Years ago, someone put a bug in my ear for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which of course brought me to one of my favorite stories, Hamlet. I started exploring the idea of presenting them simultaneously so that audiences could choose to see one play, the other play, or mix and match at will. I began on the textwork. I quickly felt limited by thinking about it in theatrical terms.
I enlisted a razor sharp friend Abby Wilde who was willing to hash out our questions over
The more we questioned, the more confined we felt by Stoppard’s characterizations. Abby and I dropped Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and focused exclusively on Hamlet.
We asked all the questions, we turned all assumptions on their head.
We “Gosford Park”-ed it. We looked at every servant and minor character’s motivations, questions, reasons for being there. Could they have much more to do with the story than to simply carry spears and deliver information? The more we dreamed beyond anything we’d seen on stage ourselves, the more possibilities we found and the more mysteries opened.
Here is where I understood how all my outreach, content writing, examination of journalism, obsession with those who write history, and desire to create art for social good, all collide.
In this age of highly curated news feeds, need for black/white narratives, and the necessity to always check the source (and Snopes) before sharing an article, could I use the Hamlet story to help an audience think more critically during an election season – and beyond? By leading them through a story where in one scene you may believe Hamlet is correct, and in the very next you reconsider all your assumptions that led you to that conclusion?
Take the idea that everyone is the hero of their own story, flesh out all the characters’ stories and draw an individual to understand why those who are clearly the enemies at the beginning, really believe they are doing the right thing, and maybe, just maybe, the ‘good guys’ ….aren’t always good? I believe that storytelling through different narratives and perspectives can help people become better citizens within their world. Perhaps the Hamlet story is a way to test that theory.
That is the point where I felt even more constrained by the concept that this was to be a theatre project. While in continuing discussions with Noah J. Nelson, (NPR affiliate, Turnstyle News, No Proscenium) on immersive productions, I decided the best course of action was to continue exploring these stories with no idea of where the end product would land.
I only knew that my target audience was not those who are already enamored with Shakespeare. Oh, the Bard lovers will certainly satisfy their nerdy fix, but my major point was to move as far away from a traditional Shakespearean experience as possible and to serve as the gateway drug for people who just like a good mystery.
And that’s when I knew for sure that the product couldn’t start as theater, or I would once again only reach those who already enjoy live productions.
So during my son’s naps in the car, I furiously type or scribble what could be described as Hamlet fan fiction. These start as narratives simply to develop the back story and open up entirely new ideas. Many of the ideas about Horatio also tie into my other works, including a trilogy of plays called MYTHistories (the Fatima story, how Dionysus turned into the mythology of Jesus and a third centered around Houdini) as well as the novel in progress based on the Oresteia. Once I combined those long-simmering ideas with Hamlet, something clicked inside of me that I cannot shake.
In every one of these stories, a protagonist’s story and legacy is unknowingly being written by another, sometimes by their family’s expectations, then eventually through….others to be revealed.
I’m insanely thrilled at how all these ideas and obsessions of mine now foster such an intricate and creative universe. As a fan of the worlds in Tolkien, Marvel, Star Trek, Doctor Who and The Lunar Chronicles, and a lover of James Burke’s Connections, I know I can dive into this sci-fantasy-dystopian for some-utopian for others-Orwellian storyline and take it through centuries of development. I can gear it towards increasing the audience’s perspective, causing people to truly consider their sources and think about their decisions and how they can change their story for the better.
I need to allow the characters and their individual stories to dictate the genre and medium through which their perspective is told.
The idea of exploring the Hamlet story through many mediums, simply choosing the one best suited to each character and situation, excites me greatly. It is hard for the outreach strategist in me not to plot out every storyline and decide how to tell it, but I know the ideas must come organically.
Some of these stories need to be read before the 2016 election, no matter who’s your candidate. Voters must be educated in how to look beyond the headlines. I will share what I have here.
Of course, the Outreach Nerd in me has a larger scheme: by elaborating on stories that are somewhat known and building new perspectives within them, I eventually hope to overlap the readers with audience. Hosting multiple stories in same universe but found in varied genres and mediums holds a high potential for overlap, and one that could be more effective than any short term outreach strategy that exists in art forms today. Just look at how John Green’s YouTube presence helps his book/movie sales, and what he and his brother have been able to do for education with their fame among young people.