In recent months, a handful of companies have crafted increasingly creative outside-the-box venue solutions. Bedrock Theater produced a charming walkabout musical adaptation of Persephone at Leach Botanical Garden and promptly sold out their entire run; Red Balloon Theater Collective turned a children’s gymnasium into a circus-like fantasia for Yellow Yellow Yellow. Not to be outdone, Speculative Drama—the creative duo of Megan Skye Hale and Myrrh Larsen, each wearing multiple hats—are about to unveil their "Lake House" Hamlet, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous work to be mounted in a private home. The two are no strangers to unusual stagings, have produced immersive, rad shows like last season’s Undine at their venue The Steep & Thorny Way To Heaven for several years.
We asked Myrrh to discuss how they make their choices, and to elaborate a bit on what audiences should expect from "Lake House" Hamlet.
Tell us about your creative partnership! You run an impossibly cool venue (Steep and Thorny Way To Heaven), you produce unconventional theater… How do you work together? What does a typical day look like?
Pretty much everything we do is a labor of love, so it's hard to keep from just working all the time. Plus, we have so many projects going at any one time that it takes a lot of work and diligence just to keep it all organized. We get together once a week for a long production meeting where we try to touch on every single show and project, and we have an incredibly giving and supportive community who we don't ask for help from nearly often enough.
How do projects go from “hey, you know what would be cool?” to a full production? What factors contribute to your creative choices?
The vast majority of projects we take on start out as a joke. There's always this "No, wait, really, we should do that" moment once the idea has germinated for long enough. Sometimes that happens right away, like, we wrote a series of Shakespeare-meets-pop-song mashups (The Murderers from Richard III mashed up with the lyrics of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead Or Alive," for example) pretty much right after having the idea at a bar after rehearsal. Last year, we did The Tempest at Steep & Thorny, after I had joked years earlier about doing it as our last show in the space before getting pushed out by gentrification, and using the corrugated steel loading dock at our entrance as the "ship" for the play's initial shipwreck. (Note: We didn't end up using the loading dock that way for the show - it would have limited audience too much - and we DID end up getting hit with a significant rent increase this year, so, womp womp).
In all seriousness, we weigh a lot of factors in what we choose to produce, including "is this what the world needs right now?"
Regarding your use of nontraditional spaces for theater, which comes first: the venue or the idea?
For the shows at The Steep And Thorny Way To Heaven, we're always thinking about what it means to tell this story in this space. For As You Like It, the space itself informed the idea of the rugged bohemian "Forest of Arden" as a bit of an urban jungle with a lot of queer undertones. For Undine, we considered the warehouse space's working class roots when imagining a 1930s carnival sideshow and a city keeping up appearances amidst a recession.
In the case of the "Lake House" Hamlet, the idea came first: we've been developing ideas for this show for around five years, and this year we decided it was time to see if we could find a house whose owners would let us haunt their living room for a month.
It's like one of the characters in the Canadian TV show Slings And Arrows says: "Hamlet will be Hamlet: An ineffable tragedy of the human spirit that still resonates, even today." It's a timeless story, but it also speaks to the real danger of failing to recognize one's own privilege—socially, politically, and economically.
Why in a house?
So, one of the coolest things about this show is that the audience is what we call "free range" - you can go through any open door and move around inside of the story. Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's most versatile plays; the text is just so good that there are literally hundreds of conceits you could apply to it and still make the show "work." So as I started thinking about all the possibilities, I imagined a production where you could pick any character and just follow them around through the events of the play. This show lets you do just that, and I'm excited to see what our audiences choose to watch and explore.
We loved the role music played in Undine. What role does music / sound design play in your "Lake House" Hamlet?
Immersive soundscapes are part of Speculative Drama's mission statement, so... there'll be some sounds. We're actually just reaching the part of rehearsals where I'm starting to stress out about that! I can tell you there will be some music in the pre-show and intermission that hints at some of the ways the characters let off steam amidst some of the tense events before and during the play's main story!
How early in the process do you start making decisions about music?
From the moment we decide on a play and start world-building, I'm thinking about the sounds that fit into that world. I'll be honest, I've got my hands full directing this one, so the actual decisions about music will be made pretty late in the process. I like to start with a lot of ideas and whittle down from there to just what's absolutely necessary to enhance the story.
Is any of your work from these shows available online as a Spotify playlist or BandCamp profile?
I actually made a little mini-album (kind of an EP's length) of the music from A Midsummer Night's Dream (link here). I think it's really great headphones music for a walk in the rain or for airplane take-offs and landings. There's music from Richard III and playlists from all of the movement plays available on the Speculative Drama Patreon, as well!
The Lake House Hamlet opens September 19th and runs until October 12th. As of this writing, the entire run is sold out—congrats to Speculative Drama!