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Gallatin Explores Hamlet in Fall 2013 Production

"When suddenly you're confronted with the catastrophic, how do you navigate through that?"

Nov 7, 2013

Gallatin's Fall 2013 Production of "Hamlet"

Contact: C.B. Reis
(212) 992-7762

Halloween may have come and gone, but one last ghost will haunt Gallatin for six nights in November.

"We’re trying to figure out what kind of ghost we're dealing with," said Assistant Professor Kristin Horton.

Who's there?

This question solves at least some of the mystery: It is the first line of Gallatin’s fall 2013 production of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s play about decadence, Denmark and a certain undead father who haunts his namesake son.

The show opens at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8 in the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts and runs intermittently until Sunday, Nov. 17. Many performances have sold out well in advance.

When it comes to Hamlet, there will always be more questions than answers.

"We’re still figuring out: What is the Gallatin Hamlet? What does the play mean to us?" said Horton, who is directing the play with an all-Gallatin cast. "Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, it is so full of ambiguities and complexity. It takes time to get to know it."

Hamlet itself is more than 400 years old. But even if it seems like there’s been enough time to have gotten to know the most famous play by the world’s most famous author, then think again. Like the ghost of King Hamlet himself, Shakespeare is nothing if not very familiar and very strange.

"You often hear people say that the plays are timeless and universal," Horton said. "But another way of thinking about it is that we haven't worked it out yet, and that's why these plays keep showing up."

This is especially true in the uncanny case of Hamlet, which keeps showing up because it never goes away, almost in spite of itself.

"It's a play that comes with a lot of baggage,” she admitted.

Such baggage belongs not only to the over-analyzing and over-analyzed Prince Hamlet himself, but to those who would stage his tragedy yet again.

"Everybody seems to have an opinion about the play, whether they've read it or not," she said with a laugh. "Cutting through all the noise that surrounds the play is half the battle."

But for all that is noisy and embattled about the play, there is, of course, much more for which we have Shakespeare to thank.

"It’s such a deeply human play," Horton said. "It's a wonderful political story as well. But at its core, it’s a play about a student and we’re at a university."

Whatever else NYU’s students have in common with Wittenburg’s, they know where Hamlet is coming from when he says, in one of his most famous lines, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy."

"It's about a student who finds himself in a situation that he's not prepared for," she said. "He's studied a great many things, but when suddenly you're confronted with the catastrophic, how do you navigate through that?"

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Rehearsal Photos


It must be said that Hamlet's navigations are notoriously circular: More often than not, he just seems to be killing time when he ought to be killing Claudius. But Horton has a different take.

"He is a character who gets miscast often as this depressive, static figure," Horton said. "But I tend to think of him as a very thoughtful, active individual who is trying desperately to navigate a deeply complicated situation."

Hamlet the character and Hamlet the production would seem, then, to share the same method to their madness.

"The hallmark of our shows at Gallatin is that we're very process oriented," Horton said. "Rather than coming at a production with a lot of predetermined ideas about it, we use the rehearsal period as a place to discover together."

In this sense, rehearsals never really end, not even on opening night.

"Discoveries can keep happening in front of an audience," she said. "The audience is really a character in the play."

It is no small feat for an audience to hold its own as a character in a play whose leading role is one of world literature’s biggest personalities.

"It’s a play that draws so much attention to performativity anyway," she said. "All of sudden, when you have that audience, it presents a lot of new opportunities that might not have been present in the rehearsal process."

As much as Horton embraces "process," however, the very word "rehearsal" gives her pause for reasons totally of a piece with Hamlet.

"'Rehearse' is kind of a troubling word because in English it implies rehearing or repeating," she said. "Other languages have a much richer idea of the word. In German, it’s 'proben,' which is a scientific term. You’re going in to probe and to investigate a text or an idea or whatever it is.

"And I think of rehearsal that way. It’s really the place where we come to test out ideas or questions we have."