Touring theater group brings 'Hamlet' show to the Kenai Peninsula

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2003

Every summer on the Kenai Peninsula, hoards of visitors from all over the world flock to the area for fishing and other outdoor activities. A group from Fairbanks will join the crowd this weekend, although the outdoor event they are coming for has nothing to do with salmon, camping or any other typical tourist activities.

The Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre company will bring its outdoor production of "Hamlet" to Kenai at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The group is on its way to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a world-renown arts and culture festival in Scotland, and will perform the show on the peninsula as a fund-raiser for its trip, and as a way to make contact with the Kenai area.

Though the professional touring theatrical group is no stranger to performing in Southcentral Alaska, this will be its first show on the peninsula.

"I expect it to be fantastic," said Carol Ford of the Kenai Perform-ers, which is hosting the Fairbanks group. "If (people) miss it, they'll be sorry."


The Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre company performs "Hamlet" at the 2003 Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez in June.

Photo courtesy of Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre

The Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre company was formed in 1992 by a group of actors with an unshakable love for Shakespeare's works. The group had just finished a summer Shakespeare production in Fairbanks and couldn't wait to do more.

"They said 'We like doing this, we want to do this all the time, why can't we do this outside every summer?'" said producer Andrew Cassel.

Now in its 11th year, the group is the only theater company in Alaska that makes Shakespeare its sole mission. Performers, designers and directors come from all over the world to take part in the productions.

At the core of the company is its passion for Shakespeare.

"It is important to us and we want to share that with others," Cassel said.

Though the Bard lived and wrote in the 16th century, his works still make for living, vibrant theater, Cassel said.

"It's really timeless theater that works all the time," he said.

"Hamlet" is Shakespeare's classic tragedy about the intrigue and revenge stirred up when the King of Denmark is murdered by his successor, King Claudius, and the dead king's son, Hamlet, discovers the plot.

Though the story is not uplifting, the play contains some of Shak-espeare's most famous lines.

"I went into it not wanting to go. I don't like tragedy, it bums me out," Ford said. "But I loved it. It's a really, really fun experience.

"Teens should come, it's a great opportunity for them to see some fantastic live theater, wonderful costumes, great sets and really good acting."

The Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre has garnered a reputation for its ingenuity in staging Shakespeare's masterpieces. It has performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Merchant of Venice, "Twelfth Night," "The Tempest," and "Richard III," among other lesser-known works.

Cassel describes the company's style as "organic performance." When on tour the company travels light, so it uses a minimum of set pieces and props to create the scenery for the play. In "Hamlet," all 18 actors are on stage all the time, either as part of a scene or using their bodies to create set pieces, Cassel said.

The production is staged in the round with the audience on both sides of the action.

"That will include the audience in what we are doing so they get a sense they're caught in the performance like we are," Cassel said.

"They can expect to see a 'Hamlet' like they've never seen before."

"Hamlet" will be staged in the grassy field at the Diamond M. Ranch on Kalifornsky Beach Road, near the intersection of K-Beach and Bridge Access roads. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for seniors and free for anyone 18 and under and are available at River City Books in Soldotna, Charlotte's in Kenai and at the gate.

Patrons can bring blankets to sit on and food to eat during the two-hour performance. Tarps will be set up in the event of rain.

The Kenai Performers are looking for hosts to house members of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre for the weekend. Anyone interested should call Ford at 776-8308.

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