'Hamlet' On An Elevator? The Bard Gets A New Venue The elevator lunch crowd of a Los Angeles office building is the last place you'd expect to encounter William Shakespeare, but that's just where the Salty Shakespeare theater group is taking him.
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'Hamlet' On An Elevator? The Bard Gets A New Venue

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'Hamlet' On An Elevator? The Bard Gets A New Venue

'Hamlet' On An Elevator? The Bard Gets A New Venue

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

William Shakespeare is once again center stage. A dramatic film comes out this month that questions whether the bard was the true author of his celebrated works. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles a Shakespeare company is trying to introduce a little more iambic pentameter into people's lives in unexpected places. Gloria Hillard brings us the story from a downtown high-rise.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: Wearing suits and somewhat harried expressions, veteran actors Michael Rothhaar and Tony Pasqualini blend right in with the lunch crowd of this office building.


HILLARD: Rothhaar and Pasqualini jockey for their position in the rear of the packed elevator. When the doors close, that's their cue.

TONY PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) Lord, I think I saw him yester night.

MICHAEL ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) Saw who?

PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) Lord, the king your father.

ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) The king, my father?

PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) A figure like your father, armed at all points.

HILLARD: It was hard to tell if anyone recognized this was a scene from Hamlet. The elevator audience stared straight ahead or concentrated on the changing floor numbers, others fumbled with their phones.


ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) The king, my father?

HILLARD: On the ride back down to the lobby it was another packed house.

ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) Armed you say?

PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) Armed, my lord.

ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) From top to toe?

PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) My lord, from head to foot.

ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) And saw you not his face?

HILLARD: People move quickly once those doors open.

Did you notice anything unusual in the elevator?



FINLEY MOLL: I thought they were practicing for their night job.

HILLARD: As actors?

MOLL: As actors, yes. It's L.A.

HILLARD: Finley Moll took the Elizabethan moment all in stride, but Amanda Dorinson-Greenfield was confused.

AMANDA DORINSON GREENFIELD: We're they actually talking about the bible in an elevator in the California Mart?

PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape and bid me hold my peace.

HILLARD: Elevator passenger Helen Kaufmann says she recognized the Shakespeare dialogue by the third floor, but adhered to elevator etiquette.

HELEN KAUFMANN: If they were having a lover's quarrel people would be silent as well. But there's something kind of cool about hearing Shakespeare when you least expect it.

HILLARD: That's what actress and director Nancy Linehan-Charles had in mind when she formed the Salty Shakespeare Company. The group has performed on Venice Beach and has plans to take Romeo and Juliet to a shopping mall.

NANCY LINEHAN-CHARLES: I had been trying to find ways my whole life to make Shakespeare accessible to people.

ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) Did you not speak to it?

PASQUALINI: (as Horatio) I did, my lord, but answer made it none. And once we thought - once we thought it lifted up its head...

HILLARD: Actor Tony Pasqualini as Horatio and Michael Rothhaar as Hamlet didn't miss a beat despite all the distractions and, well, an actor's nightmare – the inattention of their audience.

ROTHHAAR: It comes out of one of them, it's like who's talking? What are they talking about? Oh, should I pay attention? Oh, maybe not. Oh, his father's dead. Hopefully, they go that far. I don't know.

(as Hamlet) My father's spirit in arms. All is not well.

HILLARD: It only took Pamela Switzler three floors to catch on.

PAMELA SWITZLER: I was like, they're doing Shakespeare. It was awesome the whole ride down. Loved it. Actually, when we were done and the doors opened I wanted to clap, but then, you know, I was like, oh, never mind.

HILLARD: A little applause would have been nice for the actors. As it was, the audience was always walking out – sometimes in the middle of the scene.

ROTHHAAR: (as Hamlet) All is not well. Be still my heart.


HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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