Lucinda Kidder directs her 'Hamlet' cast at a rehearsal Tuesday.
Once, a futuristic king in revised 'Hamlet'
BY HUNTER P. STYLES
HADLEY - Behind the main building of the Hartsbrook School on Bay Road, two teenage girls are fighting with swords.
Several exchanges of metal have ended with uncertainty; the swinging arms jolt to a confused stop after a block that
should have been there or a thrust that should not have.
But after being set right by the fight choreographer standing by, the girls, Julia Mix Barrington and Brooke Steinhauser,
remember the series of moves, and it's clear they're just getting warmed up.
On the other side of the building, a dozen pre-teens and teens stand in a line marching in place, carefully following
the lead of an older, more experienced marcher in front. They practice lifting their knees and squaring their shoulders
until the troop moves like one body.
Is this the bizarre new contingent of the Hampshire County ROTC? Not exactly - it's ''Hamlet.''
The Young Company of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company was founded five years ago to help the 14-year-old community theater
widen its educational mission. This summer the group's members, aged 10 to 18, are eager to perform their own imagining of
the Prince of Denmark's tragic story outdoors at the school.
Lucinda Kidder, director of this show as well as of this season's ''The Merchant of Venice,'' is excited to be doing
Shakespeare with these teenagers for the first time. ''Many high schoolers read Shakespeare, so having a younger company
put it on makes perfect sense.''
This show, however, is far from a photocopy of the ''Hamlet'' staged this month by older Hampshire Shakespeare actors.
How will it differ? Molly Hebert-Wilson, who plays Ophelia, put it this way: ''It's set futuristically in a
post-apocalyptic world that has reverted back to feudalism.''
The update, is turns out, is an experiment with two objectives. The first is simple but significant. ''Having the play
in a whole different time period turns it into a very different show,'' says actor Charlotte De Vries.
The past four Young Company productions were designed to mirror the adult production, down to the costumes worn.
This year's show will break ranks.
The second hope among these players is that, by adjusting the environment of the play, the Young Company will find new
ways of looking at the social dynamic in Hamlet's life.
In this case, it will be among a cluster of the last human survivors on Earth, who have managed to avoid a manmade
disaster that has decimated the species.
This is a far cry from the ''Hamlet'' most know, but the parallels are purposeful. In both, Prince Hamlet is visited
by the ghost of his father, the late king of Denmark. The ghost tells Hamlet that his uncle Claudius, the king's brother,
has murdered him and taken both his crown and queen for himself.
Hamlet is thus thrown into a psychological struggle as he contemplates killing his uncle to avenge his father. The
atmosphere at the beginning of the play - mourning for the dead, uncertainty about a shift in power, and the continuing
possibility of war - is where historic Denmark overlaps with the Young Company's futuristic vision.
''The idea is to show a society on the fringes of chaos,'' explained Chloe Metcalf, who plays Polonius, the chief court
advisor to Claudius. ''Most of society has been killed off, so they've developed a very rigid pecking order to keep people
As a result, hanging over each scene is the fear that this house-of-cards arrangement will collapse if anyone steps out
Enter the morose prince, stage left.
''Hamlet's already being dangerous to society by not being happy,'' said De Vries, who plays Guildenstern. ''Everyone has
to at least pretend to be happy, otherwise people could start fighting again and another disaster could happen,''
Aside from an early read-through and a few casual Saturday rehearsals, this week is all the time the Young Company has
to bring its ideas together.
Players rehearse at Hartsbrook, turning their stage into that futuristic colony as quickly as they can.
Groups of young actors rehearse scenes in corners of a soccer field, while those with more lines stroll through the meadow,
talking to themselves in new voices and new characters. It's clear everyone is hard at work.
Some young actors are returning to the Young Company this summer. Almost half of them worked together to add effects
and flesh out crowd scenes in the adult ''Hamlet.''
''It's a real mix,'' said Kidder. ''Some have done Young Company before and have taken HSC classes, some haven't. It's
probably half and half.''
''Hamlet has so much to say compared to everyone else,'' Kidder added. ''So newcomers unfortunately have to have smaller
Her solution: Claudius, the self-proclaimed dictator, has gathered together shock troops to roam the land and to keep
himself on top - this explains all of the marching around the campus on Monday afternoon.
In addition, Claudius has a secret network of spies, headed by Polonius, to keep a collective eye on that suspiciously
mopey Hamlet. In these spies and soldiers, those without many lines find additional characters to work with.
''Coming up with ideas for the show started a long time ago,'' said Brooke Steinhauser, the 18-year-old Hamlet. ''We were
brainstorming during mainstage.''
Alongside Steinhauser's Hamlet, Hebert-Wilson's Ophelia, and Metcalf's Polonius, Nate Weiss is King Claudius, Aiesha
Derby is Queen Gertrude, Julia Mix Barrington is Polonius's son Laertes and Arla Berman is Hamlet's friend Horatio.
Rebecca Rom-Frank and Charlotte De Vries play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively. Gabe Hart plays the ghost.
Caitlin Hannahan and Lucy Parker are the Player King and Player Queen for a show-within-the-play. Sara Holmes is the Lead
Player. Chris Junno is Osric. Paul Adzima and Jessamyn Rising play the guards Bernardo and Marcellus.
Molly Daniell is Francisco the guard as well as the Priest. Morgan Lentz and Ellie Williamson play the attendants Cornelius
and Voltimand. Rachel Garbus and Theo Maltz play 1st Clown and 2nd Clown. Signe Erickson is a Messenger and Joshua Wolfson
is, last but certainly not least, a Sailor.
The show will be performed on the stage used for the adult company's ''Hamlet,'' but the look has been re-envisioned. The
soldiers are dressed in black and wear streamlined high-tech helmets, which each actor has designed for himself.
A likeness of actor Nate Weiss _the new king - is the insignia for these uniforms. The king's spies will wear sunglasses.
As for the futuristic theme, this crowd has pooled its resources. During one soliloquy, Hamlet will use a videophone to
compare his father to his uncle. Instead of delivering letters, messengers will use iPods and Palm Pilots - artifacts from
an age when, at some point, we inadvertently pushed the self-destruct button.
The cast is hoping their production draws a crowd of peers as well as adults. Steinhauser sees a strong relevance in her
character to the thoughts and emotions churning in teenagers' heads everywhere.
''[Hamlet] is the perfect part for a teenager. He doesn't know what to do, or how to decide on the right way to act.''
Will he work it out before the next apocalypse? Friday's opening will tell all.
The play opens Friday and continues Saturday, and Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Hartsbrook School, 193 Bay Road, Hadley.
Tickets are $5 at the entry.
Hunter P. Styles was a member of the adult Hampshire Shakespeare cast that staged ''Hamlet'' earlier this month.