Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 1: Manu Kumasi

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In Part One of our series of interviews with the cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet, meet Manu Kumasi.

Photo by Clinton Brandhagen.
Photo by Clinton Brandhagen.

Joel: How did you become involved with this production of Hamlet? What did you perform at your audition?

Manu: In High School I hated Shakespeare (go figure), but as I got older his works started to grow on me. When I graduated from The Theatre Lab Honors Acting Conservatory in the beginning of 2012 I saw a notice for ASC’s Pride and Prejudice, which wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it got me looking at ASC and their shows for the next season or two. I saw Hamlet on the list and doubted that I’d be selected for the title role, but I wanted to audition for sure to see if I could be a part of the show in any capacity. I lucked out! Ha!

For the original audition I performed Sebastian’s (Twelfth Night) monologue and Prince Hal’s “Do not think so…”monologue to his father in Henry 4. For the call back I basically read for all of the major speeches to the audience, with Ophelia, Gertrude, and Horatio, ha! It was a loooooong call back, but a fun one and clearly with happy results.

Why did you want to play the role of Hamlet, and what is the most fun about playing him?

I mean, Hamlet is a role that probably every male (and female!) actor dreams about playing, but it’s sort of a pipe dream versus a thought or probability. So, why not? But, Hamlet is a great character to play because of his humanity. True, he’s got some flaws (who doesn’t?), but his heart and mind are in morally good places and like all Shakespeare plays there is an argument or a question that is discussed during the play and for Hamlet—who has a good heart and mind—it’s really interesting to explore what makes this good man do (like, DO them) some bad things. And also to explore what gets a man who is naturally and deeply a thinker to actually take action. Exploring those two spectrums is really cool.

What are some of the suggestions that Sally has given you on playing your role that has made your performance better?

Well, this is definitely the biggest role I’ve ever taken on and she’s challenged to give each sentence attention and care, specificity. That’s great for me, because it helps to keep me in the moment and focusing on what’s going on right now, versus where my mind usually goes, which is the bigger picture and concept, etc—fault of being a management consultant in my past life. It kills the humanity and honesty of going stimulus and need by stimulus and need.

What do you admire about the design of the show and how does the design of the show affect your performance?

I like that we are exploring levels of consciousness in Hamlet and in other characters through the set. There is a thrust that goes into the audience and as I get closer to the audience, Hamlet is asking them the questions that he asks himself. The audience becomes Hamlet’s consciousness. I also like that we are using the aisles too. It creates a more immediate feel and a closer connection with the audience. It draws them closer. It’s less of a presentation and more of a discussion.

When did you get the ‘Theater Bug’? Where did you get your theatre training?

Funny enough I picked it up in Shakespeare’s home country. I was studying abroad for the umpteenth time in college (I was blessed) at Oxford University. I had already had a love to public speaking and the energy of those types of events and where there is a set up relationship of performer/story teller and audience. But abroad I attended a ton of Oxford debates and was privileged enough to speak at one. Taking the floor (or what felt to me was a stage, rather) and addressing the “groundlings” and those in the upper level seats was EX-HIL-ERATING. I went to each debate and eat up every word of each debater/performer (as I feel like it really is much more of a “performance” over there). This was my senior year in college, I was writing my senior thesis in economics and when I came back to the states I knew I wanted to do more performance and probably acting. I got a job at a consulting firm here in DC, moved here and put my first paycheck towards a class at The Theatre Lab. Two years later I graduated from their Honors Acting Conservatory and a month later I quit my day job. Maybe not the smartest move financially, ha, but worth it for sure.

What other Shakespearean roles have you played and other than your character here, which other character in Hamlet is your favorite and why?

I played the ever-famous Second Gentleman in Measure for Measure just recently at Shakespeare Theatre Company. I’m nominated for a Helen Hayes for it…I’m joking, but, I was the Second Gentleman and an ensemble member and it was a blessing to work with STC, the cast and director. They are all so talented and it was so great to sit in the wings when not on stage and take copious notes. I played Ferdinand in the Tempest this past summer and a couple of months before that I played Orlando, Corin, and Amiens in a radio production of As You Like It with Lean & Hungry Theatre.

