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Hamlet Max and Celebrity impressionist Jim Meskimen does Shakespeare| Bard in Multimedia

By June 30, 2014 No Comments
Casey McKinnon as Marcellus (L-R) , Jacob Sidney as Hamlet, and Andy Hirsch as Horatio. Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker,

Casey McKinnon as Marcellus (L-R), Jacob Sidney as Hamlet, and Andy Hirsch as Horatio. Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker,

Modern digital animation merges with old-school ink drawings to create the theatrical set for Jacob Sidney’s Hamlet Max, which has played to sold-out audiences at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this summer.

At first glance, one might assume that his stark black-box theater offers little for the eyes, but the set’s gem is in its digital videography. Imagery artist Hillary Bauman has created 23 ink drawings representing the different scenes and locations in this 90-minute, eight-character Hamlet. Her drawings—mostly all gray-scale with a little red for blood—have been linked together into a digital-format video where Chris Hutchings has added touches of animation to the images.

“It is a way to give life to the set, a living breathing set,” says Bauman, a Los Angeles’ theatrical-scenic painter and graphic-novel illustrator (two current projects include “Cirrus: The Red Storm” and “GALILEI”). The ship moves slightly in the water as Laertes departs, the curtains in Ophelia’s room blow in the breeze, a fire crackles in Gertrude’s bedroom, Ophelia fades into blackness as Gertrude speaks of her death, and at Ophelia’s New York burial scene a light mist hovers over the city. (All these images were exhibited in Beverly Hills at Salon Mikolaj.)

The story of Hamlet Max is set in a post-nuclear society where 90% of the people have been wiped out. “Hamlet is a prince of a world that has moved on,” a post WW-III land “where humanity is in ruins…A once great civilization…is now deserted,” says Bauman.

This apocalyptic vision is captured with Bauman’s bold lines creating tears in fabric, disintegrated buildings, smoke stacks, abandoned factories, trashcans with fire, broken windows, metal sticking out of bricks… “In the scene when the king prays” there are images of skulls and car wreckage. The images give “a feeling of a decaying world… skid row meets castle.”

The basic idea for the set design came from the “spare, B&W manga artistic style, specifically from the Crying Freeman series released in the U.S. in the early ’90s,” says Sidney. “I felt the tone and mood of that genre would invoke the “mise-en-scene” I wanted for Hamlet Max.” (Images of Hamlet Max‘s video set designs can be viewed on Sidney’s YouTube channel.)

Of course, the set was designed to go with the text. Sidney adapted the play’s script from Shakespeare’s Second Quarto and Amleth, the Norse myth (the origin of the Hamlet story). His textual choices revolved around his desire for the “more primal, early-human aspects” of Q2, and “the intensity of emotion in the visceral ancient story.”

In Amleth, the Danish Prince attends his own funeral when he returns from England. “Claudius, (or Feng) assuming his plot to kill Hamlet (or Amleth) has worked, stages Hamlet’s funeral for the populace,” says Sidney. “Hamlet returns disguised as a madman, watches his own funeral, waits for everyone to pass out drunk at the wake, and burns down the hall… killing his remaining family and court.”

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, our dark prince is more inwardly conflicted. This is evident when Hamlet talks to the Gravediggers. He refers to himself in the third person (‘How came he mad?’) as if he is already dead and has this same tone when he reasons to Horatio that man might as well leave this earth early.

“Most people interpret this as Hamlet saying he’s ready to die. I take it one step further, arguing that in fact he is already dead on the inside. He has nothing left to lose, making him capable of anything…to accomplish his ends.”

Some of the differences between the folio and Q2 are “primarily slight word changes, and alternative punctuation, including significantly less heavy punctuation (exclamation points and question marks),” says Sidney.

The folio’s text, “to me, is somewhat more removed emotionally because it is more firmly structured, as if the editors are trying to direct the actor through the printed text…For actors, I believe this makes Q2 much more emotionally accessible, letting the words be the window into the truths these characters face rather than (even subconsciously) the actor guiding her performance toward predetermined heavy punctuation in the course of a scene.”

As an example, Sidney uses a scene from Act 2, Sc. 2. The folio reads: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals – and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me – no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.”

Whereas Q2 reads: “What a piece of work is a man – how noble in reason; how infinite in faculties, in form and moving; how express and admirable in action; how like an angel in apprehension; how like a god; the beauty of the world; the paragon of animals. And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me – nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.”

But there are also plot differences that Sidney incorporates into his script: in Amleth our brooding Hamlet feeds Polonius’ body to the pigs, and on Hamlet’s return to England, his ship is attacked by pirates. Complex scenes such as these particularly benefit from Sidney’s set design choice. Bauman’s representational art elaborates on these themes without the heavy financial costs of building brick-and-mortar sets of the ship, ocean and such and without consuming stage time with moving the props on and off the stage.

Now that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is complete, Sidney is creating a sizzle reel to include clips from the performances as well as animated artwork and graphics to include in a pitch packet to seek backers for a stage production at Edinburgh’s 2015 Festival Fringe. Second, he plans on creating a radio play that will become the sound foundation for an animated feature-length film.

Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices:

Celebrity impressionist Jim Meskimen puts out a new Shakespeare monologue.

Celebrity impressionist Jim Meskimen puts out a new Shakespeare monologue.

Celebrity impressionist Jim Meskimen, known for his comedic take on Shakespeare’s monologues, has released a new YouTube video of Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be soliloquy in the voices of Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Stewart, George W. Bush, Richard Burton, William Shatner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Woody Allen, George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Carson, and more. In July 2011, his Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices went viral (current 980,505 views). Earlier, he has also done celebrity-voiced monologues from Richard III and Julius Caesar. Currently, his season premiere of The Impression Guys is on Soul Pancake, a YouTube Channel. The show’s plot revolves around two-celebrity impressionists, who dream of becoming serious actors, but find it hard to quit the comedy, so they start a 12-step program.

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