Wednesday, December 02, 2009

No Words, No Words … No Words.

When I saw a story about somebody doing Hamlet “without a single one of Shakespeare’s words” I assumed a modern translation, and was all set to lay in some snarky comment about making sure they don’t use any of the words Shakespeare invented, either, if they’re gonna play that game.

Well, umm, no.  The play’s got no words at all.  He’s doing Hamlet entirely as a dumb show.

I'd been thinking about how to do a play that can travel anywhere in the world, without worrying about language barriers. Someone told me that Charlie Chaplin was a huge star in non-English-speaking countries. I started thinking about how to sustain full-length comic narratives without dialogue. I was going to write an original play - something along the lines of satirizing/apologizing for foul American foreign policy - but decided I didn't want my first experiment in the non-verbal medium to also have the pressure of perfecting a new story. I started thinking about stories that I could hang this concept on, and "Hamlet" came to mind pretty quickly. First I thought of the dumbshow, then about how I could establish so many of the characters with body language. It flowed pretty easily after that.

I’m far more interested in it now.  I’m not sure as a modern audience I could sit still for 2+ hours of silence (even Charlie Chaplin movies had background music, didn’t they?) but the idea of making it universal by taking language out of it is neat.  We can say Shakespeare’s universal all we want, but when you get right down to it that means “…to the English speaking world.”  As soon as you translate it, you don’t have Shakespeare’s words anymore.  So why not a project that just gets rid of the words altogether?


CSmith said...

This show has been produced 3 times in DC, to great acclaim! Granted, they have some music, but absolutely no words.

Their Macbeth was also fantastic, Romeo & Juliet was spectacular, and Midsummer's been remounted twice - next in NY.

J.B. said...

This sounds incredible. I wonder how well it would translate to a classroom exercise - performing a scene through mime. It would definitely show understanding, or lack thereof, of the text. I would love to see a play done like this.

word verification: cousnex