In a recent conversation to an actor friend of mine, the subject of RogueTheatrics' 2012-2013 season came up. She asked point blank, "Are you doing Hamlet?"
To which I replied, "We aren't announcing until May 4."
She was silent as she mused my answer and I sipped my wine. It was not necessarily a surprise that this question would come up. It is not uncommon for people, especially actors, to talk about Hamlet in every day conversation. Being the single greatest piece of literature in the English language, it is often referred to in regular speech, referenced in English 101 and strip mined for quotes to improve the pomp of writing. It also holds the lofty distinction of being one half of a public domain dynamic duo that is regularly performed by community theater groups in hopes of larger audiences and lower production costs.
And we had decided not to do Mikado a while ago.
"I understand," she said, nibbling on a piece of gluten free bread. "But are you doing Hamlet?"
Being the adept genius that I am, and having the benefit of two glasses of wine under my belt, I steered her deftly away from the Rogue Season and focused on the eccentricities of Hamlet and his maker. Surely the topic would be a succulent, gleaming carrot for the artist's salivating donkey.
What is the greater challenge, to act or to be? To act mad or be mad?
Hamlet's unfortunate relations would likely tell you that both are one in the same. Certainly, in their case, the results of both situations come to the same conclusion. Whether your son is acting mad or IS mad, you're still going to hold a mandatory indoor sword fight, try to trick your your mad(?) son into drinking poison and in the end, wind up heaped in a lump on the floor with everyone but the exchange student as the result of carousing to your mad(?) son's fortune. No one ever said the Danes don't know how to party.
In "acting", we must convince others that we embody qualities we lack. The audience is the most important element. They are the recievers of performance and therefore the best judges if the job is done right. The giant mosh pit of swaggering up-spring reels proves nothing of Hamlet's mad(?)ness, but only of Hamlet's family's assumptions. They are his audience. By the astronomical body count, I'd say he succeeds. The audience retains importance.
Conversely, in "being", those qualities are already embodied. The convincing of your audience, and therefore the acting, is not necessary. If Hamlet really is mad, then the opinion of his audience ceases to retain importance, since he will be mad whether or not they believe him so. It is quite possible in this instance that the audience becomes obsolete.
Rash and bloody meddling fool Polonius proves that being an audience member sometimes has its drawbacks (being stabbed through your stomach and consquently, a curtain, tends to sway your opinion), but never is the audience obsolete. Polonius' job of being Hamlet gored remains the sole catalyst for the plot. His filthy tom peeping proves to Hamlet that he is being watched, and therefore his family suspects him of mad(?)ness, thus catapulting him deeper into his condition... and ultimately to the royal celebrity death match at the end. (Just imagine if the same thing would have happened on Three's Company. I might have actually watched it.)
So while I am not sure the Elsinore Rock City set really had their reactions down right, audience remains the most important element. And that means that to act is more powerful than to be.
I took another sip of my wine, reveling in my reasoning powers as they squared off with the excellent bottle I was imbibing.
My friend was looking at me pointedly. I sighed.
"No. We're not doing Hamlet."