The BJU Classic Players will present
Hamlet next Thursday through Saturday at
8 p.m. in Rodeheaver Auditorium, with the last performance falling on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
Productions of Hamlet on the BJU stage extend back to 1932 when the Classic Players first performed the popular Shakespearean drama at the original Florida campus.
Dr. Paul Radford, director of this year’s performance, said Bob Jones Jr. was the driving force behind the beginning of BJU Shakespearean productions. Jones performed in many plays during his presidency, including Hamlet.
Radford said he was a graduate student at the time of the 1997 production of Hamlet.
Because the play was at the time being adapted into the first unabridged film version featuring many widely recognized actors, Radford said it was an especially exciting time to be producing Hamlet at BJU.
Radford said he’s enjoying directing this year’s Hamlet with David Schwingle in the leading role as the title character.
Schwingle, a professor in the department of theatre arts, has played multiple roles in Hamlet through the years as a student and faculty member. While an undergraduate student, he participated in the 1997 production of Hamlet as an extra and prologue player. He then played Laertes in the 2005 production and this year will lead the cast as Hamlet.
“[Schwingle] came with so many ideas and so much work already done,” Radford said. “As a director it’s very humbling to have someone so committed and so hard-working. I’ve never seen anyone that committed to a part.”
In preparation for this role, Schwingle travelled to New York in April and October of last year to study under world-renowned Master Voice and Shakespeare teacher Patsy Rodenberg.
Rodenberg is the director of voice at Michael Howard Studios in New York as well as the head of voice at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
“It’s been neat to see our Hamlet lead the way, and the rest of the actors match the level and the preparedness that he has already brought to the part,” Radford said.
Radford said the production will highlight BJU theatre faculty, and intentionally so.
“It was important to me that the [faculty] whom students sit under exercise their craft on the big stage and share the stage with these students,” Radford said.
Radford said one unique element of this year’s performance is that all of the music featured was composed specifically for the production by a student.
“All the music you’re going to hear is original, by junior theatre major Colton Beach,” Radford said. “He approached me about doing it, he wrote it, he gathered the musicians, they recorded it—he did it all.”
Though Hamlet was written at the start of the 17th century, it remains one of the most popular Shakespearean plays.
Radford said last year the most in-demand theater ticket was to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance of Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre in London.
The Guardian reported that the cast put on 80 sold-out performances and described the production as “the fastest-selling show in London theatre history.”
In addition, Radford said movie theaters around the world held live viewings that were packed because the production was so highly anticipated.
Radford said one reason people gravitate toward Hamlet is the relevant themes it contains.
“The themes within it are universal, and we see them happening today,” Radford said. “I call it a psychological thriller. There’s tons of action, but maybe the most important action is what’s going on in [Hamlet’s] head.”
Radford said part of the University’s mission in celebrating the arts is to give students a well-rounded education.
“People can live richer lives; they can have a bigger ministry; they can reach more people if they’re well-rounded people who understand culture,” Radford said. “Their education is bettered by having the arts as a part of it.”
Radford said he has enjoyed many aspects of the production process.
“In the rehearsal process, when an actor tries something and there’s a reaction to it, and then there’s another reaction, it’s like a domino effect and this beautiful moment will happen,” Radford said. “Then you shape that, and you try to take that raw material and do it so it’s repeatable. That’s my favorite part.”
Radford said that although the production has involved a great deal of work, it has been a very rewarding experience.
“I’m humbled that I get to work with students who have enough character to work and to put on [such a demanding] role,” Radford said. “And that’s quite rewarding.”