By Isabel Kettler – They are different worlds, separated not so much by space, but by time. It’s a little troubling when one goes around trying to breathe new life into one of the most well-known and most-oft reimagined plays known in the western world, not to mention one that is also four years old. And yet for three nights in the Ted Sorensen Theatre, audiences were treated to the marriage of Elizabethan England and the modern world in Lincoln High’s spring show, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, written by playwright Tom Stoppard is a fixture of modern culture; a little less prevalent in the public psyche than the play it was born from, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While Shakespeare’s show follows the titular Prince of Denmark as he seeks to avenge the usurpation of his father, the King, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern recenters the action around its two titular characters. When they are sent to figure out the cause of Hamlet’s sudden madness, their adventures take them to the Danish court, to the company of a band of traveling tragedians led by the Player, and, eventually, to England where their death awaits them.
It’s traditional for Lincoln High to do a Shakespeare show every other year, and even though the alternating years do not showcase plays penned by the Bard himself, they usually have something to do with him. But this year was special: the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The most influential Western Playwright in the history of his craft deserved a show that could hold its own against his works to remember his passing. Director Justin Holbein knew just the show to pick.
It had always been a dream for Holbein to direct this show, and the fact that he got to direct it with a group of high schoolers made him all the more proud, citing the idea that in the future, when students are asked about the show, which is known for being fairly dense in its dialogue and subject matter, they can proudly say they did that in high school. Holbein was further satisfied to report that “from day one, [the students] took ownership of this show,” allowing his expertise to gently guide the show rather than strictly administrate the process.
From their director’s initial visions, inspired by, according to Holbein, “a tweed suit and a bowler hat,” the students actors, production crew, and technical crew developed a concept that reflected on their desire to update the setting of the show and add fantastical elements into the mix.
Head Costumer Carolyn Kerns went full out with the theme of mixing centuries, and drew inspiration from various sources including traditional Elizabethan clothing and traveling circuses for her designs. Kerns, a junior, said, “I wanted it to be fantasy… but with kind of a twist,” which led to the creation of a birdcage-esque hoop skirt andseveral hats made out of kitchen strainers.
For lead actors, seniors Rosa Guerra and Emily Jobson, a show that involved as much as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did was quite the obstacle to overcome. Guerra, who played Rosencrantz, cited in particular some linguistic dissonance. “It’s very challenging when we have to switch from regular language to Shakespearean language, back-and-forth,” said Guerra. The two never left the stage during the two-hour shows with the exception of intermission, and both had an unbelievable amount of lines, even leading Jobson to say, “This is the most dialogue that I’ve ever had to learn for a show.”
When Jobson and Guerra weren’t focusing on lengthy monologues, they focused their energy in developing these age-old characters in a fresh way. This included gender-swapping their roles and developing the relationships between their characters. “[Rosa and I] have been able to pull a lot from our own friendship, which is a really fun thing to delve into and explore,” Jobson said, “I’ve been able to method act a lot more in this show.”
But even though change is prevalent in theatre and new ideas are always mixed with old plays, one thing remains the same as it did in Shakespeare’s day: Theatre is an art form like no other. “[Acting] honestly gives you the most rewarding feeling because you are putting all of your energy into this suspension of reality where it’s not only fun for yourself, but you also get to entertain other people… not only are you having fun, people are having fun with you,” Guerra said. And really, that’s a major theme of the play: Theatre is worthwhile when somebody watches it.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern still end up dead, but by virtue of the audience seeing them, and believing in them, they live again.