By Cassie Call
William Shakespeare’s works were written over four centuries ago, but last weekend The American Shakespeare Center proved that they can be captivating even to today’s audiences.
This troupe of talented actors is currently on tour, and made their visit to Union for Oct. 19 and 20.
Not only did they perform free productions of “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” but they also had a lunch and conversation with students and taught interactive workshops.
At the lunch, students had the unique opportunity to talk to individual actors and troupe members.
This was such a privilege, considering how top-notch and professional this theatre company is.
Will Garner ’18 attended the lunch and had discussions with stage manager Sara Vazquez and actor Alexandra Leigh.
He learned about the company itself, which is based in Staunton, Va., and about the company’s unique production methods.
“One thing I thought was cool,” said Garner, “is how they try to make each production as close to how Shakespeare would do it. They keep the lights on during the productions (so the actors can see the audience), and they have seating on three sides of the stage. They play modern music in between acts.”
My own experience in seeing “Hamlet” left me in awe, particularly because of the live music played before the show and during intermission.
The modern music was played on traditional instruments, including the banjo, bass, drums, guitar, ukulele, mandolin and trumpets.
I was also pleasantly surprised that it was the actors playing and singing this music, showing how incredibly talented and versatile these performers are.
The songs all seemed to revolve around themes in “Hamlet,” such as Imagine Dragons’ hit “Demons,” which related to the concept of devils coming back as ghosts.
The song “When I’m Gone” from “Pitch Perfect” represented how Hamlet does not truly appreciate Ophelia until after she is dead.
The actors added harmonies and different sounds to the songs, making the music more complex and more relevant to the play than their popular counterparts.
One of my favorites was a medley that began and ended with Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son,” but transitioned to Fun’s “Carry On” for a large middle portion of the song.
Another unique aspect of this production was the interaction between the actors and the audience members.
Whenever the actors were speaking toward the audience, they would look at individual people as if they were talking directly to them, so much so that I think they made eye contact with every person in the audience.
A number of people got to participate directly in the show, improvising with the actors.
At one point, Polonius and Hamlet were sitting in the audience, talking to people as if they were part of the show, as well.
Shakespeare likely intended for the audience to participate in his productions, and keeping the lights on allows the actors to see the audience.
For the actors of the ASC, the audience is a vital component of a production’s energy.
I do not see how these actors could make the show more enthralling and entertaining, as their acting skills were simply superb.
Their diction was perfectly crisp throughout, enabling the audience to easily understand their lines.
Moreover, each character had the perfect facial expressions to convey their specific emotions at that moment.
When Garner talked to Leigh, she told him “she gets all the small parts, but has a lot of fun with them.”
This certainly seemed true in “Hamlet,” where one of her roles was one of the “players” in the band of actors that comes to entertain young Hamlet.
It was easy to see that she was having fun, as her facial expressions and physical motions were equally as entertaining as those of the lead actors.
She even said to Garner, “I get to play the villain in the fake play, and it’s one of my favorite roles.”
Gertrude (Stephanie Holladay Earl) is the perfectly scolding but fragile mother, wanting the best for Hamlet but confused and scared when he brings her shocking news.
Claudius (Ben Gorman) is always looking out for his own interests while hiding his guilt, with an unfailing evil eye whenever he’s trying to get what he wants.
Horatio (Tim Sailer) is forever loyal to Hamlet, helping him in his plan but also worrying for his friend.
Polonius (Stephen Brunson) always thinks he knows best — often making a fool of himself in the process.
Patrick Poole is great as the confident Laertes, the loving and defensive brother to Susie Parr’s deteriorating Ophelia.
Last but not least, Patrick Earl conveys Hamlet’s craze for revenge in intense and often humorous ways, shifting from anxiety and violence to silly games and sassy mockery.
He also uses props and physical gestures to entertain, utilizing every resource in order to stretch and flesh out his character.
During the final scene, as Horatio’s tears fall over his dying friend, I glanced back into the audience and saw that everyone was watching intensely, captivated by the final moments of this amazing production.
The American Shakespeare Center, a nonprofit organization, put on what was, to me, possibly the the best production I have ever seen.