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3Ps perform ‘Hamletmachine’ in Balch Arena Theater

Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2012 10:03


Courtesy of Justin Mccallum

Self-aware characters gave 3Ps' actors opportunity for experimentation and personalization.


Courtesy of Justin Mccallum

Actor interplay ensures that each “Hamletmachine” performance is unique.


Courtesy of Justin Mccallum


The plays of William Shakespeare are easily some of the most culturally influential pieces of art in history. Since Shakespeare's death, his works have been adapted, transformed and altered in myriad ways, producing a rich body of interpretations, each capturing a different facet of the Bard's genius. Productions have ranged from purist renditions that strive for historically correct performances to freewheeling adaptations that recast Shakespearian works in different settings and time periods. Tonight, the Tufts 3Ps will be performing one of the most radical reinterpretations of Shakespearian drama: "Hamletmachine" (1977) by Heiner Müller

The play is a postmodernist drama in five acts. Director Jonny Hendrickson, a senior and drama major, chose the play after reading it in his freshman year in a drama class.

"This is the first time I have been in charge, and it was a very physical process," he said. "I used a lot of techniques I learned from my abroad program and as an ensemble member of Double Edge Theatre, which actually started at Tufts."

The play's development started just five weeks ago, requiring a streamlined rehearsal process.

The 3Ps is Tufts oldest student-run group on campus, having been founded in 1910. The Ps in question stand for Pen, Paint and Pretzel: "Pen" for the art of writing, "Paint" for the art of design and "Pretzel" for the standard snack for the audience. 3Ps puts on student-directed and -produced non-musical plays encompassing one major production and two workshops per semester. Some involved in the organization have no formal theater experience; others are drama majors. Still, 3Ps is open to everyone who has a passion for the stage. The group's decision to take on Müller's play presented the group with a unique production experience.

"Hamletmachine" is one of the most subjective, challenging plays of the later 20th century. The minimalist structure of the play rests on a series of monologues delivered by Hamlet and a few other characters. With relatively few stage directions and virtually no description of what the stage should look like, "Hamletmachine" presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for any theater group. The absence of overt guidelines for the production allowed the 3Ps to design the show from the ground up, an opportunity that set designer Cara Guappone took full advantage of.

"[Jonny Hendrickson] said, ‘we don't have a set designer,' and I said, ‘I want to design the set. I know what it should look like.' My catchphrase for the show was ‘post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland,' because a lot of the images evoke something desolate and destroyed. When you picture ancient civilizations, they have ruins of temples. This is what will be left if life were gone now," Guappone said as she looked out at the stage, where piles of gutted computers, radios, televisions and other electronic devices were strewn about the stage. 

At only nine pages in length, the script for "Hamletmachine" features relatively small amounts of speaking and formal content, requiring new levels of physicality from the performers, who must maintain their stage presence without talking, often for several minutes at a time. Guappone took this critical aspect of the play into account.

"I wanted the space to feel like a crate, and there isn't much in the way [of actors] — so much of the piece is about the movement and the space the actors are creating, so I wanted a space that was uncomfortable. The entryways are a little blocked, but there's still space for them to deal with open rehearsing," she said.

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