What is/are your favorite line or lines that another character recites? What are your favorite line/lines that you recite and why?

My favorite line is actually one given by the Player King, probably because of the parallel to Hamlet’s story:

What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.

It’s a beautiful, true line and one that sort of encapsulates what happens to Hamlet, at least until he sees Fortinbraus’ army.

I have a ton of Hamlet faves from reading the script and watching it, but in playing it, so far (this will probably change tomorrow) my two favorite lines are: “Seems, madam—Nay it is…” The list of things that can’t denote him truly is well and good, but I love that he differentiates the difference between what is show and what is within—what an extrovert or superficial person may see as the thing to hang on to versus what something really is/how it really works, which is what an introvert or someone who is looking past the surface is looking on. I mean, it may just mean, “Hey Mom Dukes, I’m really really sad” and nothing more than that. But I like it translated the way that it is in my mind .

And of course, “Rightly to be great…when honor is at the stake.” and the lines toward to the end of that soliloquy about bloody thoughts is a favorite, because it is the certainty and resolution that both Hamlet and the audience wished he would have gotten to two hours and three acts ago, ha.

What do you admire most about your fellow cast members’ performances and each other’s performance?

I really feel like this is an ensemble show. Everyone is a team player and there are not ego’s here. It’s great to create in this sort of environment. And as one who has only been acting for two years, I’m so glad to be with people who are very happy to offer advice and pointers from stuff that they’ve learned during their much longer careers.

Which character in the play is most like you?

I can see myself in most of the “young” male characters—that is everyone Horatio and younger. It really just depends on the topic at hand…and how many drinks I’ve had in me. That’s the fun thing about Hamlet is that most of the male characters are multiple sides of a geometric shape, very different, but still human, relatable, and similar in small ways.

How can 2014 audiences relate to Hamlet?

Well, Hamlet get’s a tough charge from the spirit who appears as a father. I mean, maybe I’m giving humanity more credit than I should (I doubt that this is the case), but I don’t think it’s an easy thing to (1) see a ghost (whoa!);(2) find out your father is fasting in fires (whoa!); and then (3) to make up your mind to kill your uncle/ stepfather and then to actually do it. I mean, in heated passion, without thought, it’s easy to see this happening.

Unfortunately, it happens ALL the time—look at recent news about a certain Olympian star—but to have the time to think about it with a relatively sober mind and then to go through arriving at that result, with the pressure of a major break up and being royalty, etc. It’s ridiculously universal.

What roles that you haven’t played yet are on your top 5 list?

O God…I really like plays by Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson to postwar American social issues (All My Sons “esque”) to modern writers like David Mamet, David Ives, and Martin McDonaugh (I recently played in A Behanding in Spokane at Keegan), so I’ve got a lot on my list. Some of the Shakespeare emotional powerhouses like Othello are in my list of pipe dreams, as well. But after this I’m definitely looking forward to something lighter, ha. Which is why I’m happy the next show I’m in is Titus Andronicus…wait…what?!?! It’ll be done Commedia style at Faction of Fools Theatre so it WILL be lighter indeed.

Manu Kumasi (Hamlet) rehearses a scene from Annapolis Shakespeare Company's "Hamlet.' Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Manu Kumasi (Hamlet) rehearses a scene from Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s “Hamlet.’ Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Hamlet?

I want them to leave the theatre weeping openly in the streets of Washington D.C.…WEEPING!!!! I kid. Sally’s got a great vision for this play and I hope that the audience really latches on to the design and the modernity of the circumstances. The thinker in me would love for audiences to leave almost like Hamlet would after seeing play like this: being presented with a story of which there are multiple pieces and sides of truth and as a result leaving really going over what they would have done in similar circumstances. But, the nice son and friend wants the audience to experience this openly and truly…and then run home to call their parents, lovers and friends and tell them how much they love them.

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Hamlet plays from March 28-April 13, 2014 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at The Bowie Playhouse-16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 2: Audrey Bertaux.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.