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Arts and Entertainment,  Campus Life

Hamlet opens: An inside look at the collaboration

Lipscomb University retells the timeless tale of Hamlet in a unique partnership between the Lipscomb Department of Theatre and The Nashville Shakespeare Festival. The Nashville Shakespeare Festival prioritizes educating and entertaining local audiences. Part of this process includes transporting students of participating schools. These particular student shows require a separate script to meet limited time requirements. This means the cast and crew had to learn new changes and transitions. It also means staging two shows a day during the week, in addition to the busyness of college classes and finals season.

This partnership between the Lipscomb Department of Theatre and The Nashville Shakespeare Festival is not the first. They collaborated on Richard II in 2017 and As You Like It in 2020. However, due to COVID-19, this show had to be postponed and edited to meet COVID-19 requirements.

Lipscomb and NSF Coproduction of Richard II 2017 – Photo courtesy of Kenn Stilger

What does this theatre partnership mean? Several professional actors auditioned and were cast in Hamlet. There was also the shared financial responsibility on both ends, combined and new audiences, and wide-scale publicity. The students working with professionals has served as a valuable learning experience, but Director and Professor Nat McIntyre says he has enjoyed watching the students match the expectations of professionals. The fine arts study they receive in the theatre program has prepared them well for this moment.

Shakespeare is no easy work, but Director McIntyre and the cast rise to the occasion. When asked how he approaches a classic but intimidating work like Hamlet, he has a few responses. The first is not to be afraid to “hit the audience over the head” with what’s happening because of the difficult language. The themes and actions should jump out at them. The second is to find the humor in the tragedy. While this play remains a tragedy, McIntyre did a masterful job of finding the humor and encouraging his cast to do so. Third, the actors must commit to the text and understand every word spoken, for if they do not, how would the audience?

Director McIntyre identifies as an actor first and oversees the Acting Program at Lipscomb. As an actor, he connects with the actors and brings a unique set of skills to the table. He trusts his actors to prioritize cultivating their characters and making bold choices. He comments that as an actor likes feeling ownership, and therefore wants his cast to as well. Director McIntyre also acknowledges that as an actor, he relies heavily on an excellent design team and collaborates completely to reach a polished final product.

This design team has done fantastic work, with Anne Willingham’s brilliant lighting design, Professor Andy Bleiler’s impressive set design, and Professor June Kingsbury’s beautiful costume design.

The beautiful set and lighting for Hamlet in the graveyardPhoto courtesy of Sarah Johnson

Professor Kingsbury did not match the typical hyper-realistic period piece costumes. Instead, she took “medieval Danish” as instructed by Director McIntyre and noticed the pattern of large, interesting shapes, which she found comparable to modern runway fashion. This amalgamation of inspiration and color created eye-catching pieces that show true craftsmanship.
Costumes are essential because of the connection that takes hold on the audience. As mentioned, Shakespeare is intimidating, so the costumes draw the viewers in.

It is hard to miss how the colors pop against the gray scenery. However, colors are not only meant to serve as entertainment. In this rendition of Hamlet, several cast members wear certain colors to symbolize family. Polonia, Laertes, and Ophelia all wear forms of blue which show their family ties. Claudius and Gertrude both wear a deep red, signifying their family color. However, when comparing Hamlet’s costumes to those of his mother and uncle, he does not contain red. Perhaps this is a commentary on his disconnection from his family since his father’s passing.

Many other details about costumes are worthy of note. For example, the use of donated ties from the late Professor Morris Landiss, which can be read about here. There is also the gorgeous neckpiece Hamlet wears, the mean girl eccentric look that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wear, the beautiful fabrics, and so much more. Of course, the only way you can admire all of these details is to see the show!

Costumes, hair, and makeup are all things that influence the actors and how they learn to grow into their characters. As an actor, knowing what your character chooses to look like each day helps you connect with the character in a new way. With the hair and makeup choices of Andrea Hernandez and Grace Mullins combined with the costumes, the show truly starts to come to life.

Regarding character development, David Long III reflects on his experience as Hamlet. Many know him as Will in last semester’s production of Big Fish. When asked what he thinks is different compared to other Hamlets, his answer is his goofiness. David brings a physicality to his performance and finds humor in the role. He found it vital to find himself in this role. He did so and worked hard he is proud of the result.

David Long III as HamletPhoto courtesy of Sarah Johnson

Other astounding details of the show were the fight choreography, the seamless transitions, which are not only conducted by the crew but also by the cast, and the sounds that can be felt all around the audience, echoing and creating a ghostly effect.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Johnson

This wonderful collaboration has yielded a thrilling show you will not want to miss, taking place at Collins stage April 17-28. April 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27 shows start at 7 p.m., and matinees on the 21st and 28th occur at 2 p.m.