In 2012, Hannah Todd and Raven Bonniwell founded a small theater company, We Happy Few, with the desire to revive classic texts and find new ways to interpret and present the material. While We Happy Few performs full productions, their most recent event was the first installment of the Hamlet Project, called A Rock ‘N’ Roll Mixtape.
The Hamlet Project is to be a five-year exploration of one of the most influential works of all time, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The intention is not to merely delve into the text but also to focus on the characters as individuals. After extensive research and experimentation with art forms and construct, We Happy Few will have five performances that each stand as their own event. A Rock ‘N’ Roll Mixtape was the first.
As the title suggests, the show centers around a rock ‘n’ roll band, A Rustic Riot, playing a concert. “Blissful” Chris Rustic and “Slick” Nick Riot make-up the two-man band. But as they rock out, the band keeps getting interrupted – ie frozen and then overpowered by celestial beings: Ophelia (Meg Lowey), Claudius (Aaron Cunningham), Rosencrantz (Jon Reynolds) and Guildenstern (Paige O’Mailey), and Gertrude (Moyenda Kulemeka). These spirits then join the band and perform songs that relate to their own struggles and characteristics.
The show does not follow Hamlet’s plot structure and, while the characters all know each other and possess the same relationship dynamics, they are existing in a world outside of the play. Ophelia exhibits a beautiful madness with searching passion, while Claudius exudes control, confidence, and superiority. And Gertrude seems to reside about them all in her subtle but undeniable influence and power. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, as always, a little on the outside and seem to possess some of the character development from another Hamlet offshoot, the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
All of the music is composed by Chris Herring and Nick DePinto of A Rustic Riot, except for a spoken word section of the song “Bones,” which was written and performed by Aaron Cunningham.
Kerry McGee, Nick DePinto, and Chris Herring conceived and directed the piece, and now there is nothing to be done but wait and see what We Happy Few comes up with next, as they dismantle the incomparable Hamlet and piece it back together to find deeper character analysis, different perspectives, and just have a general good time with Shakespeare’s complicated masterpiece.
The end of the 5-year exploration will culminate in We Happy Few’s 10-year birthday, which will be marked with a remount of Hamlet – the group’s very first production – using all they have learned over the course of the Hamlet Project.
The idea and overall project is a refreshing attempt to bring audiences back in touch with one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time. Art exploration is a fascinating process and to get to see different representations of their findings along the way promises to be an event worth waiting for.
Running Time: One hour, with no intermission.
Hamlet Project: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Mixtape presented by We Happy Few played on June 9th at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th St SE, in Washington, DC; June 15th at The Shed at the Bathtub Republic – 10th St NE, in Washington, DC; and June 16th at Loves Me Not – 2436 18th NW, in Washington, DC. For more information on Hamlet Project or future productions, go online.