Sally is a feminist android of color who is attempting to discover what it means to be human, kind of like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation but for Philadelphia theatre reviews.
Espie is a director and producer coming to terms with wanting to change the world. Theatre reviews might be a nice way to start.
Tracker is a man who is naturally biased against the experiential knowledge of anyone who isn’t a cisgender man.
(Note: Due to the nature of this performance, you may have seen an entirely different performance of Bad Hamlet. The role assignments and events described refer to the performance on July 2nd, 2016. Consider this as you read our review.)
Sally: What was in our pockets for this performance? What did you all know going in?
Espie: I’ve never been terribly invested in Shakespeare and this makes me feel a little self conscious going to any Shakespeare performance, like I’m the odd theatre professional out. I also tend to check out of shows that are longer than 90 minutes pretty easily.
Sally: I had read the presenters’ –Joseph Ahmed and Lesley Berkowitz-Zak–notes on the event invitation and was familiar with Lesley’s Reject Theatre Project Coriolanus in which she also utilized the Shakespeare Roulette format, but I didn’t get the chance to catch that production.
(In Shakespeare Roulette, the performers choose the role in which they will perform at random from a hat just before the performance begins.)
Sally: And, yes, and this was a bit lengthy. I was curious if they would cut it or the comedic sensibility of the “badness” would keep it moving pretty quickly. It was certainly a Hamlet-length.
Espie: I came into the performance knowing that there would be booze and that they would be performing the First Quarto, which I was excited about because I had seen a pretty rough production of it done at my college when I was a freshman. I was looking forward to seeing another take on that text. I was also looking forward to booze. I love drinking games, it’s a wonderfully adult way to be silly.
(The First Quarto is a text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet about which many theories exist–it is similar to the First Folio and other editions of Hamlet but many of the well-known soliloquies, scenes, and lines inexplicably differ in structure and language. It may have been a transcript from a minor player’s perspective, or a reconstruction from the memory of a witness to a performance, or an early discarded draft.)
Tracker: I didn’t know much of what was going to happen, going into this. I barely knew that a First Quarto existed. But I generally like the people who are involved so I was ready to have a fun time.
Sally: I was also excited to see Hannah Van Sciver, Amanda Robinson, and Lesley do some Shakespeare.
Tracker: I did not think through what it meant that it was a drinking game and was not set up to expect the power-ups/microtransactions of the play or event.
(The performance of Bad Hamlet includes a menu of “power-ups” in which audience members can pay for the performers to do silly accents, dance for the entirety of a scene, take a shot, etc.)
Sally: And also, maybe this speaks to how informal this event was, but I definitely was on my phone during the show reading about the first quarto, because I wanted to know why it was different. Initially Joseph Ahmed, the director, had mentioned that he would be cutting in to offer some insight about the script, but other than holding up the large pad of what the well-known speech, soliloquy or line was that First Quarto butchered I didn’t quite get that information from him. Not like I got it from Wikipedia. Like why “Polonius” was called “Corambis” in this script was something they joked about at the top of the show but didn’t offer an explanation for. Smartphone during show = Bad Audience for Bad Hamlet, sorry friends.
Espie: I wish in the pre-show it had been established that we could get up during the piece to buy drinks (and maybe even power ups?) while the piece was happening. I thought the environment (including props and costumes) was well constructed, wonderfully haphazard, casual, and goofy but because the Shakespeare is such a formal sounding text I felt like needed to be a very proper audience member. I had finished beer during PHIT’s opening performance and then felt weird about getting another until maybe 20 minutes or so into the show.
Sally: I loved the Headlong garden space, but the lighting was limited. At one point I had thought, “oh, is this a major difference in the first quarto Hamlet that they visit the battlements again to see the Ghost?” But they were using flashlights to read their scripts. Also, I wish I had discreetly BYOB’ed, I’m not much of a beer or wine drinker and I’m not great with drinking games, so having a drink I liked on hand might have helped with the game aspect. I guess to that extent I was grateful that no one was hounding me to drink or drink more, as is drinking game protocol, because I personally can’t really keep up with competitive drinking.
Espie: I really liked Joseph’s use of that large pad – it felt so snarky! – and I enjoyed watching the actors reactions to ridiculous things happening in the text, but I definitely expected Joseph to pop up more often or for him to vocally explain some of the differences. There were definitely moments when I felt like I was on the outskirts of an inside joke.
Tracker: On the overall, I definitely had fun.
Espie: I agree. I definitely had a blast, but I found myself wondering why they had chosen this particular text as opposed to do a reading of a bad movie sequel.
Sally: Shiiiit I would be down for a reading of a bad movie sequel.
