Hamlet on Alcatraz - 2010

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King“


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In an historic partnership, the National Parks Service and We Players presented Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an island-wide interactive experience. Offering unprecedented opportunities to enter areas ordinarily closed to visitors, the performance uses both intimate spaces and cinematographic vistas with simultaneous action on multiple levels. We Players lead the designated audience along a carefully crafted route, while regular park visitors were provided with numerous opportunities to interact with the performance. Alcatraz’s compelling landscape provides a perfect natural setting for Hamlet and the central themes of the text speak to the charged and varied history of The Rock.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Hamlet struggles with how to be – or even whether to be – and what to do. He grapples with his filial, social and stately obligations, as well as his own emotions and the essential human predicament of putting thought into action. Hamlet’s struggles with conscience, obligations and fear invite us to consider fundamental questions of how to live.

Exploring the Alcatraz themes is a process of developing deeper understanding, rather than judging or justifying the choices people make. Forgiveness and healing come from understanding. Art helps us hold “as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature” and therein see our hindering patterns, whereby we may unlock them.

The play,  like Alcatraz itself, examines the spectrum of crime and consequences. The story eventually demonstrates the results of pursuing justice through vengeance, when the momentum of revenge results in the death of everyone on stage, save Horatio who is left to explain the carnage for all of history. Can we learn from this story and create new paths into the future?

Hamlet on Alcatraz

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Ava Roy

Autumn, 2010
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay

+ The Buzz

Articles & Reviews
Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, Alcatraz’s Newest Star, the Melancholy Dane, The New York Times/ Bay Citizen, August 12th 2010
Amber Adrian, Hamlet on Alcatraz, 7×7, October 7th 2010
Chloe Veltman, Denmark's a Prison, Literally, Lies Like Truth, October 12, 2010
San Francisco Bay Guardian: The Performant, October 13th 2010
Katie Baker, Hamlet On Alcatraz: Must-See For Theater Nerds, Shakespeare Newbies, SFAppeal, October 13th 2010
Heather Smith, Hamlet on Alcatraz, Mission Local, October 14th 2010
Alysia Gray Painter, The Play? "Hamlet." The Stage? Alcatraz., NBC Los Angeles/San Diego, October 6th 2010
Matt Baume, Hamlet on Alcatraz Turns Play into Experience, NBC Bay Area, October 14th 2010
Leanne Maxwell, SF Attends: 'Hamlet' on Alcatraz, SFist, October 18th 2010
Halle Edwards, ‘Hamlet’ travels to Alcatraz, The Stanford Daily, October 22nd 2010
Steven Winn, Ava Roy's creative 'Hamlet' rocks the Rock, The San Francisco Chronicle, October 28th 2010
Zoë Newcomb, ‘Hamlet’ on The Rock offers unique experience, The Broadview: Online, October 29th 2010
Lauren Gunderson, Wild and Whirling Words: An Audacious Hamlet on Alcatraz, The Huffington Post, November 3rd 2010
Sheila Himmel, All the Prison's a Stage, Stanford Magazine November/December 2010
Nick Moore, Let's Away to Prison, Daily Californian, November 9th 2010
Chris Jensen, "Hamlet": We Players stages a dramatically impressive version on Alcatraz, SF Weekly, November 10th 2010
Karola Kreitmair, Hamlet on Alcatraz – director makes career performing Shakespeare in unusual places, The Peninsula Press, December 6, 2010

Audience Testimonials:
“The dynamism of this production was unmatched by anything I’ve experienced before… This was a thrilling, fundamentally moving (literally) theatrical and cultural experience.” – Lauren Gunderson, The Huffington Post

“This is an amazing artistic effort that creates an experience that truly transports you into an another world. The visual beauty of this performance will knock your socks off. I feel more alive having seen it.” – audience member

“The final scene was staged outside in the main prison yard, lit by bonfires and kerosene lamps. As all but Horatio lay dead on the lonely windswept stage, the city twinkled like a jewel box across the Bay, reminding us of the preciousness of freedom and how quickly all is lost.” – Sharry Wright, audience member

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of standing behind bars in a tiny cell, listening to Hamlet ponder, “To be or not to be?” while the lights of San Francisco twinkle in the not-that-far-away distance, both gorgeous and haunting.” – Katie Baker, audience member

“We were blown away by the performance. This production will be one of my favorite San Francisco memories for years to come. Thank you for raising such compelling questions, thank you for breathing life into the broken spaces of Alcatraz. It was truly a majestic occasion.” – Dr. Suzie Vlcek

“From here on out, all plays should “transform public spaces into realms of participatory theater.” Through “Hamlet” on Alcatraz, We Players have set my expectations high for other plays. My appreciation for the arts have increased 10-fold.” – Anna Mattazaro, Stanford freshman

“I stood alone next to Ophelia inside an Alcatraz cell while she overheard the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. For the first time, I listened to it not from inside Hamlet’s mind, but a loved one’s.” – Cameron Maddux, audience member

“Even though I was only watching, I felt like part of something.” – Beth, audience member

“All I can say is WOW. I have seen Hamlet performed several times but never did the play touch me as viscerally as your production. It was cinematic, emotional, provocative and fabulous!” – Jill Lynch, Director of Communications, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco/ Legion of Honor & de Young Museum

“I am so grateful to you for this Hamlet, one of the most moving “art” experiences I’ve ever had” – Judith Tannenbaum, audience member

+ The Cast

Ophelia: Misti Boettiger
Player king/Guide/Fortinbras: Steve Boss
Gertrude: Carly Cioffi
Polonius: Jack Halton
Player: Ali Hanson
Osricke/Guide/Others: Geof Libby
Player Queen/Player: Rebecca Longworth
Hamlet: Andrus Nichols
Player: Caroline Parsons
Claudius: Scott D. Phillips
Player: Sallie Romer
Barnardo/Rosencrantz: Kevin Singer
Laertes: Benjamin Stowe
Horatio: Nicholas Trengove
Marcellus/Guildenstern: Ross Travis
Player: Cara Zeisloft

The Musicians:
Jenna Brace
Danny Cao
Eric Drake
Todd Grady
Henry Hung
Sam Hernandez
Josh Tower
Thomas Trono
Rob Woodcock

+ The Production Team

Director: Ava Roy
Producers: Ava Roy & Lauren D. Chavez
Assistant Director/Ranger Liaison: Steve Boss
Production Manager/Lead Designer: Tanya Orellana
Assistant Production Manager: Elizabeth Nichols
Composer & Musical Director: Charlie Gurke
Fight Choreographer: Trampas Thompson
Assistant Fight Choreographer: Tim Brown
Costume Designer: Julia Rose Meeks
Lighting Designer: Alejandro Acosta
Puppet Designer: Anna Whitehead
Production Assistant: Amit Bhalla
Production Assistant: Phoebe Gelfand
Gallery Curator: Patrick Gillespie
Documentary Coordinator: Allison Keeley
Lead Photographer: Peter Merts
Photographer: Tracy Martin
Videographer: Jesus Contreras, Jacob Simas

Original Gravedigger’s song composed by Steve Boss