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Episode 87: Rolling Out the Red Carpet as Bingham High Drama Students Star in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

They will be rolling out the red carpet at Bingham High School as drama students star in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Because of COVID, a stage version of the play was replaced by students filming all the scenes for a big screen production.

On this episode of the Supercast, we find out what it was like for students filming Shakespeare and trading a live stage for the big screen.

We caught up with the cast of Hamlet as they were filming a scene in the greenhouse at Bingham High.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. They will be rolling out the red carpet at Bingham High School as drama students star in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Because of COVID, a stage version of the play was replaced by students filming all the scenes for a big screen production. On this episode of the Supercast, we find out what it was like for students filming Shakespeare and trading a live stage for the big screen. We caught up with the cast as they were filming a scene in the greenhouse at Bingham High.

"Grating so harshly all his days of quiet with turbulent, dangerous lunacy? He does confess he feels himself distracted. But from what cause he will by no means speak. Nor do we find him forward to be sounded, but with a crafty madness, keeps aloof when we would bring him on to some confession of his state. Did he receive you well? Most like a gentlemen. But with much forcing of his disposition. 'Tis most true, and he beseeched me to entreat your Majesties to hear and see the matter.  With all my heart, and it doth much content me to hear him so inclined.  Good gentlemen, give him a further edge and drive his purpose into these delights."

Anthony Godfrey:
We're here outside the green house at Bingham High School to talk with Mr. Purdy about a project he's doing with his theater students. Mr. Purdy, thanks for joining us.

Teacher:
Yeah, absolutely.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell us a little bit about what you're working on.

Teacher:
So we are taking Shakespeare's Hamlet and turning it into a film. So the students help out the production assistant, camera stuff, lighting and then just all the theater students are auditioned and they got in the film and it's just a new experience for them. Film acting. It's a completely different thing than theater.

Anthony Godfrey:
So is this a film adaptation in order to kind of cope with the impact that the pandemic has on your ability to perform live?

Teacher:
Yes, exactly. That was the whole thought behind it is. How can we do something creatively and in a new way, still give the students a really good experience, having them learn something new.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now you said that film acting and stage acting are different. What are the different approaches that students have to learn when they are acting on film as opposed to on stage?

Teacher:
Well, first of all, on stage they have to be huge all the time. Just really big, big facial expressions, big movement. The closer the camera is, the more you have to get rid of that. It's all about honesty and subtlety and just being real. So the big stuff doesn't work unless the camera's really, really far away. The big thing though, that's changed for them is that they get very little rehearsal time because we have to shoot. We have to rehearse a little bit and shoot every week and edit as we go along. So they don't get very much rehearsal and they have to memorize way, way faster. So it's a big learning curve, but they're doing an amazing job

Anthony Godfrey:
And memorizing Shakespeare presents a special challenge. But it's also very valuable to do that level of work. Why Hamlet?

Teacher:
Well, my favorite thing to direct is Shakespeare. I'm super passionate about Shakespeare and Hamlet. I don't know, for one thing, Hamlet just something I've always been afraid to do. But since I was throwing so much on the kids, I've always wanted to do Hamlet, I thought, let's just really go for it and do the big one, right? The vague Hamlet. That's, I just feel like it, there's some themes and such that are helpful maybe as you consider at this time.

Anthony Godfrey:
Shakespeare, I love Hamlet and actually, I'm here to audition for the part of Yorick. You think I could get that?

Teacher:
Do you want me to give you the real answer?

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah.

Teacher:
Yeah. I think you, I think you could pull it off but not because you look like a skull.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay.

Teachers:
I just think you've got it.

Anthony Godfrey:
I just thaught if I went for Yorick, maybe I can get there. Maybe that can happen for me. It's, you know, there are no small parts, right? Just small actors and I don't intend to be a small actor. I intend to make the most of Yorick's part.

Teacher:
Okay. You got it. From what I can see so far, you've got the role.

Anthony Godfrey:
See, I love this. This feels very validating. Okay, now tell me, you said that Shakespeare is one of the things you most like to direct. What is it that you like about directing Shakespeare?

