Here is the student debrief for our recent production of Hamlet, Prince of Somewhere Cold. If you’re thinking about putting on a Shakespeare play, or if you’re despairing in a current production, read this. Call it, a message from beyond the black hole…
Mentor Question: We’re going into another production now. What do you want to remember about what you just went through that you’re afraid you might forget?
It all works out.
It’s not only that everything works out, but everything will go badly, and we’re all going to mess up and it’s going to feel like the end of the world – but he’s making a good point – we’re all going to feel like it’s the end of the world, and then we’re going to look back and say, we learned something, and I like to think I became a better person.
When something goes wrong it doesn’t help to freak out about it. Just fix it and keep going. In a movie I saw there’s this guy who has a saying: “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.” (from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Always remain calm. But, be aware of all the bad things that are happening so you’re ready for them. But, don’t let them ruin your experience.
When you done messed up, you admit that you done messed up, and you fix the thing. Because when you mess up your first instinct is to defend yourself. Don’t do that. Say, okay, I did the thing, I’m going to do a different thing now. Apologizing is different than saying that you did it. Own it. Apologizing is different than owning it. You don’t even have to say I’m sorry. Just own it; we’ll all know it.
The production kind of sucked until the last day; honestly, we didn’t have a show until the last run-through. I wasn’t the only one who felt this. But I’ve done this five times, and I feel like no matter how many times we’ve done this it will always feel this way. But, people do get their act together.
Why does it work out? Some Answers…
The day before the show you realize you’re putting on a show and it’s actually happening and people are counting on you… Everybody has their own self-ignited reality check… People don’t take it seriously during rehearsals, because they’re just rehearsals, but then before the show we realize we want it to be good, so we get our act together… I think you’ve got to get the “bad takes” out so you can get the good takes in… Water backstage was a huge thing, huge… When everything seems like it’s going wrong, it’s not necessarily really going wrong. Things could get much, much worse. But, then again, they can go really right as well… Every play I’ve ever been in it gets reiterated: bad dress, good show, because at the dress rehearsal you realize how horrible the play actually is, and then you have a whole day to say, okay, now I need to do this, this and this, and then you can fix all those things. Dress rehearsal is a reality check. It’s like Schrodiger’s Cat. You don’t know if you’re play is going to be really horrible or really good; you have to open the box and find out… Running through the play is indispensable; that is the deciding factor. You have to have experience standing backstage for the whole play, waiting to come on. That’s why we get unfocussed in rehearsals. We never had to stand by and go, uh oh, I am in the next scene and I need to get ready. In rehearsal you get to simulate the play.
I think it’s important that we’ve been together for almost two years, and we’ve gained a certain level of theatrical trust that’s pretty mutual. We have a good sense of what everybody’s capable of, and that everyone will learn the script in time for the show and they’ll be good.
It usually goes well because we’re prepared. We’ve built a sort of defense system in ourselves and we’re ready. Then when we’re about to go on, we’re realize we’re prepared to be good and to work together, even if things didn’t seem like it.
I think returning students spend a lot of time at parent’s faire worrying about the new people. We all know each other this year and there were no first years who were lost and confused, and no returners who were worrying about the new people. I think that took out a lot of the stress.
One huge factor was the fact that we all wanted it to be good. And secondly, I think the audience was great; they wanted us to succeed, and they laughed.
We all get along in this group. Some years we don’t all get along, but everyone here trusts each other and we all can rely on each other. I also know we can rely on all the cast; not just a couple of them. If you lose a prop they will go get it for you.
How amazing it is to work with all you guys.
I want to say that it’s a real privilege that we are surrounded by a group of people that came here for this material and really love it and love performing it. No one is forced to be here. And it’s also great that we have mentors who really love this material. I also want to remember that I usually enjoy the characters I didn’t like at first.
How hard these mentors work. We don’t realize it. You get a on a call for 45 minutes and then, you realize there are 16 of us, plus all those emails about those mentor calls that we didn’t remember.
I posted that last comment because it’s something I want to remember when students don’t call, ignore that they didn’t call, and then ignore that they ignored the ignoring and make excuses. Which reminds me to post our “Excuses Hall of Fame” list!
