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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 22, 2011

University Theatre Mainstage goes behind the scenes of 'A Hamlet'

University Theatre Mainstage will takes audiences behind the scenes in an imagined production of one of Shakespeare's most famous, influential and oft-quoted plays with "A Hamlet," directed by Department of Theatre Arts faculty member Carol MacVey, opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Other performances will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3, and 6-10, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

"A Hamlet" is minimally staged with costume changes visible, radically condensed to less than two hours with several subplots excised, and designed to draw the audience inside the heads and hearts of Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonious, and Laertes -- and the actors who rehearse to portray them -- as they struggle with treachery, revenge, ghosts, love, and moral corruption.

Dramaturg Kristi Banker explains that the production emphasizes "being v. seeming, as explored through the play and highlighted through the production concept of watching the last rehearsal before tech. What, truly, does it mean to be or seem?

"From the beginning, Carol's been keenly interested in the idea of being versus seeing; she once said that she hoped to "smear the seam between being and seeming." The idea is highlighted very near the play's beginning, while Gertrude is attempting to persuade Hamlet to quit mourning for his father, who died two months before: Gertrude: "If it be, Why seems it so particular with thee?" Hamlet: "Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not 'seems.'

"The play is filled with masks and plots, with rotten truths that have been covered over. When do characters speak truthfully, and when do they simply play roles? Is Hamlet only feigning madness, or are there times at which he truly teeters over the edge? ... Where in the performance do we see the actor and where the character, and where do these two meet? Can we separate actors and performance? When does an actor be or seem to be ... and when do you?"

As the production has emerged from a collaboration including the director, designers, actors, and scholars, the script has remained in flux, and will continue so into opening night.

The production concept capitalizes on a rich theatrical history, including numerous adaptations, parodies, and retellings including Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," UI alumnus Lee Blessing's "Fortinbras" and Heiner Muller's "The Hamletmachine." Everyone knows "Hamlet," or at least numerous lines or scenes from the play about what is "rotten in Denmark." Any image of a man holding a skull inevitably invokes "Hamlet."

The title role been performed in modern times by some of the most famous actors of stage and screen, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Sarah Bernhardt, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Sir John Gielgud, William Hurt, Jude Law, Nicol Williamson, Mel Gibson, Christopher Plumber, and Ralph Fiennes. The lead of "A Hamlet" is Equity actress Katie Consamus, a UI graduate student.

So nearly every audience member comes to a production of "Hamlet" with preconceptions and expectations -- it is a play about memories that lives in the memory or those who have seen it, and even those who haven't -- and the production of "A Hamlet" is counting on it.

Artistic contributors to the production of "A Hamlet" include scene designer Lisa Johnson, costume designer Emilia Hodges, lighting designer Peggy Finizio, fight choreographer Matt Hawkins, and dramaturgs Banker, noted Shakespeare scholar Miriam Gilbert, and Sarah Johnson.

Tickets are $17 general admission; $12 senior citizen; $10 youth (up to 17); $5 UI student (with valid ID), and are available in advance from the Hancher box office, 319-335-1160 or 800-HANCHER, or online at

For an authentic Elizabethan experience, ask about "groundling" tickets. Availability is limited.

The Department of Theatre Arts is an academic unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click on the link "Subscribe or Unsubscribe" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Carol MacVey,; Winston Barclay, University News Services,