Volume 97 Issue 6 News

Juniata Theatre Department presents Hamlet

by Lewis Boob

To be or not to be? This February, the Juniata Theatre Department will be performing “Hamlet” at 8 p.m., Feb. 18-20 and Feb. 25-27, in the Halbritter Center for the Arts.

The show will also perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. “The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world, so in the month of August there are around three thousand shows in Edinburgh, Scotland, at one time,” said Neal Utterback, director of Hamlet and assistant professor of theatre arts. “The shows in that city are non-stop, morning to night. There is nowhere else in the world that has a theatre festival at this scale, nowhere else.”

The Juniata Theatre Department is traveling to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Aug. 3, and will be staying there until Aug. 14. In terms of preparing for the festival, senior Jamison Monella said, “We’ll finish up Hamlet here at the end of February, and then do brush up rehearsals in March, April, May, June, July and August. We have to keep the show fresh in our bodies.”

Senior Holly Souchack added that preparing for the festival includes moving the set abroad. “There is a lot of fog, but we can’t take a fog machine to Edinburgh. We have to rehearse hazing. We have to use hair spray as often as we can throughout the show. We also have these giant panels, and we have to find ways to take them apart, store them, and put them back up. We’re still not quite sure about this yet, but we might have to do that in the fifteen minutes before we go on stage. We have to find a way to make a small show smaller, and find a way to travel with it.”

When asked about the involvement with the festival, Utterback noted the importance of travel. “I believe there are lots of important things for an artist to do, but I think that’s true for any human being. Our actors will never stop training; they will have to train for the rest of their lives. You never stop working on your craft. You have to keep doing productions, whether they’re your own productions that you created or productions you’ve auditioned for and have been casted in. You’re constantly working to evolve and grow, but I believe the single most important thing any artist or any human can do in this world is travel. Traveling opens your mind, broadens your horizons and exposes you to things you didn’t even know you needed exposed too. You must travel. When I got here, one of the things I wanted to do was create a touring company of shows that went out in the world.”

In this production of “Hamlet,” there are three people for each of the two separate casts. One of them is an all-male cast, while the other is an all-female cast. “I started with the metaphor that Hamlet was a broken mirror, so there’s lots of reflections about the space between life and death, truth and lies,” said Utterback. “The play itself has sort of a play within a play, and the idea is the fiction within the play shows the conscious of the king. Truth and fiction are sort of reflections of each other, and this broken mirror metaphor manifested itself into production. I decided that I would create two casts, and those two casts are single-gender. That sort of reflects back on the history of Elizabethan practices, where there were only male actors, but we’re also reflecting contemporary practices where we’ll do whatever we want with it. Each cast is reflecting itself.”

This production of “Hamlet” has proven challenging yet rewarding for the actors, “I’m very honored to be a part of the whole process,” said senior Logan Moore, a member of the male cast. “Working with Neal and Jamer and Pat [Rutledge] is so much fun. They bring so much energy and positivity, and I walk away from every rehearsal with a smile on my face. I love the work we’re doing.”

Junior Julia LaPlante, a member of the female cast, said, “The switching between characters is hard, but has been the most rewarding experience I have had from a show in a long time.”

Utterback hopes to continue sending shows abroad in the future. “I want to continue expanding our opportunities in touring. Edinburgh Fringe Festival is just an important theatre festival, historically important and culturally important. There are festivals that I am looking at in France and Canada as well. I want to expand our region to see what else is out there and establish a rotation that makes sense to us,” said Utterback.

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