There’s a certain excitement and dread in the air as we approach that scene: the mad scene.
Annie, our director, kindly reminds us that we need not, as actors, snap ourselves to represent Ophelia’s inner state as she wildly delivers flowers and melodies. And so, like Prince Hamlet, we “essentially [are] not in madness, but mad in craft.”
It is up to each and every one of us to craft our madness. Not just the feminine presenting actors in the ensemble.
In “traditional” casting of Shakespearean tragedies, women are offered a limited range of story arcs. (Traditional is a tricky word, of course, because if we go all the way back to original practices, there would be men in all the roles.)
Gertrude, Ophelia, and the Player Queen are the only characters in the script with she/her pronouns. Interesting, layered, and dynamic though they may be, they are all tossed around and serve as vessels of love and marriage for the most part. Awfully limiting in the scope of what women are capable of, being fully formed humans and all.
Thankfully, the tides are turning on a global scale when it comes to casting women as other story arcs in Shakespeare. We can play the heroes, villains, adventurers, soldiers, and scholars too; we need not only be around for the love stories.
What makes Quicksilver Shakespeare Company unique in our Mercurial Process, is that not only are feminine actors allowed an equal opportunity at masculine roles, the inverse is also true.
As a woman who hungers to be taken seriously in “men’s” roles, I find it a great joy to witness men confronting “women’s” roles in a thorough and personal way.
How can we all hope for true equality if we don’t take the time to fully put ourselves in each other’s shoes?
Will our production of Mercury Hamlet solve the wage gap or eliminate gender-based violence from the world? Of course not. But opening our minds and re-shaping our perspectives in an active way is important work. Crafting roles for ourselves that might have otherwise been reserved for “others” is a great way to start.
As ensemble member Dan Jackson out it,
“The challenge that a lot of men in this project struggle with, at first, is to resist the trap of playing Ophelia like a delicate flower. I remind myself of all that she’s been through in the two days since her mad scene… Yes, there’s despair there, but also frustration and anger that she’s been ignored, abandoned, and used as a prop. If people above my station were covering up the circumstances of my father’s death by burying him in hasty secrecy, without waiting for my brother, to allow him to grieve with me, I’d snap too.”Dan Jackson
There is a wide variety of wildness in how we “snap” among the ensemble.
During our text work days, we got into the nitty-gritty of several options for what Ophelia is trying to say between the lines of her melodic metaphors.
Some ensemble members use her words to insult the royalty while others are asking them for help.
In our round-robins on Wednesday, with one Ophelia after the other, there were several different “flowers”, ticks, and tones with each run across “the madness scene.”
When it comes to crafting, we must do most of our work outside of rehearsals. We barely have time to get everyone through a single run of every role. (Have we mentioned what a venerable beast this project is lately?)
One popular method for getting into our many characters’ heads is through music. Both AC and I have created playlists for several characters and the show as a whole. I cracked up when AC mentioned that their Hamlet, or Ham-Claude, “listens to anything angsty, regardless of genre (and also a few tracks Horatio has shared with him).”
AC builds collections of what their characters would actually listen to. I take a more indirect route, collecting music that I personally enjoy with lyrics that strike me as fitting for explaining the characters’ journeys across the play.
There are many decisions to be made in crafting any role. Multiply that by 20 for learning every role in an entire play.
Yes, this is madness.
But there is method in it.
We are all growing immeasurably more masterful at our craft because of it.