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Hamlet (Folding Chair Classical Theatre)

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Ben Williams
April 3, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Actor.

What is your show about?
Seven actors in an empty space, with no props or sets, use the words of Shakespeare, their bodies, and their voices to conjure up this tale of parents, children, kings, queens, princes, ghosts, murder and revenge.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Duluth, Minnesota and raised just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to public schools up through high school, then to University of Minnesota – Twin Cities before transferring to Cornell University where I received my degree in Philosophy and Performance. I've hated school, loved school, escaped into books and systems of ideas, and been transformed by learning only to be plagued by the imbalance of mental over-articulation. Oh, yeah – did I mention that this show will mark the second time I've played the role of Hamlet? TYPECAST. Though seriously: I think too much. Not too WELL, mind you, but often too much. As an actor, there's strength of thought in FOCUS, but often the thinking man's game is lost on an actor's action. (And see? Again with The [“Great”] Dane stuff... )

Are audiences in New York City different from audiences in other cities/countries where you’ve performed? If so, how?
I feel a peculiar anxiety in NYC audiences; a sort of desperate expectation. That's not to say it's SICKLY, per se, but it often strikes me as... clammy. Actually, it reminds me of the student population of Cornell – when I was there, anyway. It's as though because everyone is so talented – skilled, driven, opinionated; CONSCIOUS / SELF-CONSCIOUS – they are in a desperate and continual need of real escape. An escape of true surprise and insight. Audiences elsewhere seem to be more than grateful to just be there at all, as though nothing they could see or hear could possibly ruin their experience. NYC audiences often feel to me like they're sorry they came; they're used to being disappointed or pretending to enjoy themselves simply because they have no other choice (I'm reminded of Uta Hagen's advice / admonishment to the actor to never laugh at anything you don't truly find funny; a word against cheerful be-jading, I've always thought). And so what do you do? Give them good work. Any audience – all audiences – can and will be moved by good work; something committed and unfiltered, unsafe. Live bodies doing good work cannot be dismissed and cannot disappoint. “Wow, they're right there in front of me! But wait – what was that idea I was ironically smirking at again... ? Nevermind that – what is that guy on stage DOING... ?!” They're still surprised and moved; you just have to let them in even further.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I first played the role of Hamlet 10 years ago this May. The chance to play him again was impossible to pass up. Besides loving to work with Marcus Geduld and Folding Chair Classical Theatre, the idea of being able to revisit this “too much chang-ed son” was overwhelmingly fascinating, let alone improbable. I have been beside myself in gratitude and excitement from Day 1. First time around, I played this hilarious nutcase at Cornell University in their professional mainstage resident theatre. Their RPTA Program was still intact then (R.esident P.rofessional T.eaching A.ssistant Program), and so the roles more appropriately cast older were ACTUALLY cast older with professional actors and so the mainstage shows were high-grade Equity productions. It was thrilling. My dad was sick with cancer then, but he was able to visit from Wisconsin and see a couple of the performances. What a gift that was. Sadly, he passed away three months after that. Those performances and these are dedicated to him. It is heartbreaking to understand so much more about Hamlet's grief through my own – but also inspiring. I think this time around I can share more of his experience, as I can share more of my own, not only personally but artistically and with as much abandon and sacrifice as is necessary for good work [see above]; personal, not indulgent. And let's not forget FUNNY, for God's sake!! This play is hilarious. Come and laugh-cry, why doncha? What else can you do?!

Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo?
Harpo. If you don't see any sign of Harpo in my performance, please, please, PLEASE: Feel free to tell the director Marcus Geduld all about it. *WINK-NUDGE*

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I have struggled with this question all of my adult life. In short, the answer is yes. Because I'll tell you something – if I didn't believe that live performance made a difference in people's lives, you can be damn sure I wouldn't be doing it. And though that may be the fallacy of the lonely fact, it is still a fact. Until it is falsified, just please call me Hamlet (at least once more).