEDIATELY, started hurting like crazy and my digestion was all messed up for 2 weeks. Every day was just pain and stress pain and stress and eating bland food and pain and stress. I couldn’t really think too much about it all because I had to use all my energy to heal my stomach.
After overhauling my diet and taking great pains at managing my stress, my stomach problems started to go away. Though the problems that caused it remain.
During the thick of my stomach issues, I was doubled over on my couch trying to keep my mind off the inferno in my gut, and remembering an incredible conversation I witnessed years ago at Shakespeare Dallas.
We were rehearsing a workshop of a play called BOY by Erik Ehn and directed by Raphael Parry. For those who are unfamiliar, a workshop production is a tool we use in the theatre to develop a new play. In a nutshell, we give a play a week or two of rehearsal and do a small invited performance crossed between a staged reading and a fully staged play to find out what about the play needs to change. To find out if this is a work worth spending the time, money and effort on before adding it to a regional theatre season and selling tickets to it.
We began this workshop at Shakespeare Dallas, like most play rehearsals, by doing table work. The cast, director, and designers sit at a table together and slowly read the play all the way through. We stop and start and ask all the relevant questions that come to mind as we read. It’s about sitting, reading, breathing, and asking questions. Figuring out together as a company, what we don’t know about the play.
In this workshop of the play BOY by Erik Ehn, the works of Shakespeare are blended together in a wild mashup. Characters from different Shakespearean plays all clash together in unexpected ways. Rosilind is chasing Orlando, Orlando is chasing Peaseblossom, Peaseblossom is chasing John Dillinger (played by Jeffrey Schmidt! yes this play is wild!), BOY, Lord and Lady Macduff’s son ends up on a pirate ship with Hamlet who ends up being his twin that was separated at birth, etc etc.
Of course, no Shakespearean mashup of a play would be complete without Hamlet.
Upon discussing Hamlet in the table read, the playwright, Erik Ehn, said a thing I’m going to paraphrase because I can’t remember the exact wording. The gist was this:
“I hate it when people say that Hamlet ‘doesn’t do anything’ the whole play. Of course he’s doing something! He’s waiting! This is how long it takes for him to do what he’s being asked to do. This is how long it takes for him to ready himself for the murder of his uncle.”
What does it mean when you fall in love with someone and tell them RIGHT AWAY versus telling them 10 years later? Those are two different conversations and two very different sets of emotions surrounding them. And those 10 years of waiting? Those 10 years are not idle or stagnant. Those 10 years are full of love and longing and pressure to move and pressure to stay still. Those 10 years are bliss. Those 10 years are agony. Those years are complex and delicate. Those 10 years are a daily fight with yourself. Those 10 years are not “Boring.” Those 10 years are not “nothing.” They are a necessary part of what’s going to happen next. And for Hamlet, waiting is the entire play.
Clearly, I was reminded of this idea because in quarantine we are waiting. And waiting is movement whether we like it or not. Waiting is accumulation of living.
If the quarantine was lifted tomorrow how would we greet our friends and loved ones versus if the quarantine was lifted 1 year from now?
Waiting is active. Waiting is hard. Waiting is effort. Waiting is boring. Waiting is disgusting. Waiting is anxiety-inducing. Waiting is terrifying. Waiting is confusing. Waiting is somber. Waiting is stupid. Waiting is enraging. Waiting is depressing. Waiting is a whole lot.
Waiting can be an active enough journey that a 500 year old play on the subject is still one of the most widely read and performed pieces of drama in the world.
I thought that was inspiring. Hamlet waits. Hamlet asks alot of questions about the way things are. Hamlet goes down in history.
Or Whatever. I don’t know. My stomach is all better now and I’m hungry.