Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Bard meets ‘Spinal Tap’
Ballard actor gives ‘Hamlet’ the mockumentary treatment

By Jessica Davis, News-Tribune

Actors Daniel Flint (a Ballard resident), Jason Marr (a former Ballard resident) and Frank Lawler (not a Ballard resident) predict that Shakespeare will be turning in his grave at the premiere of their first collaboration, “The Elsinore Diaries,” at the Seattle Fringe Festival, Sept. 19-27.

While performing as Irishmen in “The Lonesome West” for Harlequin Productions in Olympia, the trio came up with an idea for a mockumentary. Big fans of the comic mockumentary style of filmmaker Christopher Guest (“Best of Show,” “Waiting for Guffman”), the trio was inspired to create something similar for the stage. Commuting together from Seattle to Olympia and back, they had a lot of time to talk. They took a month’s break after the show was over and started writing.

Fringe veteran Jason Marr, who does a majority of the directing for “The Elsinore Diaries,” says it was challenging coming up with a viable concept for the show. The play has gone through several transitions, says Marr. No matter what you write, it can always be better and more interesting, he says. “The creative possibilities are infinite,” he says. “You re-evaluate your priorities the closer you get to your deadlines.”

Ideas for the script took off as the group started thinking about William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and all of the questions the play leaves unanswered. For example, “Why do pirates conveniently show up out of nowhere, rescue Hamlet from a tight spot, and then vanish for the rest of the play?”

This led to “The Elsinore Diaries,” a cross between Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” and Guest’s “This Is Spinal Tap.” The new work is woven around the plot elements of Hamlet and addresses several of the original story’s holes and contradictions. The previously unheard characters in “Hamlet” get a chance to speak up. The ultimate goal of the show, says Flint, is for the audience to see every character as a complete plausibility.

“It’s so hard to believe, but our material is funnier than Hamlet,” jokes Flint. The group started rehearsals on Aug. 1. They had an unfinished script until Aug. 29. Right up to a week before opening night, the playwrights still found themselves cutting and editing the play. “We have lost track of where our best ideas come from,” says Marr. According to Flint, they started out with a two-hour script that has been cut to 80 minutes; They have had to sacrifice parts that they love to fit the show into the Fringe Festival.

 “Getting all of our ideas in synch with each other has been a • challenge,” says Marr. In addition to the three-man group, Seattle actors Cohn McKenna, Jaime Roberts, Jill Snyder, Lantz -Wagner and Sam Wilson join the cast. All play at least two roles each. The trio of writers found it helpful to put the cast of actors into improvisational situations during rehearsals for the play. This, exercise helped the characters of Ophelia and Gertrude become more developed. Bringing in actors to flesh out the characters was crucial in development, says Marr.

Also crucial is the show’s production team, consisting of stage manager/assistant director Aubrey Bean (also from Ballard), costume designer Sarah Moser and sound designer Hilary Amos. Flint also acts as the show’s set designer.

After this show the three actors will take a much-needed break, but say they’re considering working together on a show again. “Maybe a musical,” says Flint.