Hamlet continues to run in repertory through much of June at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where the amphitheater has been transformed into a richly-designed Elizabethan setting with new seating sections added on the stage. The new design has people talking, but the real buzz around ISF this summer is about the casting. Laura Welsh Berg and Jonathan Dyrud are alternating in the lead role—and when not playing the titular Danish prince, Berg and Dyrud are also part of the supporting company. On a rare day off, the two actors sat down with Boise Weekly to talk about a summer neither will soon forget.
Many actors have told me they go out of their way not to be influenced by another actor's performance in the same role. I'm guessing that's impossible for you two, because when one of you is portraying Hamlet, the other is playing Rosencrantz.
Dyrud: It's a unique opportunity to serve up the lines the way you would like them served up. It's a great way to be the best supporting character you can possibly be, because you want the exact same treatment when you're playing Hamlet.
Berg: Yes, the same lines are spoken night to night, but our reactions to those lines are completely different. We look at two Hamlets, side by side, and realize this can be completely different. Being able to watch someone else and learn more about the same character you'll be playing is a crazy, wonderful gift.
To that end, talk to me about each other's Hamlet.
Berg: John's Hamlet is beautiful; it's emotional and immediate. John's gift as an actor is his ability to live in the moment, play in the moment and take a slightly different journey every night. He's just incredibly present.
Dyrud: It has been incredibly inspiring for me to watch Laura's courage, conviction and fortitude in tackling this production. As for her performance, it's incredible. Her facility with language and her ability to craft the nuances of scenes is something I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Artistic producing director, Charlie Fee, who also happens to be this production's director, told me when he announced ISF was about to produce Hamlet, he opened up the audition process for the lead role to the entire company. But Laura, it's my understanding that you didn't audition initially. How come?
Berg: Honestly, I didn't think it was possible. I grew up never having seen a woman play Hamlet. I know it happens more often in the U.K., but I didn't know if it was possible here. I did actually approach Charlie and ask about the possibility of playing Horatio, because I thought that was a role possibly cast with a woman or man. Charlie said, "Sure, but why wouldn't you come in to audition for Hamlet?" I was eating a snack between rehearsals, and I almost spit up oatmeal all over him.
Talk to me about the experience of young women—most of them seeing Hamlet for the first time—seeing you in the lead role.
Berg: I've heard, "I never thought a woman could play Hamlet," or, "I want to play Hamlet someday." To them I say, "I look forward to that, and let me know when you do, because I'll come see you someday."
Dyrud: Laura is the only female playing Hamlet professionally in the United States right now. This is an amazing summer.
OK, let's do a lightning round of questions. Comedy or tragedy?
Dyrud. Really? I love comedy. But tragedy. Yes, tragedy.
Berg: Tragedy. I'm not very funny.
Which Shakespearean role of the opposite sex would you like to play? Laura, you can't pick Hamlet.
Dyrud: Margaret in Richard III.
Berg: Richard III [Berg performed as Richard III in college].
Other than Hamlet, your favorite Shakespeare play is...
Berg: Richard III.
The one thing you absolutely must do before a performance is...
Dyrud: Use the restroom.
Berg: Vocal warm-ups.
The one thing you absolutely must do to unwind after a performance is...
Berg: Have some alone time with a bit of music.
Dyrud: Drink a beer.
Dyrud: Usually just one.