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

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

As they head into the packed elevator, Rothhaar and Pasqualini jockey for a spot in the back. When the doors close, that's their cue.

"Lord, I think I saw him yesternight," Pasqualini says.

"Saw? Who?" Rothhaar replies.

"Lord, the king your father."

"The king, my father!"

"A figure like your father, armed at all points."

It's hard to tell if anyone recognizes this as a scene from Hamlet. The elevator audience stares straight ahead or concentrates on the changing floor numbers. Some fumble with their phones.

The Audience Reaction

Rothhaar and Pasqualini are part of Salty Shakespeare, a California theater group dedicated to bringing Shakespeare to public spaces in a way that penetrates the electronic wall that often surrounds us. The group has performed on Venice Beach and currently has plans to take Romeo and Juliet to a shopping mall.

Back on the elevator, once the doors open, people move quickly. Not all of them realize that they've just witnessed a performance.

"I thought they were practicing for their night job ... as actors," says Finley Moll. "It's L.A."

Moll took the Elizabethan moment all in stride, but Amanda Dorinson-Greenfield was a bit confused.

"Were they actually talking about the Bible in an elevator in the California Mart?" she says.

Helen Kaufmann says she recognized the Shakespeare dialogue by the third floor, but stuck to elevator etiquette.

"If they were having a lovers' quarrel, people would be silent as well," she says, "but there's something kind of cool about hearing Shakespeare when you least expect it."

That's what actress and director Nancy Linehan Charles had in mind when she formed Salty Shakespeare.

"I have been trying to find ways my whole life to make Shakespeare accessible to people," she says.

'Awesome The Whole Ride Down'

Despite all the distractions, including a cell phone call and the inattention of their audience (an actor's nightmare), actors Pasqualini and Rothhaar — Horatio and Hamlet, respectively — don't miss a beat.

"It's like, 'Who's talking? What are they talking about? Oh, should I pay attention? Maybe not. Oh, his father's dead,' " Rothhaar says, laughing.

It only took Pamela Switzler three floors to catch on.

"I was like, they're doing Shakespeare," she says. "It was awesome the whole ride down ... Actually, when we were done and the doors opened, I wanted to clap."

A little applause would have been nice for the actors. The audience always seems to be walking out on them — sometimes in the middle of a scene. But for these actors, it's just another way to bring a little iambic pentameter to unexpected places.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Game Of Thrones' Evolves On Women In Explosive Sixth Season

The sixth season of HBO's Game of Thrones showed a real evolution in the way the show portrays women and in the season finale, several female characters ascended to power. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks to Glen Weldon from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour and Greta Johnsen, host of the Nerdette podcast, about the show.
NPR

In Quest For Happier Chickens, Perdue Shifts How Birds Live And Die

Perdue Farms, one of the largest poultry companies in the country, says it will change its slaughter methods and also some of its poultry houses. Animal welfare groups are cheering.
WAMU 88.5

Jonathan Rauch On How American Politics Went Insane

Party insiders and backroom deals: One author on why we need to bring back old-time politics.

WAMU 88.5

Episode 5: Why 1986 Still Matters

In 1986, a federal official issued a warning: If Metro continued to expand rapidly, the system faced a future of stark choices over maintaining existing infrastructure. Metro chose expansion. We talk to a historian about that decision. We also hear from a former Metro general manager about the following years, and from an Arlington planner about measuring how riders are responding to SafeTrack.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.