By CAROLYN SPEDDEN
Tackling what is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy would be a daunting task for any director and ensemble of actors. But performing “Hamlet” in an outdoor environment where a hurricane pelts rain on you during your first performance and horrific humidity follows for the next show, might send even the most devoted thespian scurrying back to the comfort of a castle in Denmark.
“Outdoor performance is really about survival as much as it is about being heard. After opening with a hurricane this year, that couldn’t be more apparent,” notes Graham Pilato, a Washington actor playing Horatio in the Festival’s production of “Hamlet.”
While the Renaissance Festival presents edited versions of classic plays each year, this 100-minute edition of Hamlet is the most ambitious so far — not least because the play is so famous.
Jack Powers, who plays Hamlet in the production, had to deal with that from the start. “You try to ignore the renown of the speeches and only try to pick up on the big thoughts in them, not the larger-than-life status of the speeches themselves.”
Director John Sadowsky also had the daunting task of editing Shakespeare’s longest play into two 50-minute acts. “I approached the job as telling the story in as simple, direct and entertaining a way as possible. First and foremost, I wanted to tell the basic story of Hamlet’s conflicts and revenge.”
And how does one approach one of the most iconic roles in theater? For Sadowsky, his view of the role changed at auditions. “I was going to go with the traditional 30-something, who just prefers to stay in and around his college until called back to Elsinore to assume the throne. But I saw something really special in Jack’s audition and decided to go with the 20-year-old Hamlet, a real college student who is genuinely pissed off at not succeeding his father and who could be goaded into action by the ghost of his father, real or imagined. He isn’t any more indecisive than any other 20-something and we can clearly see his vengeance plot take hold. I think our Hamlet is someone that young people in the audience can identify with, even those without uncles who killed their fathers and married their mothers. He has more fun in him and I hope people will see him sympathetically.”
The play is presented in two acts, beginning at 1 p.m. each day at the festival’s Globe Theatre. In addition of their roles in Hamlet, Pilato and Powers also do improvisational work in the pathways, directly connecting with the audience.
“For street work, it’s about gauging the audience to know what sort of bit to perform with them, to really make some quick judgments about what they might prefer to have me say or do, says Pilato. “I’m a huge fan of what we do. Being able to help provide that depth and wonder to audiences makes me really happy. It’s also lovely to have an opportunity to work and play with some really awesome talents — I’ve learned a lot about clowning, classical theater, voice and movement and improvisation in the company of these great folks.”
Director Sadowsky, who also performs at the Festival, agrees. “Audience interaction, the improvisation and sustaining a character for very long periods of time have tremendously helped my acting in more traditional theaters the rest of the year. I can easily handle anything that could go awry in live theater because of my experience in the Renaissance Festival.”
Absolutely. Because after performing in a hurricane, a drafty theater is a piece of cake.
The Maryland Renaissance Festival runs weekends until Oct. 23. For more information visit marylandrenaissancefestival.com.