HAMLET SHUT UP is going to New York City as part of the 14th annual New
York International Fringe Festival! Don’t miss the LOS ANGELES remount!
Get your tickets now to see this award winning production performed by
L.A. Weekly Award nominees for BEST ENSEMBLE and PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR!
Named one of the best Los Angeles theater experiences of 2009!
SIX PERFORMANCES ONLY!
JULY 30 - AUGUST 8,
2010 Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays @ 8pm
L.A. theater, prime time for Shakespeare is June through August,
when alfresco productions are plentiful. But the current confluence
of Shakespearean or Shakespeare-related productions reminds us that
you don’t have to plan a picnic in order to see his work.
four Bard-linked shows during the past week, including relatively
big-deal productions of Equivocation at the Geffen,
Richard III at A Noise Within and Love’sLabours
Lost, which is the first multi-performance theatrical
engagement at the new Broad Stage.
let me shine a spotlight on the smallest and least marketed of the
four: Hamlet, Shut Up at the never-more-appropriately-named
Sacred Fools Theater. Jonas Oppenheim transforms the great tragedy
into breathless comedy.
biggest idea was to remove Shakespeare’s time-consuming words. No,
the actors aren’t silent as they depict most of the usual Hamlet
narrative. They grunt, they shriek. One of them sings a song from
the sidelines. A recorded instrumental score, accompanist Josh
Senick and a few spelled-out words on a screen also help the
audience keep its bearings.
only one line is spoken, and it consists of only three words - which
were not written by Shakespeare. They’re uttered in desperation,
after a frantic bout of emergency miming fails to get an urgent
point across, relatively late in the play.
Hamlet Shut Up displays a vigorous physicality reminiscent of
silent film comedy, plus traditional Elsinore-style costumes. But it
might be misleading to emphasize the old-school influences. The play
is packed with more recent cultural references. I’m not going to
give away the jokes, but I will note that Polonius’ obsessive
relationship with his cell phone has very sobering consequences.
Those who fail to turn off their phones during plays should take
is one of the shortest Hamlets ever - less than two hours.
Most of the Rosencrantz/Guildenstern scenes and the Fortinbras
finale are cut - but then those characters already have their own
full-length comedies (courtesy of Tom Stoppard and Lee Blessing), so
we need not pity them.
Oppenheim opens with the seldom-seen funeral of the slain king and
also includes some flashbacks that were strangely missing from the
original. Have you ever wondered about Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s
first date? Exactly how was Yorick reduced to just a skull?
Mehn’s Hamlet looks sufficiently princely and agonized to pass as
the real thing, but some of the other actors convey a more
caricatured edge. The rapier-sharp ensemble maintains such
impeccable timing that you’d think it had rehearsed for months.
Hamlet Shut Up is up there on the
theatrical laugh meter with
Land of the Tigers,
which also started at Sacred Fools before its current run at the
Lost Studio. Both shows deserve multiple extensions and cult classic
Oppenheim's whimsical re-imagining of Shakespeare's play as a silent
movie (music composed and performed by Josh Senick) comes packed
with theatrical imagination and a robust sense of humor. It also
opens the question of what body language can express... See
Theater feature on Wednesday night.
The notion at the heart of Federico Fellini’s last film, Voice of
the Moon (1990), is that at night, the water in the well of an
Italian village is awakened by the moon and utters faint messages,
revelations, wisdom to those prepared, or able, to listen. Fellini’s
inspector of wells chastises a bickering crowd behind him, “If you’d
all just stop talking for a moment, perhaps we might understand
something.” As in the movies,
two new plays insist on speaking more through visual images than
words. In fact, director Jonas Oppenheim’s whimsical adaptation of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which he calls Hamlet Shut Up! (at Sacred
Fools Theatre Company), opens with a company member delivering the
legally required audience address about fire exits, which is soon
interrupted by the same message simultaneously delivered by another
company member in Spanish, overlapped by another in French, and then
Portuguese (I think). Maybe there was a stab at Russian, or Japanese
— who could tell through all the blather? Amidst the pandemonium,
somebody arrived on behalf of the hearing-impaired to sign the
location of the fire exits. That’s when Hamlet (Derek Mehn) entered
in black, with some cloth dangling from the sleeves of his shirt (a
fleeting and absurdist nod to historic verisimilitude by costume
designer Wesley Crain), hissing as loudly as he could: “Shhhhhhhhhh!” The onstage assembly
dissolved into silence. Perhaps now, in the quiet, we might
understand something. Mehn’s Hamlet then
mimed pouring gasoline across the stage and lighting a match. He did
scream, which was not silent, or even quiet, but no words were used.
