As the cast of “Hamlet” carefully rehearsed for opening night, they also got ready to break something: the fourth wall — the theater term for the invisible barrier between actors and audience.
The interaction starts with the cocktail hour. Don’t be surprised if a character beckons you over or whispers in your ear.
“That’s where a little bit of improv comes in,” Artistic Director Kelly Hummert of St. Louis.Hummert said.
Hummert plays Prince Hamlet’s love interest, Ophelia in the immersive version of The Bard’s classic, “Hamlet: See What I See.” It offers no playbill and no seating, she said, "just an invitation.”
“You’ll be invited to the Castle of Elsinore: Come! Come enjoy! Crush a cup of wine with us,” Hummert said.
The story follows the classic Shakespearean tale of Prince Hamlet, who returns to Denmark for his the funeral of his father, King Hamlet, and then to his mother’s sudden wedding to his uncle Claudius, who killed the king and took his place. The ghost of King Hamlet demands revenge.
A host of apparitions encircles Prince Hamlet as he talks with his mother, Queen Gertrude. The churning parade readies to absorb audience members into its swirl. Director Melanie Armer, of New York, said the interactive play is a great way for people who are intimated to wade into the world of Shakespeare.
“This is just an incredibly fluid, experiential, straightforward, right-there-in-front-of-you way to understand a story that has made it through the ages,” Armer said.
The play has parallels to modern-day issues, according to Armer. It opens just four days after the most contentious presidential race in recent U.S. history and addresses issues such as the transfer of power.
“I think that the emotions will be strong,” Armer said. “This [play] feels like a good place to figure that out.”
Armer is co-founder of The Nerve Tank in New York City. Other professionals who’ve come to St. Louis to work on the version of “Hamlet” include Broadway and film fight choreographer Rick Sordelet, Philadelphia sound designer Chad Raines from Philadelphia and New York lighting designer John Eckert.
National stage, film and TV actor Brandon Alan Smith plays Prince Hamlet. But the show also abounds with local talent. Francesca Ferrari performs the part of Queen Gertrude. Reginald Pierre plays the new King Claudius.
Pierre said this production is unlike anything he’s done before.
“When you’re on a normal stage, it’s all about projecting and making sure that you’re heard. And if you look out into the audience, you’re not making eye contact,” Pierre said. “But with this, the people are going to be amongst us — and I love that idea of having a different energy every night.”
The room holds 250 people. Shy theater-goers don’t need to worry about ending up in the spotlight, according to Hummert, who said it’s not like a comedy show where the front seats are like a row of sitting ducks.
“If there is someone who looks at you like, ‘Absolutely don’t touch me and take me to a different room, no.’ We’re not going to go for that person,” Hummert said.
Audience involvement includes sharing the experience in real time. You don’t have to turn off your phone. In fact, Hummert wants to phone-camera clicks and tweets in the audience.
“If you see something amazing, Instragram that, share it with your friends, [put it on] Facebook,” Hummert said. “We want to welcome these younger people. That is how they communicate, these millennials. They love to document their lives.”
If you go:
'Hamlet: See What I See"
Where: Barnett on Washington, 3207 Washington Ave. 63103
When: 8 p.m. Saturday-Friday, Nov. 12-18
Cost: $55 ($20 less with a college ID)
Tickets: Metrotix website
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL