For some people, the works of William Shakespeare are a source of boredom and a chore to be endured during that one high school English class. For others, like famed playwright Tom Stoppard, the Bard's words were jumping-off points, inspiring a sub-genre of film and theatre devoted to exploring fringe elements of Shakespearian prose. Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, itself has earned many admirers, including Morpheus Theatre's director of production, Michelle Brandenburg.
"It's a brilliantly challenging piece," shares Brandenburg. "Very few works that I can think of encompass so many different theatrical elements. You're looking at Shakespearian text interwoven with extremely intellectual and brilliant humour that has the opportunity for huge amounts of physical humour."
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead follows two supporting players in William Shakespeare's beloved Hamlet and its title refers to their off-stage demise late in the play. Using that as a starting point, Stoppard takes the opportunity to explore a litany of issues not traditionally explored in the theatrical realm.
"It looks at all of those big questions of destiny and fate, whether or not we're agents in our own existence, how much control any individual can enact in any situation, and regardless of how moral of an individual we are, whether or not sometimes we can get swept up in circumstances beyond our control," Brandenburg says.
While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead challenges audience members to think about their lives and issues like free will, it also aims to be an entertaining theatrical experience. Brandenburg believes that asking big questions in a theatrical environment makes audience members more likely to ask themselves the questions.
"Not only does it have those huge philosophical undertones that allow the audience, the actors to think and the director to think, but does it in a medium that is really enjoyable to watch," she says. "I find when someone is truly engaged with something, it makes those questions much more relevant and you're much more likely as an audience member to go home and question those things."
Balancing philosophical subject matter in a play centered upon two minor Hamlet characters seems a bit daunting -- Brandenburg readily acknowledges the challenges she and the cast faced-- but Morpheus Theatre's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has a secret weapon at its disposal. With a capacity of 62 people and a design that seemingly guarantees intimacy between performer and audience, the play attempts to utilize the Joyce Dolittle Theatre to its fullest potential.
"Audience members are living, breathing components of any show and in this show, we've taken the opportunity to break the fourth wall in a couple places and bring the audience in," Brandenburg reveals. "I've been using them throughout the entire process as the court, as the Shakespearian court, as the court of Hamlet's kingdom and pulling them in. Theatre is just a fantastic medium for that, especially in such an intimate space like the Joyce Dolittle. Their energy contributes so much to the actors and to the overall performance and their contributions are just as integral as everyone in the cast."