By Michael Ganio, Hamlet Scenic Designer
It’s important to mention that the director John Sipes and I have done a number of productions together in the past, many of which have been plays written by Will Shakespeare. As a result, our conversations about the story-telling of Hamlet have been honest and direct, at times verging on blunt, but always driven by the spirit of inquiry. John wanted this production to focus almost exclusively on Hamlet and his internalized emotional journey. He was much less interested in seeing Elsinore castle rendered as a realistic construction of court architecture, but rather as an environment in which all of Hamlet’s emotions could manifest and multiply. It was a very unusual request. We did not want an environment that was attempting to visually render equivocation, or depression, or grief, for instance.
Rather, we were striving to create an environment which would support both the actor playing Hamlet and the character of Hamlet while both try to hold on tight through Shakespeare’s emotional rollercoaster of a story.
Half-jokingly we began to refer to the developing set in its infancy as “Hamlet’s Head Space”.
In an attempt to further understand what John was imagining, I asked about Hamlet’s soliloquies. In those private moments, who was Hamlet speaking to? John’s response was clear. Hamlet was directly addressing us, the audience. Therefore, I suggested that we the audience and Hamlet must be in the same space. We must be in the same “room”. Without hesitation John agreed.
Much of my work moving forward from this mutual point of understanding was to strengthen the intimate relationship between actor/character and audience member by removing any and all suggestions of separation. Embracing the strengths of the Carousel Theatre, we set the story-tellers in the middle of the audience. The floor on which they stand is without any formal border which otherwise might suggest a space with finite limits. We have enabled the actors/characters to emerge out of and effortlessly disappear back into the audience. The implied ceiling of downlight fixtures that is over the stage has been extended and continues out over the audience as well.
In closing, the marble-patterned floor deserves some brief mention. In literal terms it was inspired by a piece of visual research that costume designer Bill Black shared with the creative team. He brought in a photo of the actual, modern Danish court participating in a state reception. They appear wearing modern dress cloths appropriate for a high state function, standing on a beautiful black and white, patterned marble floor. What really engaged my imagination when looking at this floor was that it was, so to speak, “in black and white”, a phrase we use when we want to express the absolute lack of all but two alternatives….much as does, “To be or not to Be.”