A silent, bi-cultural theatrical interpretation of Hamlet
The old adage that actions speak louder than words takes on a new meaning with The Hamlet Project (July 23 – August 2). When we think of Shakespeare we think of the great literary master and one of the fathers of the English language. Shakespeare not only penned a much loved and lauded collection of prose and sonnets during his lifetime, he also introduced thousands of words and phrases that we still use today. Therefore, the decision by Daniel Croix Henderson (third from left), Artistic Director for The Hamlet Project, to create a production of Hamlet completely without dialogue, is a tremendously bold endeavor. It’s set to be a unique take on a very traditional tale.
“I chose Hamlet as the skeleton of our adaption for a variety of reasons,” explains Daniel. “In my experience as a theater artist, I have yet to find a play that explores the human condition in a way that is so revealing and nuanced. I believe that every human being in the world can find their own story within the frame of Hamlet. I knew that the material was the right choice for a production that aims to facilitate communication between two cultures, but realized that the language barrier would be an issue. The truth that I have discovered in my training as an actor is that the physical behavior and expression of the human body transcends spoken language. It is the body that crumbles with heartbreak, tightens with anxiety and quivers with tremendous joy.”
If the idea of a 90-minute movement- based production of Hamlet wasn’t enough, Daniel decided to create another small hurdle for the ambitious production – taking it to Saigon. “When I tell my colleagues in the US that I’m mounting work in Vietnam, it surprises people,” he reveals. The decision didn’t come out of nowhere though, the idea was inspired by Daniel’s uncle who moved to Ho Chi Minh City and described to him, not a backward, war torn place of poverty, but a vibrant, exciting city full of life. These descriptions were at odds with Daniel’s own preconceptions, piquing his interest and sowing the seed for the idea that became The Hamlet Project. If the bitter years of war have created an understandably complicated relationship between the US and Vietnam, they have also helped shape this unique opportunity. Daniel hopes to help heal the wounds of war through interacting and learning from the artistic community in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I’d like this project to serve as a framework for Vietnamese and American people to explore our artistry together, and for a conversation to be started about the relationship between our countries. Artistic collaboration allows us to work with each other in a way that is deeply personal,” explains Daniel. “The stories that connect to us can change our lives, alter our beliefs, and help us to grow as people. I believe that if anything can bring people together and create a more compassionate world, it is the power of story.”
Daniel sees the project as a valuable chance to foster artistic relationships between the two countries, and also an avenue to try and change the outdated views he believes many young people in the US today still have about Vietnam. “For a lot of people, that’s all they know Vietnam to be. Many members of the production team have experienced the same reaction from their friends and families. At the core of this initial shock is the history of the war. I believe that this project, particularly the documentary (being shot during the play’s production and to be entered into film festivals back in the US), has the ability to expand that perspective and will encourage people in the States to learn about Vietnam in a new light that illustrates the beauty of the country and its people.”
Part of the aim of the project isn’t just to show something artistically unique to the Vietnamese people, but also to include them. Daniel is vehement about the importance of local involvement with one of the fundamental outcomes of the project being to include Vietnamese talent.
“The inclusion of Vietnamese dancers, actors, and artists in this project is absolutely essential,” confirms Daniel. “We came to this country to learn from Vietnamese artists about their personal artistic process. What makes this work particularly exciting to me is that the Vietnamese artists involved in the production will completely bring themselves to the work. Within the skeleton of Hamlet each actor will discover how to tell their own story. I am sure that we will benefit from working with each other because we come from such completely different cultures.
I have very little knowledge of where methodologies in acting and dance stem from in Vietnam. I am thrilled that our team has the opportunity to go right to the source, to explore the process of creation, and to invent our own way to tell the story.”
For countries that have such disparate world views and cultures, the goals of the project are commendable, but will no doubt prove challenging. “I believe that this project will serve as a celebration of the peace between us and offer a theatrical experience unlike anything that has ever existed,” enthuses Daniel.
* Images by Ngoc Tran.