Amidst the flames we now imagined cascading behind him, he gestured
calmly, like a airline steward, stylishly pointing out the fire
exits, and earning a well-deserved round of applause. All of this
set the tone and the style for Oppenheim’s company of 10 (plus
composer-piano accompanist Josh Senick) to render Shakespeare’s saga
with ’nary a word spoken — a rollicking cross between a silent movie
and a game of charades...
Hamlet Shut Up! shouts back to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, to
their legacy of silent comedies, of clowns overcoming overwhelming
physical danger and debacles, with some pathos interspersed.
Oppenheim employs this same proportion of light and dark,
underscoring the light...
Hamlet Shut Up! is
at its best in a scene between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude
(Kimberly Atkinson, dextrously roiling, often with liquor flask
discreetly in hand). With unspoken animal attraction, they tug at
the play’s incestuous intestines before settling into a moment of
rare sobriety and tenderness. There’s no shortage
of cleverness in the way Oppenhiem uses visual signals: When
Hamlet’s friend Laertes (Matt Valle) is off to Paris, we know so
because he walks off carrying a small French flag and a book with
the Eiffel Tower on it — short and sweet. Ophelia (Tegan Ashton
Cohan, a comedic sprite) carries a miniature tree in one hand, with
a lake represented by a piece of blue cloth attached to her sleeve.
To depict her own drowning, she catapults a puppet of herself from
the tree into the sheet and offers the “splash” sound effect. Again,
vivid theatrical wit... Mehn’s lean Hamlet
has the perfect, expressive face (eyes lined in black like young
Chaplin) for the bewildered protagonist with nothing to say. Stephen
Simon’s gum-chewing Claudius is a hoot, bedecked in white like a
swaggering Elizabethan Elvis. When his hubris is punctured and
exposed in the climactic, Claudius-orchestrated duel between Hamlet
and Laertes, Simon recoils with twitches not unlike Pee-wee Herman.
Other nice touches include a portable “Revenge-O-Meter” — a measure
of Hamlet’s brain — that’s rolled in every few scenes, its arrow
fluctuating between a skull and a plate of waffles...
and, from RECESSION BE
DAMNED: BEST THEATER OF 2009
8. Hamlet Shut Up!
90-minute rendition of
brooding classic at Sacred Fools Theatre Company with ’nary a word
spoken was presented in the style of a silent film. This was a
monument to theatrical imagination, and a lark as well, like the
Reduced Shakespeare Company
but without even the shorthand language.
WOW! For everyone who’s ever said, “Wouldn’t it be great
if Shakespeare didn’t have all that Elizabethan English and iambic
pentameter?”, Sacred Fools has concocted the perfect solution.
Hamlet Shut Up is the world famous
action/ghost/lust/revenge/murder-packed tale of the Prince Of
Denmark unsullied by the spoken word—and what a brilliantly
conceived and executed concoction it is! Hamlet Shut Up is
full of wordless hilarity and jam-packed with sight gags, with hit
songs and TV/movie themes making their way into the show at
opportune moments. The cast is composed of one superb actor/physical
comedian after another, and the “Entire Cast” is credited for
adapting director Jonas Oppenheim’s uproarious script. There’s never
been a Hamlet quite like Hamlet Shut Up, and that alone makes
it a must-see for Shakespeare lover—and haters—alike.
SUITING THE ACTION TO THE WORD
Now here's a Hamlet Yorick could love: A pacing prince, beset by a
pair of bees, kills one and grabs the other mid-buzz. After
studying first the live bee then the dead one, Hamlet performs
what director Jonas Oppenheim cals "an extended wacky-suicide bit"
with sword, noose and tailpipe. This, in case you haven't guessed
already (bee and not-bee, get it?) is Oppenheim's impish take on
Shakesprea's most famous soliloquy for the dialogue-free Hamlet
Shut Up, running at Los Angeles's Sacred Fools Theater Company
through Dec. 19.
This non-verbal Hamlet is no mere goof or spoof, Oppenheim
insists. The wordless approach has even unearthed a few
"Taking away the dialogue has helped reveal things I hadn't
thought about before," says Oppenheim. For instance, his theory
that Gertrude is an alcoholic: "It helps explain her rapid
turnaround from one man to another, and how she deals with the
guilt. Also, why else is she so quick to drink poison in the final
Jonas Oppenheim is a
theatre director on a mission. He wants to tell the story of
Hamlet without a single one of Shakespeare's famous words. Last
year Ross Lincoln called Oppenheim production of Earth Sucks
"kinda brilliant". So this time around we wanted to find out why
he is screwing with Sharkespeare.
