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The play's the thing with Pop-Up Hamlet

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PortFringe offers unique look at Shakespeare's masterpiece

PORTLAND There's something not-so-rotten in the state of Denmarkand in the state of Maine.

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the first publication of Shakespeare's collected works; to mark the occasion, Washington D.C.'s Folger Shakespeare Library is sending copies of the First Folio to spend time in every state in the United States over the course of the year.

The next few weeks are Maine's turn the book will be on display at the Portland Public Library - and the city's theatrical community is offering a wide range of performances, lectures and other events in tandem with the Folio's presence.

The organizers of PortFringe, Portland's fringe theater festival, along with some 60 performing artists from all over the Northeast, brought to life an unconventional and unique look at perhaps the greatest of William Shakespeare's works with their Pop-Up Hamlet.

So what is Pop-Up Hamlet? Basically, PortFringe organizers divvied 'Hamlet' up into 20 different parts. They then put out a call for actors and companies to participate. The selections were made by lottery at the end of October. Each of the individuals and/or groups were randomly assigned a section of the text and asked to stage that piece. The rules were basic essentially, PortFringe's only two requirements were that each section:

A) Be less than 10 minutes in length, and

B) Contain at least one line of original text.

Other than that, free reign was granted creative interpretations were not only allowed, but actively encouraged. In addition, groups were asked to keep intersectional discussions to a minimum; the goal was that no participants would know what stylistic choices the others were making until the piece was assembled in its entirety.

While Pop-Up Hamlet kicked off during the First Friday Artwalk - an assortment of venues played host to various scenes things really got going when the 20 scenes were brought together under one roof at the Portland Stage Company's Studio Theater. The assemblage of talent was marked by many prominent figures in greater Portland's artistic community, as well as a handful of artists who came from a bit farther afield.

(This is where I (finally) cop to the fact that I was one of the participating artists in the event. I was assigned the second section overall and did a solo rendition of the first part of Act I, Scene ii in which I myself was Hamlet and brought the scene's other four characters Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Polonius to life with goofy-voiced, felt-hatted finger puppets. It was a commentary on the ambiguous nature of Hamlet's mental state by way of eliminating said ambiguity. It was also ridiculous and silly and loads of fun.)

Another group local to Bangor made the trek as well. Representatives of Ten Bucks Theatre Company Moira Beale, Katrina Dresser and Padraic Harrison also lent their talents to Pop-Up Hamlet, creating a scene that reimagined the conflict between Hamlet and Claudius as a struggle between superhero and supervillain.

Other highlights included work from Portland groups such as Mad Horse Theatre Company, Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Theatre Company and Pie Man Theatre Company; Lorem Ipsum's work was exceptional, as were the two scenes from New York's Hit the Lights! Theatre Company, though in truth, every artist or group of artists brought something compelling and unique to their respective takes on the work.

Bringing together such a disparate group of artists and allowing them to coalesce their creativity into a beautifully unique piece of theatrical celebration is certainly a big job, but for the organizing forces of PortFringe, it was most definitely a very successful and very rewarding undertaking. It was an honor to take part; each and every player deserves to be lauded for their innovation and creative courage.

And so, I tip my tiny felt finger-hat to my fellow denizens of Denmark, my fellow great Danes. Congratulations to all on such a freewheeling and fun celebration of one of the greatest works in all of literature.

'Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.' Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii


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