Season Nine: Week 4


“This is very therapeutic for me. It gives me purpose.”

Tuesday / September 24 / 2019
Written by Maria

After Kyle and I answered the traditional three questions, we jumped back in where the group left off on Friday with Act 1 Scene 5. We read the scene once to remind ourselves what was happening, and then several ensemble members jumped into the center of the circle to act out the scene.

The Ghost of Hamlet’s father gives a very long-winded tale of his death and commands Hamlet to avenge him. As he disappears, Marcellus and Horatio come upon Hamlet, who swears them to secrecy about everything they’ve seen and heard. The woman who was playing the Ghost exited into the back of the house, so when Marcellus and Horatio came upon Hamlet by himself we could hear the Ghost’s “Swear!” permeating the space. Kyle asked her why she chose to go back there and she said, “I wanted to startle the audience.” It was very effective. “[Hamlet] gets kind of weird at the end,” one woman commented. Another woman reminded us about the power the Ghost has: that he is in control, and he’s trying to build up Hamlet with this long backstory.

The second time they performed the scene, Kyle challenged the woman playing the Ghost to use the whole space and, boy, did she take the note! She moved constantly, and she went through a rainbow of emotions: angry and demanding, betrayed and dependent on Hamlet for vengeance. One of our veterans said that both interpretations of the Ghost were totally different, but that both worked. “If I didn’t want the crap scared out of me, I’d roll with [the first ghost],” she said. She then went on to say that she thought that every time the Ghost appears, it should get really cold. The A/C was on full blast, so this wasn’t too hard to act out today!

“Does it sound like a Halloween play to anyone?” our Hamlet asked. “I think the ghost should be a person with a sheet, with eye holes and armor on,” another woman insisted, laughing.

We moved on to Act 2, Scene 1, in which Polonius instructs Reynaldo to check up on his son, followed by Ophelia bursting into the room, telling her father about Hamlet’s deranged state. We spent a lot of time discussing Polonius’ motivation to spy on his son and have his servant bad mouth Laertes to get more information. Some people thought that Polonius was just a father worried about his son and his son’s reputation. Others thought it might be his own reputation he’s worried about. One woman reminded us that it’s a strange time to leave, with the whole country on guard, and when Kyle asked if Polonius was a good father, one woman replied, “Depends how old Laertes is.” My favorite comment that really got us talking was when one woman suggested that maybe Shakespeare was trying to show a “normal” father/son relationship between Polonius and Laertes, in contrast to Hamlet.

Speaking of Hamlet, what was going on with him? “Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced/No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled/Ungartered, and down-gyvéd to his ankle/Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,” reminded one of the women of Malvolio’s entrance, yellow-stockinged and cross-gartered, in last season’s Twelfth Night. “Hamlet is freaking out, he can’t go to anybody, he’s trying to get himself together,” she said. After his interaction with the Ghost, Hamlet’s whole world has been rocked, and he is now in shock. “He just wants someone to talk to!”

“Does Polonius know anything?” one woman asked. Quite a few people thought that Polonius must know about the murder and that he’s reporting everything Hamlet is doing to Claudius. One woman said that she thought that Getrude must know something, too, and that maybe an affair with Claudius was the catalyst for the murder.

The woman who played Ophelia exclaimed, “I love Ophelia. She’s my favorite in this whole thing. Without her there’s no play. She’s the catalyst and pawn.”

Friday / September 27 / 2019
Written by Emma

Tonight’s rehearsal began with singing our own praises—how we are diving into this difficult text, getting some great ideas for staging, and are only in week four!—and we reflected on how different this season already is, compared to the last. I think one of the neatest things so far is the mature and intuitive nature of the ensemble. It truly feels like its own organism, and a lot of the finest facilitating comes from the members. It’s great to see them taking ownership like that.

