Theatre Professor Chris Beach is taking a student production of Hamlet to the Edinburgh
Festival Fringe next summer. A May Term course helped hone the creative direction.
by Judy Hill
A fixture in the Theatre Department since 1993, Chris Beach has directed students in scores of productions at the University. Next year, though, he’ll be embarking on a first-time venture as he
takes Hamlet—and around 14 to 18 student actors—to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Performing at the Festival is an honor—many apply, few are chosen—and Beach has wasted no time applying maximum creative energy to the project. In collaboration with University of Redlands alumnus Doug Hammett ’85, a visual artist working in the performing arts sphere in Pasadena, Beach set out to envision new ways to interpret the Shakespearian tragedy.
“The notion of espionage, hiring spies and tracking the activities of one’s enemies within Elsinor kingdom and castle is resonant with surveillance today,” says Beach. “So we moved our concept of the piece into a not too distant dystopian future where technology exists but Elizabethan is spoken.”
The creative partners developed their ideas, with plenty of student input, in a May Term course, where Hammett brought in puppetry and video and experimented with QLab, a computer interface that works with projectors.
“We were able to try out a whole bunch of really cool possibilities in the May Term workshop,” says Beach, who encouraged the students to let their imaginations run freely. “What if Hamlet and Rosencrantz were lovers in college? What if Guildenstern is a woman? What if Fortinbras is trying to hack into Elsinor to weaken it, and one of the strategies is to create a cyber spirit?”
Beach also experimented with casting ideas, bringing in several adult actors to perform alongside the students. “In many ways,” he says, “Hamlet perfectly aligns itself with the older generation. So I thought what if the majority of the cast is college students but we could also have older actors. I wanted to open up that opportunity for our students to be involved with more adult working professionals.” The Mathematics Department’s Steve Morics will play Polonius, with Professor Heather King from the English Department in the role of Gertrude. King will also teach an Adapting Shakespeare class focusing on Hamlet next spring. Guest actor Terry Smith, chair of the Theatre Department at Cal State San Bernardino, will play Claudius and also provide fight choreography expertise.
After auditions this fall, a complete production will hit the stage at Redlands in the spring. Beach is likely to keep tinkering with his creative decisions between now and then, though he says he has already done “a deep edit,” restructuring the plot to keep it under two hours and keep the audience engrossed. “With the whole Fortinbras plot line, I want to try to heighten the tension of what he might be doing to undermine Claudius.” To find out more visit sites.redlands.edu/big-brother-hamlet.
The Road to Edinburgh
Taking a theatrical production overseas is a complex and expensive undertaking. The International Collegiate Theatre Festival, an organization that helps bring collegiate performing arts programs to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, will provide technical expertise, the venue, housing for the company and transportation to and from the venue. Still, it will cost approximately $5,000 for each student to be a part of
If you have an interest in helping our students make this once-in-a-lifetime creative journey, please contact Ericka Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 909-748-8357.