On Thursday, April 25 students in grades nine, ten, and eleven, along with their teachers, attended a live presentation of “Hamlet,” which was performed by six actors and actresses from The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. This marks the third time that Upper School English Instructor Michael Madron has brought the group to the Geipel stage. “We study Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” using a variety of text and video productions. It is important for students to have the opportunity to see plays as they were meant to be enjoyed, which is through performance. I also like to encourage my students to look for differences in the interpretations, observe the nuances of character development, and discover which plot elements have to be omitted due to time constraints, and consider why those adjustments might have been specifically chosen.”
Madron’s thinking aligns with that of Artistic/Executive Director Carmen Khan, who states on the organization’s website: “Through the engagement with and performance of Shakespeare’s text using a unique artistic methodology, we create matchless and transformative experiences that empower audiences of all ages to expand and challenge their worldview. The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre was born out of my profoundly personal response to the language and poetry of William Shakespeare.” For 90 minutes, students were given the opportunity to enjoy and experience the rich language and memorable characters that make “Hamlet” one of Shakespeare’s most successful plays.
The small troupe played a total of 12 key roles, although the play actually has 30 characters in the original script. In the question and answer session that followed the show, one of Madron’s points about trimming the play was addressed. The memorable last line of “Hamlet” had to be cut, and it was clearly not a popular choice among the actors. However, one of the characters was dead, and to have him arise and pretend to be someone else in order to deliver the line would have been both problematic and confusing to the audience. So, in this case, practicality necessitated the omission.
Using a very stark set, visible instrumentation for sound effects, and simple costumes, the talented team transformed Sanford’s Geiple Center into the royal palace and surrounding area of Elsinore, Denmark, where young Hamlet must come to terms with his father’s death and his mother’s rapid remarriage to his uncle. Bella Warner ‘20, who as a junior had read the play, noted: “It was very helpful to me to see a live presentation of the play. I thought the actors and actresses did an outstanding job of bringing their characters to life. Their use of body language made understanding Shakespeare’s language easier to follow.” Bruno Gomez-Martinez ‘20 echoed similar sentiments by stating: “It was not always easy for me to understand Shakespeare’s language. Hearing it live and having actors and actresses give meaning to their words when they spoke them, made it easier for me to comprehend the story.”
In the past, Sanford has partnered with The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre for a variety of experiences, including week-long artist-in-residency programs, travel to Philadelphia to see productions of plays, including “Romeo and Juliet,” and inviting the group to perform such plays as “Macbeth” at Sanford. Regardless of the venue, the students and faculty enjoy and learn from the performances of Shakespeare’s plays and the enthusiastic interaction with professionals devoted to sharing his work with young people.