Meet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
When I sat down to chat with Wendy and Steven, my first question was the obvious one: Wait. Who is playing whom?
True to form, they began to finish each other’s sentences as they elaborated on their roles as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (respectively), for which they resumed rehearsals this week after the holiday break. In the play, these characters are old friends of Hamlet, who appear after the action of the story has begun, and whose loyalties often appear undecided. Except for a few lines of text, they are never seen apart, but always together, their names confused even by other characters in the play.
Despite a now traditional route of portraying these two as similar personalities, both Wendy and Steven are adamant about director Christy Yael’s approach of distinguishing them.
“Immediately, there’s a challenge to make it your own and different from the other person,” says Steven. “There is no challenge or worthwhileness if you’re just playing Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”
Wendy agrees. “They can be easily disposed of or perceived as filler but, let’s face it, Tom Stoppard wrote an entire play about these characters. Even though they don’t have a ton of dialogue, they are very influential. They are the voice of the people.”
As Wendy and Steven step back into rehearsals this week, they are eager to see their ideas about their roles manifest into action and movement on the stage. Steven, a newbie to Intrepid, and Wendy, a three-show veteran, are finding their excitement about creating these characters paralleling their interest in getting to know each other as actors.
“My first question when I was cast was, ‘Who is my Guildenstern??’” says Wendy, and for a while, there was no answer. Steven, who just moved to San Diego with his family after a yearlong stint at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, had solicited local theatre companies for auditions upon his arrival. He was cast in Intrepid’s reading of Macbeth in October and eventually in Hamlet as well. “All everyone kept telling me during the reading was that I was going to love my Rosencrantz,” he says.
“Did they tell you Rosencrantz was going to be female?” Wendy asks him, curious.
“No, they didn’t right away!” laughs Steven.
As they have become acquainted, Wendy and Steven have also begun the journey of figuring out who their characters are in the context of the production. Both actors agree that there is still a lot of mystery to be unraveled. “We are still figuring out what our rhythm is going to be together,” says Wendy, and Steven agrees, adding that discovering what they are each going to bring is going to be pivotal in creating these two people.
“Often the placement of scenes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seems like they are not much more than ice breakers,” muses Steven when asked about how these characters fit into the story of the play as a whole. “They come before and after some fairly intense scenes, so it can seem difficult to show their reality as people.”
Wendy elaborates. “The more I reread the play the more I love what these two characters represent,” she says. “They bring Hamlet down to earth and make him accessible to the audience. This is a guy who has goofy friends!”
Whatever the motivations of these characters, it is clear that Wendy and Steven are ready to move from the extensive table work they have been doing for the past month and into the action onstage. While the table work is necessary to clarify intentions and motivations and specific moments of the play, for these two it is walking the walk – in this case, alongside one another – that will truly bring the characters to life.
“I’m a firm believer that I’m as good as my scene partner,” says Wendy. “I need to elevate my game for the other person. I love the idea of it being so seamless and breathing as one machine and telling the story together. I think, as a cast, we are all very invested.”
Steven has no hesitations jumping in with her, even though this is his first production with this crew. “It’s immensely gratifying to come into this group right after studying in Scotland,” he admits. “I’ve been awed to come back to a group of people who work with a process that is so professional and so familiar.”
Wendy is more than happy to put Steven’s mind at ease with regards to his debut show in San Diego.
“This is such a great group – I can’t stress that enough,” she says. “We’re going to have a fun time together. They are a supportive, fun, smart, risk taking group of actors and designers and directors.”
Then, she adds, “Take us all with a grain of salt, though.”
We have a laugh and I thank them for their time. I can’t help but smile when they answer, in unison, “No problem!”
We will see you on stage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. – T.T.
Hamlet previews January 30 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas. For more information about tickets and showtimes, click here.