"A Gravedigger's Tale" brings the story of "Hamlet" to life in a new, interactive way for audiences. The play is a collaborative effort between Director Robert Richmond and Actor Louis Butelli, brought to USC because of the First Folio exhibit. The play will run from Thursday to Saturday — Saturday being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and what some believe to be his date of birth, as well.
The play tells the story of "Hamlet" from the perspective of a Gravedigger, played by Butelli, who made an appearance in the original play between acts. The Gravedigger enters with dusty copy of the First Folio and a trunk full of bones, each with a question attached. These bones are given to audience members so that they can ask the Gravedigger their questions, consequently prompting the story and producing an atmosphere where playgoers can partake in the action of the show.
"[Richmond and I] like the Gravedigger from 'Hamlet.' We think he's very sweet, very funny and he felt like a really fun way into this play," Butelli said.
Commissioned by the Folger Theater, Richmond worked with Butelli to form the best companion for the First Folio exhibit. The two spent five days brainstorming ideas until they decided to recreate "Hamlet" through the perspective of the Gravedigger. Butelli and Richmond made sure the play is fully comprised of Shakespeare's original lines, but with slight adaptations, in order to make sense with this fresh take.
The choice to have a slight spinoff from one of Shakespeare's most well-known plays was an easy one for Richmond. When he was commissioned to create a piece, Richmond knew that it would be traveling with the First Folio. This influenced his work with Butelli, who has spent his 20 years in theatre bringing to life the fools and clowns of Shakespeare.
Their combined knowledge of Shakespeare allowed for them to offer an interactive and unique take on Hamlet.
"Somehow, a Gravedigger, bringing the story, was sort of how we wanted to make the connective tissue of the whole thing," Richmond said.
This will be one of many visits to the university made by Butelli, who has directed, made guest artist appearances and taught classes here previously. Bringing more of Shakespeare's works to USC in a collaborative effort with the theatre department is an exciting moment for Butelli.
"I think there's a lot of excitement about all of Shakespeare this year in particular." Butelli said. "Between the 400th anniversary and the First Folio visit, now is the perfect time to celebrate Shakespeare's greatest play, Hamlet."
"A Gravedigger's Tale" takes a funny, unexpected character and develops that perspective. Working alongside renowned clown and fool actor Butelli, Richmond is enthusiastic about the experience the play will give to people who come to celebrate Shakespeare.