The Name Is Hamlet, James Hamlet
John J. King says he thinks of his mash-up, “From Denmark with Love,” this way: “Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the Christmas Tree and James Bond is the decoration.”
King is the managing artistic director (and self-described mirth strategist) for Vaquero Playground, but it was another small theater company that provided the springboard for this theatrical collage, which plays May 10 to June 1 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. In the fall of 2011, Whistler in the Dark invited several small theater to take an act of “Hamlet “ and rewrite it for their special event “Something Rotten This Way Comes.” The timing was hard for King, who had just lost both grandparents. He travelled to Alaska to be with family, re-reading Act II on the long trip home. He recalled one of his earliest memories of storytelling, watching James Bond movies with his grandfather. With that memory bouncing around in his head, suddenly “Hamlet” seemed a lot like a spy movie.
Immediately, he knew whom to call first. “Who in Boston would play Bond?” King said laughing, “Daniel Berger-Jones, boom.” Out of necessity (they only had three actors playing seven roles) in the 15-minute reading, Daniel Berger-Jones played both Hamlet and Claudius. He still plays both parts, partly because King loves how much fun it is to watch him work so hard. Indeed, he’s adept at wearing characters like they are costumes, as witnessed by his quick-changing multi-character performance in The Lyric Stage Company’s “Stones in his Pockets.”
By the end of the night for the 15-minute reading as part of “Something Rotten,” John had 15 people asking when he would make a full-length production. Almost immediately, King launched into the research process: Over the Thanksgiving holiday, he watched all 23 Bond films in eight days. With his first draft completed about a week later, he had launched a development process that included three readings. If you’re a fan of Vaquero Playground on Facebook (and I suggest you should be, if only for the regular dance breaks posted on the page), you have seen the updates throughout the process, including the fundraising updates. For a few weeks, as the crowdsourcing campaign on indiegogo flourished, donors received their own James Bond villain name and backstory posted on the page.
One such dossier reads: “Charlestown Working Theater (CWT) is a cover operation, known on the inside as “Criminals With Theatrics.” They are responsible for importing and harboring some of the most fiendish theatrical criminals in Europe, in addition to nurturing criminal minds in the local scene.”
That’s possibly one of the most exciting things about this mash-up. The entire process has been a collaboration of the Boston small theater community, harnessed by the positive energy of King. The indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign raised about two-thirds of the budget for the production from 80 individual donors, most of whom are people from the community who work with or run small theaters of their own. The readings were heavily attended by the same community and King received feedback from each one in the form of short surveys.
Directed by Barlow Adamson, who has been with the production since the first reading, the rehearsal process has been an open space where new ideas are welcomed and incorporated into the finished product. King said that it was an interesting line reading that changed the part of Claudius into an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type Bond villain and that an improvised line by one of the actors became a catch phrase for the sidekick. King even wrote to several bands in the area with an invitation to write a Bond theme song for the play, bringing the strong local music scene into the playground. Click here for samples of all the entries. Vaquero Playground has really created a theatrical jungle gym for everyone to stretch their muscles and play around in.
Robin Allen LaPlante is a local arts administrator who is skilled in the mystical arts of social media, ballet, and arts marketing. When not writing, she is baking delicious goodies, camping with her family, or playing with the crazy theater-makers at New Exhibition Room.