You've probably never been to a Shakespeare production that has no seating and encourages to you to document the show on real time on social media. But it's 2016. Time to get with the program!
St. Louis-based theater company Rebel and Misfits Productions is taking everything you thought you ever knew about Shakespeare and turning it upside down with Hamlet: See What I See. The show, which opens tomorrow and runs through November 18 at the Barnett on Washington in Grand Center, features a cast of both St. Louis-based actors as well as Brandon Alan Smith of Gotham on FOX.
Hamlet: See What I See is the first of five works in a new series called the Immersive Theatre Project, which will run in tandem with another project that Rebel and Misfits has yet to announce. Each production in the year-long series will destroy the lines between spectators and actors, allowing audience members to step into their world.
In this first show the audience is invited to arrive at 7 p.m. to enjoy a cocktail hour set in Elsinore Castle. Artistic director Kelly Hummert, who will be playing Ophelia, says that some of the characters will be there mingling among the guests, getting them ready for what to expect when the show truly starts.
"We will be taking people one by one, sometimes three people at a time, in through these little corridors and extra secret rooms, and maybe we’re telling them a story, maybe we’re asking their advice, maybe we’re playing a game with them. All kinds of things are happening behind that curtain," Hummert says.
At 8 p.m., the story truly begins — and it's going to be unlike any other production of Hamlet you've ever seen.
"In all honesty, I have probably seen about 50 productions of Hamlet. That was when I living in New York, and they would always cast some Hollywood celebrity or some brilliant actor to play Hamlet, and all the other characters kind of fell by the wayside," Hummert says. In her rendition, she wanted to make sure the supporting characters and their storylines are fully realized.
The play will be set in a modern era, and the women will be portrayed with greater strength than is typical. No sad-sack Ophelia here.
"They make very deliberate, strong choices," Hummert says. "And you know, it has to be said that we have a female director, a female producer, a female ... pretty much half our design team is female. So there is a bit of a feminist element."
The script has been adapted, cutting what would otherwise be a four-hour play into a time span where you won't tire of being on your feet. The production will move to different spaces throughout the evening, and audience members will have direct contact with the actors throughout the entire show.
While companies in theater hubs such as New York and Chicago have done groundbreaking work in immersive theater, Hummert believes no one has ever done a full-fledged Shakespeare production using the actual text. The regional theater world often follows the lead of New York — this time, she wanted St. Louis to be the trailblazer.
“I wanted to beat New York to the punch. I wanted to just put my money where my mouth was and say, ‘You know what, I believe in immersive theater. I believe it is going to push our theatrical art form forward."
Hummert also wants to draw in younger attendees, as well as people who don't even realize they like theater. Which brings us back to the idea of documenting the show on social media.
"I take away all elements of this being a theatrical play that you are a bystander of, that you sit down for, you’re ushered to your seat, and you’re not allowed to chew gum or use your phone. I strike all of that. I think that’s boring," Hummert says. "I want people in my room, I don’t want anyone sitting down, and I want people racing to follow Hamlet because they’re so fascinated by what he’s doing. I want them taking Snapchats during the show; I want them Instagramming, I want them putting it on their Facebook — ‘Look what I just saw.’ I want them to feel comfortable in this world doing so."
But Hummert has a bigger goal than just filling your Snapchat story. She wants to change your life.
"At the end of the day, I want people walking away from my show looking at life a little bit differently," she says. What did Hamlet do? What did he do wrong? How can we use that knowledge in our lives?
"I like to talk to my cast about how there are these people in the world who, you know, they change their Facebook profile to 'Black Lives Matter' or 'I’m with Her,' or they take a great stance on something that is very important in our country right now. But I go, 'OK, so you changed your profile on your Facebook, so we know what you believe. What are you doing about it?’"