Hamlet Blog Part 2

This spring, the Classical Studio of NYU Tisch School of the Arts produced Hamlet in what scholars have deduced to be the play’s Original Pronunciation (OP), more than 400 years ago on the very first opening night of the play. This was the first full-length OP production of any Shakespeare play in New York City.

To document this premiere OP process in an educational setting, we kept a communal class blog of our experience. I wrote twice: once at the very beginning of the process, and once at the very end. The following post is my second of two, copied and pasted from the private OP Hamlet blog. (2.29.2016)

I suppose I ought to be thinking about form, and precision, and OP, and concrete, practical acting. But I can never really get over the most basic part of acting that everyone else seems to have accepted long ago, but still feels massive to me. There’s a great self-consciousness that looms extra powerfully in scenes like 5.2.

If I stopped trying to control my own experience, what on earth would happen when I watch the man I love be publicly murdered? Something embarrassing, to be sure. Very weak. Very ridiculous. Don’t show that!!!!!!!!! Then they’ll know what you’re REALLY like when you’re sad/angry/in love/upset/not in control/whatever.

It’s just such a joke! That I would humor myself, flatter myself, to think that other people can’t see parts of myself unless I choose to show them. I fail before I begin! So why not expend the energy on something else? Something more fun.

And, as if the uncomposed, decomposed, uncontrolled parts of being human aren’t worth being seen, or worth sharing. Which is a harmful ideal. “To every thing, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven . . .” (Both bible, and this song by the Byrds).

One of my favorite Humans of New York posts of all time:


“I can’t stand moral absolutism. You know, there’s always that guy who wants to point out that Martin Luther King cheated on his wife– as if he obviously couldn’t have been a great person if he did something like that. Or someone will bring out an inspirational quote, and get you to agree, and then inform you that Hitler said it. As if a good thought couldn’t come from Hitler. Moral absolutism keeps us from learning from the past. It’s easy to say: ‘Hitler was a demon. Nazis were all bad seeds.’ That’s simple. It’s much harder to say: ‘Is that humanity? Is that me?’”

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Theatre is informative in the intimate way I’ve always thought sports must be. There’s this massive vehicle whose ignition lies deep within the framework and all these elaborate workings and disparate systems that compound into the car’s movement and abilities.

There was a rehabilitation program for child soldiers–I believe it was a French program, but I can’t find it right now–that was frighteningly, unorthodoxly, successful in practice (and therefore discontinued). What do you do when presented with a bus-ful of children who have spent their lives killing strangers, friends, and family? How do you begin to rehabilitate this population? What therapy could possibly suffice?

In this program, as the kids step off the bus, they are handed a soccer jersey. All different countries’ jerseys to all these different kids. And they’re at a soccer camp. Instant motivation to cooperate, learning lessons like teamwork, supporting weaker links, respecting authority, working toward a goal. And it worked brilliantly. Humans are incredible adaptable. The teacher who told me all this, Jan Urban, said, “You cannot scream out in fear 24/7. You adapt.” (This is the man who helped dismantle the communist regime in the Czech Republic–I’m very proud to have learned from him).

The vehicle of theatre runs on the ignition we seek to create in our work. The way we navigate our rehearsal space, our interactions with cast mates and directors, how we speak and abide by the rules of the space and circumstances. The unspoken agreements we all have. The drive to accomplish. All based in a currency of interactions between two people with specific relationships and wants. It’s arguably as interesting and informative as the show we ultimately create. That’s why I’ve decided I don’t want to be exclusively an actor anymore: the core of what I find so fascinating in acting, is seducing me into translating it into other worlds beyond the theatre. The most micro and personal ways of breaking it all down.

“Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, ‘He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.’
But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.”
The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

“I’m going to adopt this tone for the rest of the week” (Louis Scheeder). Our first hour or so of rehearsal, our theatre-vehicle groaned through 5.2 with great thoroughness and repetition. All 18 of us, plus 4+ teachers, many in some phase of illness, in one warm room. Prime conditions to test the strength and durability of a machine, to see how gear systems hold up under strain.

“As you can tell, this will work best, and we can get more done, if only me or Louis or Darci or Sarah are talking unless we’ve asked one of you to talk. So let’s establish that as a practice.” The complex social workings of our theatre machine require formidable listening, of which we are capable. As Sarah mentioned yesterday, the freedoms we are given and which we devour–with a valuable and passionate zest–are granted by the patience of our leaders. Such freedoms do not exist in the professional world, perhaps to greater productivity, as we now discover the need for streamlining the process.

The refs ref. The coaches coach. The players play.

Please watch this:

“In football, it’s the goals you don’t get that make it worth while. Many golfers would be better if you had golf holes which were the size of eight feet across. But it wouldn’t make it a better game. Because you’ve arranged these little holes so that most golfers will fail most of the time. And then it’s a good game. And of course, a really good game is, the best people don’t always win.”
Keith Johnstone

Remember that talk several of us had backstage about the purpose and past/present/future of religion backstage yesterday? Whether it’s pompous or modest, borne of ego or humility.

Yesterday, Devan and I had very little to do in rehearsal, so on our way back from buying skulls in the Halloween store, Devan very patiently let me pull her into church for the free organ meditation they do at 4 pm, to sit in, just for a little while. We left, maybe 15 minutes later, GREATLY INFORMED about the world of Hamlet. In New York City, it’s easy forget what it is to be concerned with a higher power than the *~*individual*~*. Go sometime this week hear some music played by a musically generous *~*individual*~*. It will assuredly do one of the following: 1) unlock something for you about the play, 2) unlock something for you about life, 3) be a nice place to sit quietly for a bit, for free.

Stop by, sit in the back. Stay for 5 minutes or an hour. Bring a dry food good or toiletry if you can. It’s three blocks north of Tisch.

And look what was on the back of the program they handed out.


Luckily, as Louis was saying, “A very good night, once again. I’m worried about saying that,” the hubbub of cleanup had already begun, so the sense of reward after a rigorous evening was lost in the shuffle. Unluckily, I’ve put it here anyway–positive notes can be so awful. Praise for a nice product feels so good, that I go for the feeling again, rather than committing to the work that led me there–the quickest route to failure. But failure is a valuable currency, as Keith Johnstone expressed in the youtube video. “Start with the fear.” This “universal phobia about being looked at.” Or: self-consciousness. Could a great enemy be a great ally–the portal into the study of these most micro and personal ways of breaking it all down? If you have time: read the first chapter of Ann Bogart’s “A Director Prepares”.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


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