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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Words, Words, Words: Meet Stratford Festival's Hamlet

Oops! I've been too busy to blog again! But at least I've been happy-busy!

It's summer here in Stratford, and that means the Stratford Festival is in full-swing... which means I am busy with audio-description for a few of the productions, as well as writing articles about some of our wonderful performers and artists for the e-newsletter, SceneNotes.

As I am off to see Hamlet again tonight, here is a reprint of an interview I did with star Jonathan Goad for our January edition just before rehearsals began. Enjoy-- and come see the show!

Note: I will be audio-describing this production live for the blind and visually impaired on July 26 and again on September 5. If you know anyone who would enjoy this added accessibility, please let them know.

Q: You have a lot of experience playing leads, and are certainly no stranger to Shakespeare. Are there any previous roles in particular that you feel will help you play Hamlet?

A: You could say that all of Shakespeare’s major roles help to inform an actor’s portrayal of Hamlet. I’ve played the title role in Pericles, and though he’s a very different sort of prince in many ways, both are swept away by the magnitude of their outside circumstances. Playing that sort of lead character is a perfect background, because it makes me familiar with being at the very centre of the vortex of a play. But the successful portrayal of any part is always a team effort – and we have a great team!

A play that might give me the best grounding is Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark, which I did with The Company Theatre in Toronto a few years back. Our director, Jason Byrne, said to me, “This play is a bit of a Hamlet” – referring to the overwhelming scale of the dilemma in the drama and the paradigm shift in the main character. It has a lot of obvious parallels.

Q: Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s best-known role, filled with some of his most famous quotes. Did this daunt you at all when you were cast?

A: As with any great leading part, there is a great responsibility to be the glue of the play, so you absolutely have to bring your “A” game to every single second of every performance and be 100% on every night. You need to find the truth in every moment to reach your full potential, and to fully reach the audience.

The real challenge in doing such a famous play is to ensure that the viewer will truly care. You want it to be relevant to them, here and now. Hamlet’s character is so multi-dimensional – on a huge intellectual, emotional and physical scale. It’s his philosophical revealing of his inner self – his vulnerability – that draws us in and takes us into a sort of universal experience to which everyone can relate. An actor wants to bring a Hamlet to the stage that will connect with the audience on an authentic human level.

The big speech, “To be, or not to be,” is only one of his six incredible soliloquies. It’s a pause for breath in the middle of the action, and he never refers to himself: it’s a speech about a collective humanity. The entire play is open to so many questions that take on a life of their own. Is he really mad? Suicidal? Does he really love Ophelia? It’s a journey worth continually investigating from production to production – and from performance to performance.

At the end of the day, what will really grab the audience is the fact that Hamlet is still a remarkable revenge tragedy: a great yarn full of high stakes, high tension and knock-it-out-of-the-park moments.

Q: Hamlet is famous for his melancholy. To end on a positive note, name five things that make you happy.

A: One: First and foremost, my wonderful family.

Two: Anything with a board! I love skateboarding, long-boarding, snowboarding – and I hope to get in a week of pre-Hamlet surfing this winter.

Three: Community. By that I mean the remarkable community of the theatre and everyone who makes a show happen – and also the community formed between performers and their audiences.

Four: I love to learn. I have been doing more and more teaching, and in doing so I always am learning new things myself.

Five: Young people: they possess such boundless excitement, enthusiasm and potential.

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