Hamlet without words?
Jonas Oppenheim: I'd been thinking about how to do a play that can
travel anywhere in the world, without worrying about language
barriers. Someone told me that Charlie Chaplin was a huge star in
non-English-speaking countries. I started thinking about how to
sustain full-length comic narratives without dialogue. I was going
to write an original play - something along the lines of
satirizing/apologizing for foul American foreign policy - but
decided I didn't want my first experiment in the non-verbal medium
to also have the pressure of perfecting a new story. I started
thinking about stories that I could hang this concept on, and
"Hamlet" came to mind pretty quickly. First I thought of the
dumbshow, then about how I could establish so many of the
characters with body language. It flowed pretty easily after that.
Have any theatre professors come to give your a tongue lashing?
Although a high school "arts club" came and we did a talk back.
They sounded like they enjoyed it. I actually think Shakespeare
scholars would dig this production, for a few reasons. A lot of
great concepts came out of analyzing the text. My favorite
examples are why Gertrude would guzzle poison at the end - all
signs point to a drinking problem (recent traumatic events, royal
class, she's sort of a Desperate Housewife of Denmark). Also,
exactly how did Hamlet pay his way when he was picked up by those
friendly pirates? Second, I think we've done a good job of taking
Shakespeare's intentions and making them appealing and
understandable to today's audiences. I've heard this a few times
after seeing this production: "I finally understand what happens
in 'Hamlet'!" Finally, we really bring out the sex-and-violence
aspect of the play, which probably pleased crowds in Shakespeare's
time, but is frequently frowned upon by theatergoers who like the
What was the rehearsal process for creating the scenes?
First, I read the play and outlined the story beats. Then I
started getting rid of story lines I thought might be hard to
capture non-verbally, or simply extraneous. I'm sure Will wouldn't
mind. Then I went scene by scene and riffed on comedic routines
that could accomplish whatever needed to happen in each scene - I
wanted to preserve the story of "Hamlet," not change the meaning
or essence of the characters. So then I had an outline for each of
the scenes. That was what I had when I pitched the play to Sacred
Fools. It was about 35 pages long. They were really into the idea
but, among other things, concerned that the show wouldn't be long
enough. I promised them it would be a full evening. At one point
in rehearsals the running time was two hours, now it's a brisk
Then rehearsals began. The outline was a jumping-off point. The
cast and I would tackle each scene, improvising bits, working out
character traits, miming environment work, sometimes using my
outline, sometimes not. The cast was very involved in figuring out
how each scene would go. Each cast member made contributions to
the action that you will see on stage. It was a way more
collaborative methodology than I've used on my work before, and it
is really, really satisfying. Anyway, at the end of each day I'd
film what we'd come up with, then go home and write out the beats.
After our first round of blocking we had a totally new outline,
and then as we refined, the outline changed again. The one I have
now is what we had on opening night.
The production features slapstick, vaudeville, music, and
clowning. How did you incorporate each element into the show?
A lot of it had to do with the skills and capabilities of the
cast. Some had specific experience with useful techniques. For
instance, Tegan aka Ophelia devised a beautiful
suicide-by-drowning puppet show, and Stephen aka Claudius and
Yorick was already a master at cane-and-hat work, so sometimes we
would build around that. All the performers are really funny and
game so there wasn't a lot of hesitation about trying different
things. As for the music, the brilliant Josh Senick and I had a
few discussions about themes and references, and over the course
of the rehearsal period, he came up with themes for each of the
characters and various scenes, and a whole lot of awesome
references, and I would occasionally ask him to put something in
or change the tone of something. Josh was our secret weapon.
How long have you been living in LA?
grew up in Santa Monica, lived in NYC for ten years, came back
five years ago. So 23, total.
What are some of your favorite places to see live theatre here?
I've seen a lot of Sacred Fools stuff and really dug it, which is
why I wanted to work with them. I perform improv at IO West and I
think much of the work there is theater on par with anything else
in town. Otherwise I'm less about places than I am about certain
companies - Troubadour Theater Co., Grand Guignolers, Burglars of
Hamm, The Virginia Avenue Project.
Where would we find you on a day off?
