Summit School’s ‘Hamlet’ set at circus; result of poetic pleas

Marissa Gerber practices her lines during rehearsal for “Hamlet” Tuesday at Summit School. Gerber, a seventh-grader, will play the lead. The play will run Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Marissa Gerber practices her lines during rehearsal for “Hamlet” Tuesday at Summit School. Gerber, a seventh-grader, will play the lead. The play will run Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. (Tyler Tjomsland)

It’s not your typical production of “Hamlet.”

The ghost of Hamlet’s father is played by a yellow duck puppet. Polonius is represented by a series of sock puppets.

And instead of taking place in Elsinore, the castle in Denmark, it’s at a circus.

Dan Powell, a teacher at Summit School in the Central Valley School District, was resolute about not performing a play this year. It has been two years since the last one, and he really didn’t want to do it again.

“As you can imagine, these shows can take quite a bit of energy,” he said. “I didn’t want to do a play at all.”

His students had other ideas.

Annabel Christianson-Buck, a seventh-grader who plays Ophelia, a high diver who wears an inner tube throughout the play, said they would leave sticky notes around his room that read, “The play’s the thing.”

But they didn’t stop with sticky notes.

Some of the students wrote him poetry during their community time creative writing class. Light-hearted threats were made.

“They kept turning in these pieces with not-so-subtle hints, to no avail,” Powell said. “But when they started turning in death threats to me written in the forms of poems in iambic pentameter … I figured I had some kids who really wanted to do this project. So I caved.” He also said it was something kids tend to do when you have a good working relationship with them.

Summit’s interpretation of “Hamlet,” is unusual. Hamlet is played by seventh-grader Marissa Gerber dressed as a sad-faced clown. They have edited the play down from four and a half hours to about an hour and a half.

“I would never keep anybody here for four and a half hours,” Powell said.

He said most of the ideas for the play come from the students, who also helped re-write some of the lines. They cut down the graveyard scene. In fact, they cut a lot from the play, except for one thing.

“I cut three-quarters of the play, but I made her (Gerber) memorize the whole ‘To be or not to be’ speech,” Powell said.

“I don’t know half of the things I’m saying,” Gerber said.

Jenna Weaver, an eighth-grader playing Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, said she finds the Elizabethan language hard to ad-lib, and many of the actors find it hard to take the dark tone of the play very seriously.

“It’s not much of a tragedy if you ask me,” Weaver said.

“I have to do it with a straight face,” Christianson-Buck said. “It’s going to be really, really funny.”

Powell said he likes to keep the plays he produces funny for one particular reason.

“It’s hard to kill kids (on stage),” he said.

It’s not his first foray into Shakespearean tragedy. Two years ago, the school’s play was “Romeo and Juliet,” using a hillbilly theme.

“He’s really funny to work with,” Gerber said.

Powell said his students are already thinking about the next Shakespearean tragedy they will tackle.

“They want to do ‘Macbeth’ in zero gravity,” he said.

The cast and crew of “Hamlet,” include: Theo Lynch as King Claudius; Weaver as Queen Gertrude; Christianson-Buck as Ophelia; Olivia Whitely as Horatio; Gerber as Hamlet; Grant Hill as Marcellus; Xander Weaver as Bernardo; Mitch Olson as Francisco; Madeline Sanford as Laertes; Hailey Lynch as Guildenstern; Autymn Wilde as Rosencrantz; Ben Mack as Osric; Christopher Hartman as a gentleman; Tori Ruiz, Annie Mack, Veronica Harper and Justin Jennings as messengers.

The play is directed by Powell. The assistant director and stage manager is Ian Ireland. The technical directors are parent Richard Hartman and student Christopher Hartman and set design was done by parent Joni Michels and student Emily Michels.

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