COMMENTS

The Bard gets a serious trim for production of 'Hamlet' aimed at school kids

/

Stephanie Fleischmann and Dmitry Troyanovsky know that some people might think they were committing some kind of heresy by cutting William Shakespeare's nearly four-hour drama "Hamlet" down to a roughly 45-minute play.

That's the length of the average class period for middle and high school students for whom they wrote "Hamlet Redux."

"It was a huge challenge and I wasn't sure how we would accomplish it all," said Fleishmann, who co-wrote the script with Troyanovsky, who is directing the production that features the third-year students in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory.

But then she figured, "why not? I loved the idea of working with Shakespeare's text. It's a learning experience and something no playwright should say no to, and it's an exercise for me in storytelling, how to tell a huge story quickly, clearly, incisively and powerfully. That was very appealing."

The show is the fourth production of the Asolo Rep's New Stages series of plays geared for school audiences. Last year, Troyanovsky directed "Antigone Now" which he admits "went really well. So that gave me some confidence in tackling this project."

Katie Cunningham, seated center, plays the title character in "Hamlet Redux" in one of two casts of a version of the Shakespeare play geared for young audiences by the Asolo Repertory Theatre's New Stages program. Featured in her production are, from left, Luke Bartholomew, Megan Delay, Tony Stopperan and Summer Dawn Wallace. PHOTO PROVIDED BY ASOLO REP


Two public performances at Asolo Rep on Thursday night kick off an unexpected season of "Hamlet" in Sarasota. It includes performances of one version of the play by The Wooster Group during the Ringling International Arts Festival this month, and the world premiere of Eduardo Machado's "Hamlet: Prince of Cuba" at Asolo Rep later in the season.

By whittling Shakespeare's script, removing some characters and story arcs, the authors believe they have brought out the essence of the play while providing an entree into Shakespeare for the mostly young audiences who will see the show during touring performances over the next month.

"We felt the play can be seen as a story for the younger generation having to grow up and face a very complicated world," Troyanovsky said. "The process of losing their illusions, and losing your illusions is part of growing up, dealing with the hostilities that the world imposes on them and yet finding a way to be human within that world; they have to make choices."

In order to create that focus, Troyanovsky and Fleischmann had to do a lot of cutting.

"A lot of subplots had to go. The war, the Fortenbras subplot doesn't exist, characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't exist, but some of their lines are now spoken by other characters," he said. "Some scenes have to be boiled down to their essence, just two or three lines of the entire scene."

Still, every word spoken by the actors was written by Shakespeare.

Because the show will be traveling to schools, community centers and other venues around the state, Troyanovsky had to devise a staging plan that would work "in any kind of environment." There aren't a lot of props or set pieces, and Fleischmann said the design has a somewhat timeless quality, not suggesting any specific period.

Troyanovsky also has another challenge. He is directing two different casts, one with six actors, and the other with five. Geoff Knox plays Hamlet in one production and Katie Cunningham plays him (as a man) in the other.

"Geoff and Katie are very different people, but in my mind, I make no special differences for the male or female Hamlet. We try to keep the casts as similar as possible."

Some actors double up on characters, and the way they are doubled varies for each version.

The casts have rehearsed together and separately, Troyanovsky said.

At the start, he would rehearse a scene with one cast and have the other watch, and then have the other cast do it in their own way, helping Troyanovsky create different levels and layers of the performances, and allowing each cast to create its own version of the same material.

New Stages is a project of the Asolo Rep's Education program, which has booked more than 30 performances and expects many more through early November, said Education Director Brian Hersch.

He also expects more public performances for adult audiences, like the two scheduled for Thursday night in the Asolo Rep's Cook Theatre.

"Last year we did 40 performances of 'Antigone Now' from Tampa to Punta Gorda and we already have 30 scheduled this year, so we know there will be many more, and we're scheduling from Tampa to Miami," he said.

Having two casts also means the theater can reach twice as many schools.

Students get study guides and teachers are provided information on how to work with their students to further understand the play and its message.

It also is designed, in part, as a potential step toward student appreciation of "Hamlet, Prince of Cuba," a more contemporary adaptation of the play that will occasionally be performed in English and Spanish.

"Both of these are adaptations and I think it really gives people an opportunity to see how the same story can be told and interpreted in many ways," Hersch said. "That's the essence of Shakespeare, too."

THEATER PREVIEW
HAMLET REDUX. 6 and 8:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at Asolo Repertory Theatre, FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets $28. 351-8000; asolorep.org
Last modified: September 29, 2011
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.
COMMENTS