Bringing the Bard to Campus
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 22:10
When director Kathleen Joyce (COL ’15) cut herself shaving with an old razor, she was inspired to create her show. As the cut became infected, it appeared more and more gruesome.
“It kind of looked like a gunshot wound,” she said. “I had my hair and makeup people take a picture of it so they can replicate it on some of the people in the show. I guess there are some method actors, and I am a method director.”
Joyce’s devotion to her production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead” is certainly impressive. However, the junior is just one of dozens of Georgetown students dedicated to performing works inspired by Shakespeare on campus this fall. Nomadic Theater’s production of “Rosencrantz,” an absurdist comedy based on Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, will open Oct. 24. The theater department’s production of “Hamlet” will debut on Nov. 7. Both shows have set themselves a challenging, yet rewarding, task: updating Shakespeare’s stories to appeal to students in the 21st century.
“Hamlet” director, professor Derek Goldman, thinks the task is far from insurmountable. In fact, he believes that the themes are wholly applicable to the life of the college student today.
“My interest in doing ‘Hamlet’ here at Georgetown was rooted in the deep sense that the play is about students and would connect explicitly to student experience,” he said.
Student producer Hannah Hauer-King (COL ’14) agreed.
“While, say, the ‘to be or not to be’ speech is so stigmatized now, it’s really just a speech about someone struggling with adolescent teenage suicide and disillusionment with their family,” she said. “These themes really transcend time.”
Many of the actors in the play have already begun to identify Hamlet’s challenges.
“Hamlet is a college-age student,” actor Josh Street (COL ’15) said. “At a school like Georgetown, we get so many pressures. We can really relate to the pressures on Hamlet and what he is going through. It’s actually amazing that we stay so sane.”
Those working on “Rosencrantz” have had a similar experience.
“This show is really about looking about your place in the universe,” Joyce said. “Anyone, particularly a college student, can identify with that.”
Still, the theater department wanted to approach the age-old story with a fresh perspective to make it even more relatable. Its production of “Hamlet” emphasizes the parallels between Hamlet’s isolation and the isolation of the modern person in the 21st century. “We’re using a lot of devices and ideas around social networking,” Goldman said. “Hamlet is fighting for a very strong connection with the real.”
In the age of iPhones and laptops, Goldman thinks students will empathize with the constant battle against distraction. Viewers may actually discover more about their role in modern society by watching a play that is hundreds of years old.
“We are using pretty advanced technology to make a commentary about how engrossed we all are in devices and how alienating it can feel in a world of these devices” Hauer-King said.
Joyce was more cautious about creating a radical interpretation of “Rosencrantz.”
“The play already deals with many existential issues,” she said “It is complicated on too many levels already.” Still, she wanted to give the work her own spin. For example, she transformed the travelling acting troupe in the play into a not-fully-human circus of demented performers, some of whom will bear the aforementioned wound. She thinks these few changes will enhance the play while still staying consistent with Stoppard’s original absurdist intentions.
While it might seem redundant or strange to have two very similar productions open in the same theater in the same month, the choice was actually intentional. “When I heard that Professor Goldman was doing ‘Hamlet’ I thought [‘Rosencrantz’] would be a great accompaniment,” Joyce said. “I think the two plays complement each other.”
Joyce was in one of Goldman’s classes last year and they agreed to promote the two shows together to try to attract audiences to both.
Joyce believes audiences can experience the comparable issues in both plays without having to force a direct connection. “The audience will be able to appreciate the common themes in both shows,” she said.
Goldman is also excited about the timing of the two plays. “[‘Rosencrantz’] is so often regarded as an offshoot of ‘Hamlet,’” he said. “But because it is showing first, it will be able to shine in its own light.”