Students Perform Hamlet, too!

This is our most successful summer yet for our Education Programming with over 75 students enrolled in camps and workshops. Audiences can check out the future generation of Chicago Street Theatre when Shakespeare in Shorts and our Shakespeare Workshop present their versions of Hamlet. It's an amazing and wonderful experience to see these kids perform Shakespeare!

July 25 and 26: 
1 PM Shakespeare in Shorts (8-13 year olds)
4 PM Shakespeare Workshop (teens)

Tickets are only $5 for adults/students/seniors.
Kids under age 13 are FREE

My Artistic Heart

My artistic heart was exposed for all to see in the middle of downtown Valpo last night as Hamlet took the stage in front of over a thousand people. If I am perfectly honest, I felt very vulnerable seeing their faces pointed toward the stage in anticipation. I can only imagine the emotions of the actors as they walked through the crowd to take their places backstage. Artists take such huge personal risks to bring a story to life and there is no greater risk for us at Chicago Street than these performances in the park.  The actors rose to the occasion and fed off the energy of the crowd. The production is not truly complete until that moment when the audience shares in the story with you. The audience helps elevate the performances in this indescrible way. Every one of the actors on stage last night performed with more committment and energy than ever before. My artistic heart was very full last night.


I am out of time for now as I must get to the park for set-up. Again tonight, we'll take the leap of faith that live theatre demands and I hope there are many in the audience there to leap with us!

posted by Traci Brant, CST Artistic Chair and Hamlet Director

Hamlet Rings Out in Downtown Valpo

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:

To share theatre with thousands of people in Central Park Plaza is the pinnacle of fulfilling CST’s mission and an incredibly talented and dedicated group of volunteers make it possible.  For those that don’t know, here is what CST is about:
  • 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.
We’re pretty much nailing it! Thank you to all those who support this endeavor and all those that will share in the outdoor performances this weekend. 
posted by Artistic Chair and Director Traci Brant

 

Hamlet: Getting to the "Good Stuff"

(posted by Director Traci Brant)

Wow, I haven't posted for soooo long. I'm normally a director who uses the CST blog to organize my thoughts and reflect on the work during the rehearsal process, but for Hamlet, I haven't had time to take a breath. I've watched my husband go through this process for the last 3 years of Shakespeare in the Park (twice as a director and once as an actor), so I thought I had an idea about what I was getting into. As it turns out, it's even more daunting and exhausting than I ever imagined. BUT, I have no regrets. So now, just hours from our first of 5 dress rehearsals, I'll give you some ramblings about where we're at.

We are moving forward with each rehearsal--one (often painful) step at a time. Last night we ran the entire show straight through for the first time and it was pretty solid. I am now confident that we will have a beautiful production with a lot of passion and heart. 

Rehearsal 6/30/15Hamlet (Justin Treasure) has made huge strides in the last couple rehearsals. He's a very intelligent, contemplative actor. During the first 4 weeks or so of reherasal, he spent a lot of time wrestling with the character's motivations and analyzing the text for clues. At one point a couple of weeks ago, he actually hated the character for a while. (Thankfully, we've moved past that point!) He's now using his gut instincts and unmitigated command of the stage (a natural gift he has) to embody Hamlet. When you combine that with the analysis work he did leading up to this point, you get an actor who is now inhabiting Hamlet and not just playing a role. That's the corner we needed to turn. We're there and I couldn't be more proud of where he is at. He will now be able to grow over the next 5 rehearsals into what I can now promise will be a remarkable Hamlet.  

That's all I have time for at the moment! But, it was at the forefront of my mind this morning to share my joy that we are now getting to what I call "the good stuff."  I can't wait to share it with everyone at Central Park Plaza... but after a few more rehearsals.  More later perhaps...

Hamlet Made the Cut

We came in at 2 hours 6 minutes! That's a world-class marathon time... and, a pretty comfortable time for the first read-through of Hamlet.  The actors gathered this past Saturday for the first time as an ensemble as we embark upon producing what is proclaimed by some as "the greatest play in the English language."  No pressure.  

