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American Shakespeare Center comes to campus

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William Shakespeare’s famous play “Hamlet” will come to life on campus this weekend as the American Shakespeare Center’s “Method in the Madness” tour will perform the legendary tragedy. Photo Courtesy of Tim Sailer

Drew Pendleton

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“Hamlet” follows the titular Danish prince as he seeks revenge against his uncle, who murdered his father, married his mother and took over the throne. The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies sponsors the production, which has been touring since September.

Nicholas Helms, a doctoral candidate in the Strode Program, said the production is another way to bring Shakespeare to the Tuscaloosa community. The program has also sponsored a film series at the Bama Theatre throughout the year, among 
other events.

“Between its lectures, films and staged readings, the Hudson Strode Program continues to reach a diverse range of communities in the area, both on campus and in the Tuscaloosa community,” Helms said. “It’s always a delight to me to discover the new ways that Shakespeare is relevant today for different people.”

Patrick Earl, an actor with the American Shakespeare Center, is currently in his fourth year and tour with the organization, and has performed in several Shakespeare productions.

“There have been so many different Hamlets that everyone has an opinion on how it should be played,” Earl said. “I dove into the text and tried to put myself in the shoes of this guy who’s lost a parent and has a parent and a wife who he feels betrayed him.”

Earl said the tour, currently in its sixth month, has made the role of Hamlet a challenge.

“As an actor, the difficulty isn’t just creating the role, but also keeping it the same night after night,” Earl said. “We create a piece of art in that rehearsal room. In a long run production, an actor’s brain’s going to want to do it better and change it, but sometimes you have to be in the moment and recreate that art night after night.”

Helms and Earl said they agree the play’s titular character can be very relatable.

“Hamlet himself relates to the audience in a sustained way that really speaks to modern audiences,” Helms said. “He invites us to get to know him, and that makes for compelling theatre.”

Earl said the production highlights the play’s sense of humor.

“The most resounding feedback we’ve gotten so far is that people don’t realize how funny the play was,” he said. “Hamlet is poking fun at a lot of people in a way that’s not only clever and quick, but funny. It’s easy to shy away from that in a tragedy, but if someone’s been sad the whole play, the ending doesn’t have the same impact.”

The production also falls in line with Shakespearean tradition off-stage. The actors will perform live acoustic music before the play and during intermission, as Earl said was typically done during Shakespeare performances.

Helms said the performance’s technical structure also acts to influence the experience by calling back to the styles of Shakespearean performance.

“The ASC shares a lot of qualities with actors from Shakespeare’s day: interaction with the audience, use of minimal props and sets, willingness to tour and travel where the audiences are,” he said. “The net result is an energy that really invigorates Shakespeare’s plays.”

Earl said audiences should look forward to the play’s more emotional moments that may take viewers by surprise.

“Be ready for a moment that speaks to you,” he said. “Be ready to be surprised that you’re watching Shakespeare this way. We honor the material in a different way where we delve into the text, really make sure we know what we’re talking about, and make it relatable to the audience.”

The American Shakespeare Center, in a performance sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, will bring “Hamlet” to life Sunday at 7 p.m. in Morgan Auditorium, with live music beginning at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, and the performance is open to 
the public.

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American Shakespeare Center comes to campus