An Afternoon With The Wooster Group

Wooster Group

This past Friday I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with The Wooster Group at CalArts. We were graced with sixteen members of the cast and crew to discuss their recent version of Hamlet during our monthly all-school meeting. It was incredibly nice of the company to spend some time with students, discuss their design process and answer our questions about the show. It was a unique experience, and I'm glad I was able to participate. Many thanks to the entire company for taking time out of their schedule to visit.

Two weeks ago, I was able to see The Wooster Groups' version of Hamlet when it arrived at REDCAT in downtown LA. (For reference, REDCAT is the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theatre, which is our more professional and flexible black box style space.) There were free student tickets, which were a huge plus, and I had the pleasure spending a night at the theatre with a lot of fellow designers. The show was incredibly interesting to say the very least. I had read a brief synopsis about this performance, but was by no means prepared for what it actually entailed. The best synopsis I can offer is the actors re-enact a 1964 Broadway film recording of Richard Burton's Hamlet with their own unique and very technological twist on Hamlet. I'll admit, I was very lost at the beginning of the show, and it took me a while to catch on to the unique performance style. There are moments when you fast-forward through part of the show, skip scenes, and hear a song from a possible new hit musical. It's weird to say the very least, but after you adjust and start to understand what is happening you get hooked.

I was able to talk briefly with Scott Shepherd, who plays Hamlet, about what design elements in the show affected him. A big question I had for him was how he dealt with having the blocking for the live-show be based 100% from the 1964 film. His reply was of particular interest, as he summed it up and explained that in some sense it was very freeing because he could focus more attention on other aspects of the performance.

Overall, the video and sound design for the show was most impressive. Taking almost two years to create from start to finish, it was pretty amazing to watch. I would also be a miss if I did not comment on Jennifer Tipton's and Gabe Maxon's lighting design. While sparse in nature, it supported a lot of the design choices made in the video, like short flickers and glitches, and kept me in the world of the black and white film.

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