Does not compute. I've been in production for three months, but I
think I understand the jist of your question. I have a cool
She is doing the show "Without
A Car in the World"
show tonight at 18th St. Art Center in Santa Monica. It rules!
Diane shows me all this cool stuff in LA that I never knew about,
like the LA Conservancy, Clifton's, and bike lanes. For music, I
like to go to Punky Reggae night at La Cita, Funky Sole night at
the Echo, and AfroFunke night at Zanzibar.
Favorite LA restaurant?
go to Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica more times a year than
probably anywhere. Cheap and yummy.
Favorite LA bar?
dancing, La Cita. For a dive I like Lost & Found. I'm also such a
dork that I went to Little Joy many times because I liked the
music & jukebox, and only recently learned that it's a big hipster
place. I'm not sure if that makes me cool or lame.
Favorite LA landmark?
Griffith Park. I was really sad when it was on fire.
New Sonic Realities of CalArts Alumnus Josh Senick
Josh Senick (Theater MFA 09) is an LA-based
sound designer focusing on design and composition for theater. His
Hamlet Shut Up,
is playing at Sacred Fools Theater in Los Angeles through
Dec. 19. We asked Josh a few questions via e-mail about his
life and work after CalArts.
24700: In a nutshell, what are a sound
JS: In theater, the sound designer’s job is always some
combination of meeting the technical and creative sound
requirements of a production in collaboration with the show’s
director. The creative requirements begin with determining
the sound effect and reinforcement needs of the production. This
involves answering questions like: What sound effects, ambiances
and music does the script explicitly and implicitly call for?
How should these be conveyed to the audience? Will the
actors or musicians need microphones? How should they sound
to the audience? The sound designer then decides what equipment
will achieve the desired results, and finds or creates the
required sound effects and music.
24700: Tell us about your work in Hamlet
JS: Hamlet Shut Up is a one-of-a-kind
production. I was very excited about the show when I was
first approached by the Sacred Fools because the concept is
excellent, and the production directly builds upon some of my
previous work. It’s helped me strengthen some skills I wanted to
continue to work on, namely improvisation at the piano.
Director Jonas Oppenheim’s goal with Hamlet Shut Up was
to find a way to tell the story in such a way that it could be
understood and enjoyed by anyone, no matter what language they
speak–and turn Hamlet into a comedy in the process. He
wanted a silent movie-style accompaniment with specific references
to more modern music for comedic accents. I started
attending rehearsals and just playing along with the scenes as
Jonas staged them. I worked from a book of silent film
accompaniments to get started. As the weeks went on, I
composed some themes for characters and moments in the play, and
pulled scores for the music we’d be quoting for musical puns and
the time we reached tech, I had made choices for about two-thirds
of the show, and improvised filler for all the gaps. The
show is still in a bit of flux, which is part of the fun of live
theater. Just as the actors continue to make new discoveries
about their characters and motivations through the run, I’m
discovering better accompaniments and better fillers to make the
show better each night.
“Ophelia Foreshadows Drowning” from Hamlet Shut Up:
24700: How did you get interested in
JS: I started out as a musician. I’ve played piano
since I was in first grade and finished my formal music training
with a B.A. in Music and Theater at Case Western Reserve
University and the Cleveland Institute of Music. I also
acted all the way through my first year of undergrad. After
playing Curly in a “Guffmanesque” production of Oklahoma, I felt I
could do a better job than that musical director and the other
musical directors I’d worked with up to that point. I
started playing in pit bands after that summer and quickly landed
my first jobs as a musical director. I pursued that until I
finished my undergrad, but I was getting tired of the long hours
and little pay offered to community theater musical directors.
(The community theaters in Cleveland are very similar to the
99-seat theater scene in L.A. except there’s no equity waiver and
my fourth year at Case, the theater department produced Ionesco’s
Rhinoceros, a play that has the potential to be a
sound-driven production. It was the practice of our
department to assign the scenic design class the same script the
mainstage was producing. I was having few strong scenic
design ideas, but had strong sound design ideas. The
department was small, never had a sound designer, and the faculty
had no idea how to do much besides play back a CD through the
house mains. I was taking a few electronic sound production
classes at CIM and had a good idea of how to use computers and
audio equipment to create and edit sound effects, and I had access
to some great equipment at CIM to do my work. The day we presented
our scenic designs to the director, I pulled him aside and offered
ideas for the sound design as well. He really liked them,
and the school created a sound design position on the show and
gave it to me. It’s still one of my favorite productions.
The department hired me for two years to design all their
mainstage productions. Since then, the music and sound have gone
hand-in-hand for me.
24700: Is there work in a particular production
of which you are most proud?
JS: I don’t have a production as a whole that I am proud
of at this point, but there are moments in shows in which I
achieved what I consider to be “my sound.” Both these shows
took place at CalArts, and incidentally both were under the
direction of Emily Mendelsohn (Theater MFA 09). The first
was in the production of Beginner, a show in which I
functioned as music director, composer and sound designer.
In the second act of the play, an actor is transformed into a
whale by putting on a chador with a long train, and then comes out
to sing a song. Collaborating with the costume designer,
Rachel Weir (Theater MFA 09), we sewed a wireless mic into the
chador, which allowed me to completely transform the sound of the
actor in an unexpected and magical way.
second was last year’s Angel of History, a site specific
work we staged in a house in Val Verde. Because of the
site-specific nature of the production, Emily wanted to avoid
using theatrical sound and lighting equipment. My assistant
Carrie Jones built a set of six AM radio transmitters and we
buried battery operated AM radios in the ground outside the house.
In the fourth act, these were unearthed by the actors after the
audience was led outside the house. They started out playing
nothing but ambient static. Suddenly in the fifth act, they
all started playing ghostly music. While the audience was
outside, speakers were preset in the windows of the house, turning
the house into a character that recited the final poem in the
Sound design for television and movies may be better paying, but
the sonic experience is mostly two dimensional with limited
practical use for surround sound besides special effects. Why look
behind you or to the side in a movie theater when you hear sound
there? There’s nothing to to see. But in the moments I mentioned
above, the audience is suddenly immersed in a new sonic
reality: an actor you’ve been in the room with changes her costume
and is transformed, not only by sight but by sound; a physical
structure you spent the evening in can suddenly speak. These
are memorable moments of live theater that remind me why I will
always prefer the stage to the screen, and I’m proud that they’re
moments I helped create.
Shakespeare. Theatre’s greatest writer. One of his greatest works.
Oh, and all those pesky words thrown out. What do you reach for to
tell the story? Props.
Named one of Los Angeles’ top 20 theatre Highlights of 2009,
Sacred Fools’ Hamlet Shut Up garnered stellar reviews.
Director and writer Jonas Oppenheim and the company turned the
Shakespeare classic into a rollicking comedy by stripping all the
words out of it. To be clear, it wasn’t silent. Grunting and
shrieking and singing were part of the mix. Still. . . no words?
Oppenheim remains pleased with the final result. “It was an
experiment that went really well—it’s definitely better than I
thought it might be,” Oppenheim says. “It was the most
collaborative process that I’ve ever done. Thirteen heads turned
out to be better than one.” He says he always came with ideas for
a scene, but enjoyed everyone else in the room taking a shot at
figuring something out. “It was successful because we had the
right people. We had a very game, confident group of actors that
weren’t freaked out by the uncertainty factor.”
Sacred Fools was founded in 1997, and in its first decade had
already produced over 100 full productions. Suzanne Karpinski,
producer and co-artistic director of Sacred [erm... they mean
co-producer of Hamlet Shut Up and former co-artistic director of
Sacred Fools - Ye Webmaster], says the company strives to
distinguish themselves from the profusion of 99 seat theatres in
L.A. by developing their own brand of theatre. “So many theatres
are ad hoc, and we wanted to make sure we’re focused and
consistent in bringing works to life that are challenging. We are
known to do wacky, crazy, strange new things and I think this play
sums up our mission pretty well!”
There was no text, but the actors did gasp, sing and use other
vocalizations, including screams when battling sharks.
Also a director, Karpinski had become friends with Oppenheim in a
director’s lab. “He’s got this quirky sense of humor much like our
theatre company, and I told him to come play with us,” she says,
laughing. “Then he said he had this really wacky idea ….”
A short email was exchanged and the pitch was this: “Hamlet,
you know, sans words.”
Karpinski says before proceeding, they took stock of the people in
the company, their strengths and weaknesses. They happen to have a
lot of physical comedians in the company currently well versed in
slapstick, and perhaps most importantly, “actors that weren’t
afraid to collaborate.”
Oppenheim, who considers himself first a playwright who usually
directs his own scripts, showed up with just a 20-page treatment.
The question essentially was this: How do you physicalize a play
without words? Props. “It was the quickest way to communicate an
idea,” Karpinski says.