We formed a circle in the center of the room and raised our ring. A reminder for folks who are new ‘round these parts: when we create the ring, we envision it as being made of whatever color or energy we need that evening. The whole group seemed eager to get to business and lowered the ring with a no-nonsense pace. Next, Lauren and I asked the group what they would like to do today. It had been quite some time since we’d played any games—so far, this season has been text, text, text. After brief consideration, the crew opted to move forward with reading on Act II Scene 2. The trend continues!

Before diving in, however, some ensemble members quickly caught everyone up on what had happened during Tuesday’s session. A few ensemble members are involved in other programs and courses that conflict with Tuesday night sessions, so it’s important that the group keeps itself updated like this regularly. “It’s the one where Ghost Daddy chats with Little Hamlet,” one woman dryly declared, describing Act I Scene 5. Who was it who said brevity is the soul of wit?

Now, Act II Scene 2 is an absolute doozy. Pages of winding dialogue, numerous entrances and exits, and plays within plays (oh my!). A few people groaned as we cracked open our books and saw what a long scene lay before us. Despite the marathon ahead, we had no problem filling roles. One notable moment during role assignment was when a returning member who has been reading Gertrude noticed that a new member had meekly raised a hand to signal that she also wanted to read for Gertrude. Without any ego, the returning member gave over the role, grinning as she said, “Oh no, I’ve tried it. You do it!” The new member smiled and thanked her.

The group read through the first few pages before stopping to analyze. What is going on at the beginning of this scene? Claudius is talking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Little Hamlet’s buddies) into prying to find out what’s wrong with Hamlet. “Hey, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” one woman summed up, “Go hang out with my nephew-son and see what’s up. It can’t be that his dad just died. It’s been, like, a month.” During our discussion, one of the newer members walked into the room. A returning member who has been growing in to more of a leadership role this season noticed and quickly caught her up. Another example of great facilitation coming from ensemble members.

We soldiered on with the scene. In 2.2, it feels as though everyone (and their uncle-dad!) has a wordy monologue. All those reading did a fantastic job working through the text, with one woman, who usually shies away from major speaking roles, picking up on some nuanced tonal shifts between normal dialogue and asides to the audience.

“Hamlet sure does have death on his mind!” one woman commented as we came to another stopping point. “Does Hamlet really not know who [Polonius] is?” another woman asked the group. We thought about this for a while—if Hamlet is really clueless and doesn’t recognize Polonious, or if he is simply being cheeky by calling this high-ranking man a “fishmonger”. “Everything in the book [HHamlet] is reading is relevant,” a new member piped up. “I like Hamlet,” she continued. “He’s a smart guy.”

We picked back up with reading. A woman who previously expressed anxiety with reading long passages offered to read the role of First Player—an unnamed and seemingly minor character who actually has quite a lot of dialogue. As she flipped through the pages and saw what lay ahead, she nervously sighed. Without skipping a beat, another member encouraged her. “You got this!” this other woman said with a calm supportiveness. The First Player, feeling supported by her peers, went on to do an excellent read of a difficult passage. “That wasn’t too bad!” she said, surprised, as her part came to a finish.

Once we finally finished reading 2.2, we decided to put it on its feet. Many folks read the same parts, but there were a few switch ups based on what characters people wanted to try out. When we got started, the actors were clustered together, barely moving. Everyone was laser focused on the books in their hands and not paying much attention to the movements of their characters in space. When we came to a stopping point, a returning member said, “I feel like we are sitting around reading, but when we put it on its feet, we need to try to generate the movement”.

Almost immediately, there was a difference in the feel of the scene. In particular, the Hamlet/Polonius interaction felt snippy and sassy, completely charged with angsty energy. As we began to run out of time, something interesting happened. The women playing Hamlet and Polonius actually switched characters mid-scene, without taking a break. Whether it was intentional or the result of confusion, it was really cool. What other surprises are in store this season?

We raised our ring back up and said our goodbyes, satisfied with having tackled such a daunting scene.