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Juniors Danielle Nigro and Eric Berger star in the Theatre Department's production of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The show runs through May 8 in Watters Theater.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Royal splendor: Female student to lead ‘Hamlet’
April 28, 2016Tweet
When director Anne Brady began auditions for the Theatre Department’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” she decided to cast the best actors for the roles – regardless of gender.
“I was very open to (a female Hamlet),” the theatre professor said. “It’s not non-traditional. There have been female Hamlets since 1775! For me, it’s not necessary that Hamlet be played by a man. Hamlet goes through the same experiences that we all go through. The feelings that Hamlet has are not gender-specific.”
Danielle Nigro earned the role of the Danish prince who seeks to avenge the death of his father. Nigro, who has starred in Theatre Department productions such as “Anne Boleyn,” “Rent” and “Dancing at Lughnasa,” said a female playing Hamlet does not change the story.
“I’m being myself, but in Hamlet’s circumstances,” the junior from Holtsville said. “I’m not thinking ‘man-woman-male-female.’”
The production, which comes less than a week after the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, opens at 8 p.m. April 29 at Watters Theater. Additional performances are 8 p.m. April 30 and May 6, and 2 p.m. May 1 and May 8. Tickets are $14, public; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8, students ($5 for students on opening night).
“Hamlet” can be called a tragedy, a ghost story or a murder mystery. But the 1603 play can always be called enduring, Brady said.
“Not only is the text brilliant, but Hamlet is a universal character who appeals to everybody,” she said. “Everyone can identify with Hamlet’s experience.”
Coping with the loss of a parent makes the play timeless, said Jamie Cheatham ’85, who has returned to Binghamton University to serve as the production’s fight director.
“With ‘Hamlet,’ we think about the text, prose and soliloquies, but everyone goes through that loss at some point,” Cheatham said. “It never stops being relevant.”
Eric Berger, who plays Hamlet’s manipulative, throne-seizing, once-uncle-and-now-stepfather Claudius, agreed with Brady and Cheatham.
“You think you know the story – it’s ‘The Lion King!’” the junior from the Bronx said. “But there’s more to it: politics and a depth in the personal relationships between the characters. It’s more than Hamlet the good guy and Claudius the bad guy. Just when you think you’ve learned everything in it, there is still more.”
Neither Berger nor Nigro had ever taken part in a Shakespeare production prior to “Hamlet.” But both participated in a Shakespeare acting class led by Brady last semester that fueled their desire to be challenged by “Hamlet.”
Nigro, who is taking an independent-study class with Brady this semester on the “Hamlet” text, called the experience “a lesson in dedication and commitment.”
“This is physically, emotionally and vocally taxing,” Nigro said. “Hamlet is dealing with big, heavy things. I have to be able to put myself in these circumstances every night for rehearsals and shows. It takes a diligence of mind and spirit.”
The chemistry between Nigro and Berger is helped by the fact that they have shared the stage for the past three years.
“We’ve worked together a lot and grown as actors,” Nigro said. “That creates an environment in which we can take risks with each other and support one another.”
“I think it’s been harder for Danielle because I am so likeable!” Berger said with a laugh.
Brady and the cast also have been helped by the presence of Cheatham, who serves as an assistant professor/head of acting at Marquette University and as the resident fight director for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Cheatham had previously worked with Brady on her first show at Binghamton University: “Romeo and Juliet” in 1999. This time around, the pair discussed the play’s duels and weaponry before Cheatham spent more than a week on campus developing the students’ skills.
“The students are great,” Cheatham said. “I had to not only teach them the fights, but the techniques – how to stand, how to hold a sword and how to do combat safely. Then we gradually created the choreography.”
Berger said that Cheatham even guided the cast on the sounds and gestures associated with fighting, getting stabbed and drinking poison.
“I die in the play – surprise, surprise,” Berger said. “He has made the fighting and dying come alive.”
For Nigro and Berger, the time working with Brady, Cheatham and the Bard’s text has been memorable.
“The part has taken everything I have learned, applied it all and then asked even more of me,” Nigro said. “It’s stretching me in every possible direction of my craft. It has pushed me past my comfort zones and helped me grow.”
“I’ve learned a lot from this experience,” Berger said. “One thing would be that being nice and polite on stage is boring. In life, it’s nice. But on stage – especially in ‘Hamlet’ – boring.”
Brady and Cheatham praised the cast and crew for “putting their hearts and souls” into the show.
“Every production is a practical classroom,” Cheatham said. “We teach classes, but then we want to see if it works in a show. With a show like ‘Hamlet,’ that’s a huge hurdle. OK, let’s take a run at it. How exciting it is to take that challenge in front of people.”
“(The students) are committing to whatever it is that Jamie and I are asking of them,” Brady said. “Both of us are trying to make a better show with clearer storytelling. I think the actors are saying ‘yes’ because they know that we want to tell the story of the play. They are furthering their own explorations as artists and human beings.”