Shakespeare in South Florida – Part II

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Hamlet poster

One of the most exciting Shakespeare events in the South Florida area occurred earlier this year with the presentation of Carson Kievman’s Hamlet opera at his Sobe Arts Studio on Miami Beach.  I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Kievman to ask him a few questions about the production of Hamlet as well as the story behind its creation.  Carson Kievman himself has served both as the composer and director in residence for the New York Shakespeare Festival/ Public Theatre in New York and also has been composer in residence for the Florida Philharmonic.  Hamlet the opera was conceived during Kievman’s NYSF residency under the leadership of Joseph Papp, the producer behind shows such as Hair and A Chorus Line.  The idea for Hamlet was born when Papp called a 20-year-old Kievman into his office and asked him to apply the principles of Soundtheatre to Hamlet and “see what happens”.  At the time, Kievman didn’t feel that he was prepared to tackle the project and turned Papp down.  10 years after Papp’s original proposal, Kievman decided that he was ready to give the piece a try.  He called Papp who immediately commissioned the project as if no time at all had passed.  After the first draft was completed, he did a short reading for the Public Theatre staff and a few industry insiders.  Papp was especially excited about the project, and decided to produce it for Shakespeare in the Park.  However, these plans were brought to a halt when Papp became involved in a series of National Endowment for the Arts disputes and his son was diagnosed with AIDS.  Shortly afterwards, Papp himself died of cancer.  During the period following Papp’s death, Kievman put aside Hamlet in his desk drawer where it remained for the next 21 years.

This past summer marked the rebirth of the project, when “lightning struck” and Kievman decided to revisit Hamlet as a second installment of the state-sponsored Music & Shakespeare Festival at Sobe Arts (following last year’s production of a music-infused Twelfth Night).   For this production, casting proved to be particularly important because the focus was shifted away from the more technical aspects of the production due to budgetary restrictions and Kievman wished to emphasize the work itself over production value.  Kievman wanted this early-stage version to be “just a first step” to finally get the opera up and running, be able to hear the music, and most importantly help it move to a company with the resources available to mount a full production.  After a successful run at Sobe Arts, it is now being considered by the Public Theatre (which is of course particularly interested due to Kievman’s connection to the work and the project’s genesis under the guidance of Joseph Papp).

The New York City Opera and various other companies have expressed interest in the project as well.  Sobe Arts itself was founded seven years ago, and the young company has a dual mission that encompasses both arts education and professional performance of “cutting edge, innovative work”.  According to Kievman, “What makes a city a great arts community is the actual work that is being created there.”  Hopefully, for the theatre lovers in South Florida, Hamlet is just the beginning.

Of all the Shakespeare-producing theatres in South Florida, I’ve definitely attended the greatest volume of shows at the New Theatre.  Just to name a few, I remember really enjoying their productions of Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale.  The New Theatre has been around since the 80s and has recently moved to a new home at the Roxy Performing Arts Center.  Personally, I love the New Theatre for its small-scale but consistently high-quality Shakespeare interpretations because they always add an innovative dimension to the work without trying too hard to be perceived as edgy.

I recall appreciating the audience-interactive elements of their The Taming of the Shrew because the shared moments didn’t seem at all forced and they really connected the audience to the action of the play. I’m excited to see how they explore the Shakespeare possibilities of a different performance space.

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Author:Dara Solina

Dara Solina is a 17 year-old from Aventura, FL who has been part of the South Florida theatre community for her whole life. For the past 5 years, she’s written about her experiences performing and seeing theatre on her blog at Groundlings.net. She hopes to devote her life to theatre, whether composing music for new musicals, writing reviews from the audience, or performing on stage.
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