Tracker: One of the questions I ultimately had was “Why is this being performed for a public audience?” because it also felt like a get-together for friends to have fun. And a meta-question behind it: Do I even need to question the motivations of this event if I’m having this much fun? I guess the related side-question was “Who is the audience for this?”
Espie: It felt like more improv than theatre, but that was probably also brought out because PHIT were our guest performers. Also, PHIT’s intro was really great.
Tracker: Yeah! The inclusion of other community members to intro the show was a nice touch. But also because of the ever-changing nature of the production (roulette casting, different warmup act), I feel more at a loss how to “Review” this piece. My only conclusions can be: content/trigger warning alcohol, you will likely have lots of fun.
Sally: Yes. It’s like writing a review of a party I attended. This is weird.
Tracker: All the actors are very talented, know their way around a Shakespeare script. (Even one presented as “Bad.”)
Espie: I thought Michael Gamache’s Hamlet was damn hilarious. He did a great job using the power-ups to highlight the ridiculousness of the text – like when he had to dance through his entire soliloquy.
Tracker: He has a great voice for it too. And when people tried to gracefully fuck up that was fun to watch.
Sally: And I also enjoyed Jenna Kuerzi’s performance as Claudius/Hamlet’s Ghost (who dgaf).
Espie: Did you guys enjoy the power-ups?
Tracker: I thought they were an interesting idea, an audience-participation style of throwing a wrench into the works to influence the environment. But, because of the length of the play along with an intermission break, their effect was greatly reduced by the second half.
Sally: You had pointed out something after I hadn’t realized, that there were power-ups that were not used, like the trampoline.
(One of the power-up options is that a performer must jump on a trampoline for the entirety of a scene.)
I saw that trampoline during the show and forgot about it. But like a gun prop, it’s weird to have a trampoline on stage and never use it.
Espie: Maybe Joseph could’ve matched the amount that were bought in the second act that way there were more or maybe throw in some of the ones that weren’t bought. I think because there were less in the second act and they seemed to be a selling point of the piece, I found myself a lot less interested.
Tracker: One of the drinking rules was “Drink when someone says something grossly sexist.” The modifier interested me. That left a lot up to an audience member to decide when to apply that rule.
Sally: How gross is gross? Also isn’t all of Shakespeare grossly sexist?
Tracker: But it did squarely place the show within our contemporary society’s mores.
Espie: That rule did make me wonder if they were trying to comment on anything larger.
Tracker: Yes, also that.
Sally: And another drinking game rule was “Drink when someone says something sexy.” Like … what I find sexy? What if I’m a fetishist for Shakespeare’s language? Don’t see this play if Shakespeare’s early drafts turn you on, you will die of alcohol poisoning. (Sorry folks: Bad Joke for Bad Hamlet.)
Espie: I would have liked to have seen the elements of structure – power-ups, staged moments, drinking rules – more, well, structured. I thought the chaos was fantastic, but it might’ve been further highlighted by really hammering out what the framework was. The opening moment with everything walking down the steps was so good and I wanted a little bit more of that.
Sally: Yes, that was hilarious. I felt that the dumb show/players’ performance had some of that structure, but I also read–during the show, again I’m sorry to be a terrible audience member/friend–that this portion of the First Quarto is largely the same as the First Folio possibly due to a cast member with a supporting role was in this scene, and lends evidence to the theory that the First Quarto is a transcript from his perspective.
Espie: It would’ve been cool and informative to have had facts like that posted throughout the garden. There was a decent amount of blank wall space, though I don’t know if they had the budget for a ton of poster board.
Sally: “Shakespeare Facts for Nyeeeeeerrrrrrds” Concluding thoughts?
Tracker: Concluding thoughts: I had a ton of fun, and if that’s all it was supposed to be, A+. If it wanted to raise any questions or issues about performance or Shakespeare or theatre or [blank], that was muddled. Because it felt like maybe they were reaching for Something Else but didn’t necessarily commit to any specific ideas.
Sally: Having recently seen some of these performers’/collaborators’ work in Rejects’ SHREW I think I for some reason also wanted to project some artists’ commentary onto their performance of Shakespeare, but altogether this might have just been a comedic event for funzies. With booze. Also I wish more shows utilized Hannah Van Sciver dancing for the entirety of a scene. So make that happen, Philly theatre.
Espie: I think that format has a lot of potential for use in texts that aren’t just the First Quarto which is exciting and I want to see this group do a reading of Troll 2.
Sally: INDEGOGO FOR STAGED READING SERIES OF BAD MOVIE SEQUEL SCRIPTS.
Espie: And I agree with Tracker. I really enjoyed myself, but was definitely left wondering if they were trying to comment on anything beyond just having a good time.
Sally: We should have been drinking during this review.
Tracker: Next time, hip flask.