The Hamlet Effect

Chida Darby
Co-Publisher/ Managing Editor

 

On the last week of its production, I was able to witness the genius of Barry Edelstein in the form of Hamlet.  As a female, African American thespian, I’ve always valued the arts and the life transforming messages that they can deliver.  With a heavily ethnically identifiable cast, the famous words of Shakespeare were served on a silver platter, palatable and fulfilling.  That night, underneath the stars in The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival outdoor theatre, amidst the fresh air and gentle breezes, I was proud.  Grantham Coleman, a Black man, eloquently gave us Hamlet. With heart and soul, this tragedy was viewed in Technicolor. Vibrant costumes, an eye catching set, and toe tapping music with heavy bass beats, I was on the edge of my seat the entire evening.  In a play that historically has carried an all White company, Edelstein delivered Hamlet in shades of brown, with the show’s leads being Black. “Shakespeare belongs to everyone,” he shared with me.  “I

Barry Edelstein
Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director

come from a place called the Public Theatre in New York founded by Joseph Papp who was a pioneer, in that everyone should play these parts. You can be anybody.”

In the last 5 years, since his arrival, Edelstein has aimed to stick to the core of the Globe’s purpose, as a public benefit, 501c3 – ensuring that the entire public, benefits from the Globe’s productions. This means that all ethnicities will be reflected on their stages, and that the cores of San Diego’s diverse cultures are given a spotlight.

In the last few years, thanks to social media and non-traditional news coverage, a lot of our country’s ugly truths are rearing their heads, specifically when it comes to topics of racism, and social disadvantages. In a town that can be deemed as “lily white,” and conservative, Edelstein has allowed the stages

of the Globe to carry messages of unity and hope. I appreciate that.  Through the Globe’s productions, individuals are brought under one roof to absorb the same messages. That evening, I found myself sitting between three White men, who throughout the night were seemingly using the performance as a way to connect culturally in conversation. While they didn’t say the most “politically correct” things, I still yielded an ear, and absorbed the moment, using the opportunity to teach important lessons of my own.  Like – while my hair is natural, Issa Rae from the hit HBO series “Insecure’, and I don’t look alike.  I know now that the gentleman didn’t have much else to say but he tried to say something.  I smiled, pushed past what I heard, allowing the conversation to develop into something more meaningful.  It’s in those moments, where in spite of what’s happening nationally, we can learn from each other, and break down stereotypes, through simple conversations. Barry Edelstein thank you for your boldness, creativity, and ability to embrace the beauty in what God has created in us all.

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“To see all Black leads in Hamlet was quite refreshing. Although we have so far to go as African Americans in this country, seeing those leads shows me the progress that we have made. It just goes to show when given the opportunity we can excel at anything!” – James Wiley Jr.

“It was incredible to see and I loved it” – Akil Parrish Jr.

“To be honest, as I was watching the play, being a fan of Shakespeare, I didn’t see color. I saw 16th century literature reborn and brought back to life. Then it struck me that Black actors really pulled this off. The power, passion, and talent that the Black actors possessed was immeasurable. It definitely gave me a new profound respect not only for Black actors but theater included! Outstanding showmanship!” – Roosevelt Johnson

“It was good to see an almost all Black cast. Our young people need to know that there are other avenues in life besides sports or [traditional] entertainment.” – Ebony Rice

“We appreciated the opportunity to allow our girls to witness stars on the stage who look like them in such a historic piece as Hamlet. In this current climate of racial tension throughout the country, being able to remind them that their talents have no limits was very rewarding”.- Tinesia Conwright

“Attending Hamlet was a special treat I was mesmerized by the number of African-American actors in leading roles – Listening to them deliver lines that had been expertly memorized and recited in Shakespearean English gave me chills” – Rickeena Boyd

“I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Hamlet. If you did not see it yet, it is was must see! The leading Black cast was exceptional not only because of their acting, but because they made all the Black youth I went with believe they can grow up to be exceptional Black actors too!” -Lan Jefferson

“It was phenomenal!! To be able to watch Hamlet with my son and for him to see Black lead actors in one of Shakespeare’s play. That we too are in the Arts.” – Olivia Green

“It was extremely admirable to see the very talented Black man who led the role of Hamlet. In a world where unique arts (such as plays) have been replaced with social media, this experience was truly a fresh breath of air.” – Kewza Blair

“Thank you so much Old Globe, we appreciate the wonderful chance you gave my son to experience watching the play Hamlet with such an awesome and unique cast.” – Gina Fugate

“Hamlet was the first professional play that I’ve seen. It was refreshing to see all Black leads, because it’s not often do you see my generation attracted to theater as much as you do music. But it shows the wide range of talent that Black artist and actors have.”

African American Representation in theater is important because it shows kids and even young adults a different type of art and acting that we are accustomed to or think we are capable of doing.”” – Myles Ginyard

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