Friday, November 5, 2010

There Never Was Such a Frantic Guy...

At the end of October, Blackstone Audio wrapped recording sessions for its audio adaptation of Hamlet, as originally presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

For years now, Blackstone narrator and OSF star Tony Heald has been encouraging a collaboration between the two companies, and his efforts have finally born fruit. Hamlet is the first of what will be an ongoing series of audio adaptations of OSF's distinctive, American-flavored Shakespeare. The current production incorporates some fascinating visual and interpretive touches. Stylistically speaking, the defining sequence is the "Players' scene," in which Hamlet engineers an entertainment designed to reveal his uncle's complicity in the murder of his father. In the OSF production, the hired troupe improvises a "hip-hop" version of the play-within-a-play, complete with wireless mics, electronic instruments and a scratch track, while the tonily-dressed members of the court look on in growing apprehension. The famous "nunnery" scene similarly references modern technology, Ophelia being fitted with a listening device, the better to capture Hamlet's presumed insanity; Hamlet discovers the "wire" mid-scene, adding fuel to his suspicious rage. The ghost of Hamlet's father is played by deaf actor Howie Seago, who signs his lines while the actor playing Hamlet (Dan Donahue) voices them for the benefit of the audience.

As you can guess, not all of these interpolations will translate effectively to audio. Working with OSF's artistic director, Bill Rauch, we've come up with alternative ideas that both reinforce and enhance the up-to-date concept.

Once in the studio, the actors adapted quickly and creatively to the challenges of working in a more intimate medium. It was fascinating to watch them adjust to their environment and discover things that were exciting and effective in the imagined world of audio.

The production is now in the mixing stage, which can take three weeks or more of intensive work to embed the voices in a convincing "soundscape." Blackstone plans to release the final product early next year. It's going to be a very exciting, uniquely American take on this most famous of Shakespeare's plays.

The title of this post comes from a Frank Loesser song written for the 1949 movie, Red, Hot and Blue featuring the inimitable Betty Hutton. Unfortunately, whenever I think of Hamlet I can't get the lyrics out of my head:

Was the prince of a spot called Denmark (mark my words!)
There never was such a frantic guy either before or since (he was a dreamboy)
And like a hole in the head, Denmark needed that prince!

'Cause he bumped off his uncle,
And he Mickey Finned his mother,
And he drove his gal to suicide,
And stabbed her big brother,

'Cause he didn't want nobody else but himself should live--
He was whatcha might call...uncooperative!

You can watch a video of it here. My apologies to purists.

1 comment:

  1. I *love* the image of Hamlet discovering the wire! What a creative endeavor :)

    Personally, I welcome an innovative approach to this particular play...if I can wax blasphemous for a moment, it's never been one of my favorites for some reason. Can't wait to hear what you've done with it.