Doubling Down on The Bard: The Hamlet Cast on Working Together

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hamlet poster summer shakes 2017 flatNow that the rehearsal process has begun, assistant directors Evin and Zak sat down with some of the cast to interview them on their upcoming performances: what they’re excited for, what they’re nervous for, and what challenges they foresee.

Summer Shakespeare has a long tradition of doubling larger roles into Cast A and Cast B, where one actor plays a certain role for half of the performances and a second actor plays it for the other half. For Hamlet, each pair of actors doubled in this way are playing a different role on their off-night; for example, Caroline Holmes plays Claudius for Cast A performances, but plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father for Cast B performances. Brett Peters, her double, plays the ghost for Cast A performances and Claudius for Cast B. Doubling parts allows more actors to explore more roles, but it also gives them someone to collaborate with.

Caroline says, “As you get older, you kind of learn to use your double as a collaborative tool. To develop your character, learn more about each other by sharing each other’s opinions of the character you kind of get a new perspective on what their thoughts are.” Brett added on to this sentiment saying, “I see double casting as both very helpful and also an additional stress because you have to make sure they know everything, say they’re gone for a day, you have to be sure you write everything down to essentially every point so they’re not being thrown under the bus when they have to do what they need.”

When talking to Margaux Pisciotta and Mark Woznicki, our Polonius and Shakespeare (who frequently makes guest appearances at Summer Shakespeare productions to “MC” the shows), Margaux said this about the unique benefit of working with another actor on the same role: “For me, at least, I think the coolest part is that you have someone else to bounce your ideas off of because as an actor you’re always a little bit insecure about your performance and so to have someone else there saying ‘oh yeah, that’s a great idea’ or ‘maybe we shouldn’t do that,’ that’s always really reassuring and it gives you more confidence as a performer but it also gives you ideas that maybe you would have never thought of yourself and so it adds to your character.”

 

Sam and Ali Rehearse

Sam rehearsing a scene with Ali

Working with each other often leads to a kind of comradery between actors. Like in the case of Sam Stratton and Jack Cain, our Hamlet and Gravedigger actors, who have been doubled before. Much of their interview involved lighthearted jabbing at one another before they were finally pressed for an honest answer: “We work together really well. It’s fun to share notes after performances and everything to see if we can improve ourselves,” Sam said.

This improvement is important, as all the actors understand the weight of the roles they are being challenged with. “I was super excited when I got the part,” said Jack on playing Hamlet, “but then I got this sense of complete terror because of its capacity.” This is true for each role so it is twice as true when playing two roles. A challenge is “trying to make these characters separate because they’re not completely different, they have some similarities,” said Molly on her roles of Laertes and Guildenstern (two young college-aged men). “So trying to get in the zone for each character and totally step into it instead of just half doing two different parts but wholly doing two different parts.”

 

Doubling

Lexi and Ali working on “Mirroring,” a Theatre exercise

For some, the initial distance between character and actor is a potential hurdle in addition to separating the two roles. Lexi Asare had this to say on Queen Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother), “I’ve never had to play a character who sits there and lets someone beat them around. It’s going to be interesting to have to keep my mouth shut.” But this can also be a breath of fresh air for an actor. “She’s got this persona that’s pretty different from my own and I’m excited to tap into that character,” added Alyssa Jansen, Lexi’s double. They also will be playing the Player Queen, a role that is instrumental in revealing Claudius’ guilt.

Excitement is high in this cast with everyone looking forward to something different or maybe unexpected. “I have to say the best scene would have to be when he (Polonius) dies, because we just get to lie down on the ground dead for 30 minutes while Hamlet and Gertrude talk. So I’m really looking forward to that,” enthused Mark. “My distracted globe is looking forward to this process,” said Tulip Kopecky (one of our Ophelias and Horatios), in a reference to the play. Ali Basham, Tulip’s counterpart added that she was looking forward to “working with each other and creating the character in our own sense and just creating them for ourselves.”

Despite the many challenges, or perhaps because of them, every cast member interviewed is looking forward to working together to create a nuanced and memorable production. Even now, the cast has bonded together, thinking alike when it came to our final question: who would win in a fight between their two characters?

Hamlet vs Gravedigger?

“Gravedigger… Throw him into a grave, bury him alive… He probably has embalming tools somewhere,” Sam weighed in.

“He could mummify Hamlet,” Jack added, sagely.

Horatio vs Ophelia?

As complex an answer as the two characters.

“I think that Horatio would play whatever kind of fight it was, a battle of wits or arms, fairly as if she were facing any other opponent, like, “I’m just gonna do my best,” whereas Ophelia would over think it and be like, “ah, the outcome of this duel should I win or the other person win…” and would analyze it more,” ruminated Tulip.

Polonius vs Shakespeare?

Shakespeare. Polonius has one major weakness: he’s “not good at avoiding swords,” Margaux observed.

Laertes vs Guildenstern?

“Laertes, hands down. Scrappy. Knows how to sword fight,” stated Molly. She did think Rosencrantz might try to help his friend but probably wouldn’t be that impressive.

Gertrude vs the Player Queen?

The underdog Player Queen.

“She has more of a backbone,” decided Lexi.

Claudius vs Ghost?

“Well, we know that already,” said Caroline, putting the matter to rest for all time.

Hamlet runs July 20th, 21st, 22nd, 27th, 28th, and 29th at 7 pm and the 23rd and 30th at 2 pm at the Appleton North auditorium.

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