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Zoomin’ Hamlet

The theatre program at Leeward Community College has for decades offered our students excellent opportunities to act, design, stage manage, and run technical support for plays and musicals throughout the year. Many of our alumni have gone on to become fixtures in our vibrant theatre community. Up until her retirement this spring, Betty Burdick has been leading this program and teaching its acting and production courses for the past 20 years.

THEA260 - Dramatic Production is a course offered every spring that gives students hands-on experiences in every aspect of taking a play from script to stage. The play that Betty chose this year was Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a harrowing tragedy of betrayal, murder, and political intrigue. In the 400 years since its inception, Hamlet has survived through countless tumultuous periods in human history, and contemporary performances are often seen as reflections of the times in which they are performed.

While students began rehearsing in Leeward’s Lab Theatre in January, the Coronavirus began creeping into Hawaii like Claudius onto the thrown of Denmark. By mid-March, campuses were beginning to close and classes were moving online. Likewise, theatres and performing arts companies in Hawaii and throughout the world were forced to cancel the remainders of their seasons. However, nothing would stand in the way of what was to be Betty’s final Leeward production before retirement. Under Betty’s direction, the students of THEA260 adapted quickly to rehearse and produce a video version of the play using Zoom.

While acting and directing for video is very different from the stage, Zoom introduces a whole new set of challenges. How would the actors be able to react quickly and feed off of each other when they are not in the same room? And how would they deal with the time delay inherent in video conferencing platforms?

The students rose to the challenge, using the platform to its full potential. Virtual backgrounds were used to project the scenes, fight scenes were recorded and edited ahead of time, and video effects were used to portray the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

One of the great gifts of theatre is its ability, as Shakespeare wrote, “to hold the mirror up to nature.” And while it may not have been what Betty was expecting for her final show as a Leeward professor, she and her students have lived up to the adage that the show must go on. Follow Leeward Theatre on Facebook, @LeewardTheatre.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni