Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ashley Griffin
Produced by A.N.O.N. Productions
Nominations: Outstanding Director & Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, Ashley Griffin; Outstanding Revival of a Play
|Photos by Micah Joel
About the Company: A.N.O.N (Any Other Name) Productions is dedicated to producing plays by, adapted from, and inspired by The Bard.
About the Production: Is equality a state of mind or state of affairs? Can gender ever be freed from the masculine/feminine paradigm? The patriarchal state may seem a thing of the past but what if the struggle for power and survival make it our future. Inspired by the "He For She" Campaign, a first of its kind, which acknowledges the need for men in the women's movement. Set in the near future, in a militarized surveillance state, this production was a gender-bending equality driven take on Hamlet.
What first attracted you to this project?
Ashley: I’ve always felt more connected to HAMLET than to any other Shakespeare play, and more connected to the character of Hamlet than any other Shakespearian character. As my theatrical career developed I had wonderful opportunities to play some of Shakespeare’s great women. When I was cast as Rosalind a lot of people told me, “Oh! She’s the female Hamlet!” I understand the comparison – they are both very intelligent and speak a lot. But Rosalind is expounding on love in a romantic comedy. Hamlet is talking about life, death and what it means to be human. The things Hamlet was talking about were the things that spoke to my heart. That I wanted to express, explore and communicate. And then I realized, all at once, that I would never get the chance to because I’m a woman. In truth, there is no female equivalent of Hamlet, because there is no female protagonist of a Shakespearian tragedy.
Around this time I happened to discover two things that greatly resonated with me – one was Emma Watson’s wonderful UN Speech about the He For She Campaign - which calls for men to be a part of the gender equality movement. (We eventually partnered with He For She on HAMLET.) The second was a fascinating article on “Sworn Virgins” – women in Eastern Europe who, not allowed to own property or be the head of household, choose to live their life as a man in order to be granted male privileges in their society.
Ms. Watson says in her speech, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.” I have experienced gender inequality as a woman, but I know many wonderful men who have experienced it as well – being mocked for being vulnerable, or sensitive and feeling like they aren’t able to show their emotions. I realized that just as there is no female equivalent of Hamlet, there is no male equivalent of Ophelia. And just as there are things in Hamlet that I longed to express, so there are things about Ophelia that men long to.
So I decided to do a selective gender reversed HAMLET. In our production Hamlet is a woman raised as a man for succession purposes and Ophelia is a man bullied his whole life for being too sensitive. Through the refractive lens of overlapping masculinity and femininity we come to see that, far from a slightly misogynistic young prince and his wilting damsel of a girlfriend, we are ALL Hamlet and we are ALL Ophelia. We are all rageful, and sensitive, and vulnerable, and strong, and scared and smart. I wanted to show that the issues Hamlet and Ophelia deal with are universal. To make HAMLET immediate, applicable to our times and vital to all of us.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Ashley: Getting to dive into one of my favorite plays of all time from both an actor and director perspective was an extraordinary experience. To attack the moments in HAMLET that I’ve always felt drawn to, and connected with as well as asking questions of those moments that always bothered, or confused me and finding answers to them was an incredible opportunity. Saying words that have resonated so deeply in my heart and soul ever since I first fell in love with this play when I was eight years old meant so much to me. And collaborating with a wonderful company of actors – most especially my costar Ryan Clardy (Ophelia) who went on this remarkable, unique journey with me, and was the most incredible acting partner anyone could ask for, created the kind of ensemble feeling that artists dream of.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Ashley: Being both the director of this production and playing Hamlet was immensely challenging. Often I would have rehearsals by myself with a video camera – watching my performance and giving myself notes while completely alone. Being the captain of the ship, and maintaining the stamina to perform this role was both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding.
What lessons did you take away from this experience?
Ashley: My incredible mentor Stephen Schwartz once told me: “The more personal you make something, the more universal it becomes.” It was wonderful and very meaningful to discover how universal the issues I was drawn to, exploring and wrestling with in this production were. After every performance young men came up to us in tears saying “I’m Ophelia. I never realized that. I’ve never seen myself portrayed on stage before.” And likewise young women who never realized how much they related to Hamlet, and struggled with the issues he was dealing with. The very visceral realization that I’m not alone in the things I feel, struggle with, and experience and how important it is that we examine these things – especially in our art was truly incredible. Making Hamlet a woman and Ophelia a man, along with other directorial decisions really brought this play to life in a brand new way.
What was it like working with this company of artists?
Ashley: A.N.O.N. Productions, and especially artistic director Jennifer-Elizabeth Cooper have been incredible supporters of me, and my work and that means more than I can possibly say. All artists should have such champions in their corner. Their willingness to work on innovative productions should be hugely applauded and I wish more theater companies would be as joyously fearless as they are.
Both our 2015 and 2016 casts of this production were wonderful to work with – such special, collaborative ensembles with great respect for everyone on the team and the work being done.
Follow A.N.O.N. Productions on Twitter @production_anon