Yesterday, I took a ferry to Elsinore, and watched a young prince’s world unravel in the rain. Denmark is a prison—that prison is The Rock. Having friends in high places in the theater community, I was invited to see the long-sold-out We Players production of Hamlet on Alcatraz. It was awe-inspiring. Every time I see Hamlet, I hear something I hadn’t heard before. I have actually been to Alcatraz before, took the guided audio tour, and was captivated (hehe) by the island and prison’s history; We Players, though, gained access to parts of the 22 acre island that weren’t on the tour, notably to the prison’s eerie hospital ward and the back side of the island, which started us in a gorgeous warehouse like space and then opened up onto a path that gave us nighted views of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge while poor Yorick’s skull is exhumed.
They are calling their production site-specific, but Hamlet does not literally take place in a prison, especially not Alcatraz. It is more true to say that it is a found-space production, yes? And yet, as we had our “conversation with the elements” (as the AD called it after curtain call) it was nearly impossible not to let a mental shift transport you from the courtyard of Alcatraz to the courtyard of King Hamlet’s castle.
My shoes and jacket and sweater and the notebook that was in my bag are still drying from watching Hamlet unprotected from the elements in a small island in the middle of the Bay, but I was grinning the whole time. What an unforgettable experience.