‘Alas Poor Yorick’: Piknik Theatre presents ‘Hamlet’
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s the play that Piknik Theatre Executive Director and Board Chair Stuart Handloff has wanted to do for a decade.
“I think it’s every director’s dream,” he said.
This fall, everything — the proper setting, the right casting, the finances — came together for Piknik Theatre to pull it off.
“Hamlet” premiers at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Steamboat Springs.
The Shakespearean tragedy has been edited down from its traditional length of four hours to two, which accelerates the pace of the story of Danish Prince Hamlet’s quest to uncover the mystery of his father’s death. The show is packed with sword fights, physical and emotional confrontations and humor.
“It’s going to keep everyone on their toes,” Handloff said.
“Mental health and existential crises are at an all-time high right now,” said Hannah Dubner, who plays Hamlet. “I think what’s special about this production is that it starts those conversations in a way that’s relatable, and there’s enough humor, love, joy and desire to counterbalance the harshness that comes with all the revenge, death, uncertainty and hopelessness.”
Dubner is based in Manhattan, New York, and has been visiting Steamboat Springs for several years to participate in Piknik Theater’s shows. Its cast is a perfect example of Piknik Theatre’s mission to elevate the skill of local performers by bringing in a diverse mix of professional actors from as far as New York.
“It’s been really exciting to have that mix,” Handloff said.
The diversity of the cast’s theater experience, ranging from those who haven’t acted since high school decades ago to successful professionals, is one of Dubner’s favorite parts about working with Piknik Theatre.
“You’re getting a 360-degree view of an experience, because there are so many different perspectives,” she said.
Piknik Theatre’s “Hamlet” features Hannah Dubner as Hamlet, Kelvin “KJ” Rhodes as King Claudius, Keta Roth as Queen Gertrude, Adeline Mann as Ophelia, Lance Rasmussen as Laertes, Father Ernest Bayer as Polonius, Larry Moore as the Ghost of King Hamlet, Kristen Jespersen as Bernardo, Celina Taylor as Marcellus, Sydnee Fullmer as Horatio, Nick Demarest as Rosencrantz, Ben Kiser as Guildenstern, Annabelle Stone as Osric and Don Moss as Lucianus, with several actors playing multiple parts. Chris Van Winkle is the understudy for the role of Claudius.
No matter whether an actor is local or professional, everyone involved is encouraged to contribute their ideas for the production.
“(Theater) shouldn’t just be one person’s vision,” Handloff said. “(The actors) have got insight and imagination. When you turn them loose, they invent and come up with new ideas.”
Handloff describes his directing style as “getting good actors, then getting out of the way.”
The show’s music and composition is by Mike Martinez, costumes by Sydnee Fullmer and stage and house management by Adeline Mann, Tori Nickels and Rachel Jackson.
The show’s indoor setting at St. Paul’s is a jump from Piknik Theatre’s productions this past summer: the outdoor productions of Shakespeare’s comedy “The Tempest” and an adaption of the fairy tale “The Paper Bag Princess.”
What: “Hamlet” by Piknik Theatre
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 3 to 5 and Oct. 10 to 12 (doors open at 6:15 p.m.; pre-show talk begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 846 Oak St.
Tickets: $20 at the door or at pikniktheatre.org (student discounts available; contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
“(This) brings a different kind of formality. Whereas outdoors, the weather is its own character. Indoor, we’re much more controlled,” Handloff said. “And visually, it’s exciting. (Lighting and effects) add a layer of tone and color that we didn’t have outdoors.”
“Hamlet” will be Piknik Theatre’s second production at St. Paul’s; the first was “Macbeth,” last year.
“Now that it’s our second year (on the church’s stage), we’re able to play more with that environment,” Handloff said.
No matter where the shows take place, one element of Piknik Theatre remains constant.
“We try to make that interactive connection between the actors and the audience,” Handloff said.
“I read that ‘art is not supposed be judged by how much money it makes or how much people like it, but how much the artist is transformed,’” Dubner said. “What I’m most proud of and grateful for is the time and space to be transformed, and that Stuart consistently holds space for people of all walks of life to change and transform.”
Each show kicks off with a short talk by Handloff from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m., and the curtain rises at 7 p.m.
Piknik Theatre has been producing shows since 2008, and as the Yampa Valley Performing Arts Council received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation in 2016.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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