TBT doing Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ with a twist

The first installment of Thunder Bay Theatre’s newly instituted Shakespeare Project begins Thursday with the opening of “Hamlet.” Once a year over the next five years, TBT plans to present a Shakespeare classic but with a contemporary twist.

“All of the plays will be done with a contemporary concept that will hopefully make the work of William Shakespeare more accessible and palatable for the community,” said TBT Artistic Director Jeffrey Mindock.

For “Hamlet,” theater goers can expect to see a cross between Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland. According to Mindock, there will be characters that resemble familiar ones in Alice in Wonderland like the Cheshire Cat and the March Hare.

“Then you also will have the more human characters such as the Red Queen, Mad Hatter and Alice, but all of them will be present in this world in a very subtle way,” he said. “My number one priority is to ensure that we are producing the best version of ‘Hamlet’ possible that just happens to look as though it’s in the world of Alice in Wonderland.”

He said it’s been an exciting challenge for the production staff and cast alike.

“The reason for all of this is because it’s our belief that the audience members who want to see Shakespeare will come and see it because we’re producing ‘Hamlet,’ but my focus was on the high school students and the people in the community who have never seen Shakespeare before and wouldn’t normally see themselves interested in seeing a Shakespeare play.”

In the theater’s continued commitment to quality productions, Mindock brought in two MFA professors – one from Oakland University and one from University of Michigan – Flint – to choreograph the fight scenes in the show.

“Through a new partnership with 4D 2nd Street Dance Company we were able to spend a weekend at their dance studio with the two professors,” Mindock said. “That alone is an exciting element to this play that we’ve not had the opportunity to present in the recent past.”

The show features a mix of professional core company members and local performers, including high school students. Among the core company members are Corey Keller as Hamlet, Ben Ford as Horatio, Jordan Ray as Ophelia, Erica Werner as Gertrude, Travis Welch as Claudius, CJ Bathiany as Laertes and Adrian Rochelle as the Grave Digger/Ghost/Osric.

Familiar faces from the community include Pat Jacques and David Usher, both always audience favorites. Others cast in the show are Ely Irving, Ashley Cotton, Isabel Luther, Amelia Berles, Ryan Heath, Sarah Vrendenburg, Rosalie Mucciante, Katie Kurowski, Connie Fluharty, Olivia Gerhart, Cameron Meicher and Iven Brown.

TBT presented “Taming of the Shrew” in February 2016 with a unique concept as well. This Shakespeare play, well received by the public, was set in a post-World War II munitions factory.

“That was the beginning of the experiment that proved to our board of directors that Shakespeare holds some weight and that it’s worth producing,” Mindock said. “It was very, very positive across the board.”

In addition to the main stage productions slated for Oct. 27-29, Nov. 2-5 (no show at the theater on Nov. 4) and Nov. 9-12, “Hamlet” will be performed outdoors as part of a new initiative between TBT and the Downtown Development Authority. Called Plays in the Park, the new program offers free, outdoor theater performances in public spaces.

Plays in the Park kicks off with “Hamlet” at 6 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Carter Street parking lot along the river next to the Cellar Building. That performance will be pared down in terms of the set and the lights but should give viewers a taste of Shakespeare and live theater in a streets setting. Mindock encourages those who still want the full experience of “Hamlet” to still buy tickets to see it at TBT.

“Hamlet” runs about two and a half hours in length and is considered family friendly fare. Families of young children should keep in mind that there are some fight scenes and a few scary moments with ghosts.

Overall, Mindock hopes the community is ready to embrace a Shakespeare experience.

“The thing I want to stress is that Shakespeare is for everyone, and you cannot be too young to be exposed and to understand this work,” he said.