Teacher:
Well, I love the language and the poetry. But probably the thing I love the most is that you can take these amazing stories, you can set them anywhere. You can do anything with them. For one thing, they are public domain, so you can kind of change it up, shake it up and Shakespeare can't do anything about it. But also I think that he would love the fact that his work continues on and on and on for so many years because you can do so much with it. For example, this one, we're setting it modern in our world. Our own modern world with Shakespeare's Hamlet as a documentary filmmaker. And he decides to use that skill and the camera to document what's going on in order to avenge his father and things like that. So I just love the possibilities with Shakespeare.

Anthony Godfrey:
Have you always wanted to layer a new challenge with additional challenges? Being new to the school, a pandemic, let's put the play into a video form and make a film instead, and let's adapt a Hamlet for the modern day. I mean you're taking on a lot of layers of challenges. And I really admire that. Is that just part of the package?

Teacher:
Sometimes I probably get myself into trouble by doing that, but in the end it all works out. And in the end I learned a ton. My students learned a ton because you can't really grow without those challenges. So, yeah, that's just kind of how I am.

Anthony Godfrey:
I hear a crow, and because we're talking about Shakespeare, everything feels like an omen. I feel like something awful that happened to me.

Teacher:
Do we need to knock on wood or what are we doing?

Anthony Godfrey:
I don't know, is there anything we can do? I think we just turn ourselves over the fate.  We'll see what happens. You heard it here first. Tell me what are the outcomes that you hope for from this experience for students?

Teacher:
Well, I want them to gain a new skill, for one thing. There are  so many opportunities in film for careers. And so I've felt like that's just another tool in their belt. My goal for Shakespeare all the time is that the students are going to come away with a greater appreciation for the past and that language and that history, because there's so much history. And when you do a Shakespeare piece, I just feel like they're going to be more well-rounded and hopefully they'll gain some maturity through all the challenges, right? And they'll come at their work in their futures, in their acting work, a little bit more mature, a little bit more disciplined. So it's all about growth for me in watching the students gain new skills.

Anthony Godfrey:
They will be more versatile, and there'll be ready for any challenge. If you can do modern day Hamlet on film as a high school student, there are a lot of skills that are going to transfer to other projects. We pulled you out of the greenhouse where the filming is taking place. So tell me why in a greenhouse, why this setting?

Teacher:
Well, these are the garden scenes. There are four or five gardens scenes to be at the shoot this weekend. And we came in this location and it's really cool. It's old. And it's got a really cool lighting. But this is the scene where Hamlet, well the scene we're doing tomorrow, this one leads into that and it's "to be, or not to be". But the big "to be or not to be" scene and "get thee to a nunnery" scene. And so that's all happening in the greenhouse. So it's a new way to do that scene. It's exciting.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, I do love a Hamlet. I love Shakespeare. Ethan Hawke did a Shakespeare in Manhattan, the modern day, didn't he? And yeah, there are a lot of different adaptations. So I look forward to seeing yours.

Teacher:
Thank you.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thank you for being with us. When we come back, "To be or not to be, that is the question"< more on Bingham High's film adaptation of Hamlet and when you can see these students on the big screen.

Break:
If you're ready to start your child on the path to personalized learning, we are ready to help the Jordan Virtual Learning Academy. It's coming to Jordan School District in the 2021-22 school year. Three new schools will be opening as part of the Academy: Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School, Kelsey Peak Virtual Middle School and Kings Peak High School. Each school will have their own principal and teachers, and each will give students a choice in their own learning. The schools will offer synchronous learning, which is teachers providing real time, live online instruction and asynchronous learning, where teachers provide videotape instruction for learning on a student's schedule. To register your student in the Jordan Virtual Learning Academy, visit http://connect.jordandistrict.org.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right. We're here with the young man playing Hamlet here in Bingham High School film production of the play. Tell me your name please.

Student:
Hi, I'm Jason Thompson.

Anthony Godfrey:
You auditioned for the part of Hamlet, of course. And are you excited to be doing it on film as opposed to stage?

Student:
Honestly, doing it in film, it's a new experience for me and for many of the other actors, and it's just, it's so cool. I've never had this experience and I'm having so much fun with it. And thank you to Mr. Purdy for setting this up, so we're able to do this. I am excited about it, yes.

Anthony Godfrey:
No, it was really clear that he was willing to take risks and do some maybe uncomfortable things, to be sure, that this worked out and that you had this opportunity. What does that mean to you to have him do that?