Oppenheim says his plays generally are prop-specific, so on this
he was confident that they were going to need a lot for Hamlet
“Because we threw out the dialog, we needed to be very literal,”
Oppenheim says. “We needed to make absolutely sure the audience
knew what was going on. Sometimes the easiest way to do that is
with a prop.” Props became especially key when they made the
decision early on not to mime extensively.
“One of the inherent dangers when developing a script in rehearsal
is the rewriting of lines that the actors then have to memorize,”
Karpinski says. “We didn’t have that issue, but every time we made
a change we would inevitably add another prop. What started with
16 props grew to 250.”
The props came from everywhere. They got donations from high
schools, borrowed from other theatres and relied on the cast. Matt
Valle, who also played Laertes, handled the master prop duties
with Aileen-Marie Scott assisting.
“We wanted to have swords that were bendable and squishy,”
Karpinski says. “Swords are very phallic props, and hyper
sexualized. We went through a lot of different incarnations and
ended up with these silly plastic toys that would easily bend.”
Their original idea was something that would have instances of …
umm shall we say “sworerectile dysfunction” … on cue. “But we
didn’t have the budget to make something like that,” she laughs.
“Next time we do the show we’ll find a way to make it like that
self-wilting flower used by clowns.”
“We wanted to make fun of men and their ‘swords,’” adds Oppenheim.
To deal with the logistics of hundreds of props, they cleverly
built a simple set that had seven pieces that were actually boxes.
One was so big it also acted as a table. But the actors would
simply lift the lid and grab what was needed.
What could go wrong?
Hamlet’s (Derek Mehn) big attempted suicide scene became pretty
graphic, as he tried to hang himself, run himself through with
floppy sword and even sucked the exhaust pipe of a car. The “car”
was a furniture dolly, a fake steering wheel, and a piece of
rolled cardboard spray painted black became the exhaust pipe.
Even the props became smaller props. A particularly gruesome and
hilarious scene had the corpse of Ophelia represented by a plush
mannequin whose body parts could easily come off and be used by
actors to bludgeon each other.
Props weren’t just used for big broad humor, but for sweet moments
too. Karpinski describes the moment where Ophelia drowns herself.
Played by Tegan Ashton Cohan, she comes on stage with a hand-made
puppet of her self in one hand and a little stage with a willow
tree made of wire and some fabric in another. To music, her puppet
self climbs the tree and jumps into the water.
The beauty of an approach like this is that whatever happens
became part of the fun. Obviously, with so many props, the
occasional mishap occurred. Karp says the final act involved
Stephen Simon as Horatio [Yorick, actually - Ye Webmaster]
coming out doing a Chaplin-esque bit with a hat and cane that
included a big lollypop. “Simon used his amazing skills to show
that Horatio [Yorick, dude. I just corrected you a second
ago. Pay attention, son! - Ye Webmaster] was a good play
buddy for Hamlet, but almost every time this big lollypop would
fly into pieces!”
What appealed to Oppenheim was the possibility that they could
manifest the action without wasting a lot of words. “Our only
reference to text in the show was the ‘To be or not to be’ part.
We had two actors come out and stand next to Hamlet with bee
puppets. The audience looked at it and then started to laugh as
they got it.”
Still Karpinski admits the sheer number of props required special
attention in rehearsals. “Our tech rehearsal looked more like a
dance recital tech,” she laughs. Like dancers, the actors had to
train their muscles to consistently reach for the right prop.
Music was another key to production. The show was filled with a
combination of popular songs and some originally composed by Josh
“It was all about getting the audience as quickly as possible into
the context of the scene, and music was another way we did that,”
Karpinski says. “A purist would say we were making it all too
silly and too contemporary.”
“The thing about Hamlet is it’s been sent up so many ways
over the years, that it was fun to find another way that hasn’t
been done before that was pleasant and surprising to the
audience,” Oppenheim adds.
Looking back, Karpinski says she would have loved a master list of
props from day one, but then says that if they had, half would not
have been used in performances. Her advice to others with
prop-heavy productions is to get two or three good people involved
from the beginning. “And take good care of the props. We had
limited storage but we made it a priority.” Also, each actor had a
sheet to make notes of any prop they used that had become damaged
or needed attention, turning the sheets in daily so the prop could
Both Oppenheim and Karpinski want to see Hamlet Shut Up
mounted again—they are looking into taking it to Edinburgh or in
L.A.’s Fringe event. “The real issue right now is that because
there were so many props, and so many we borrowed, it would be
kind of hard to start over,” says Karpinski.
But the final result? “There were some who said to me, Gosh, I
never understood Hamlet until now.”