How much I love the theater! When sorrows come, they come not in single spies but in battalions. When you can pull Shakespeare quotes that relate to life, that’s great.
How hard it is to be a director and how obnoxious actors can be, and I’m going to try not to be obnoxious.
The feeling of being really in the scene, so I could really say, “I’m freaking out!”
Mentor Question: What do you want to let go of?
Putting off the blocking. I want to figure out the blocking earlier than the night of the play. It’s really risky to wait to the last minute. I didn’t know when Matthew drew his sword and hit me on the head if my helmet was going to come down the way it needed to.
Be confident with your lines, but not too confident. Don’t think, I’ve got this, no problem.
A spark of fear is important for success.
Amanda told me once, you have to be nice to your brain. You have to replenish it. It’s not kind to make it learn 100 lines in 2 days.
Don’t panic on stage if someone is a little late for their cue. You don’t need to fill the space right away. Take a breath.
Don’t make things out to be worse than they are. From backstage, things can seem like they’re going badly on stage. We were about to enter to rescue the scene because we heard a long silence. Then, suddenly, we heard Hamlet say, “Now I am alone.” He’d been waiting for the others to exit.
Mentor Question: Do you have any appreciations to offer?
Cody for the script and the class for trusting us and being willing to perform it. It’s a great gift to have your play performed on stage. Kieran for doing a terrific job with his part despite the fact that he was sick. I asked where Kieran was before the show, and someone told me he was sick in the bathroom. I thought, wait, that’s not in our script! Also I want you all to know that despite all the tension before the show, it really is an enormous privilege to work with you guys.
I agree; I just turned down a job because it would mean me missing Thursdays. I don’t want to give this up.
Aviva and Abigail for helping me out so much backstage.
Kalina for putting up with everybody running around backstage and doing crazy stuff; if someone asked a question they just answered it. Also to Becca. Whenever something went wrong you said, okay, this went wrong, we just need to deal with it, and then we’d go deal with it, and that actually kept our scenes running a lot smoother than they would have gone if you hadn’t done that.
Kalina and Shaun. They both did a ton of work and didn’t lose their cool when we were being jerks.
Matthew for stepping up and solving the Helmet problem, and taking ten minutes to eat dinner so that we would have time to practice. Kalina for stepping up to be stage manager. Colin for coming year after year and helping us and being the experienced person. And the mentors for devoting their lives to us and our work.
Thank you Emma for cleaning up my sandwich.
Thank you Kieran for picking up the suitcase. I freaked out when I left it on stage.
Patrick for choreographing the fight scenes. And for making them really funny.
Abi for being together with me the entire play so I knew when to go on. Colin for helping me learn my lines.
Amanda for being amazing and also for driving me. Ina for letting me brutally grab her off stage. Alan (aka Cody) for letting me awkwardly look through your hair and put the ice on your head in the show. Shaun for working with me and directing.
Jay and Emma for helping me finally understand the scene between Ophelia and Laertes.
Liz for being so supportive of me all year, and Amanda for sitting on the phone with me for 2 hours to write my paper.
Liz for keeping on believing in us, even when she told us it was bad. Amanda for keeping chill, even when it was bad. Kalina for being a great stage manager – you managed us well without being bossy.
Justin for being enthusiastic and fun about everything. No matter what horrible thing happens, he just says, Yeah!
This was an ensemble play but by far Isaiah had the most lines. At the beginning he didn’t know them all and we gave him a hard time for it but he completely got it together and the acting was spectacular. He was a good Hamlet!
That was one of my goals this year, was learning how to deal with people better!
Maeve and Liz for preparing a great stage manager costume.
I believe in you guys; I know sometimes I yell at you, but the reason I yell at you is because I believe in you. I get mad at times because I believe you’re cheating yourselves. I believe you’re truly capable of doing great things. You all really did an excellent job.
When your teacher stops yelling at you is when you know you’re in trouble. When we back off, and stop checking on you and asking for work, it’s because we know there is no point and we’re done.
Colin for being here to contribute for so many years, and especially this year. He’s read an acting book and has been teaching all acting games and as a result our acting exercises have been the best they’ve ever been this year.