BWW Interview: Crystal Marie Stewart director of Guerrilla Shakespeare Theatre Co's Hamlet

BWW Interview: Crystal Marie Stewart director of Guerrilla Shakespeare Theatre Co's Hamlet

Last year, The Guerrilla Shakespeare Co produced their first show, Romeo and Juliet. The company returns this week with their second production, Hamlet.

BWW recently spoke to company founder Crystal Marie Stewart, who is both producing and directing Hamlet, about the general concept of the show, and the challenges of producing it in more than one space.


BWW: What was the genesis of this production?

I produced the last one and I knew I wanted to direct the next one. We did Romeo and Juliet and people responded to it very well, but people kept asking me what I was going to do next. But I hadn't really thought that far ahead when we started. So I started thinking about it and a lot of the shows I'd originally thought about doing, other people are already doing. And I wanted to shy away from comedies because most of the gender bending I've seen done is for comic effect. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted to show that gay people aren't just funny. I wanted it to be serious and still effective. So I remembered that Mae Tromsness had done a Hamlet monologue for Romeo and Juliet auditions. And for me it wasn't even the queer stuff that was the hook in, it was the idea of Hamlet actually being played by a teenager.

One thing I learned in Romeo and Juliet is that so many of these characters are so much less annoying or frustrating if they're played by younger people and/or women. Like, if Romeo is this butch lesbian teenager who's never been in love with a woman, never had a woman love him back, doesn't know what to do about it, then he's not some asshole running around jumping from woman to woman, he's just figuring it out. And if Hamlet is a teenager who's trying to figure out their sexuality and their gender identity, and what that means for when they go away to school and they come home and their dad's dead, their mom's gay and married to their aunt, and everyone's looking at you and telling you "You're crazy, what's wrong with you?" then it's like, 'I'm not the crazy one!" That makes it much more compelling for me and also less whiney and it gives it more energy because it's like 'I'm not doing anything because I don't know what to do." As opposed to being some middle aged dude whining about "Oh, what should I do now?" The idea of teenage Hamlet just ramps up the urgency for me, because when you're a teenager everything has to happen right now. Because everything is the worst thing that's ever happened to you in your whole life. It literally is! For them it's the worst day of their life, it really is. And you add in actual problems like parents dying, and I think it just compresses it, gives it more energy, more urgency, less manufactured angst.

BWW: Who are your main cast members?

Mae Tromsness plays Hamlet. Angelina Mussro is playing Horatio and Rosencranz. I also have Katie Halstengard, who has the enviable task of playing Claudia and Polonius. She's doing a great job. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it work. I told her at callbacks that I want you to play both of these parts even though you may not literally be able to do it. But I've cut some of Polonius' stuff. And what's interesting about Polonius and Laertes is that their scenes with Ophelia are much less head pat, "I know what's best for you" and more like "I don't want you to get hurt. I've been there before and I just want you to know I'm worried about you." So that's really lovely. And Claudia, I really knew that I wanted Claudia to be a woman. I didn't necessarily set out to make the show all or mostly women - I have one man and one non-binary person, everyone else is women. But it's mostly women because I know a lot of them and they're mostly who come to auditions.

But I knew I wanted Claudius to be a woman because I'm obsessed with serial killers and when I've been reading about them, poisoning is traditionally more of a woman's crime. Because generally when women kill, especially when they kill repeatedly, it's to get something or to gain something as opposed to doing it out of anger. And you can't keep getting things if you get caught, so it's usually things like poisoning or smothering or things that are easy to pass off as accidents. So especially if you're going to poison someone in their ear - it's very devious and very easy to get away with. So it just felt like a thing that a woman would do, so for me it just makes sense.BWW Interview: Crystal Marie Stewart director of Guerrilla Shakespeare Theatre Co's Hamlet

I have one man, Sam Nelson, and he is fantastic. He is playing Fortinbras, the gravedigger, and the player king. And it's turning out really well. They're all working very well together.

BWW: What is your cut like? What will be the running time?

It should run about 2 and a half hours. Generally what I try to do is cut to a manageable length and give it some energy. Everybody cuts Shakespeare differently because everybody has one throughline that they're focusing on. And for me it was a lot about identity and focusing on relationships and connections between people. But I left in a lot of the levity, because I feel like people cut it to be so heavy. It's going to be a body pile, we're going to get there, but there's also a lot of really great lightness and wittiness and intrigue and interest. You don't have to cut it out and hit us with a sledgehammer. It can be fun.

BWW: You're doing it in several different physical spaces. What does your set look like?

We don't really have a set. We have a cube - one - but other than that it's all just indicated. I'm not trying to be naturalistic at all. I'm really stylized with this show. So using movement and indicating spaces by how we stand and how we form ourselves, rather than a set. And the costumes are pretty minimal too. I'm using a lot of masks to denote changes of character. We have Eric Spears, who is the owner of Bow Tie Events, and he does our light and sound, so he brings the light and sound set up to every place that we go.

I think you focus so much more on what people are doing if you don't have anything else to look at. And it makes us all make bigger, bolder, more ridiculous choices, which I really love.


The Guerrilla Shakespeare Theatre Co presents "Hamlet!" All tickets come at a suggested donation of $8, ticketing links are located under each location and we will also be taking payment at the door.

Thursdays March 1 and 8: Quest Brewing Company 55 Airview Dr, Greenville, SC 29607

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3342660

Fridays March 2 and 9: Studio Unknown Village of West Greenville 914 Easley Bridge Rd, Greenville, SC 29611

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3342662

Saturdays March 3 and 10: Sans Souci Community Garden 12 Ethelridge Dr, Greenville, South Carolina, 29609

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3342665

Sunday, March 4- MATINEE PERFORMANCE at the former RH Gettys Middle School, 105 Stewart Dr, Easley, SC 29640
*Talkback immediately following performance

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3342683

Sunday, March 11- EVENING PERFORMANCE at The Radio Room
110 Poinsett Hwy, Greenville, SC 29609

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3342691

We would like to thank our generous sponsors Tom Strange, Debra Strange, and Brittany Wolfe!!

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