Shelby Thibodeau, Austin Hayes, Cassidy Small, and Nathan Sylvester posing in Alumni Theater

Shelby Thibodeau, Austin Hayes, and Cassidy Small (front left to right) Nathan Sylvester (back) (Photo courtesy of Ashley Shurtleff)

Recently, the newly chosen cast of “I Hate Hamlet,” began rehearsing for their upcoming Fall performances at The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF).

   Auditions for a part in the play took place on the 10th and 11th of September. UMF holds “what’s known as open auditions, which means that any student on this campus can audition” said Peter Simmel, director of the production and professor of the performance classes here at the university. Since he came here in 2000, one-third of the performers have been non-theatre majors across all of the departments. He added that some universities with bigger theatre programs choose to hold closed auditions in which only theatre majors can try out.

   “We had 40 plus students audition for six roles” said Simmel. Each student reads for two parts and typically gets called back the second night of auditions. “Professional theaters are a totally different world” said Simmel. Generally, in professional theatre, the major roles are already contracted and directors only hold auditions for the smaller parts.

   Simmel looks for a quality actor based on a couple of characteristics. Though, “it’s kind of like what’s a good piece of music? Or what’s a good painting?” Said Simmel. “What I look for is individuals who can bring a sense of character right away,” which is typically a student with acting experience, said Simmel. Austin Hayes is one of these experienced actors. “I Hate Hamlet” is his 9th production. “Basically any show that has gone up since I got here, I was a part of somehow” said Hayes in an e-mail interview. Hayes is “a Sound, Performance, and Visual Inquiry major with a concentration in theatre” he said.

Hayes is now in his third year of study at UMF. With all of his time and experience here, he has become an expert on the rehearsal process. “With Peter Simmel, the process is: work a few scenes until you have them absolutely nailed down in your head and then move on” said Hayes. Hayes notes that “the process differs between directors” though, he said. “But basically, you go to rehearsal, stretch, tell the stage manager if you are off book, figure out which scenes you are working on, and go.” “Rehearsals for ‘I Hate Hamlet’ are going really well, we are figuring out the blocking (movement)” for a movement intense show said Hayes.

   Once actors begin building on their experience, they get a reputation. “Directors talk to each other” said Simmel. They might ask each other how a particular student’s time management is or how they work with another potential performer. The cast has to be able to work together. “Theatre is not a competition, the only competition is with yourself” said Simmel. Sometimes, the decision between two students could come down to who the director thinks will work better with whoever has already been chosen. When it comes to choosing who for what part, “you develop a critical ear and an eye,” said Simmel, “and then it’s just a matter of experience, it’s like becoming a teacher.”

   Being the director of a show “has various phases” though, Simmel said. The most important is script selection. When he selects a script, he has to decide if one, it’s in his capabilities, and two, it speaks to him and he really has the desire to direct it. “You have to have the horse power to pull the carriage” said Simmel. Before he can choose a script, he has to get a general sense of what his potential actors can bring for talent.

   For Simmel, choosing the script is a “bucket list type of thing, you sort of wait for the right time.” “I Hate Hamlet” is a comedy. He’s never directed a fun play and expects it to be an enjoyable experience. It’s “a hilarious comedy, one of the funniest scripts I’ve read, about what theatre is. You have Andrew Rally who doesn’t really understand acting and tries desperately to be good and find ‘truth’ in it, and you have John Barrymore, who does not care about ‘truth’ so long as the audience resounds and he gets his glory” said Hayes. “If you want to see a funny show, go” said Hayes.

   Simmel typically tends “to select plays that are about social issues and ideas” he said. “I think it’s a product of growing up in the 60s,” when all of the social issues surfaced, said Simmel. Simmel also doesn’t “like to do plays that only have one point of view” he said. He would rather direct plays that allow the audience to make up their mind. “‘I Hate Hamlet’ has a big set,” said Simmel. As the director, he has to consider this and the technical demands. “Is it in our budget? Within our means?” Said Simmel.

   In addition to the director and the actors, “you have to have the designers, they would be scenic lighting, costumes, and what is really big now, is sound” to make a show run smoothly, said Simmel. “When we talk about sound, that includes sound queues,” like honking and music, said Simmel. “I don’t like theatre to try to mimic the movies, theatre is live actors on a stage” said Simmel.

   Simmel’s favorite part of being a director is the “audience’s response to the work of art itself” he said. Simmel likes how it’s immediate and direct, unlike when you’re passively watching a movie. “Actors are influenced by the audience” said Simmel. He believes that “tragedy is easy and comedy is tough,” said Simmel, because not everyone finds the same things funny. “You can’t make the audience laugh, you allow them to laugh,” said Simmel.

   For Simmel, theatre has been a part of his life since the first grade. His teachers put on many shows during his elementary school years. He already had eight years of experience by the time he graduated 8th grade. “I think that’s probably what got me into theatre” said Simmel. Hayes got into acting in high school. “My parents made me go to clubs, specifically Drama Club. I didn’t want to go, I thought it would be stupid. I went, eventually fell in love with it, then decided that I’d try my hand at it as a career” said Hayes. “I love theatre the way I love oxygen- I can’t fully express why, I just need it” said Hayes.

   The actors will continue to rehearse five days a week until the final performances. The first and second performances are on the 25th and 26th of October at 7:30 PM and the third performance is a Sunday matinee (October 27th) at 2:00 PM.