Hamlet Dramaturgy

Informing Bethany Lutheran College's Spring 2013 Production. Shows at: April 19, 20, 26, 27 at 7:30pm and April 21 at 2pm

From Lighting Land: Designer Series

“I was once running a show, in the second act there were 45 minutes between light cues. In the running of the show I may have brought a blanket and pillow and taken a nap under the light board desk. One night the director came in to the booth and saw the sound board op and didn’t see the light board op. He asked “Where’s Jake?” At which point I reached out and tugged on his pant leg.”

That sort of gives you a feel for humor of Jake Yenish, the lighting designer for Hamlet.

From the Start

Jake began theatre in high school as an extra-curricular, he got into it because of a senior cousin and some senior technicians. From there it was all a pretty natural journey. He applied to Bethany, received the tech scholarship, and after taking classes knew theatre had to be his major. Lighting followed naturally, there was a niche and no one to fill it.

Jake felt compelled to take lighting design seriously after his first design received appreciation from an outside source. A respondent from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival saw the production of Antigone at Bethany Lutheran College.

“That was the first outside source saying maybe you have a capacity at [lighting design.]”

From there Jake went to MSU-Mankato for his MFA in Lighting Design and has been teaching at Bethany since 2007.

Hamlet: The Process

The beginning of Jake’s process does not begin with approaching the script. The brush-up read of Hamlet was not the start of the design process.

“So much of lighting is organic. It is dependent on the scenery, the blocking, the pace.”

Jake maintains that beginning with discussion between the director and the designers sets the mood for the lighting much more clearly than the script does. Lighting is always a reaction to the set and the pace of each specific production. So instead of beginning by reading a script, Jake will start by opening negotiations with the director and set designer (which are, in this case, the same person.)

“In the collaboration process you have the opportunity and the responsibility to advocate for the best compromise of ideas.”

Working with each director and design team is different and after several years of working with Pete, Jake has come to understand the kind of creative lee way that is required when designing a Pete show. To make the rehearsal process more enjoyable and the end product better, Jake likes to maintain the capacity to create the ideas that get bounced around in the rehearsal process. This often means beginning with a fairly minimalistic approach to the lighting plot and building layers of color and texture from there.

“I know that visuals are important and the ability to dramatically change how a space looks is important.”

Especially when it comes to lighting a Shakespeare production, where the written staging is much less specific, the lighting design has to take into account how a blocking can be subject to change.

Theatre involves so many fluctuating factors that Jake has found a key step in beginning any production is defining terms. In order to understand what the director means for a concept the design team has to be on the same page with terms. It’s not steampunk. It’s not dieselpunk… one person’s Edwarian might be another’s Victorian fashion so presenting images and ideas at a production meeting is absolutely required for a cohesive concept.

“If we have different understandings of what those periods are, we’re going to be talking in circles. Terms and concept can be contradictory as long as we find a terminology that develops the concept.”

Jake’s favorite image for the production is the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.  He describes the building as a marriage of modern industrial with neoclassicism. It has that feeling of grandeur and industrial that suits the ambience of Peter Bloedel’s set design.


The Crystal Palace at Hyde Park

This kind of ambience is what a lighting designer has to look for in research images for executing a concept.

Hamlet and the Bard

When it comes to the story of Hamlet, Jake has fascinating ideas.

“What keeps Hamlet significant in the five hundred years of existence is that people feel wronged. When people feel wrong they want to be satisfied. Whether it’s the acknowledgment of how they’ve been wronged or vengeance. There’s a very human desire to do something about it. People haven’t changed in wanting to do something about it.”

Hamlet is caught in a tragic trap because his life is wasted. He is a compelling figure and a compassionate character but he is placed in a situation that cannot have a happy resolution.

“The lasting impact of Hamlet is that we don’t have him anymore… ‘Now cracks a noble heart.’ What does that mean? Does it matter what it means besides our recognizing that Hamlet was something special?”

And truly, Hamlet is a compelling image that has and will continue to last throughout humanity.

Lydia Grabau, Dramaturg


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This entry was posted on April 3, 2013 by in Notes from the Dramaturg, Production.

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