Last night, we had the opportunity to rehearse Hamlet on the Central Park Plaza stage. Despite the rain, the rehearsal was a huge success. The actors acclimated to the park stage and the crew was able to work through all the technical challenges that come with working outdoors. Even though our entire set was designed with traveling to the park in the forefront of our minds, it was still quite a feat to make it all happen.
We moved the set into a rental truck on Tuesday night after rehearsal. It was almost midnight by the time we were packed up. On Wednesday, we began unloading the truck at the park at 4:30pm and it took until 8:30pm to make the stage performance ready. The lighting is a real challenge in the park. First off, there's the weather, which did not cooperate with us last night. We had some problems with one of our portable dimmers as well, so it was a real struggle in the beginning. But, through the magic of theatre (and a few smart volunteers), we got everything working. We were able to run lights for Acts 1-3 before the rain became too much. Luckily, the stage does have a roof so the actors continued, nice and dry, through Act 5.
We also rented a 17 x 40 foot backdrop and lift system this year. It's a beautiful midnight blue canvas to offset our silver set, and also solves the problem of not having a backstage area at the park. We have banners that go up and down on motors and video projections to contend with as well. This is why dress reherearsal at the park is a must--we work out all the bugs so we have a beautiful performances for audiences.
As I type all this, I am reminded of a comment lighting designer Bob Cooley made during a stressful moment. He said, "We were just too ambitious." When all the problems get worked out and you are looking at this beautiful piece of art before you on the giant stage in downtown Valpo and then imagining the crowds, I am all too glad to have been ambitious. For most of us, this is our Hamlet. I know with a good deal of certainty that I will not direct this play again so I'm making this count. Even when my back is breaking from the physical labor involved in this project or my mind is completely overwhelmed to the point where I lose my phone twice in 5 minutes, I have no regrets. If Chicago Street Theatre is going to do Hamlet in the park, we're going to do it with all the ambition and imagination we can muster. And, this time, it was quite a lot.
Now for what I really came here to write (I feel awkward saying it, but I'll do it anyway): The production is breathtakingly beautiful...and moving and exciting and strong and touching and funny. The actors, music, lights, video, and set have come together on the park stage in the most symbiotic way. I have a deep, deep love for this play. The poetry and the story are unparalleled. To hear Shakespeare's greatest work ring throughout downtown Valpo brings me to the brink of tears. No exaggeration.
I'll leave you with the same sentiments I shared with the cast and crew as we approached dress rehearsal in the park:
- Mission: To present live theatre that nurtures the creative spirit of the community.
- Vision: A community that embraces the performing arts as a defining and treasured expression of life.
- Values: We believe in the power of theatre. We believe in the talent and commitment of volunteers. We believe in the nurturing relationship between audiences and artists. We believe in the unique experience of live theatre.