6 actors bring Hamlet alive with American Sign Language, Indigenous perspectives and more
'These struggles are human and we all have them,' says actor Charlene Van Buekenhout
Shakespeare didn't have American Sign Language, Indigenous perspectives, new mothers and post-traumatic stress disorder in mind when writing Hamlet — but a Winnipeg theatre company has brought those into the play.
Hamlet (the rest is silence) provides six very different actors an opportunity to showcase their take on Hamlet's life, including the age-old question "to be or not to be."
The play, directed and written (and on three nights performed) by Kevin Klassen, is a deconstructed retelling of the Danish prince's story as a memory play that was a hit for Klassen at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.
This time around, Klassen explores how universal Shakespeare truly is by casting people who wouldn't historically be seen as Hamlet, with each taking on the role for a few nights of the run.
"What we're hoping to accomplish with this show is to test that theory out and find out how many different people can relate to Hamlet," Klassen said.
"Hopefully it'll attract audience members from those different communities and find a Hamlet that they can relate to."
The production by Echo Theatre is part of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Master Playwright Festival, which this year focuses on William Shakespeare.
In Klassen's epilogue to Hamlet, the prince has died and lives in a form of purgatory, reliving moments from the past.
Jordan Sangalang is a Filipino deaf artist who will translate Klassen's play into American Sign Language.
Sangalang is excited about showing Winnipeg that ASL actors and all the diverse actors in the show can do a great job as Hamlet, despite none of them being the young man Hamlet was originally intended to be.
Adaptation of Shakespeare's most famous play presented in American Sign Language:
"So it doesn't matter what kind of disability someone has or what kind of varying ability they have, we're looking at equality and accessibility," he said.
Sangalang found it both challenging and rewarding to interpret Shakespearean English into modern English and then into American Sign Language.
All six artists in the show face their own challenges and bring their own perspectives to the role of Hamlet.
Charlene Van Buekenhout, a producer and one of the performers, believes that by opening up expectations, the audience and performers alike can realize that multiple people with different backgrounds have a wide variety of shared struggles.
"I think that can be so freeing for someone to perform but also to watch [and] know that … these struggles are human and we all have them."
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The intimate experience will run 45 minutes at Dalnavert, with each of the six actors getting a few nights to perform to 15 audience members in the historic home's dining room.
Hamlet (The Rest is Silence) runs Jan. 22 to Feb. 9. Check Echo Theatre's website for show times and cast details.