Local actors brought love of craft to ‘Hamlet’ summer production

John Kilcollins, left, as Hamlet, on stage with Laura St. Pierre, as Ophelia, during the UMFK Summer Theater production of ‘Hamlet.’
(Michael Gudreau | SJVT/FhF)

FORT KENT, Maine — William Shakespeare’s words came alive for audiences in the St. John Valley when the University of Maine at Fort Kent Summer Theater players took the bard’s famous play, ‘Hamlet,” to the stage.

Evening performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 27 through 29, and an afternoon matinee Sunday, brought mystery, intrigue and ultimately tragedy to Fox Auditorium.

“I really enjoyed working with such an enthusiastic and talented cast and learning stage combat for the sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes,” said Adam Nadeau of Fort Kent, who played Laertes.

“This is my fourth play with the UMFK summer theatre, and probably my ninth time acting in a production, including high school and community theatre” Nadeau said.

Director and producer Aaron Bernstein made use of minimal sets, focusing instead on providing mood lighting to draw audience attention to the players’ performances. Bernstein also serves as UMFK assistant director of media services and has acted in, directed and produced several plays on campus.

Mark Schenk performs as King Claudius during the UMFK Summer Theater production of ‘Hamlet.’
(Michael Gudreau | SJVT/FhF)

He has described ‘Hamlet’ as “a wildly intense psychological thriller.” As originally written, the play can run as long as four hours, so Bernstein condensed the essential elements into a production lasting just under two hours.

Bernstein did not have exact attendance figures for this year’s show, but said that the turnout appeared to compare favorably with years past and that audiences appeared to have had a good time.

“They looked happy and excited on the way out,” he said.

“When I was in high school I had the opportunity to act in summer productions and learned the craft from an incredibly disciplined and inspiring director,” said Melanie Hartt of Fort Kent, who portrayed Gertrude last week. “Now, years later, I get to introduce a genre of theater to audiences — and inspire a new generation of actors to the stage.”

Hartt said taking to the stage develops confidence, whether one chooses to pursue it professionally or not. It is a safe place where actors often discover something about themselves. It also can be a place where actors can affect the audience.

“When you’re on stage you have the power to move people and to get them to think  and question, and sometimes even to act.”

John Kilcollins, right, performs as Hamlet, on stage with Max Jandreau, as Lord Polonius, during the UMFK Summer Theater production of ‘Hamlet.’ (Michael Gudreau | SJVT/FhF)

Bernstein said his direction and production were clear enough so the members of the audience could understand what was going on and enjoy the play, even if they were not used to the language of Shakespeare’s time.

“There are language considerations when directing Shakespeare that don’t exist with more modern material,” the director added. “It takes extra time to make sure the cast understands the text.”

The challenge of directing classics, such as Shakespeare, is something to which Bernstein said he looks forward.

“I have directed or produced seven different Shakespeare plays so far, and plan to work on many more,” he said.

The play featured child actors from the community, with some as young as 5 taking to the stage. More than 20 people were in the cast, which included local residents and students from UMFK and Fort Kent schools. Another half dozen people helped backstage and in the lighting booth.

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