Modern Danish Royals As directors, we shared a bit about our design inspiration.  We don't plan to "overlay" the play with any particular time period or setting. We really want the story to speak for itself.  I mean, there's love, murder, betrayal, revenge, and whole lot of action packed in it. Putting an artificial layer on the piece like the roaring twenties or 1970s Berkely felt counter-productive to our story-telling.  Instead, we are focused on the timeless themes.  In that spirit, we've been inspired by an array of things that span centuries.  

CHRISTIANSBORG PALACEI've been doing quite a bit of research on the current Danish royal family. Admittedly, I didn't even know they existed before embarking on this project. The Danish monarchy claims to be the oldest in Europe with a history dating back to the Ninth Century. Modern royals embody this idea of old plus new. While they very much are a product of and living example of tradition, they also navigate a modern political system and modern media. The Danish family enjoys particlularly high approval ratings in Denmark, despite the typical family scandals that pop up now and again. That stylish blend of new and old is where we'd like our design to land.  

 

Great Belt BridgeThe set--always a massive challenge due to the free Central Park shows--will need to be mobile, fit both on the Central Park and CST stages, and serve the multiple locations called for in the play. Perusing photos of the Danish palaces (take a look here), the strong clean, lines stuck with me. I then began to look at modern, "functional" Danish architecture and came across photos of the Great Belt Bridge that connects two islands in Denmark. Again, there were those clean lines and a feeling of strength. This imagery has lead us to our scenic design. I chuckle as I write this because, in the end, the design looks nothing like either of those structures, but it embodies strength and functionality with a bit of royal style.  

We'll reveal more about the production design later as we finalize materials. It's quite a process and I'm thrilled to finally be in the thick of it.  

-Traci Brant, Director and Artistic Chair

 

 

Hamlet by the Numbers

posted by Director Traci Brant

Hamlet has already been a lengthy, challenging, terrifying, and completely thrilling process for Co-Director Jonni Pera and I.  The first daunting task was to craft a cut-down version of the play that tells the story in a compelling, clear, and urgent style. It was quite a process so here are some fun tidbits to put that in perspective. Even though artistic endeavors are a passion of mine, math and spreadsheets also put a smile on my face.   

  • Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play at nearly 5 hours uncut. We estimate that CST's current working script is approximately 2 hours 20 minutes.
  • According to various sources, the play as written has nearly 30,000 words.  [Wow, too many]  We've got it cut down to approximately 14,000. 
  • The original play has 34 characters.  We're at 19 characters played by 14 actors.  
  • The Arden Shakespeare edition of Hamlet has over 400 pages.  CST's hand-typed script is only 152 pages, and that's with Arial 13 point font with lots of space between lines and in the margins for notes. Honestly, it's not that long at all.  We estimate an average of 1 minute per page for scripts with much tighter margins.  

We may cut the script down even more as we go through the rehearsal process. It will not be the longest play CST has produced. Off the top of my head, at around 3 hours, both The Man Who Came to Dinner and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have Hamlet beat. For that matter, Annie and The Sound of Music both ran around 2 1/2 hours. We got this. Cut the fat. Get to the heart of the story.... revenge, murder, love, loss... all the good stuff that makes up most compelling drama whether on television or on stage.

After months and months of script work, it was a relief to actually build out the rehearsal schedule over the weekend... albeit a daunting 3-hour process. Our priorities included avoiding actor conflicts, blocking all the scenes, working all the scenes, time for discoveries, and putting the play back together for continuity. I know we are now ready to move Hamlet from the page to the stage.

Hamlet Cast Announced!

After much deliberation and some very difficult choices, directors Traci Brant and Jonni Pera are pleased to announce the cast of Hamlet, the 60th season's Shakespeare in the Park production.  They also extend their thanks to all of those who auditioned.  It is greatly appreciated!  We can't do this without our very talented volunteer actors!

  • Justin Treasure as Hamlet
  • David Pera as Claudius
  • Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano as Gertrude
  • Mike Johnson as Polonius
  • Jason Kaplan as Laertes
  • Caity Mullen as Ophelia
  • Dan Matern as the Gravedigger / Player 2
  • Dexter Pritchard as the Ghost
  • Michael Pals as Horatio
  • Glenn Silver as Guildenstern
  • William Carns as Rosencrantz
  • Jim Drader as Osric / Player 3
  • Troy Yeager as Bernardo / Player 1 / Lucianus 
  • Kevin Perry as Marcellus