Hundreds experience earthy production of Shakespeare's Hamlet

Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2003

It was an experience in theatre that would have pleased Shakespeare himself. The Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre's outdoor production of Hamlet last week drew hundreds of Alaskan families to the Diamond M Ranch on K-Beach Rd. They came with blankets, lawn chairs, and umbrellas, like any Alaskan prepared for whatever elements of weather that might occur, except perhaps the hot sun that broke through a cloudy sky about half way through the untraditional performance.

Bruce Rogers who, with an ensemble of directors, put together the earthy production, that was impressive in its professional interpretation while adding unique elements to the classic that has challenged the masters of theatre through the ages. "After attending the Edinburgh festival in Scotland with another production a few years ago, the troupe started talking about Hamlet. We produced it in Fairbanks the following year, big costume, big set, knowing that we would take it to the festival. This year when we came back, in between practices for Julius Caesar which we will be taking to the festival this year from August 10-25, we began to work on Hamlet's story with a moving set and a lot of room to do a lot of different things, but what we always focused on was that it was Hamlet's story," explained Rogers in an interview following the performance.

For eleven years the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre has done outdoor Shakespearean productions that utilize earth and sky to create a dramatic setting that involves the audience in the classic tales. However, for most who attended the Sunday performance, seeing cast members utilized as props and Hamlet's graveyard scene strewn with live corpses, was a unique experience. One they expressed their appreciation with a standing ovation and sustained applause. The natural dust, dirt and sky, seemed to make the ancient ghost story even more vivid to young and old alike. "That's what we do, we designed Hamlet as a fringe piece, my thought was that you take a classic and twist it around a little bit, and here you have inanimates that turn to life and tell the story of Hamlet, that was the idea," said Rogers.

According the actor-director, often someone on stage gets an idea and starts to work with it and pretty soon someone else picks up on it and in the production of Hamlet more than others, that is what is making the performance a living production. For the more than 300 some who attended the performance, many who had never seen or even read a Shakespeare play, there was mainly only one question that remained, will the well-traveled, well-versed thespians return to the Kenai Peninsula? "I hope so, yes, for sure we will! We want to tour as much of the state as possible with actors from all over the state and across the country to help spread the magic of Shakespeare," answered Rogers, adding that the Kenai audience was the largest gathering the troupe had performed for this season.

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