Keegan Theatre’s new Theatre for Young Audiences program, PLAY-RAH-KA, opens its second production, Hamlette by Allison K Williams, directed by Ricky Drummond, this Saturday at 11 am for four performances through February 11th.
“We are doing a world premiere of a Shakespearean adaption, Mack, Beth, so we wanted to do something off of that and make a show accessible to some of our younger audiences,” says Alexis Hartwick, education/PLAY-RAH-KA Outreach Coordinator. “I wanted a show geared towards middle-school students because there aren’t a lot of shows being done for that age group.” She recommends Hamlette for ages 11 and up.
The play takes Shakespeare’s classic and turns it on its head. Hamlette is about a troupe of actors putting on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The actress playing the lead role is trying to convince people that it should be called Hamlette.
In the tradition of Noises Off, the comedy splits its time between backstage and on stage. “It’s fun seeing them go back and forth putting on the show and trying to put on the show in a meta-theatrical picture of them doing Hamlet and Hamlette,” director Drummond says.
Just as Hamlette is for young audiences, its performers and director are young adults near the start of their careers. Ricky Drummond graduated from James Madison University in 2015, and around the same time he booked a role in Dog Fight at Keegan. He followed that up performing in American Idiot last year, further cementing himself with the Keegan community.
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January 28 @ 11:00 am
January 31 @ 10:00 am
February 4 @ 11:00 am
February 11 @11:00 am
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The comedy is told in under an hour with five actors. Drummond cast a diverse group of actors, most just out of college: Rachel Barlaam, Carl Williams, Jonathan Helwig, Jenny Judd and Alexis Amarante.
“I knew that I wanted to direct so I reached out to [artistic directors] Susan and Mark Rhea, and let them know I would love to direct or assistant direct something there in the future, and they said they would keep me in mind,” he says. “When they had the PLAY-RAH-KA program coming up, they asked me to submit, and they chose me to direct Hamlette.”
A theater major with a concentration in performing, Drummond directed a couple of small plays in college, as well as two full-length musicals: Godspell and Assassins. He also received a scholarship to do a directing intensive at the Kennedy Center.
“I love the collaborative effort of it. It’s all about making sure all the pieces fall right,” he says. “I feel like the director is the conductor. It’s helping people come up with the best ideas for their characters or set design or whatever it might be. It’s seeing the whole picture come together and making sure the best ideas are brought out.”
Since Hamlette is designed for a younger audience, it does change his directorial style a bit, Drummond notes .
“You definitely lean into the comedy more and lean into the physicality a bit more,” he says. “For me it’s exciting to delve into that world. I have experience in acting but not at the helm myself. There’s something fun about it that’s inherently more playful than other theater.”
“The script needed to have one man and one woman, and the rest was up to us, so I chose to have three women and two men,” he says. “It’s a fun breakdown of people and I’m excited to see how the ensemble comes together.”
Drummond had numerous conversations with the playwright over the last few months, who has been open to his ideas, including a possible change to the ending. He also feels that young audiences will really learn to appreciate the Bard and his work.
“I love the teaching aspect of how the script incorporates Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter with Williams’ more modern vernacular,” he says. “It exposes Shakespeare’s language in a way that young audiences will understand the context and understand what the characters are trying to do.”
The theater received a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities that allows it to host five fully funded field trips for students in the DC public school system to view the Keegan PLAY-RAH-KA productions, helping it to meet its mission to provide theater for those who wouldn’t normally have access.
“I would like us to continue to provide smart, professional productions for families. Things that get the kids to question the world around them,” Hartwick says. “Also, to provide educational opportunities and provide a meaningful experience through the theater.”