In the fall of 1981, I was smitten by the BBC production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Derek Jacobi as the Prince of Denmark and Patrick Stewart as Claudius, so much so that I began memorizing Act I immediately in the hopes of producing the play before I left high school. In the fall of 1983, it was becoming a reality as I had cast most of the major players and the English department was behind my production. Well, Ophelia broke her leg fairly badly and would be on crutches for awhile. That and other factors which I cannot now recall led to the play’s cancellation.
Aside from taking a college course in Shakespeare in the Spring of 1985, it would be some time later before the Bard would have me in his grip again. Even then, I often skipped classes and rarely did the necessary readings for the course because I was spending more time writing music or acting with the college theater department. Shakespeare didn’t really fit in then. In fact, it was strange to find such a subject-specific literature course at an engineering college. It had fairly recently (in the year I matriculated, 1984) gone from Clarkson College of Technology to Clarkson University. So, it finally had a substantial offering in the humanities. As usual, I have digressed…
My interest in Shakespeare was rekindled when I was
strong-armed, roped, hoodwinked, asked to be involved in the Orcas Island Shakespeare Festival, not an official festival per se, but rather a week of Shakespearean activities produced by a committee of the local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber had been given a five-year grant which was to be applied to boosting local businesses and attracting tourists in the shoulder season in the month of April. I participated in its last two years as an actor and in the final year I also served on the planning committee. I was excited that the theme for this annual (albeit limited to a term of five years) business event was centered around Shakespeare, a theme for which I had an affinity. And when it was over, I thought someone should consider starting a non-profit organization which could see to an annual festival, a celebration that would become part of our local heritage. Moreover, it would be great to infuse Shakespeare’s works, life and times into other community programs, i.e. talks, classes, performances in schools, at the library, and other places. In other words, give the subject a permanent presence here for those who wish to be entertained or educated, or to do the entertaining and educating. “Let’s explore Shakespeare together as a community”, I thought.
On January 1, 2019, I officially founded the Orcas Island Shakespeare Society as a nonprofit organization in Washington State. As said in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Act III, Scene III – “Huzza!”
Now, I’m too old to play Hamlet. That’s regrettable. I no longer entertain that idea in the least. But, I can vicariously live through something as remarkable – even better! I’ve decided that while we have a lot of planning and organizing to do in terms of programming, the Society’s own (yet-to-be-formed) company of actors will perform an all-female production of Hamlet. Huzzah (my preferred spelling)! There have been productions of Hamlet with an all-female cast and I suppose I will try to see some of those that have been recorded. They will not, however, have any bearing on my direction. This will neither be an abridged production nor a gender-bended modern adaptation. Not until many years after Shakespeare’s death did female actors take the stage in his works. In his lifetime, all of the actors were men. I can’t imagine how this seemed, especially in the more serious plays of tragedies and histories. But, if a gander can portray a goose, then a goose can portray a gander. A stage with only female actors will be, to my mind, an extraordinary experience. Those who know me well, know there are more women in my life than men; I am just drawn to feminine energy. Thus, directing a female troupe will be nothing less than sheer joy!
2019 is the year for planning: building a society and an acting company. You can expect to see the OISS production of Hamlet hopefully in the summer of 2020 or 2021.
In the meantime, stay tuned in to www.orcasislandshakespeare.org and like us on Facebook, for now the only social media platform I will personally manage. (Other members may take on Twitter, Instagram, etc.) If you are local, consider joining us. We will have weekly meetings at the library starting in Spring 2019.