Sunday, March 1, 2015

An Interview with our Hamlet

The Monsters are now in full Hamlet mode. With three rehearsals under our belt, we have a little more than a month before we start working in the space. My name is Katia Haeuser, I am currently the assistant director and company manager for our production of Hamlet, and I'm also on the board of Monsterpiece. Before the first rehearsal, I sat down with Jessica Cannizzaro, our Hamlet. That’s right, Jessica. Our Artistic Director, Anthony D. Pound, in good ol’ Monsterpiece fashion cast a woman in easily one of the most recognizably male roles in the English theatrical cannon. No stranger to monster fans, Jessie was last seen in our Julius Caesar in 2013. I took a moment to ask Jessie about her upcoming work on the role.

Q: So, what are you most excited about playing Hamlet?

A: It’s funny; when Anthony emailed me, he sent me this email with no subject line, one sentence, like ‘hey I was thinking about doing Hamlet and I was wondering if you’d be interested in, you know, potentially playing the part of Hamlet’. I mean it’s a dream. I remember in college, I was like ‘I’m going to play all of the parts I can play now because once you get into the real world, no one’s going to cast you as Hamlet, as Puck, or as any of these great characters that you don’t think of as ladies’.

There’s just a wealth of amazing male characters that you look at and you’re like “Oh, it would be so great to be cast”…No one else will ever look at me like that, especially me. I’m just short of 5’2”, a small girl. I kind of settled into the thought that I’ll be playing a lot of nice, little, young ladies. So the idea of getting to play something like Hamlet…it’s a dream, and I feel like it’s never not going to be exciting, terrifying, and wonderful.

Q: What do find to be the most challenging or the most frightening?

A: I mean…everything. It’s so known. You open it up, you start to read, and you know everyone’s seen it and everyone’s read it in some context. In some version, but you read it and every speech is just so known. You can’t go a page or two without reading something and going, “Oh man, I feel like I’ve grown up hearing that”, and I feel like I was born hearing “to be or not to be” and all these wonderful, sticky, juicy, lines. That’s both thrilling, and so much pressure. It’s such a ridiculous amount of terrifying pressure because you don’t want to mess up these words. First of all, you can’t, because someone in the audience will go, “actually, if you read the Arden edition…” You just can’t improvise it. Beyond just the words, which are brilliant, it’s such a colossal figure to try to step into.

Q: How do you think you being a woman playing Hamlet will affect the rest of the cast and the audience?

A: I went into the first read through being so scared, because everyone’s going to read the cast aloud and think ‘wait, sorry. I think you made a mistake, she…her…really?’ So there is that pressure of what happens when the lights come up. People come with an idea in their head of who Hamlet is, and I would love for my performance to speak to the person whose idea has always been Hamlet played by a small girl…I’m trying to figure out if gender is a constriction and if I can overcome some very obvious physical barriers.

Q: Are you playing this any differently emotionally? Is there a lens you are looking through?

A: Yes and no. In a way you have to have some kind of a different approach. You can’t just walk in and say I’m a little girl, playing Hamlet, and that’s fine, and there will be no issues overcoming that. It’s not that there’s something to overcome, but there will always be those moments when you call Hamlet a she, and then you say,
“Oh no I meant he”. I’m sure there will be little issues like that, that crop up here and there.

The beautiful thing about Shakespeare is that the text is so ridiculously gorgeous, especially Hamlet is just, the imagery is so, not to sound like a total nerd, but it’s so wonderful and rich and full of these beautiful words…words, words, words, that gender you know, male or female or whatever lens you’re trying to look through or approach you’re trying to take; you get these wonderful words you can just start with. Stripped of everything else, you have an amazing play; so I’m excited for that. As I become more nervous as the process goes on, or as I try and tackle all these problems, I know at the end of the day we can always come back to those wonderful words, words, words.

Well, Jessie seems to have a challenging, exciting, and wonderful journey ahead of her. We will continue to check back in during her process and taking a look at the making of a new kind of Hamlet. Hamlet runs March 20th –March 21st and March 25th-28th at 8pm; March 21st-22nd and March 28th-29th at 2pm. Tickets are on sale at

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