Shakespeare Meets Poetry
Last night, I went to a creative coworking space where some friends and friends of friends presented the fruits of months of hard work in the form of an immersive theater experience that doubled as a house party. It was a modern adaptation of Hamlet, inspired by poet Emily Palermo's work with the play.
It was the familiar story of Hamlet, but nothing else about this production was ordinary. I entered a large, concrete space with high ceilings and a staircase leading to a second floor balcony overlooking the first floor, which was the main stage. Guests were mingling as they would at a party, but the actors from the play were interspersed in the crowd, already in character. They were the party hosts.
Hamlet wore a leather jacket and drank Jameson from the bottle. Ophelia stewed in the corner glaring at people; we would soon learn she's a fan of Norwegian death metal. In perhaps my favorite development, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were constantly and comically drunk.
The show began, and we took our places in the audience... but not for long. The play was happening all around us and we moved around the space to get a better view, get out of the way of the scenes, and even participate in the show. Halfway through, there was a game of Family Feud in lieu of the traditional play within a play. Members of the audience who signed up to participate found themselves in the middle of the scene.
Some of the lines were the original Shakespeare, and others were in modern English. Horatio persuaded Hamlet to investigate his father's death using a decidedly contemporary piece of evidence: a video received in an email from an unknown sender.
The well-known scene of Ophelia going mad played out across the main stage on the first floor and both sections of the upstairs balcony as she moved between the spaces. The view from the balcony of Ophelia handing out flowers and explaining their significance was ideal.
For the final death scene, in which the show lives up to its name and everyone dies, I was still directly overlooking the main stage from the balcony. Downstairs looking at the scene head-on might have been a better vantage point to catch details like when the actors physically went out the front door, but from upstairs I could see the duels and the dramatic deaths and the artful staging of the bodies.
The most interesting part of the experience for me was knowing that everyone who went had a different experience of their own, depending on where they stood, how much they moved, and how much they participated.
Theater productions are usually staged and rehearsed so as to give a consistent view to the entire audience. Under Kayla Allen's direction at the Secret Occult Theater Collective, Everyone Dies flips what you expect from a theater production on its head in the best possible way.
This is part of a regular series called Community Happenings in which our editorial department and other contributing writers profile events and community initiatives that embody celebrating what makes us human in a digital age. We focus on events and initiatives with face to face manifestations outside of our screens.