As a literature and drama teacher at Wichita’s Northfield School of the Liberal Arts, Bill Coleman introduces his students yearly to “Hamlet.”
“Every year we find more in it,” Coleman said. “I just love discovering all the nuances in the text and how a group of people can come together and collaborate and discover an interpretation that maybe has not been seen before. We’re all coming together and seeing these new riches in this already-rich text.”
Coleman is finding the same experience with an adult cast as the director of what he calls “Shakespeare’s most enduring play, most complicated play,” for the inaugural mainstage production of Wichita Center for the Performing Arts.
The play was selected, Shelli Kadel said, because of the director’s involvement and enthusiasm.
“We chose ‘Hamlet’ because we knew Bill Coleman does an outstanding job and does a great deal of work to make connections with high schoolers,” said Kadel, WCPA director.
As part of the educational component, a “talkback” with the cast and director will be featured following the final performance, where admission for students and teachers is $5.
Cast members of “Hamlet,” which runs Feb. 21-24, find they are getting an education as well.
“Bill has a wonderful way of taking each of the scenes that we do and helping us see not only what the storyline is, but the underlying motivation is behind each of the characters and what they bring to it,” said Steve Dunn, who plays Polonius, counsellor of the king.
Dunn said the new production is very accessible, with “a lot of physicality.”
“I think Shakespeare is much better if you can see it performed and hear it performed,” he said.
Playing the title role is Quinn Warren, a Wichita native who was raised in Chicago, came back to Kansas to major in theater at Wichita State, and then moved to Seattle and put a pause on his theatrical life. Two years ago, he moved back to Wichita, and has since played John Proctor in “The Crucible” and Benedict in “Much Ado About Nothing” (directed by Coleman) for Guild Hall Players, and Randle McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for Wichita Scottish Rite Theatre.
While Warren admits to never having seen a production of “Hamlet,” he said he couldn’t turn down the chance to play one of Shakespeare’s iconic parts.
“Of course, this is THE role,” he said. “There was no chance I was passing this up.”
While Shakespeare’s script is intact, the costumes are “trying to suggest something timeless, even though it’s of the moment,” Coleman said.
“It kind of offsets the intentions of each character,” Warren added. “You can look at the costumes and get some sense of that.”
Claudius and his family, for instance, are dressed in more of a classic style, while Polonius’ family is dressed more stylist and contemporary.
The palette is gray and black for Hamlet, but it turns to lighter colors when the character returns from England. The color of white, symbolizing death, is also used, Warren added.
Dunn and Warren say Coleman has worked hard with cast members to make their deliveries understood for the audience. “All of the actors are comfortable on stage, they’ve developed their characters,” Dunn said.
“The purpose and intention is so clear and concise and well-highlighted,” Quinn added, “and that is one of the strengths of this production.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 21-24, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25. Doors open 30 minutes before the show.
Where: Wichita Center for the Performing Arts, 9112 E. Central
Tickets: $12 for adults, $10 for students ($5 for students for Sunday matinee and talkback), at wichitacenter.org or 316-201-6654