Steampunk 'Hamlet' Coming to The Vex
William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Hamlet, has been on Artistic Director Ken Frazier’s bucket list for a number of years. But it can be a beast of a show to direct, and he wanted to make sure he had not only the right cast and team, but also the right vision. That perfect storm came together when he decided in early 2017 that he would add the show to the 2017-18 season line-up.
Frazier has been meticulously working on his vision of Hamlet since it was announced The Vex would produce the show. The first thing he decided was that the style of the show would be steampunk. What exactly, you ask, is “steampunk”? According to dictionary.com, steampunk is “a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the nineteenth century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world”.
Another way to look at steampunk, according to Huffington Post, is to give your modern technology a vintage gothic makeover. Imagine a computer made to look like a typewriter, or a smartphone with an external handset that looks like something out of the 1930s. Or, quite the opposite, imagine a rotary phone with a touch screen, or a tube television with smart capabilities. It’s all about blending old and new. So while Hamlet was originally set in the late Middle Ages (1300-1499), this adaptation will be set in an imagined, futuristic, Victorian-ish period. Simply put, it re-invents a possible history. This re-imagining extends to fashion, philosophies, engineering, mechanics, and works of art. In pop culture, directors have turned to steampunk to stylize their films, including Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes (both the Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch variations), and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
Steampunk most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th-century might have envisioned them. The “steam” portion of the term comes from the technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. The “punk” portion comes from going against convention. A simple description might be… “Steampunk is a design aesthetic that re-imagines the Victorian time period with futuristic advanced technologies and fashion.” Goggles, gear, metals such as brass & copper, wood, ornate engravings, corsets, and mechanical workings will likely figure into costumes designed by Tami Kai and setting designed by Frazier.
The second piece to the puzzle for Frazier was casting his show. Before opening auditions to everyone, he reached out to a handful of actors who he knew could handle not only the steampunk vision, but also the Shakespearean style of acting. John Stillwaggon, who performed at The Vex most recently as God in An Act of God, as well as Black Stache in last season’s Peter and the Starcatcher, will take on the title role. Stillwaggon’s Shakespeare résumé includes The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, and As You Like It. He is joined on stage by Chelsea Steele (Ophelia), Theresa Bishop (Gertrude), Jim Mammarella (Claudius), Rob Barron (The Ghost), Michael Howard (Polonius), Andrew Olmos (Rosencrantz), Megan Van Dyke (Guildenstern), Jana Drew (the Player Queen), Robert Gonzalez (Bernardo/Lucianos), Jordan Heitkamp (Laertes), Rick Lukens (Doctor of Divinity), Lorenzo Mireles (Osric), James Robinson (Francisco), Tyler Smith (Marcellus), Martin Vidal (the Player King/Gravedigger), Torence White (Horatio), and Leigh Williams (Courter/Player).
Hamlet, A Steampunk Tragedy by William Shakespeare:
- February 10 to March 4
- Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm
- Tickets: $23 (General), $20 (Seniors 65+, Military), $19 (JCC Members), $15 (Students with ID)
- Purchase online, at the JCC, or 210-302-6835