In Part Three of our series of interviews with the cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet, meet Paul E. Hope.
Joel: How did you become involved with this production of Hamlet? What did you perform at your audition?
Paul: Sally called me in to talk about doing the fights for Hamlet last summer when working on Much Ado. I found out that the company was now offering Equity Guest Artist contracts and I convinced her to let me read for Claudius. She offered me the role at the audition. I found out about the Ghost later…
Why did you want to play the role of Claudius, and what is the most fun about playing him?
Claudius is just fun. Who doesn’t want to play the ‘villain?’ This is a guy who sees what he wants and takes it. He’s a master manipulator – there are elements of Richard III and Macbeth is this role. Really juicy stuff. I’m really enjoying the verbal/mental sparring with Hamlet.
What are some of the suggestions that Sally has given you on playing your role that has made your performance better?
The other night we were rehearsing the play within the play – The Mousetrap, and she suggested that rather than find creative ways to ‘not see’ the ‘actors’ doing the murder (there’s a long tradition of this: Claudius getting drunk, getting ‘handsy’ with Gertrude, etc.) to actually take it in and let the tension build from an earlier place. Realizing he’s ‘trapped’ earlier in the scene was excellent fun to play with.
What do you admire about the design of the show and how does the design of the show affect/enhance your performance?
I really like the frames. They afford opportunity for spying and also for revealing elements of a supernatural nature…I suppose I should add that getting to play to Ghost of Hamlet’s father – brother to Claudius, is great as it envelopes a greater emotional spectrum. The Ghost has some serious issues to work out, and a lot of pain to endure.
When did you get the ‘Theater Bug’? Where did you get your theatre training?
I got the theatre bug early on in High School – I had an excellent High School Drama teacher, Ron Koeppl, who gave me great encouragement and opportunity, we did a lot of shows and he arranged for me to see touring productions. When the Acting Company came through town he was able to pull me from class and get me a job working back stage to be part of that professional touring environment.
I received my undergraduate training at Millikin University studying both theatre and music. I did the summer training program with the Royal National Theatre Company in London – what a treat that was, and I did my graduate work as part of the first class of The Shakespeare Theatre Company Academy for Classical Acting studying with Michael Kahn, Ed Gero, Isabelle Anderson, Ellen O’Brien and so many other great teachers. I got my MFA working along side some really great actors including locals: Marcus Kyd, Stephen Patrick Martin, and Kimberly Gilbert – ACA shout out.
What other Shakespearean roles have you played and other than your character here, which other character in Hamlet is your favorite?
OK, in order, I think…: Hamlet (back in undergrad – I had no idea what I was doing…), Valentine in 2 Gents, Starveling in Midsummer, Benvolio in R&J, some ensemble work in Julius Caesar and another 2 Gents, Polixenes in Winter’s Tale, Andrew Aguecheek-Twelfth Night, Macduff in Macbeth, Costard in Love’s Labours’ Lost, another Macduff, multiple roles in a 3 actor Taming of the Shrew (Lucentio, Grumio, Tailor), Guiderius in Cymbeline, Hector in Troilus and Cressida, ensemble in Two Noble Kinsmen, Posthumus in Cymbeline, Rivers and Richmond in Richard III and now Claudius/Ghost. And, I forgot one – ‘The Braggart Gentleman’ (Osric) in the Q1 Hamlet. Fitting way to end…
Hamlet has to be my other favorite character. We read about him in High School, I mucked him up in undergrad, and I carry parts of ‘him’ in my life. I believe that his struggle is universal. Wishing we could do something about an unfavorable situation that SEEMS beyond our control is ubiquitous.
What is/are your favorite line or lines that another character recites? What are your favorite line/lines that you recite?
I think that ‘O, that this too, too sullied flesh…’ is the best speech ever written in the western canon. I use it a lot when I teach, and did it a couple of times for auditions a while back.
As I continue to get a handle on Claudius, my favorite lines are when he makes a ‘direct attack’ – to Hamlet – “but to persever in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness – tis unmanly grief.” And later when he’s plotting with Laertes, “no place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize – revenge should have no bounds…” It’s just great stuff – and he almost wins…
What do you admire most about your fellow cast members’ performances and each other’s performance?
Manu is bringing such heart to the role of Hamlet. He throws his entire being into the part and seems to leave nothing behind. There’s a great moment in the film, Gattica – when Ethan Hawke’s character is talking about swimming a race with his genetically engineered brother. The brother doesn’t understand how Hawke could have won, that he’s saved just the right amount of energy to swim back from the point – and Hawke says something like, “I didn’t save anything” or to that effect. Manu is putting it all on the line. I admire that.
Which character in the play is most like you?
I’d like to think that I’m more stable and less murderous than most of the characters in this play…but, if I had to choose, I guess I see elements of myself in Claudius – wanting something that he should not have, Hamlet – wishing he could effect change, and trusting himself, and Laertes – jumping into the fray without much thought – I certainly did that a few times as a young man.
How can 2014 audiences relate to Hamlet?
See above. No, really – this play captures the human condition – then it shakes it up and puts it into extreme circumstance. The struggle for humanity will get them – plus it helps that it is a modern setting so there’s less disconnect and also – there are some pretty kick ass fights. I should add that I’ve had the privilege to choreograph and direct the fights, but it’s the guys, especially Manu and Seamus, that make them work so well.
What roles that you haven’t played yet are on your top 5 list?
Macbeth, Cyrano, Jean Valjean, and Emile de Becque (if only to sing “This Nearly Was Mine’ – and really anything by Sam Shepard or Tracy Letts
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Hamlet?
I would hope that audiences take away a feeling of time well spent. Of being entertained. And of having discovered or recognized something about themselves that they hadn’t prior. That would be a win.
Oh, and one more thing, a deep desire to study the sword.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 1: Manu Kumasi.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 2: Audrey Bertaux.