In this reimagining of “Hamlet,” IAA faculty member and production “crafter” Erin Crites (right) works with student cast members applying the five senses of sight, sound, touch, hearing and smell to the characters of Shakespeare’s longest play. The resulting production will be a “Hamlet” new to all audience members. Photo courtesy Erin Crites

Erin Crites, new full-time Idyllwild Arts Academy theater faculty member, knows improvisation, physical storytelling, Commedia dell-arte, and clowning — yes, clowning.

Crites received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre, took a master class from John Gilkey and has been an ensemble member.

Idyllwild Arts Academy faculty member Erin Crites.
Photo by Mashall Smith

She is an ensemble member and current board member of Clowns Without Borders, a humanitarian nonprofit that sends members internationally to keep smiles and playfulness alive in third-world schools, and has worked with Nobel laureate Dario Fo in Italy exploring physical storytelling in Fo’s work. She also holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Louisville with concentration on Shakespeare, African-American theater and Stanislavski-based performance.

Said Crites of her theatrical training and commitment, “I believe it is important to remain curious and playful in your world. We’ve been eliminating play for too long.”

Her training and talent will be well-employed in her next project, “Who’s There — a Reimagining of Hamlet,” a student production on the IAA campus. Crites calls it a “Devised Hamlet.” As Crites explains, devising is about the creation of original content using a text as a starting point — in this case, William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Prior to beginning the process, academy student actors had to read and research Hamlet to thoroughly understand the characters, their motivations and the way action unfolds within Shakespeare’s play. What students will be performing when the production opens will not be an interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” but rather a creation of original material from within “Hamlet.” The production will be a “Hamlet” audience members have never seen before.

Idyllwild Arts Academy students in “Who’s There, Hamlet Re-imagined,” craft and create a “Hamlet” devised from Shakespeare’s script but quite different in form.
Photo courtesy Erin Crites
How different will that be? Crites explained the creative process she and her student ensemble are engaged in.

“They read the play,” said Crites. “In our first rehearsal, after they read the play, we played ‘stream of consciousness’ using the five senses as they relate to ‘Hamlet.’ Ensemble members were asked to identify what in the world of ‘Hamlet’ they could see, smell, taste, touch and hear? Then they wrote their answers.”

Crites gave examples of what ensemble members came up with. What they could “touch” in the world of “Hamlet” included dried tears, cold metal, Yorick’s skull, organic material such as flowers, earth and sulfurous dirt.

“For what they could hear, the sound-scape, or sounds that influence and drive the action of ‘Hamlet,’ was one of the most important single factors,” said Crites. “‘Breath’ was on every list.”

From these elements, the student ensemble, together with Crites, reshaped and redrew Shakespeare’s characters based on the significance of how the five senses define each character. “In our first walkthrough, students had come up with 45 minutes of material, none of which I gave them,” said Crites. “I’m not directing this. I prefer the term ‘crafter,’ which better captures how we work together. If I had blocked or written this, it would not have been what I would have done. The level of creative ownership of this process by this cast is huge.”

As an example of what students devised, both Hamlet and Ophelia are double cast since actors who identified with these characters did so in different ways. One actor was fascinated with the face Hamlet presents to the world. The other with what he does not show. With Ophelia, one actor was struck by her innocence and loving character; the other by her grief and ultimate decay.

“Devised Hamlet” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Rush Hall on the IAA campus, continues at same time on Saturday, March 11, and then at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12. Final dress rehearsal at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9, also is open to the public, said Crites. There are 12 cast members. There is no charge for admission.

Crites is a member of Actors’ Equity and a veteran of the esteemed Actors Theatre of Louisville. She recently appeared in the Mark Taper Forum production of “The Christians,” which originated at the Actors Theatre of Louisville where she was an original cast member. Crites has a passion for travel and creating community, often through theatrical endeavors.