“I sat me down, Divised a new commission”- A collaborative new take on Hamlet

There is so much more to Hamlet than the titular character’s angst. Earlier this month, the Oregon Center for the Arts hosted an experimental new translation of Shakespeare’s most well-known play. Hamlet is a collaboration between the Ashland New Plays Festival, Play On Shakespeare, and Universes, taking on a rather daunting task- To translate the entirety of Hamlet (all four hours of it) into modern-day vernacular.  

This author is well acquainted with the Ashland New Plays Festival (ANPF), and went to their inaugural writer’s workshop earlier this year, (article can be found here  Creatively directed by SOU  professor Jackie Apodaca, for thirty years ANPF has been cultivating new theatrical pieces though their annual fall festival and experimental pieces like this one. Next to collaborate is Play On Shakespeare, a nonprofit theatre company based in Ashland. For nearly a decade, the company has been focused on writing new translations of all thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays. Their goal is to translate while preserving the “Rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, meter, imagery, symbolism, rhetoric, and the structure that make Shakespeare’s plays engaging and accessible to today’s audience.” The final element of this production powerhouse is Universes, the collective name for the playwrights commissioned to translate the work by Play On. These literary wordsmiths are Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz (also known as Ninja), and Steven Sapp. All three performed at this staged reading, with Steven also serving as the director. This trio’s previous outing was Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s uniSON, a translation and celebration of August Wilson’s poetry. 

This performance was a staged reading, meaning there was no set, lighting, or anything grandly theatrical. All that was left were the actors, the music stands, the script, and the words. The presentation was roughly half of Hamlet, partially because this reading was serving as proof of concept. In fact, this was the first time this script had been seen by an audience! With such a fresh piece of theatre, the show was absolutely captivating. There were wonderfully devised musical moments, where the performers used body percussion and repeated vocal motifs to create mesmerizing scene transitions. Speaking of the cast, there were many familiar faces to SOU. Barret O’Brian read for Claudius and others, but he is better known on campus as an acting professor and movement coach. Also in this ensemble was Nate Walker, an Allumnai of the theatre department who graduated last year, and played the lead player. Christina Clark was another stand-out performer, with the dual roles of Ophelia and Rosencrantz. Last but certainly not least of note is Jazz Hall, who portrayed the pinning prince of Denmark themself. 

Universes stated that they still have the second half of the play to produce, and a final reading is still to be announced. If you can’t enough of this concept, you’re in luck! Play on’s translation of Coriolanous is open at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this July! More information can be found here Next up for ANPF is their fall festival, which will open later this year, where four fantastic new works will premier in staged readings right here on campus! More information can be found here

This production of Hamlet is a shining example of the transformative nature of theatre- that there are infinite ways to tell the same story. 

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