Reciting ‘Hamlet’ on stage whilst students throw shoes
We called the show “Hot Tub Fever: an environmental health experience” because that is the exact name of the business that inhabited the building at our school’s address, before the founders came along to purchase the spot.
What became our classrooms once housed hot tubs and was a local late night hangout replete with water jets, 8-track players, and champagne. From 1978 until their close maybe a decade later, 3131 Olympic was a weird little spot on the planet.
Fast forward to 2015 and look back to 1995 when my school began and then add in the years in between when New Roads School defined itself as a unique place to get an education, and now I can tell you about my Hamlet shoe-dodging experience.
The show, #HotTubFever, explores what happens when we write and perform a theater show that attempts to live in the conflict of ‘theater in the now.’ The show is on purpose unifying time and space. It is a variety show and we do not perform a full run through rehearsal before show night. Parts are tested in class time during the months prior, and what makes the final script is always subject to change. The performance, one night only, is the only time that Hot Tub Fever is experienced in its entirety.
It is fascinating that while such a theater experiment sounds modern and is certainly postmodern in its philosophy, Aristotle is known for writing about theater and “the unity of time and space.” He viewed this as a powerful and transformative experience for both actor and audience. We took this idea and tried to multiply it by a factor of 5.
Hot Tub Fever: an environmental health experience where the words spoken are also the actions on the stage and this unifies the performers and the viewers and creates a newly held shared space quite different from our distanced theater experiences (when we willingly suspend disbelief).
To create this shared space, the show used a multimedia and multisensory approach in presenting itself as an experience that could not be possible to replicate and emphasized running in real time. When we began the show, the show actually started before the show started. For the people present, we had at least four pre-shows that had varying and shifting attendance. These pre-shows were both scripted and unscripted and all happened during the hours setting up the stage, the backstage, the tech booth, the seats, the lobby, the entrance, and the outer entrance space. The purpose of the pre-shows was to make the audience the actors before entering the theater.
Additionally, during what some might call ‘the actual show,’ the show was aware of itself as a show. We change up the stage during the acts, we carry scripts, we try things again if they don’t work, we talk to the light and sound tech wizards with microphones, they talk to us through the theater P.A., and we have a fully mic’d stage manager running the full dress rehearsal and everyone in the theater and the lobby can hear every word she says.
We used improvisations, scripts, bubble wrap, food, lights, sounds, audience submitted live feed video and still projections from within the theater, three projectors total, two internet ready laptops, a live band, three live video documentarians, four live microphones for the troupe, live chatter from the tech booth P.A., a fully audible stage manager, and a brand spanking new toilet we assembled and wheeled center stage with a spotlight.
There were plans to disrupt the audience and many students in the performing troupe found their moments to walk through aisles looking for their seats. A Snapchat invitation from the students up in the tech booth to everyone in the audience on Snapchat put snapchatted photos of the audience on the big screen during the show. The two other projectors frequently changed what they displayed based on the user input from Google or YouTube. The theater has only one screen so we also projected on the two flanking walls.
I played the part of myself like any other class meeting with one exception: look for the best moments to disrupt the transitions between acts by trying to recite lines from Hamlet. We came up with the idea in rehearsal months before and one student added shoes so we kept it in the final script that my students would boo and toss shoes at me while I tried to last without getting hurt too badly.
The student-written variety acts were all person-specific and reliant in their composition and performance. Nobody else could play your skit or mime or musical piece since it was written to showcase a strength of the author. We had three pieces get cut during their performance and there were also some surprise entries that had never been seen before.
We have over 50 gigabytes of data of the experience gathered from cameras held by me, the twelfth grade actors, the audience, the tech crew, and the documentarians, who were three seventh graders that I instructed to walk everywhere and never turn off their cameras. The next day we watched some footage and wondered what would happen if we had three screens simultaneously showing different discs of data.
Hamlet is a play that is often analyzed for its playing with space and time. Tom Stoppard’s hyperreal Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is also built on the space and time framework of Hamlet. With many months of work in this Senior English course, we found out a lot more about those ideas.
3131 Olympic remains a weird little spot on the planet.