A production based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet with middle school actors might seem out of the ordinary. However, actress and playwright Nancy Linehan Charles has been adapting Shakespeare’s work for plays with children for the past 16 years.
Her current play Hamlet or Does Father Reeeally Know Best is with sixth- and seventh-graders from Mar Vista’s Mark Twain Middle School. The play will premiere at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17th, in the school’s auditorium, 2224 Walgrove Ave. Admission is free.
In May, the show will move to Venice’s Pacific Resident Theatre at 703 Venice Blvd for 2 p.m. Saturday performances. Those shows will take place May 3rd, 10th, 17th and 31st. Tickets range from $5 to $10.
Information, (310) 822-8392.
Charles spoke recently with The Argonaut about the adaptation, working with children and her inspiration.
Why an adaptation of Hamlet versus other works?
Nancy Linehan Charles: I fell in love with Hamlet at 14 years old, when I stumbled into a professional production. I just kind of on the spot fell in love with Shakespeare and acting. I hadn’t done [Hamlet] before becauseÖ Shakespeare tells cautionary tales like, if you do this, this may happen. It was hard to say if you don’t mind your father and kill your uncle things will not turn out well because it’s a play about taking revenge on somebody for killing your father. I felt [unsure] but then I just finally thought, I love this play and I think there is a way to do it.
Why do you feel it is important to pay the actors from Mark Twain Middle School?
Charles: We thought, you know, it would be nice to give the actors something for their efforts. But we didn’t just want to give them money, because they’ll probably blow it on candy. So, we decided a $50 savings bond would be a good thing. I went to meet with Clabe and Thea Hartley who own the Cow’s End in Venice, and they immediately wrote out a check for the savings bonds.
What would you like the students to take away from this experience?
Charles: I hope they take away a love of the language. I watch the kids and they now know the whole play. They have everyone’s lines memorized but they know the Shakespeare. They know what it means. They will have that in their little banks, so that in high school if they’re lucky enough to get to a sex-less play like Julius Caesar, they will have a foot up on that because they will have heard the language and understood it.
In turn, what would you like an audience member to take away from the play?
Charles: Well, I hope the audience is stunned by what these kids can do. We always go to a public school rather than a private school. Public schools have less resources and so the kids probably get less in terms of literature and in terms of artistic opportunity. When people see what kids can actually do, I hope that they are amazed and go to their representatives and demand arts programs [in public schools].
What keeps you involved with the Pacific Resident Theatre? Charles: My ex-husband Michael [Rothhaar who directs the current play] and I have been members of it for 17 years. We earn our living through film and television, and so it’s the place where we can just experiment with stuff. It’s a great place to keep your artistic chops in order. The theater really reflects back to you what you are and what the community is.
What ultimately inspires you do these types of productions?
Charles: A college professor of mine [referring to William Butler Yeats’ poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”] said, “The lonely impulse of delight that tells you who you are, don’t sell it short for something easier to explain.” For me acting and Shakespeare and kids are all a part of that. It just moves me, and I just love it. Ö It is sort of the thing that propels me.