Student:
So he is a new teacher this year. So I haven't really known him for very long, but him being able to take risks for us to be able to pursue our passion in a time that is just kind of sucky. Like, it would be really hard for people to pursue art right now in the way that we portray it. Him going out there and saying that he is willing to take these risks and do these things. It just means a lot to me.

Anthony Godfrey:
I know the impact. I was in productions in high school and you make friends and you stay really close because you spent a lot of time together. Are you finding that with film production like you have with stage production?

Student:
Yeah, I would say so. There's some people that I have worked with before and making friends is part of the whole experience. And these people, we've just become closer and tighter as a group. And I'm so thankful for them as well.

Anthony Godfrey:
What is it about Hamlet that interests you as a character?

Student:
Ooh, it's really complicated. I've never played a crazy character and there's so many different details throughout the script that are really dynamic. He's just such a weird character. Learning how to do this character has been really tough.

Anthony Godfrey:
What is it that's challenging about the Shakespearian language?

Student:
Ooh, so it's an older dialect and that makes it harder because we don't normally speak that way and they use different words that we don't usually use. I was just going through my script yesterday finding the hard words and learning what they mean. I didn't know this before, but apparently, aught means anything at all because one of my lines is "No, not I. I never gave you aught". And what that's saying is no, I didn't ever give you anything.

Anthony Godfrey:
Does that mean that you kind of slipped into this now in common conversation and your mom might say you left all this on the floor and you say I left aught on the floor mother?

Student:
I can't say I've slipped into it, but it's definitely coming easier to me now.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Well, I think, I think that might happen. I think you never know. You could start speaking in soliloquies. Maybe iambic pentameter will just become irresistible to you.

Student:
I'm excited for that. I think that'd be really funny.

Anthony Godfrey:
What does, what other involvement have you had in theater?

Student:
So I've been doing theater since 2013. I was 10 years old. That's a long time ago. I've done musicals all the way up and this is my first straight play. I've been in one acts and those aren't musicals, not usually, but doing a play is a different experience and doing it like this, it's an even different experience than I ever even imagined. But here at Bingham specifically, I've been in both musicals that have been done during my time here. So Singing in the Rain and Children of Eden. I've been in both of those. I've auditioned for the plays, but haven't made it in until this year and I'm Hamlet now. So that's pretty cool, I guess.

Anthony:
Hamlet is pretty cool. It's a big role. Do you feel the weight of responsibility to play Hamlet when so many greats have played him in the past?

Student:
Definitely.

Anthony Godfrey:
Not until I asked that question.

Student:
No, I really have. I've never been the main part, right? t's a huge responsibility and I want to take it. I want to make this play the best I can make it and do my part so that I can make my fellow actors look good. I don't want to be the reason that the whole show flops.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, you make a good point that they call it the lead for a reason because the way that you devote yourself to it really will be reflected throughout the production.

Student:
Oh, how so. I would like to say that it's not going to be bad. It's going to be fantastic.

Anthony Godfrey:
I have no doubt that it will be fantastic. Well I just have a bit of advice. "To thine own self be true." I'm just saying that, you know. I heard that somewhere. Although you're used to musicals, this is at least lyrical.

Student:
Yeah. Oh, I have noticed that I've been. I be going through my lines and you know, with iambic pentameter, you can feel the beats in some of the lines. Sometimes you want to go with it, but other times you want to break it, you know, because you still want it to come out naturally. And sometimes iambic pentameter doesn't sound very natural.

Anthony Godfrey:
No, we can become a little sing songy, but anyone with a heartbeat can connect with iambic pentameter.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah. That is a good way to say it. Like you can connect to the lines easier. Let's Hear your "To be or not to be".

Student:
Okay. The pressure's on. "To be, or not to be? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end to them."

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh, I think you sold me on "arms against a sea of troubles". I think that's what I'm going to go with. I like it. Hey, great job. It's great talking with you.

Student:
Thank you.

Anthony Godfrey:
If you would like to see Bingham High's Hamlet production, public screenings will be held on May 27th and May 28th at 7:00 PM in the Copper Pit at Bingham. Admission is free, but they will be asking for a $2 donation.

Thanks for joining us on the Supercast. Remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you out there.

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