William Shakespeare's HAMLET Goes Unmasked in Classical Renaissance Performance, 7/24-26

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William Shakespeare's HAMLET Goes Unmasked in Classical Renaissance Performance, 7/24-26

William Shakespeare's Hamlet (...Unmasked) will be performed at 8PM on July 24, 25 and 26 at the John De Sotelle Studio Theater. The performance is in classic style with a rarely seen twist: all characters wear commedia dell'arte-style masks except Hamlet, adding an Expressionistic tint to the classic story.

"This is Hamlet through Hamlet's eyes," says Michael A. Cramer, who plays the title role. "It's Hamlet's vision of what everything looks like, and in fact we'll never know if this is really happening or if it's Hamlet's fantasy."

Hamlet (...Unmasked) showcases Renaissance mask art in a way rarely seen on today's stages, but the masks used in this staging facilitate a modern Expressionist experience of instead of 16th century political satire. Explains director Craig Hutchison, "The masks don't necessarily represent how the characters perceive themselves or even how they might be accepted by the audience. Rather, this is how Hamlet sees them. The more elaborate mask reveals a more involved relationship between that particular character and Hamlet. Likewise, those characters with whom Hamlet may not have much of a relationship will appear in much simpler masks."

The most elaborate masks were handmade for the production using recreated medieval techniques of papier mache and cuir boulli, or boiled leather stretched over plaster casts, and hand painted to reflect commedia dell'arte characters that would have been well-known to Renaissance audiences.

Thus Ophelia's mask is the Inamorata, the young female ingenue, while Polonius wears a Pantalone mask, the bumbling head-of-household. Laertes' is based on Capitan Spovento, the brash swashbuckling brawler. Claudius' mask is based on the Duke and Gertrude the Duchess. The Gravedigger, who jibes Hamlet with his salt of the earth pragmatism, wears a mask based on Arlechino, the knavish servant. In addition, the Player King and Player Queen, during the fateful performance that reveals the usurper Claudius' conscience, wear handmade tragedy masks. The masks were made by Jennifer Tift of Tucson, Arizona and Catherine Helm-Clark of Millinocket, Maine.

Commedia dell'arte developed as a theatrical technique in 16th century Italy and would have been familiar to the Elizabethan audiences watching Hamlet during Shakespeare's lifetime. Commedia actors performed improvised scenarios that involved stock characters of well known archetypes, but they also performed tragedies, pastorals, and even religious drama. Often the actors playing these characters wore masks to help the audience identify the character.

Expressionism as a theatrical technique began in the early twentieth century. Expressionistic theatrical works employ techniques to present the narrative in a subjective manner from the perspective of the main character, who is under some sort of mental strain. The Expressionistic aesthetic relies on audio and visual distortion to represent the emotional state of the character, and undervalues rationality and realistic presentation.

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