WATCH: Elon delivers ‘Hamlet-At-Home’ performance

After the cancelation of its scheduled production of the iconic Shakespeare work due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of Performing Arts used Facebook Live and videoconferencing to deliver a unique performance online.

The following story was published before the production of Hamlet on April 4. 

On Thursday night, the students of the Department of Performing Art’s production of “Hamlet” was supposed to be gathering backstage in McCrary Theatre, ready for the lights to go up and the show to go on. Instead, these Elon students were connecting online to work through the logistics of how to still deliver the production even though the cast is scattered around the country due to the novel coronavirus 2019 outbreak.

Following a rehearsal Friday, the cast will come together again Saturday night for a livestreamed production of the iconic work by Shakespeare, though it will be one adapted for the age of COVID-19. Joined together using videoconferencing, the cast members will portray their roles stationed in front of computers instead of the audience, with the production streamed via Facebook Live at 7:30 p.m. on April 4 on the Department of Performing Arts Facebook page.

A meeting on Thursday, April 2, of the cast for “Hamlet at Home.”

It’s not the type of production they had been hoping for, but it’s one they feel compelled to deliver. “It will be as close to a full theater experience as we can get,” said Daniel Skinner ‘20, who will portray the title character in the production. “We’re hoping it will show how creativity can still manifest itself during these uncertain times.”

Skinner, who along with playing the leading role is a house manager for the Department of Performing Arts, said the production initially looked at shifting the dates and location of the performances. That was when it looked like students might only have to learn remotely for a few weeks. But as the outbreak progressed, it became clear that “Hamlet like other productions on the department’s calendar would have to be canceled.

“Our last rehearsal before Spring Break was a run-through, but was also a way for us to say goodbye,” Skinner said.

Elon senior Daniel Skinner, who will play the title role and who helped organize the production.

That was before an inspiration about how to still deliver the production, but remotely. David McGraw, assistant professor of arts administration, had been impressed by how Greensboro’s Triad Stage and Goodly Frame Theatre partnered to offer a “socially-distanced reading” of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The performance was streamed live on Triad Stage’s Facebook page on March 24 and received 4,000 views and more than 50 shares.

“I think this is probably the best option we have right now,” McGraw said. “While it can never match or compare at all to what we would have had in the theater, we also have to remember that this is the only time we will have this group of actors available to perform together. To know that this is that moment — we didn’t want the moment to slip away.”

The focus has been on how to translate the production that was to take place on the McCrary stage into one that will stream on a computer screen. Part of the effort has focused on how to best stage action that would have taken place on stage and now will need to take place remotely. That’s a challenge given that the play involves swordfights, but those involved really want this to be a quality performance, Skinner said.

“It can be a catharsis to have a public performance of all the work we have put into this, and to genuinely share all that we’ve done,” Skinner said. “For me, it’s become focused on sharing our collective work, and how we can overcome and adapt.”

McGraw said that the students are taking the lead on the online performance, which can be empowering. “I think that what a lot of students have lost in the past few weeks is that agency, that control over their lives, that structure,” he said. “We really want the students to feel and know this is their production. This is what the students have earned, and they should have control over this.”

McGraw said he is hoping many will tune in to watch the production live, to be the live audience that the production would have in McCrary Theatre. “By using Facebook Live, people will be able to offer comments and give likes and loves to the cast,” McGraw said.